Well, this is an odd one. “Excess Animus” is largely concerned with moving pieces into place for the homestretch of the season, so we get a number of reunions as well as quite a bit of repetitious exposition. But there are also a couple of dream sequences, as well as the hardest push yet in the direction of science fiction.
You should know your storytelling is flawed when you end up repeating essentially the same scene three times in one episode, but that’s what happens here. First Juliana and the Abendsens try to convince Wyatt that there are alternate realities where the Allies won the war, hoping to get him on board with the Resistance. (Wyatt could hardly be more of a Han Solo rogue who doesn’t want to get involved if he were wearing a black vest.) Once Wyatt agrees to give Juliana a lift to St. Theresa’s, she has to go through it all again for the benefit of Frank, Ed, and Lila. Near the end of the hour, Tagomi spells it out for Kido, confessing that he is a traveler.
Granted, all these characters had to find out eventually, assuming they have a role to play in the season’s endgame and beyond, but squeezing them all into the same episode isn’t the best decision. We do get the long-awaited(?) reunion of Juliana and Frank, although honestly she looks a whole lot happier to see Ed again. Well, who wouldn’t be?
Smith needs no convincing, as he’s already seen the courier disappear before his eyes. He gets a step closer to being reunited with some version of Thomas when Dr. Mengele shows him his work-in-progress: a trans-dimensional tunnel. (The writers don’t even bother with any techno-speak to try to justify this impossible invention; let’s just assume a wizard did it.) The season’s final act comes into focus: Juliana’s memories from another lifetime involve the building of this machine in Coal Mine No. 9 in Lackawanna, Pennsylvania. That’s where she and her allies need to go in order to stop the Nazis from conquering the multiverse.
This is as comic book-ish as High Castle has ever gotten, but the writers want to assure us they’re still taking the real history they’re manipulating for entertainment very seriously, so we are treated to John Smith’s nightmare. As it begins, he is fishing with Thomas, but as soon as he hooks a big one, his son disappears. It turns out he’s caught a dead body in a lake full of them, all evidently victims of the Reich. He wakes in a cold sweat, but his pangs of conscience move me no more than those senators who weep and rail against the current administration and then fall in line for every vote anyway. I don’t know what redemption looks like for John Smith, but it’s a long road that probably starts with helping to prevent the Reich’s spread through other dimensions.
He’s not the only Smith having dreams, although I wasn’t sure about this one at first. When Helen’s therapist puts the moves on her, it certainly feels like a dream, but the abrupt cut to her having dinner with her children leaves it ambiguous. Her later meeting with the shrink appears to confirm that the earlier encounter was a daydream brought on by sexual frustration and feelings of loneliness, given that her husband is more interested in spending his evenings with his film collection than with her these days. The question is whether Helen can distinguish reality from fantasy at this point. That’s a problem many of the characters face in this hour, as they are confronted with the notion that “reality isn’t preordained.”
- Perhaps the weirdest part of this episode is the peculiar journey of Robert Childan, who returns to San Francisco to find a Japanese woman has taken over his shop. After an odd evening with a prostitute in which he runs out of money to pay for “tea service,” Childan is beaten by her pimps. He then returns to the shop to reclaim what is rightfully his, and is captured by the Kempeitai and tortured by Kido until he gives up Ed’s location. (It doesn’t take much for him to spill it all, unsurprisingly.) Should have stayed in Denver, Bobby!
- Kido’s prospective number two betrayed him to show that his mother’s people are equal. For his trouble, he gets gutted by many bayonets.
- A group of bounty hunters are looking for their friend Griggs who went missing. Lila turns them away, but they don’t look like guys who take no for an answer.
- Himmler tells Smith that the assassination order against Tagomi has been rescinded. Smith doesn’t look like he believes it, nor should he.