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Joel de la Fuente/Amazon

It would be a stretch to claim that “End Of The World” fixes all of the problems that have plagued this first season of The Man In The High Castle, but at least it’s an episode that manages to generate some suspense from its story developments, which is more than can be said for too many of its predecessors. There‘s a new film in San Francisco, as you may have heard (and if you somehow missed it, that piece of information is repeated at least a half-dozen more times in the opening scenes), and everyone wants to get their hands on it. That quest gives the episode a clock and a narrative drive that has too often been lacking.

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The show still has an unfortunate tendency to suggest that this world is populated by about a dozen people who all know each other, and that crops up again here as Lem from the Canon City diner turns up as west coast Resistance leader Karen’s cohort in obtaining the new film. (Remember in the first episode when Joe was told he would never see the same Resistance members again because it doesn’t work that way? Evidently it does now.) Their contact turns up dead and the film is now in the hands of the Yakuza, who demand 100,000 yen for ransom. This is actually a bargain rate, as the Japanese gangster in possession of the film then tries to shake down Kido for 150,000 yen.

The Yakuza wrinkle forces the reluctant Resistance members to allow Joe back into the fold, as he claims he can come up with the needed ransom money. Joe gets John Smith to agree to wire the required funds as long as he guarantees retrieval of the film, but what Joe doesn’t know (and Juliana learns from Arnold) is that the Kempeitai will be watching for the trade-off. In a tense sequence of events, Juliana races for the bar where Joe is set to make the transaction even as Kempeitai soldiers are closing in. Lem and Karen flee the scene when they see what’s happening, but Juliana makes it in time to warn Joe (who now has the new film in his possession), and they are able to escape to an alley where…some other guys with guns are waiting to whisk them away to destination unknown.

This turn of events makes it unlikely that Juliana will make the bus she’s scheduled to take with Frank, who is earning money for their planned escape by crafting the Sitting Bull artifact for Childan. The antiques dealer gets cold feet on his plan to swindle the Kasouras, but when their butler insists he use the tradesman’s entrance instead of coming in the front door as a guest, he overcomes his reluctance and completes the fraud. Frank is desperate to get out of town since learning from Ed that Kido now knows how easy it is to convert a replica gun into a working model, but once again Juliana’s allegiance to Joe is cramping his style.

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The episode’s east coast doings are mostly devoted to convincing us that John Smith isn’t the worst possible Nazi. We meet Oberstgruppenfuhrer Heydrich and learn his nickname is the Man with the Iron Heart, just in case there was any doubt that this is one of the really bad Nazis. His visit comes as a surprise to Smith, but not to his supposedly loyal right-hand man Captain Connolly, which rouses Smith’s suspicions. He has weightier things on his mind, however, as a routine doctor’s visit for his son Thomas turns up bad news: he has a degenerative nerve disorder for which there is no treatment. We know what happens to “cripples and the terminally ill” who are a drag on the state, so having this hit so close to home is a tried-and-true way of awakening Smith’s long-dormant conscience. Though he is initially in denial, this can’t come as a complete surprise, as we learn that Smith’s brother had a degenerative illness as well. With only two episodes left, it’s hard to know how much this potential change of heart will affect matters in the near-term (and there’s no word yet on a potential renewal for season two). For the most part, however, “End Of The World” does a solid job of tightening the noose and raising hopes that the final two hours will deliver on much of the promise that has been squandered to this point.

Stray observations

  • One of the show’s minor pleasures is the old-school approach to espionage and encrypted communication, as in the opening scene here when Lem uses a bus ticket with holes punched in it to read a secret message on a postcard.
  • Smith is such a nice Nazi, he hasn’t even tortured Wegener, who insists he would rather die than talk.
  • “My greed has returned undiminished.” Brennan Brown is doing some subtly hilarious work as Childan.
  • The episode title comes from the 1962 Skeeter Davis hit of the same name, a (mostly) Japanese version of which is being performed in the club where Joe is acquiring the new film. The song often proves irresistible to makers of dystopian fare: it also earwormed me this weekend while playing Fallout 4.

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