WARNING: The following contains spoilers from season 2 of The Man in the High Castle. Read at your own risk!
The second season of The Man in the High Castle has arrived at a tumultuous time in U.S. politics. Though the complex, confident drama portraying life after the Axis powers won the war has always delved into its characters’ struggle to reconcile with a fascist world since it debuted in 2015, its portraits of normalized Nazism and racism can be extra disturbing after the divisive presidential election in November, as hate crimes rose across the country, some involving swastikas and other Nazi imagery.
Season 2 was already in the can and ready to debut a little over a month after Election Day, but executive producer David Zucker says the writers have been thinking about the parallels between High Castle‘s alternate 1962 and current U.S. politics. “It’s certainly something everyone’s been cognizant of,” he says. “Whenever you’re working on a piece that’s historically set, the first thing aside from trying to invest in the characters themselves is to find the modern-day relevance. In this instance, it took on a more, sort of, disturbing, more literal relationship in some respects.”
Still, that’s a relationship for the writers to explore down the line, in a potential season 3. Crafting season 2 had been tough enough; after all, showrunner Frank Spotnitz exited the series in the middle of production, and the team decided not to name a new showrunner, instead forging ahead with the story as planned.
And what a story. During the second season, new characters entered the picture (including the Man in the High Castle himself); the Resistance carried out a massive hit against the Japanese; the Reich lost its leader; San Francisco was nearly destroyed by an atomic bomb; Tagomi spent considerable time in another reality; and Juliana saw her sister again — alive this time, in the flesh. Yeah, it’s a lot. (You can catch up on recaps here.) Below, Zucker broke down in a wide-ranging interview for EW the biggest twists from this season of The Man in the High Castle, how the writers crafted each character’s story, and what to expect if the show returns for a third season.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: I’ve got some burning questions from the final episodes to tackle first. When the Man in the High Castle takes Juliana to meet her sister, that is Trudy, right? She’s not in a dream or seeing a vision of her dead sister?
DAVID ZUCKER: Yes, that is her sister in reality. It is not a dream. But we’ll come to learn in [a potential] season 3 how such a thing came to be. In some ways there’s clues to that in [the story of] Tagomi as well.
Do you mean she’s from another reality, then? Or a different time?
These are some of the questions we’re exploring. [Laughs.] You’re asking the right questions. We’ve only seen Tagomi as the one who’s traveled, and obviously, we’ve also come to understand Kotomichi’s history, but beyond that and the explanations we got from the Man in the High Castle, how and from where Trudy has landed is something we’ll pick up.
Seeing as how the Man in the High Castle knew Juliana would kill George Dixon, how much does he really know from having seen all the films? Does he know everyone’s futures?
That I can’t entirely answer. Beyond what the Man in the High Castle has revealed to Juliana, those are some of the larger questions we’re continuing to explore.
The final scene shows Tagomi being visited by Lem. Does that mean the Man in the High Castle knows what Tagomi can do, because presumably he sent Lem?
Again, a really good question that I’d prefer not to put a specific comment on. But the interesting thing about releasing a series like this at once is, from our side, one cannot anticipate how things will be interpreted. We were surprised last season that so many people thought Hitler was the Man in the High Castle. There was no intention to deceive people, but upon examination, it wasn’t surprising because he’s a recognizable historical figure and we shot scenes where he was literally in a castle. The point is, nobody wants to be coy about these questions. They’re vital to the mythology, so they’re things we want to reveal as it relates to the narrative at the time.
Well, on a more specific note… is Frank dead? We didn’t see a body.
[Laughs.] That is again another good question that will be answered. It’s unknown. I mean, there are a number of characters who were impacted by that explosion, and the fates of all of them except for those you saw in [episode] 10 are uncertain until we get back.
What about John Smith? He’s obviously not dead, but he’s in a new position: He just saved the Reich. Could this mean more power for him down the line? And how does the fact that he failed to save his son, but kept his loyalty to the Reich, affect him?
That question will be a headline one for season 3. The final scenes of episode 10 are really to confront the reality of how drastically the world has changed for him personally and for the world itself. What it portends will obviously be the turn we take into season 3, but that is part of what we will be exploring… What a devastating irony for John and his wife that they’ve almost raised too perfect of a Nazi, that Thomas would not consider the effort that they’re making to save his own life.
Let’s break down these individual stories. Tagomi certainly traveled a long, very different journey in season 2. How do his travels to another reality affect him?
As he literally bears witness to what the world may have looked like in the inverse of Philip Dick’s premise, looking at what America may have been had the Allies proved victorious, I think it instills with him a sense of individual strength and intention to assure that in his world, that does not reach a tragic fate. I think in season 2, he finds his own individual determination to do everything possible to ensure it.
Why does he go back to his world, though, if in this other one, his family is intact?
I think his emotional takeaway from the encounter that he had in the alternate world is that he must do everything possible to [prevent] devastating tragedy, to ensure that if he can play a role in preventing that, he must take it. [He has] a meaningful commitment in the Man in the High Castle world.
When you were working on writing this other 1962, how much did you want to show? Were there ever any plans to have him meet any other characters beyond Juliana, who are alive in both worlds? Any plans to have Tagomi travel beyond that town?
Well, the execution of the story was in service of Tagomi as a character… There wasn’t an interest in exploring that alt world beyond the extent that it related directly to his experience. The biggest conversations were about the shock encounter with Juliana, and then how that resonates with him both in that time and when he returns to his original world. [We kept it] in the family. It’s really about how [being in this alt world] impacts him personally.