The downfall of having streaming only TV shows is that you can’t comment on one episode at a time. You have to binge it. So I’m going to go from the very last episode and sort of encapsulate my feelings about the whole season. I watched the first season and was emotionally unprepared for the roller coaster ride I went on. I went into this season hoping for the same. I wasn’t disappointed. Fallout is the name of the last episode in this season.
The Man in the High Castle presents a fascinating premise: what if the Allies lost World War II? What sort of world would be borne out of the combined powers of the Third Reich and Imperial Japan? Another fork in this train of thought is what if we had the ability to bounce between this timeline and ours (the one where the Allies did win)?
What I think is the most thought-provoking idea from the overall series is that something out there is manipulating these people into realizing that their timeline is not the only timeline out there. For most of the first season, we’re made to think it’s the Man in the High Castle who is telling us this, but they complicate this idea with series 2. We meet Hawthorne Abendsen/The Man in the High Castle rather unceremoniously in the first episode of series 2, but as mysterious as he was made to be, he’s actually a fairly normal guy. He does seem to be one step ahead of everyone without giving away his endgame.
We’ve been following Juliana Crain for 2 seasons thus far, and it’s made very clear that her role in this world (as well as ours) is bigger than anyone realizes, even herself. She is the linchpin to everything, but it’s not been made clear why. I guess that’s what keeps us tuning in. She’s confused as to why too. The moves she makes are to keep herself alive, but to what end? Anyone else would have been killed in half the situations Jules has put herself in, but she’s always survived by the skin of her teeth. But why?
She’s nobody, she has no political power, not in the Japanese Pacific States and not in the Greater Nazi Reich, though she does have the ear of Obergruppenführer Smith. The whole crux of her story is that she has seen a film reel of the Allies winning the war, and she was supposed to get the reel to the Man in the High Castle. Do they think she’ll stir up unrest within the Pacific States? Why fear this one woman? Maybe I’m missing why we’re supposed to be afraid of Jules. I’m afraid for her, absolutely. She’s been drawn into this secret war that she didn’t even know existed (or chose not to see), and she keeps going deeper and deeper into this world she has no place in.
My favorite character evolution from season 1 is Rufus Sewell’s Obergruppenführer John Smith. I can’t even heap on the praise of how much he has taken this already complicated character (an American who served in World War II on the side of the Allies but switched allegiance to the Reich), and brought even more complications. A lot of the watercooler talk about The Man in the High Castle is that this season made us sympathize with the allegedly bad guys. Sewell’s Smith is absolutely one of them. The chemistry he has with his family is off the charts. When you see Chelah Horsdal’s Helen, you buy it immediately. They both play their roles so well. My heart broke for Helen by the end of the season, and you’ll see why if you watch this episode in particular.
My least favorite character evolution is Rupert Evans’ Frank Frink. Maybe I need to reflect on him more, but the way he evolved felt a bit shallow for me. I guess, I don’t know. I can’t quite articulate it. He did make it clear that he was done sitting in the shadows and he wanted to participate more in the Resistance’s efforts, which I applaud him for, but it didn’t ring true for me. There was something missing with his portrayal.
My consistently favorite characters are Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa as Nobusuke Tagomi and Joel de la Fuente as Chief Inspector Takeshi Kido. I love anything Cary-Hiroyuki is in, and Joel is part of my tribe. We support each other, no question!
Tagomi’s story is so awesome. His wife and son died in World War II and so he’s a heartbroken widow in his timeline when we meet him. But the stress of his job as Trade Minister causes him to meditate. By meditating (whilst holding Juliana’s necklace at one point) he falls into our timeline, where we discover his wife didn’t die but is alive and well in San Francisco, and asking for a divorce. His son Noriaki is alive, married to our timeline’s Jules (!), and they have a son. It’s implied that our timeline Tagomi committed suicide by jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge after expressing his displeasure at Nori having married a gaijin, which he saw as his son turning his back on his Japanese heritage. What Tagomi eventually realizes is that he’s not the only one who is able to move between timelines. I hope they explore that further in season 3, and with the bombshell cliffhanger in this episode, I think we’ll see it.
Kido is another complicated character. His story is fairly straightforward. As a member of the Kempeitai, he has committed atrocities against the people of San Francisco since his installation. I feel like there’s something more to his story. He’s just out and out evil. I don’t think he deserves redemption, if any is allowed for him. I love that type of character. He completely embraces the evil, believing he is on the right side.
The Man in the High Castle has been renewed for season 3. I can’t wait to see where they go from here. There are a few more storylines I didn’t have time to mention (Joe Blake and his father, Tate Donovan’s George Dixon), but I would be here all day if I did. That’s how intertwined and fun this show is, in spite of the heady material. With Jeanette Olsson’s “Edelweiss” to usher you in to every episode, you really get lost in this world, and you’re left wondering what if?
Readers: have you ever watched The Man in the High Castle? What do you think of it?