Desperate times for John Smith call for desperate measures
We should have known, ever since Trudy told Juliana she’d found “a way out”: When it comes to The Man in the High Castle, exits only lead to dead ends.
First, there’s Joe, who’s left New York for the greener (no, really, much greener — and way more technologically advanced, with all that nifty transportation) pastures of Reich capital Berlin. His hopes of meeting his father and having the briefest of conversations gets dashed quickly when his father invites him to mingle at a party, and he can’t resist the possibility of catching a glimpse of the inner circle of the Reich. At the party, he meets Nicole Dormer, an alluring woman who tells Joe that he’s too naive about his father. He may think his dad left him and his mother poor on the other side of the ocean, but maybe he’s not as bad as Joe thinks.
And then there’s Frank, who’s now trapped in his deal with the yakuza. With their first payment due in seven days, he has to create artifacts ASAP, and he and Ed need a way to start their operation. Unfortunately for Frank, he can’t just focus on the operation; instead, he sees that his apartment’s being raided by the Kempeitai after Juliana’s actions in episode 2, and he gets lured by Lem to the Resistance hideout. There, Gary introduces himself and his colleague Sara, a Japanese Resistance member, and tells Frank that he’ll have to help them too.
Finally, there’s Juliana, who left the Pacific States — only to wind up deep within the Reich in order to find George Dixon. Of course, it’s not easy for an outsider to enter the Reich; she has to undergo a series of tests, measuring every part of her body, determining her exact complexion, and taking photos of any imperfections she displays. (That bus accident definitely lowers her marks.) John Smith (!!) watches as Juliana answers questions about why she needs asylum and what she had been doing with the Resistance in the neutral zone. Juliana deftly lies (or, well, lies a little), saying that she was never a part of the Resistance’s actual fight, that she had only been trying to understand her sister, and that she had not been sexually involved with Joe (okay, so that one’s 100 percent true).
At the same time, Arnold and Juliana’s mother are questioned by Kido, who wants Juliana back on the Japanese turf. Arnold reveals that Juliana had gotten mixed up with the films with the Man in the High Castle — but can’t say anything else. Juliana responds the same way when John Smith (again — !!) asks about the films, telling him that she never saw anything and also protecting Gary and the Resistance by saying that she’d never met the Man in the High Castle.
Suddenly, John turns on his charm. He tells her that he’ll grant her temporary asylum in the Reich, with a new identity (meet Julia Mills, everyone!), a new haircut, and a new home — an unlocked apartment close to the Smith family themselves. Once she passes the ACT (the Auxiliary Citizenship Test) she’ll be a member of the Reich.
Still, she’s obviously trapped. Juliana is terrified of this seemingly idyllic utopia she’s infiltrated. She pushes a door under the handle to her apartment as a crude way to keep it “locked,” and she immediately sets out to find Joe. Unfortunately, he’s already left for Berlin, so instead she runs into Rita, who gives her a dismissive once-over and says that they were both treated the same way by the man. Juliana’s made it so far… how else will she find George Dixon?
NEXT: A Resistance mission and a deadly decision
Meanwhile, Tagomi — possibly the one character who could truly make his “way out” of the world — finds that it’s impossible to work against the General, instead having to approve his plans to use public buses to transport the deadly uranium. Kotomichi tries to cheer him up, but to no avail. Tagomi can’t be brought back — though he does notice the scars on Kotomichi’s wrist.
But before we go back to Tagomi, we first see Frank — now a part of the Resistance though he’s reluctant to declare himself a member so far — driving the Resistance members to a factory, where the Kempeitai are rounding up workers to be placed on a bus carrying uranium. They use Sara as bait and have Gary put a gun to her head, and the Resistance get the upper hand when Sara stops playing victim and knocks out a guard. But when they get caught by another Kempeitai officer, Frank rushes up to the scene, spots a dropped gun, and then sneaks up behind the officer and… shoots him in cold blood. Gary clearly approves, but Frank looks surprised by his own, killer move.
Speaking of killers (oof, sorry), John Smith has always been a stern, cold Nazi officer. But across the first season and his scenes so far, we’ve also seen him as a family man, caring deeply for his son — and in this season’s premiere, you see how shaken he is to have nearly not come home to his family. But because his only son Thomas has a rare, terminal disease that will show symptoms eventually, John has to decide whether he should follow the rules of the Reich and euthanize his own son for his genetic defect. Yeah.
Up until now, John has kept Thomas’ condition a secret and tried to put it off, but Thomas’ doctor, who first warned John of what’s happening to his son, tells John that Thomas’ condition will soon be reported up the ladder, and once the information’s public, John and the Reich will be forced to end Thomas’ life. With that knowledge, John tries to follow the rules — in fact, he goes so far as to take Thomas with him on a fishing trip.
Father and son talk, and after John tells Thomas he’s proud of him, Thomas starts talking about how he’s doing in school. And as he listens to his son talk about the girl he likes and, you know, other such normal teenage matters, John starts staring off into space — you can almost see the gears turning in his head — and his ears (or at least, the episode’s audio) starts buzzing.
Next thing we know, John is flagging down Thomas’ doctor and meeting with him inside his car. He delivers what sounds like the beginning of a somber monologue talking about how he euthanized Thomas… but then, as the doctor apologizes for how much John had to go through, John plunges the syringe the doctor had given him to end Thomas’ life into the doctor’s own thigh. So in a way, yes, John Smith did just save his son’s life — but he saved it by taking another… while knowing that his son will eventually die. it’s a moment that isn’t so much shocking as it is sad. No matter what John did in this situation, he was going to lose. Again, there’s just no way out, no matter where you live in this upside-down America.
Which is probably why Tagomi does what he does at the end of this hour. Inside his office, he grabs a photo of his late wife, and the buzzing sound he heard before begins. Kotomichi then overhears the shattering of glass — and when he enters his boss’ office to check on him, Tagomi is gone from his office, physically removed from the reality he’s in, with only the shattered photo left behind. Where did he go?
That edge-of-your-seat ending combined with the devastating John Smith story and Juliana’s harrowing introduction to the Reich make this the best hour of The Man in the High Castle so far this season. I’m still not sure the writers can keep Frank’s Resistance mission going the way it is while keeping the yakuza a part of the story, and though I’m excited to see a character travel to the heart of the Axis powers, I’m not sure where Joe can go from here. With so much more happening with everyone else, leaving Joe to grapple with, well, his daddy issues is, frankly, a bit of a drag. Still, it’s exciting to see Juliana and John finally cross paths — and to see how far John and Tagomi will go.
Episode grade: A-