Enter the Lion’s Den
A Television Review by Akash Singh
NOTE: SPOILERS OCCUR!!!!!!!
“The End of the World” is the episode title’s most direct reference, a pop song by Skeeter Davis that skyrocketed to the top of the charts in the 1960s. Written by Arthur Kent and Sylvia Dee, the lyrics of the song are evocative of the grief that follows death. “The End of the World” closes out this particular hour in Japanese, reveling in the end of one of High Castle’s most thematically unified constructions yet. The world of High Castle has not dealt with the idea of the world literally coming to an end, but the idea of a nuclear war between Berlin and Tokyo is a terrifying reality of the show from its very beginning and it is more than a fair substitute for the apocalypse. As a more intimate apocalypse, grief has hung throughout the air (whether successfully or otherwise) throughout the series. Here it hammers home in a way the series has rarely approached and towards a character towards whom there could earnestly otherwise be no sympathy. Obergruppenführer Smith’s world crashes down in the moments when he ought to have felt the most triumphant, having captured a traitor in his midst but he ends at his most vulnerable, crippled by an institution he had become such an integral part of. The irony is suffocating but it never feels triumphant and in that moment, outside of affirming one’s own presence of a moral compass, High Castle achieves what is to this date its most impactful moment.
Eugenics at its core is a construct centered around practices whose goal is to improve the quality of human genetics. Right off the bat, within its spreading from Britain in the twentieth century, eugenics became a tool for populations deemed “unworthy” and “unfit” to be forcible sterilized. The definitions of “unworthy” and “unfit” were of course left up much to the imagination by the officials in charge and prejudices found an easy way into the program. The Nazis became infamously associated with the practice as their full crimes came to light, although they were certainly not the only industrialized, Western nation to espouse such practices (the U.S. continued to perform forced sterilizations for decades after). The practice of eugenics would theoretically be continued in Nazi Germany as well and all of their territories in the High Castle universe and the way it hit home is dramatically brilliant. High Castle has largely had a problem with characters (cough… Joe… cough…) and pacing them with a proper sense of development. The quiet observations of Smith’s family, especially with episode six, gave the twist of Thomas’s disease the extra sharpness of the knife the series has lacked in other places.
A slightly weakened Thomas at first has little effect on Smith, who sees it as just the slightest bit of exhaustion or something of the like. The ear appointment turns into something much more menacing, especially to a Smith who had just heard that his son’s diagnosis was nothing more than muscle fatigue. His physician notes with as much somberness as the circumstances require that Thomas suffers from Landouzy Dejerine Syndrome, a form of muscular dystrophy that lacks all treatment. Within a year, Thomas would be paralyzed and then there would only be one option left. Rufus Sewell gives his greatest performance in the role, his acute terror growing in his eyes as any remnant of hope slowly disappears. He yells for a second opinion, but then he would lose any semblance of privacy within the medical establishment and that was something a man of his position could not afford. There was only one solution left and the physician slides over the euthanizing toolkit, offering instructions on how to make the injection painless. Smith grasps the toolkit with trembling hands, at a complete loss for the sudden trajectory his life has taken. The sympathy is there and at the same time it isn’t difficult to see a sense of karma for the crimes of the system and the ones Smith was defending to Rudolph just last week and ones I have little doubt that he was still involved in in some fashion. The tragedy here is that Thomas had no part in it.
In hindsight, the Yakuza’s involvement was inevitable and a neat touch that ratcheted up the plot suspense so nicely. Them gathering money from the Resistance on one side and the Kempeitai on the other makes perfect sense, considering the value placed on this new film by both sides of the equation. Heydrich’s introduction was chilling, as chilling as a man called the Man of the Iron Heart ought to be. That begs the question of what type of strength is truly valued. Taking part in the Holocaust and the enslavement of Africa is no true strength. The notion of violence in strength transports over to the Japanese officials who hired a Ukrainian official surveyor to do a test on the amount of nuclear material and minerals within the Neutral Zone. It’s a chilling move but a predictable one nevertheless, considering the geopolitical developments in play. The segment of the series that is working less and less, however, is the relationship between Joe and Juliana, which is unfortunate considering his cover as a Nazi spy is still very much a development in play here. The romance angle is clearly being played up here and it is the one that is by far falling the most flat, simply because the chances of legitimate chemistry arising between Juliana and Joe are about the chances of Starbucks lowering the price of a mocha to a reasonable amount. And in consideration of all the geopolitical machinations and genuine surprises this episode pulls off, it’s frankly not that interesting.
Great/Not So Great Moments Not Mentioned Above:
+Encryption through a card
+Ed giving Frank money. And to think I was being harsh on the guy who surely has no escape routes left.
+“I won’t be late.”
-“Frank’s a lucky guy.” Ugh, Joe. Don’t.
Episode Title: End of the World
Written by: Walon Green
Directed by: Karyn Kusama
Image Courtesy: Vulture