So let me ask this question – its time travel right? Is that what’s happening??
I feel like season 2 of THE MAN IN THE HIGH CASTLE was a reward for making it through season one. Not that season one was a punishment, but with the show’s methodically slower pacing combined with its large roster of characters, it took a while for the ball to start rolling. Season two doesn’t seem to move any faster than season one, but we definitely get the payoff of how much season one set up. I wasn’t prepared for the first episode at all. I figured, just like last season, TMITHC would give the audience time to settle in and reacquaint ourselves with the all of our people. Nope, episode one we were introduced to THE Man in the High Castle himself – and he’s crazy as hell. We also begin to learn more about those films, which thank goodness because I was completely lost on those. Either way, somehow TMITHC has managed to keep it’s pacing and storytelling style while feeling like a completely new show to me.
Let’s talk what’s going on (and I’ll make it the abridged version since there are about 100 characters to keep up with):
So season 2, episode 1 (“The Tiger’s Cave”) begins with Jules (Alexa Davalos) waking up in some random dude’s bunker. The man is eccentric and a little frightening, demanding answers to his questions but yelling at Jules when she attempts to ask questions. Frankly, at this point I’m not sympathetic to Jules because she allowed not actual Nazi but still a low-key Nazi Joe (Luke Kleintank) to escape from the Resistance capture, resulting in him blowing up a ship full of Black smugglers and escaping with the film. So yeah, at this point Joe’s dead to me and Jules is dumb to be. But I digress.
We learn that Jules’ captor is the Man in the High Castle himself, Hawthorne Abendsen, who’s brought Jules to him so that she may recount the contents of the film that she allowed Joe to escape with. As she describes the film, Hawthorne grows excited and asks her if she recognized anyone in the film. Of course we remember the film showed Frank being slaughtered by Joe, but there was another man in the film that Hawthorne is adamant she identify. This sets Jules off on a mission to find out who this man is and what role he plays in all of the madness. Speaking of madness, we also learn that the man in the high castle keeps track of the films because they are almost like a prophecy. He explains that each of the films show a “reality like ours, but not ours.” He also goes on to explain that he’s able to learn a lot about people in their reality by what they do in the alternate movie realities, which, by the way he looks at Jules with distaste, leads us to believe that he’s seen her do some pretty rotten things in the movies – which he refuses to tell her about. Jules sets off to seek out the man in the movie and Hawthorne lets Jules know that if she can’t recognize him they’re “screwed.”
Jules does some snooping, and we find out that the “man” is her sister’s real father named George Dixon, last seen in Brooklyn – Nazi territory. Jules is now forced to find asylum in The American Reich. She’s brought in by Obergrubbenfurher Smith (Rufus Swell), who’s wife helps her set up in a new apartment and extends her hand as Jules’ new Nazi friend. It’s not until episode 4 that Jules gets close to finding Dixon, and tracks down his address. She finds a woman there who claims Dixon is no longer there and as she leaves she is chased down by a man, and later receives a phone call from a man who claims to be… George Dixon. Dun dun dun…
Meanwhile we dive a little bit deeper into the strange season one finale with Trade Minister Tagomi (Cary Hiroyuki Tagawa). Trying to figure out the alternate reality that he somehow landed in last season, Tagomi has Kotomichi research some of the things he saw and heard while there (Cuban Missile Crisis and Nelson Mandela), but Kotomichi isn’t able to find anything. We end episodes 3 (“Travelers”) and 4 (“Escalation”) with Tagomi meditating himself back into the alternate reality, reuniting himself with his wife (who is dead in the current reality) in a home lined with cherry blossoms. As interesting and sweet as that is, I was a bit disappointed at how episodes 3 and 4 ended similarly. Episode 3 ended with Tagomi getting a glimpse of his wife, and episode 4 ended with Tagomi outside of the house, in a garden full of cherry blossoms. While the scenery was gorgeous it left me like, come on, I need another clue. I’m ready to figure out what’s going on.
Oh, there’s also the hot mess of the new General actively working against Tagomi’s wishes to keep the Nazis and the Japanese at peace. The new general is bloodthirsty, and hoping to set off a bomb. Although Tagomi tries to tell him “dude we don’t need any more devastation”, the general is like “whatevs, don’t care.” So that will definitely prove to be a problem later.
I guess I’ll talk about Joe. Joe delivers the movie he escaped with to Obergruppenfuhrer Smith. Joe is upset that the boat of smugglers was blown up by the Nazis, and storms out, claiming that Smith doesn’t know anything about him. He’s a “good Nazi” ya’ll, he’s just misunderstood (eye roll). Having distanced himself away from the Nazi’s, Joes surprised when Smith arrives at his door, instructing him that he’s wanted in Berlin by… his father – who we haven’t heard much about and who up until now I had assumed fought in the war on the American side. Joe goes to Berlin and fights with his father, upset at how he was never there and how there is no relationship to build between them. Not quite sure where this is going, not sure I care. Maybe he’ll redeem himself.
My favorite storyline so far is Frank (Rupert Evans). He’s come a long way from the scared artist that he was during season one. By episode 4, Frank has joined the Resistance while working a side hustle for the Yakuza with his sweet sidekick, Ed (DJ Qualls). He’s my favorite storyline because he’s the only one keeping the Resistance storyline alive thus far. His progression as a character has also been fun to watch, as someone who had no desire to fight against the Japanese he now involves himself in saving civilians from being shot down. I think it’s equally as interesting to watch how the Resistance plans on taking down the Japanese, even if it involves them systematically allowing innocent people to die in order to get the “pawns” (regular people) to get angry enough to fight back.
Finally, an honorable mention goes to Obergrubbenfuhrer Smith, who kills his son’s doctor after the doctor tells him that he will report his son’s illness to the authorities if Smith doesn’t euthanize his son first. I don’t like Smith, but I sympathize with him. His own beloved establishment is proving to be dangerous to his own family. I hope that this will begin his dissent away from the fascist movement, as that’s been set up in season one.
So far, season two of TMITHC has me hooked. While we’re not flying through stories, the pacing feels consistent and the stories feel well executed. I’m really impressed at how this show continuously maintains it’s almost understated demeanor while keeping me hyped. The twists and turns all feel completely justified, and I have yet seen something that’s been thrown in our character’s stories just for drama’s sake.
I think the only thing that’s bumping me so far is the “alternate reality” of it all. Because we only get a few scenes every episode, it’s easy to get caught up in the current day stories and then feel like we’re stepping into completely new territory when we go back to the alternate reality bits. I know that the show is all about slow and steady, but I almost wish I could learn a bit more about the alternate reality component of the show. However, that’s a matter of personal preference. I’m used to shows on television showing their cards sooner than later in order to hook it’s audience. It’s clear that TMITHC trusts that its stories are good enough to keep the audience around, while they feed us crumbs of the overall story slowly. I’m sure the payoff will be worth it.
Hopefully I’ll have even juicier stuff to report back to you during my second review!
Season 2, Episode 1-4 (S02E01-04)
The Man in the High Castle streams on Amazon Prime
Writer based in LA. Just trying to write good stuff while deep conditioning my hair.
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Vanessa Jay | Contributor