While Joe goes on a strange acid trip with some Nazis, Tagomi takes a trip of his own... into the heart of the Cuban Missile Crisis
The Man in the High Castle has been playing with notions of alternate universes ever since last season’s finale. It’s come to the forefront this season, as Trade Minister Tagomi continues to find himself transporting to some alternate version of San Francisco, one where America looks a lot more like the one we know. Rock music plays, Lolita is available in book shops, and protesters are organizing in response to the Cuban Missile Crisis. Those are all stark cultural differences from the timeline Tagomi typically occupies, but things got personal at the end of the previous episode. With his latest transportation, Tagomi has met his son and, to his surprise, his son’s wife: Juliana.
Not only does Tagomi find that his son, Nori, is married to Juliana, but they also have a baby together. They’re a seemingly happy family, living with Tagomi’s wife, who just so happens to be in the process of filing for a divorce because her husband keeps disappearing on, as Nori puts it, “benders.” So is there a version of Tagomi disappearing from each alternate universe? Does he full-on vanish from the Pacific States when he finds his way to the American version of San Francisco? Hopefully, things will get clearer as the season progresses.
Back in the timeline where Japan and Germany are the occupying forces in America, Juliana is meeting with George, her father’s old army buddy who just so happens to be Trudy’s real father. While George is understandably hesitant to meet with her — you don’t just help out a known Nazi and then go skipping back to the Resistance and assume everything is peachy-keen — he sees value in her current closeness to the Smith family. He wants her to get close to Helen, whom he calls the “queen bee” of the Nazi social circle. That’s quite a title, but certainly earned.
So, while Joe is being pampered in Germany while also dealing with the news that he’s Lebensraum — essentially, the “perfect ideal” of the Aryan race that comes out of a breeding program — Juliana finds herself infiltrating Helen’s bridge club in the hopes of earning their trust. During their chats, the women begin to detail the necessity of reporting genetic defects in order to keep the Aryan race strong. Of course, Helen is currently avoiding reporting her own son because she knows he’d be killed. A surprise offer for him to travel to South America for some sort of Nazi outreach program only stokes her fear.
But, back to Joe. This episode is all about him finding his “true self,” which is about as complicated as it sounds. Lucky for him, finding himself involves dropping acid and making out with other hot Nazis. The scenes with Joe are largely ridiculous, rolling out countless drug-trip clichés while never really getting at the heart of his struggle, which is that he’s essentially been bred to be a Nazi, but he really doesn’t want to be one. By the end of the episode we see him putting on the SS outfit and staring at the armband emblazoned with the Nazi swastika. What does this mean for Joe, and for his uneasy alliance with Juliana and the Resistance? Only time will tell.
NEXT: Family lines
With Joe perhaps joining the Nazis — or, more likely, making it seem like he’s joining the Nazis — we jump back to Obergruppenführer Smith, who, as always, is crafting a plan that seems rather outlandish. Here, Helen confronts him at his office about Thomas’ trip to South America. She knows he can’t go, and yet John seems insistent. That’s because, as he reveals to her, he’s organized for a group to kidnap Thomas while on this trip. While the subsequent press will be all about how a high-profile target was kidnapped by the Resistance, in truth Thomas will be safe to live out his remaining days, free from the death sentence he’d receive back home. Maybe when you disagree with your own party’s policies, John, it’s time to switch things up and reconsider this whole Nazi thing.
Anyway, while Tagomi watches his son and Juliana run a “Ban the Bomb” meeting in the San Francisco house, Nazi Timeline Juliana goes shopping with Lucy Collins, the wife of a powerful Nazi who controls the news. “He controls what people think,” is how Lucy puts it, which offers up a pretty terrifying parallel to the world we’re living in now. In fact, much of this season is chilling to watch in the context of a looming alt-right movement within the current United States.
Really, Juliana’s story is at a bit of a standstill right now. She’s removed from most of the Resistance’s major players, and this episode just sees her biding her time, working her way into the social circle of the Nazis. That doesn’t make for the most compelling television, but it should pay off down the road.
In fact, much of this episode feels like table-setting for the rest of the season. Joe’s drug-induced romantic foray with Nicole is just the first step in him starting over, and Juliana’s time with the Nazi women serves the same purpose. Even Tagomi doesn’t get much to do beyond growing more and more confused as to how he’s moving from one timeline to another.
And yet, the episode ends with proclamations of hope through struggle. Juliana and George meet and, while sharing a beer, she tells him about how Trudy was convinced that she had “found a way out,” that she had stumbled upon the “answer to everything.” That make George more than a little curious. Then, a final montage is set to John F. Kennedy’s speech addressing the Cuban Missile Crisis, and how the nation needs to move forward with careful, peaceful action to ensure the safety of people around the world. It’s a rousing speech, but is it too little too late? After all, we’ve seen a bomb destroy San Francisco in one of the Man in the High Castle’s films.
For all of the hope that closes out the episode, destruction might be right around the corner.
Episode grade: B