The Sweetest Poison
A Television Review by Akash Singh
NOTE: SPOILERS OCCUR!!!!!!!
“Do you intend to kill me with kindness?” Rudolph Wegener asks his captive in a calm demeanor, as if they were merely having a chat about the beautiful weather outside or the tea swimming in a nearby cup. It’s an honest question, despite the dichotomy in tones it imbues within its center. He has simply encountered a circumstance that is the exact opposite of what he had expected. Wegener being sent away with Heydrich for company was something Smith had warned ardently against, recognizing how much worse Wegener’s fate could easily become at the hands of a man who enjoyed torture. It is subsequently to his surprise that he finds himself in what on the surface looked to be the opposite of a torture chamber even if the inklings of something far murkier and more mysterious were seemingly ubiquitous. And they were. Heydrich had no intention of killing Wegener with kindness as the assignment he gives him is far more insidious than torture, which is an option Wegener is surely considering at this juncture. The twist of Wegener’s punishment is the most obvious tap High Castle has made into the original sci-fi novel that gave birth to the series and it’s a welcome one. High Castle has played it so so safely for so long that at several junctures it was falling into the trap of becoming maudlin to an almost fatal fault. Tasking Wegener to kill Hitler is the perfect twist for High Castle to grasp one of sci-fi’s most classic questions and energize the series like never before.
It’s a quest that is doomed to fail and not just because it seems so obviously set up in terms of narrative and character trajectories. Part of that known result simply comes from High Castle generally becoming smarter as it goes along and a reveal of Hitler before he gets gunned down by Wegener would be exceedingly anticlimactic. But it is a bit difficult not to feel some semblance of sympathy towards Wegener, so far the only sympathetic character from the Nazi Party of his own accord, having ensured his own death by an act of subterfuge intended to ensure parity. But him and Tagomi were apparently alone in that thinking, or as alone as they could possibly be. General Hata of the Imperial Japanese Armed Forces appears as hawkish as his title would suggest in a meeting with Minister Tagomi, raising new questions on how the Crown Prince had rued the reality of control the military had been given by his father. General Hata announces quite supremely that the Japanese military had no interest in the parity Tagomi and Wegener had assured themselves would lead to a mutually assured destruction safety net. The Crown Prince, he assures Tagomi, has changed his mind rapidly on his approach with the Nazi government and is now in full support of a much more charged approach in dealing with their former war ally.
Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa once again proves that he is this series’s secret weapon in casting, the camera resting intently upon his eyes as General Hata makes his pronouncement about the Crown Prince’s radically changed intentions. On one level, if the Crown Prince’s mind has changed, it’s a bit understandable. Getting shot at by a sniper assassin on the behalf of a government that was once an ally and will now destroy his country at the first chance could potentially lessen his zealousness. Yet it could also do the opposite and reaffirm his own belief in peace. Nothing the Crown Prince or Princess said following their arrival in San Francisco would suggest in any fashion that their minds would change so drastically following an event they were completely expectant in potentially happening. The dangers and safeguards were both present, but he knew that he simply had to go forward and do it, lest the risk of weakness become overwhelming. Nor did their behavior at any juncture point towards this specific road being an actuality. Tagomi’s eyes narrow down quietly and he senses the lies quite well. There’s nothing concrete proving General Hata’s words wrong, but the sense of quiet, understated betrayal serves to seemingly affirm the military’s heightened role. It’s a quiet scene, but the espionage is played off expertly and the resulting tension over the Heisenberg Device is tensely beautiful.
Juliana has been largely played expertly by Alexa Davalos, who has channeled ferocious energy into writing that hasn’t often served her character tremendously well and her narrative arc even less so. It has a troublesome beginning within this episode as well, primarily resulting from her involvement with the Resistance. It’s an ironic thing that the greatest impetus for Juliana’s plot involvement is so thinly drawn in and of itself, where a handful of operatives are comprising this seemingly intricate network to bring down the Axis Powers. On one hand, I understand the importance of not playing all espionage cards right off the bat, but on the other, the Resistance needs to feel somewhat viable and here it seems that with about four well-placed shots, it would be over. Outside of the troublesome dick posturing between Joe and Frank over Juliana, however, when the film falls into Frank and Juliana’s hands through some impressive physical maneuvering, Juliana finds herself in her most exciting turn yet. As Tagomi, so far away, is meditating with the necklace of such vitality, the second film from the Man in the High Castle begins playing. It’s a sublime sequence, beginning with a series of nuclear explosions clearly meant to signify the end of World War II. Then the sequence shifts towards a horrifying line of Jews being shot by Nazis, at the end of which is Frank. Frank is standing in absolute terror, closing his eyes as Joe in a Nazi uniform walks up right behind him and puts a bullet through his head. And there was no kindness there, only horror reflected right back in the four eyes who couldn’t believe what they were seeing.
Great/Not So Great Moments Not Mentioned Above:
+“Are you in some kind of trouble?” Well, that’s one way to put it.
+Smith’s reaction to Thomas falling down the stairs
+The Resistance saving Juliana because of her job at the Nippon
+“You want to win, there’s no mercy.”
+Ed, you sweet, sweet soul.
+Yakuza noting that the sniper is a Nazi. I do kind of love how that’s not really a secret anymore.
Episode Title: Kindness
Written by: Jace Richdale
Directed by: Michael Slovis
Image Courtesy: Vox