A Television Review by Akash Singh
NOTE: SPOILERS OCCUR!!!!!!!
A new normalcy is a tricky proposition, driven in part by a nascent understanding of what a normalcy is in the first place. In a sense it’s adjusting to what one perceives as being normal, albeit under different circumstances. That adjustment depends heavily on how far the status quo of normalcy has changed, to what extent any turn towards normalcy could honestly be expected. No character on High Castle, no matter how richly or thinly drawn, can expect that to happen in a true sense and assuredly more of that change is to arrive in the season’s second half. Part of that grim expectation arises simply from their actions and little else. The rest arises from an acute understanding of what circumstances surround them, their actions be damned. Juliana and Frank must reconcile their past, their turbulent present, and a future that is simply too hazy to come into any real focus. Tagomi faces a world in which the Crown Prince may have been successfully assassinated and the ideals of peace that he lives for may evaporate in an all out war that would once again drown the world in a volley of pain, suffering, and sorrow. Rudolph must come to terms with the consequences his actions have wrought, no matter for what good they were executed in the first place.
Juliana’s return home to San Francisco is the main thoroughfare is what is a fairly sleepy episode that ends upon a fantastic final shot. It’s a trepidatious homecoming for Juliana and Alexa Davalos does an admirable job at conveying that nervousness. Juliana’s nervousness is understandable from a character perspective, even if the complete weight of what she has gotten herself into isn’t properly conveyed by the script. It’s clear that the series at this point wants the audience to really feel the weight of what Juliana has gone through, the sheer shock of the trajectory her life has taken, and the emotional turmoil Trudy’s death and her experience with Joe brought into her existence. The series so far has on occasion been thrilling and great, but the writing in those aspects of Juliana’s character have been too thin too often to make the full emotional impact the writers are clearly aiming for here. What New Normal does well, however, is provide Juliana a conduit for those emotions via her returning home. In Canon City, she tumbled from one event to another, in a sense as lost as some of the audience. At home, however, she simply can’t go with the flow. She has to face her odyssey in an unflinchingly difficult series of confrontations that prove the new normal is nowhere near the one she had seemingly eons ago.
The most personal of those is Trudy’s death. I stand by my initial observation from the pilot that the show’s original treatment of that character was shameful. Trudy was on screen for about three seconds and the pilot couldn’t have made it more obvious that she was about to die. Juliana’s initial reaction seemed oddly stunted for someone who had just lost a sister, even if they were trying to play it off as shock. Juliana’s war with her own self at trying to reconcile what she had seen with her mother’s questioning of where Trudy was is done exceptionally well here and for the first time the show taps into that sibling bond quite well. That doesn’t excuse the laziness earlier, but it is at least a definite improvement. The more complicated one is when she first meets Frank, stunted there by his relative coldness. The scene where Juliana discovers that Frank’s family had been murdered by the Kempeitai gives Davalos some of her best material yet and she delivers wholeheartedly. This is where the guilt of what she had become embroiled in truly surfaces to the forefront of the character, where the real weight of her actions starts to bear down on her conscience. If the writers have even a semi-solid grasp on this character, they can take the guilt and make it work within the function of whom Juliana is becoming without sacrificing some of her stronger beats.
As Juliana navigates the world she inadvertently became opened to, Tagomi navigates the murky waters of a political landscape charged by the attempted assassination of the Crown Prince of Japan. Realizing the danger Rudolph was going to be placed within as the Japanese rush to find the culprit behind the shooting, Tagomi organizes a diplomatic ticket for him that would allow him to travel without being constricted by identifications and backlogs. Rudolph warns against the danger Tagomi was placing himself within by doing so, but he dismisses it, noting the overall importance of what they were doing being far more crucial than any risks he was facing himself. Tagomi is such a dynamic character that it felt so far as if the show could partially be carried on his back alone but that wouldn’t be fair or dramatically satisfying. He has been as detached from the rest of the plot lines as many of the other characters have been, but here at least, in the episode’s final moments is a chance for him to become more integrated with the world outside of his admittedly fascinating machinations. As suggested by the seemingly only two people in existence within the Resistance so far, Juliana goes to the Nippon building for a job as white women were more likely to be hired for the new positions opening. At the insistence that she provide sexual favors to her interviewee whenever he wants them, she rushes out of the door instead and slams right into Tagomi. She mutters her apologies before rushing out of the building as quickly as possible, but if Tagomi’s expression and the necklace are anything to go by, a crucial dynamic has just been brought forth.
Great/Not So Great Moments Not Mentioned Above:
+Seppuku then beheading
+Juliana not allowed in the dojo
+The scene with Juliana at her interview was extremely disconcerting, especially considering the amount of women in the Nippon building to whom that had happened.
-I’m not sure why the Japanese delegates aren’t speaking to one another in Japanese all of the time. Subtitles aren’t that difficult.
-“Things will never return to normal for you.” Yeah, we got the theme without someone spelling it out, thank you.
Episode Title: The New Normal
Written by: Rob Williams
Directed by: Bryan Spicer
Image Courtesy: Serial Freaks IT