Who is the protagonist of The Man In The High Castle? Nearly two seasons into the series, that’s an ever-shifting target. A show needn’t have a singular focus for viewer empathy—your hero of Game Of Thrones may not be mine, for instance—but High Castle has always had a hard time making any such characters compelling. During the first season, Joe carried much of the narrative load and was rarely up to the task, either in writing or performance. This year his character has been more effective in smaller doses, but his time out of the spotlight has made Juliana’s deficiencies more of a problem. Frank is no prize either (and we’ll get to that shortly), but “Loose Lips” is a particularly frustrating showcase for the distance between how the other characters view Juliana and how she comes across onscreen.
John Smith hits the nail on the head when he drops by unexpectedly and accuses Juliana of playing the role of the wounded bird. I don’t know if there’s an intentional critique of Alexa Davalos’ performance buried in that dialogue, but the morose “why me?” quality she brings to every line reading is getting truly tiresome. She spills the beans about her meeting with Abendsen and what she saw on the film, then meets with Dixon and tells him the SS is nervous about something (which we know to be Hitler’s failing health). She also pleads with him to let her run away again, because she’s such a wet noodle of a character. Later we’ll hear testimony to her bravery from Ed and Frank, who don’t know the whole story, but she’s not so much brave as boxed-in. She does care for people, as demonstrated by her insistence that Arnold get her mother out of San Francisco and warn Frank and Ed about the imminent danger, but she lacks the conviction of her alt-universe doppelgänger, who actually believes in her anti-war cause.
Another potential protagonist is Frank, who showed a modicum of growth earlier this season when he set aside his own reserves of self-pity long enough to find a purpose with the Resistance. Unfortunately, the nature of that purpose has become crystal clear over the past couple of episodes: to allow the self-righteous asshole within to flourish. It’s absolutely valid to depict the character this way, as there’s no shortage of revolutionaries from history who were in it for all the wrong reasons. The problem is, when the show already has a deficit of characters worth rooting for, turning Frank into a completely unlikable jerk does nothing to mitigate the problem. When the odious Childan is showing Ed more respect and kindness than his best buddy Frank, something is seriously out of whack.
Maybe it’s telling that the most sympathetic character at this point is the one who decided to go live in another show six episodes ago (and weirdly still hasn’t been missed). Tagomi continues his efforts to make up for the sins of his other self. (At least we finally have an explanation for the absence of a Tagomi in the alt-universe: he most likely jumped off a bridge and killed himself. If that body ever turns up, there will be questions.) He learns that the alt-Tagomi’s destructive behavior included shattering a cup, frightening his grandson and resulting in his ban from going near the baby. He spends the episode carefully repairing the cup (an example of kintsugi, as explained earlier in the season), and you don’t need a degree in literature to pick up on the symbolism here. In the end, his repairs are effective both practically and metaphorically, and he is allowed to hold the grandson he never had in his own world. It’s a genuinely effective emotional moment, but it’s part of a narrative that by its very design is disconnected from the whole.
Most of the highlights of this hour involve the bad guys. The impending demise of Hitler (which arrives right on schedule at episode’s end) threatens to throw the Reich into chaos. Reichsminister Heusemann has been named interim chancellor, which is a great honor aside from the fact that the last person to hold that position was executed along with his entire family. Joe decides to stay in Berlin to protect his father from meeting the same fate, which is a likely proposition as other high-ranking Nazis (including Himmler) jockey for the top spot. John Smith and Kido, who have established an alliance “for the good of their countries” trade information, and Smith learns that another high-ranking Nazi with information about the crown prince assassination is trying to defect. Smith drops in on Reinhard Heydrich (he who plotted against both the crown prince and Hitler) and tricks him into revealing that he is not the intended replacement for the Führer. It’s a flurry of activity potentially setting up an explosive final two episodes of the season, but the stakes would feel higher if the good guys weren’t so hard to embrace.
- One loose end tied off: Dr. Adler was cremated “by mistake” before any autopsy could be conducted on his body.
- Frank tells Ed the plan is to use the explosives on the atomic bomb, to which Ed has an appropriately incredulous reaction.
- More scenes in underground Resistance bars, please.