A Television Review by Akash Singh
NOTE: SPOILERS OCCUR!!!!!!!
The Man in the High Castle first appeared as a unique, dystopian piece of sci-fi that felt intriguing but inherently otherworldly (which is in and of itself quite difficult to do so these days amidst the gamut of dystopian narratives). That sense of the otherworldliness is gone not in the show, but in our own reality. The palpable sense of the growing power of white supremacy doesn’t feel confined to the History Channel or Amazon’s adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle. It feels like it is within our unfortunate grasp. Its enshrined position of prominence within the Nazi structure has gained a significant boost in power with the election of Donald Trump, the success of Nigel Farage’s racist UKIP campaign and the resulting decision with Brexit, and the possibility of Marine le Pen’s ascendancy to the presidency of France. The so-called “liberal structure” of the Western powers is, for the present, succumbing quite quickly to the fear mongering forces of fascism. The Man in the High Castle consequently no longer feels like an alternative reality to what happened in our world after the end of World War II. It feels like a warning of the future that could come. It is far too early to tell if that aspect of such an altered reality is a boon or otherwise for the series, but for right now it gives the show an eerie prescience and an additional dramatic weight that didn’t exist before. Within the actual constructs of the series itself, the opening episode of the second seasons feels very much like the show Frank Spotnitz had created in its freshman run. Spotnitz left the series in his capacity as show runner during the production of the second season but not before writing the premiere. It is understandable then that this episode has all of the strengths and flaws of the first season, even if it definitely allows more room for the story to breathe. Whether or not Spotnitz’s departure is a pathway for the series to grow in a new direction, however, remains to be seen.
The most egregious flaws in the first season were the characterizations of Frank and especially Joe. Rupert Evans does his best with the writing he’s given, even if his constant state of righteous fury is something Evans isn’t the best at carrying out on screen in a believable fashion (the lack of a solid emotional foundation doesn’t help him much in the acting department). Here that fury continues after his friend Ed was arrested as a suspect in the shooting of the Crown Prince but Frank simply isn’t a character that works on screen or at the very least isn’t going to work until the writers take him as seriously as they want the audience too. There is a small glimmer of hope, however, when Frank uses his antique trader “friend” Robert Childan to potentially save his friend Ed from certain death. It’s certainly the smartest Frank has been and perhaps the show might be able to take his character towards a more promising direction after all. Luke Kleintank is simply miscast as a man the audience is supposed to believe is inherently conflicted over his role as a Nazi spy under the command of SS Opergruppenführer John Smith. His potential romance with Juliana was unbelievable from the beginning and for several reasons. One, Kleintank and Alexa Davalos have absolutely no chemistry with each other and in spite of both actors giving it their all, it feels more like there was an awkward Thanksgiving gathering movie being filmed and they’re trying to convince both of their families that they haven’t shown up at another meal with no romantic partner. Two, the writing simply pushed them together with the expectation that dramatic stakes will be raised without actually doing all of the hard work getting both of them to that point to begin with. Three, the reveal of Joe’s betrayal worked on the level of him and Juliana being close acquaintances, not potentially jilted lovers. Spotnitz double downs on the internal conflict of Joe Blake and frankly if Joe had been taken out by Smith in that moment, nothing as of this juncture would really have been lost.
Juliana finally meets the man in the high castle, who isn’t Hitler at all as the season one finale seemed to hint at. The man in the high castle is in fact a man named Abendson, who lives in an airplane hangar ubiquitous with films glimpsing other realities. He comes across as a conspiracy theorist, one whose identity is so important to the rebel cause that they are willing to kill Juliana to protect it. With access to thousands of realities, Abendson comes off across as a bit of a conspiracy theorist, who has found a new conspiracy to latch onto. He finds a clue in a man who appears in several films as either a Nazi or a partisan. There is nothing to concretely suggest that this man is actually a clue to anything (at least that’s the sense that I’ve received so far), but Abendson certainly seems to be thoroughly convinced of a fact that may or may not actually exist. His conjecture rests upon San Francisco being destroyed in a nuclear blast after a Japanese victory in every film except for the one in which this man appears. Juliana actually does recognize the man but she can’t pin him on the spot for the two very simple reasons that she’s under intense pressure from a maniac that apparently just shoots her and that her life has been really fucking hectic, desperate, terrifying, and maniacal in equal measure. He’s quite pissed that Juliana can’t pinpoint the name of a random man she’s sure she’s seen somewhere and then proceeds to take a violent solution out of this. Members of the Resistance come to take Juliana away and in the process of a fairly stupid decision to kill Juliana, accidentally engage in a violent shootout with Japanese sentries that leads to Karen’s death. So far, the only thing the Resistance has really managed to do is increase Hitler’s paranoia by a considerable margin due to the films of the Man in the High Castle. Otherwise, they’re being supremely careless with their own members and this is a time when such mistakes can be fatal. If members of the Resistance start taking out their own, then the fascists simply walk away.
Great/Not So Great Moments Not Mentioned Above:
+The production design of Berlin is stunning
+4th of July fireworks in 1961
+“You are loyal. But loyalty is not enough.”
+“Trying is not enough, is it?”
+/- What is up with Juliana getting shot multiple times?
Episode Title: The Tiger’s Cave
Written by: Frank Spotnitz
Directed by: Daniel Percival
Image Courtesy: JoBlo TV Show Trailers @ YouTube
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