My crazy American friend, Jess Young, decided to drop some knowledge on why Man in the High Castle is probably the best show of the past 12 months. Check her piece out:
Remember when Freddie Mercury famously sang, “Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy? Caught in a landslide, no escape from reality”? Well, those lyrics really do stand the test of time, and they’re pertinent to the world we live in now. In the uncertain world that we live in now, fantasy and narratives of fantasy in film and television are crucial to many people’s well-being – at least to my own.
There were a lot of great shows last year, some new and some returning for another season of mindfucks and euphoria. “Game of Thrones” didn’t let off steam, even coming to the end of the source material (Goddammit, George!), “Westworld” stumped and shocked audiences week in and week out, “The Walking Dead” is still walking a blood splattered path, but “Man in the High Castle (MITHC)” season 2 kicked things into another gear.
When I decided to watch season 1 of this show, I knew a few things: 1. It was something that made me hugely uncomfortable inside with the idea of those events unfolding in the real world, 2. It was based on a Philip K. Dick novel, and having watched “Blade Runner”, “A Scanner Darkly”, “Minority Report” and other gritty dystopian films based on his books, I expected a fair amount of fuckedupness, and 3. though I wasn’t particularly familiar with most of the cast, I did recognize Rufus Sewell (the total douche from “A Knight’s Tale), DJ Qualls (“Road Trip”) and Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa (Shang Tsung in “Mortal Kombat”).
I have to be honest that I was feeling kinda “ehhh” about Season One. I was so not into the Juliana/Frank/Joe triangle that took up much of the season. Even though Juliana seemed to be the focal point, I was way more interested in what Darth Smith (aka Obergruppenführer John Smith) was up to in his Tower of Power. Meanwhile, Tagomi was hitting me in the feels with his deep introspection and obvious emotional turmoil, and Inspector Kido kinda crushed my soul a bit with his ruthlessness (very nice to link him up in Season 2 with Darth Smith). And the whole time I’m like who the fuck is the MITHC?
I at one point entertained that it was clearly Hitler, and then thought maybe Darth Smith had the deepest cover of all time. But it was not to be. Season One was not the season of answers, it was the season that gives you the questions. And to that end, I verily applaud them for making a brave creative decision.
I was hooked though when Tagomi “woke up” in this world, the world where the Allies won, and knew that I’d have to stick around for Season Two. I AM SO GLAD THAT I DID. Season Two went full tilt and straight into the answers.
Right of the bat, Juliana met the MITHC (Stephen Root will forever be Gordon from “Dodgeball” to me. Get mad, Gordo!) and he showed her some films that led her on her big journey this season without the romantic entanglements of Frank and Joe, and I could really start to root for her.
I found a new admiration for Frank after he went rogue after Juliana’s “betrayal” and lost all the fucks he had to give, except for the one he gave Ed. That bromance is a thing of beauty, and adding Childan into the mix as their dysfunctional and slightly unwilling third musketeer was great to watch.
Meanwhile, Joe finally had his eyes opened to the horror he was playing a part in, and Darth Smith sent him off to meet his dear old Dad in Deutschland. Finding out that he was a Lebensborn baby (WOW!) and hooking up with a Berlin filmmaker while still pining over Juliana in an acid trip. Joe was broken down to his lowest common denominator and swore allegiance to the Nazi cause, because his dad was the new Fuhrer and he can follow a man instead of a cause – oh, and his dad turned out to be the new Fuhrer. Where will Joe go from here? Separating the triangle made a huge difference for me in my enjoyment of them.
Tagomi waking up in a world completely different from the one he lived in was a bit like the “Wizard of Oz” sans Munchkins. It was technicolor in a world of black and white. His journey to that place, to a family that was dead in one world and yet furious with him in another was so compelling. And then to find that Juliana was his daughter-in-law opens up a whole boatload of questions that I can’t even get into here. Watching him try to find his footing with his family, including his grandson, made me so happy that I wanted him to stay there forever. However, the nuclear arms race provided a way back to Kansas that he just couldn’t ignore, because he’s freaking awesome.
Meanwhile, Darth Smith is really starting to swing on the pendulum between evil and not-so-evil. He’s manipulating and strong-arming Joe on a plane to Berlin one minute, feverishly trying to find a way out for his son whose illness is a ticking time bomb, replacing Joe with Juliana as his unwilling lackey, and killing a doctor because he’ll expose the truth. John Smith showed us that you are capable of anything if pushed into a corner. We find out that he was a US solider who turned to the Nazis after he and the Mrs saw the atom bomb dropped on Washington, and went into full survival mode to protect his family at all costs. Bit hard to swallow when you just want to hate the evil Nazi. His speech at the funeral perfectly optimizes who he is and why he is that way. And it also speaks to the Resistance this season, because they are ruthless as fuck too.
Juliana is straddling a very dangerous line here, and pretty much everyone wants her dead, or subjugated like Darth Smith. She has her back against the wall with enemies on all sides, but she manages to navigate her tenuous relationships on both sides with all the guts that any one woman can have. Her sympathy and affection for Thomas force her to see how fucked up both sides are, but she’s not willing to compromise herself (unlike Darth Smith). She broke down lines that she thought she would never cross in order to get through and do the right thing, and the end sure paid off on her reunion with MITHC and somehow her sister who got her into this craziness.
To wrap this up, it turns out Joe’s dad was plotting to (and succeeded in) assassinating the Fuhrer, and then kicking off another world war with the Japanese that Kido and Darth Smith stopped last season. Tagomi returned to Kansas armed with his film and went to the Japanese embassy to use it as a way to stop the coming war. He wasn’t in there when Frank and his paramour Sarah (you go, Frank!) blew the place (and themselves) up. I don’t think Frank could’ve survived, but I’m hoping that somehow he did, or that he’s out there happy in his own version of Oz. The indestructible Kido managed to make it and Trade Minister gave him the film, which he passed on to Darth Smith. Darth Smith was smarter than the average Nazi and he figured this out and then used Joe one last time to actually do something good (preventing another war is good, I think), and he did it all under serious pressure. Unfortunately, his son decided that sacrifice for his country meant turning himself into the Nazi doctors just as his dad saved the Reich.
So, Season Two gave us some answers, and it also gave us more questions that will keep us waiting for next season (thanks Amazon for renewing this slowburn show). I loved “Westworld”, it had twists and turns and I was able to figure out a lot of them, but I have to give massive credit to “MITHC” for not giving all of theirs away or spoon-feeding their viewers. The future is bleak, but then maybe not; which is something I could say about the world that we live in now.