The Man in the High Castle 2.10: “Fallout” Review

Surprises

A Television Review by Akash Singh

NOTE: SPOILERS OCCUR!!!!!!!

The second season of The Man in the High Castle comes to an end with a surprising, ridiculous, and interesting episode that in turn lays forth what this season has accomplished, what it has failed to do so, and what it requires to fulfill its potential in a possible third season. The departure of Frank Spotnitz as a show runner literally halfway through production did not put the show in a decent position and considering that timetable, a delay in the season may have been the better choice. That is a difficult choice, however, but what is baffling is Amazon not choosing another show runner for the second half of the season. A show runner’s job is more than writing and or maintaining a creative outlook and perhaps that is something that Amazon has yet to learn as far as their dramas are concerned. First and foremost the third season needs to be plotted out in advance because this season it often felt as if the writers were stitching things together and not allowing them to breathe. For example, the bombing last week should have been far more dramatic and suspenseful than what it eventually became. Not only was it rather poorly directed to be quite honest, it didn’t hit home because the season up until that point had done a rather poor job of noting why it was so vital that the Resistance strike in that manner at that precise moment. Sure, taking out a good chunk of the Japanese military brass and the Kempeitai makes sense for the Resistance to build its forces within the Pacific States, but there was more time spent on Gary yelling at Frank and then Frank yelling at Ed than there was on actual strategy that shifted and in some cases wildly so because that is the basic reality of how political operations work. That plot line in the finale remains unresolved because somehow the writers are under the impression that that mystery was so profound and great that people will be rushing to know if Frank and Sarah had survived. They’re not.

“Fallout” is designed in several ways to be an episode where a third season becomes necessary to answer all of the questions it raises but almost none of the questions they leave behind are really that exciting to be quite frank, pun intended. I don’t care about the haphazard end to Frank and Sarah because they really should have been smarter about their plan in the first place. The Man in the High Castle, like all espionage stories that become far too enamored with their narratives, completely forgets that sometimes a mystery doesn’t need to be completely kept under the wraps in order for it to be effective. Sometimes the leaving of small crumbles can make the end result of that mystery all the more satisfying when it is finally pieced together. Leaving Frank and Sarah’s fates open in an episode that for some reason had time for a sex scene between Joe and Nicole is blatantly ridiculous. If the writers hadn’t made up their mind in regards to those two characters, tough luck. Either write those characters out properly or keep them within your sights. Don’t use them for cheap cliffhangers because you can’t make up your mind. It is reminiscent of Trudy’s surprising return on the ship of the Man in the High Castle. Alexa Devalos sells Juliana’s exhausted mixture of confusion and happiness, but that relationship has absolutely no foundation in the show and so the writers just hope that the audience says “Yay for sisterly love” while they wait for Frozen 2. The show pulls this sort of trick time and time again, where it clearly wants an audience reaction but simply isn’t willing to put in the effort to actually earn it.

Joe’s fate and the fate of his father is similarly left up to the winds and I frankly don’t care about either of them. I don’t care about Martin in particular because I can’t empathize or even remotely relate to a character who is overseeing the Third Reich and wants to wipe Tokyo off the map and frankly that cartoony close-up shot of his face doesn’t do the show any favors. As far as Joe is concerned, his character simply makes no sense and it never has. A man who was willing to wear the Nazi emblem as the son of the new Führer isn’t going to garner my sympathies when he’s constantly pursuing the “Oh, but I don’t know what to do!” angle. That angle is fine to a certain extent because it’s realistic, but none of his actions or emotional reactions make any sense either and that complete lack of character consistency doesn’t create a realistic character. It creates a caricature that does whatever the writers need him to do. One second he is worried about the twenty million plus individuals his father would kill with a couple of button pushes and then all of a sudden he’s totally fine with it or at least responds to it by having sex with his girlfriend of sorts, which doesn’t do anything for anyone outside of the two of them. Then he learns about Juliana’s survival and that galvanizes him once more before he (fairly weakly) tries to convince Martin to not commit mass murder. It’s a mess. Frankly, if Joe and his father had both been publicly executed for their supposed role in assassinating Hitler, that would have been more dramatically compelling. Joe has never exhibited any of the qualities that would make him remotely compelling even when his actions are abhorrent. Joe is no John and the show’s continued ignorance of that is a primary reason why I am reluctant to return to it.

The most thoroughly irresponsible narrative tract the show has espoused was in the finale, where George said that the only way they could win against the Nazis was by becoming worse than the Nazis were. It’s thoroughly preposterous and an incredibly idiotic representation of rebellion against a fascist regime obsessed with mass murder and genocide. In an episode where a representative of the American Reich and of the fascist Japanese Empire absolve the world from having to deal with a significant nuclear fallout, showing members of that very resistance effort murdering one of their own for what appears to be the seventeenth time is thoroughly irresponsible. Coupled with last week’s bombing and a quote from Tagomi’s son on how he could be Japanese and American in America, it seems that in an effort to draw more moral complexity, the writers have sharpened their pens to the point where they don’t write but instead become blunt instruments of empty moralizing. There’s a certain degree of intelligence that is required when writing to try and depict the moral complexities of war and this specific episode illustrated just how much the writers let that go for the sake of what is, to be frank, vapid and empty dramatic effect. Juliana being the critical crux of preventing nuclear warfare is perfect but unfortunately the writing of the circumstances around her let that character down as well as Alexa Devalos, who gives her best performance so far in this finale (it’s really quite excellent). The season finale is often a space to see where all of the storylines have come to fruition and how successful its preceding episodes have been at contributing to those developments. This season finale is a good episode in and of itself, but it allows so much to fall through the cracks that it has the added effect of illuminating some of the more promising aspects of the season as a whole and how a good chunk of them simply failed to materialize.

Great/Not So Great Moments Not Mentioned Above:

+I loved the cold open. Was that radiation in part responsible for Thomas’s condition?

+“I’m pretty much done trying to convince you people.”

+“You can’t build a better world when there’s nothing left of it.”

+Thomas turns himself in. That is the sort of dark, dramatic poetry the show needs to do more of

+Lem turns the remaining films over to Tagomi

+The production design once again is triumphant here. The visual callback to Dr. Strangelove is brilliant

+I know Alexa Devalos gets a lot of “meh” reactions directed at her, but she is truly quite terrific in this episode. I hope she gets more work that is frankly better written.

Note: I don’t know if this show is getting a third season and if so, whether I’ll be back to review it. Thank you so much for reading this season and I look forward to covering other material with all of you!

Good

7/10

Episode Title: Fallout

Written by: Erik Oleson

Directed by: Daniel Percival

Image Courtesy: Amazon

Musings:

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2 Comments

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  1. I didn’t believe there was anything ambiguous about the fates of Frank and Sarah, or that the show was “leaving them up in the air”– rather, it seemed very plain that they were obliterated in the explosion, since they were shown standing well inside the building until the timer ran down to zero, then the blast immediately ensued and engulfed the spot on which they had been standing. Kido wakes up on a little preserved ledge after the explosion and looks down to see the entire floor utterly destroyed right where they were. The “Dream a little dream of me” sequence interplayed with the sad shot of Ed watching the explosion was, I thought, also meant to be an understated emotional commentary on Frank’s death. In short, I don’t think masses of people are “rushing to see if Frank and Sarah survived” because the show did *not* pursue a cliffhanger, but unambiguously indicated that they died. It would take some kind of far-fetched action movie logistics (“leap-out-the-window-and-narrowly-outrun-the-fireball”) for them not to have died, and to its credit, this is not the sort of show that deals much in those.

    It was not my impression that the viewer was meant to “care about Martin [Heusmann],” at least after it was revealed that he was behind the usurpation-and-nuclear-war plot all along. Rather, the show did a good job of humanizing him up until revealing that he was, in fact, a Machiavellian liar and its ultimate antagonist from the start, which was a decent twist I had not foreseen ages ahead of time (though it occurred to me an episode or so before it was made explicit).

    With reference to Joe, I think he *does* make sense, and that his emotional reactions are largely understandable. It has been a defining character trait of his from the beginning that he is conflicted and doesn’t quite know what he believes or wants to accomplish in the grand scheme of things; he does what seems right to him on a moment-by-moment, person-to-person basis, and by his own admission is driven by interpersonal relationships rather than causes. It is very much evident that he is not a Nazi true believer (and seems at times to question or outright disdain them, as after they bomb the sailors he had negotiated with), but the Reich is eager to hand him the world on a silver platter because he is the son of an influential Nazi and (as we learn in season II) is a Lebensborn golden child, and being a personalistic and apolitical man by disposition, he is willing to align himself with them when other factors (in this case, loyalty to the father he has pined for his whole life and who has now won him over) weigh on that side of the scale. When he then gets a peak inside the machinery of the Nazi empire, however, Joe, being a non-Nazi in fundamental outlook, is appalled and does not know how to balance his personal loyalty to his father against his reflexive revulsion at the proposed nuclear holocaust.

    I did think it was a tad ridiculous when Joe behaved as though he intended to turn John Smith away and not look at the evidence he had to present *when Smith was there specifically to help avert the nuclear war Joe himself was strongly against*– but it was what one would call “rule of drama,” as Joe just immediately assenting to John’s proposal could have felt anti-climactic. A charitable viewer would interpret it to be the case that Joe felt the need to vent his personal frustration with John, but was presumably always going to take stock of what John brought to the table for war-preventing-purposes at the end of it.

    All told, I feel some of your critiques hold water, but more often you are reading the show uncharitably and gauging it in accordance with stock tropes it when it is either being more subtle (the characterization of Heusmann or Joe) or more straightforward (the deaths of Frank and Sarah) than you give it credit for.

    • To each their own, of course! I am glad that you’re enjoying the show more than I did this season.

      In regards to Joe, I’ve never cared much for the character since the beginning and while I appreciate the ideas for him this season, I felt that personally the show didn’t execute the emotional connections to the character with enough finesse for those ideas to truly stick the landing.

      I assumed upon second viewing that Frank and Sarah are dead, but upon conversation with other viewers I didn’t get the sense that the show was clear enough.

      Thank you for reading and commenting!

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