When the truth about Hitler comes out, war becomes inevitable
“Detonation” revolves around a single event: the bombing of the Japanese headquarters in San Francisco. It’s the episode’s sole focus, and for good reason. The bombing brings all the characters together in a way that allows the show to meaningfully look at how these people are connected, and how their separate stories often overlap, even if they don’t know it. This season has been on a steady path toward destruction, and “Detonation” is the moment — or at least the first of perhaps many moments — we’ve been waiting for.
At the outset of the episode, war isn’t on the horizon. In fact, over in the other timeline, where Tagomi is still spending time with his family, a peace is brokered in the Cuban Missile Crisis. Nuclear disaster is barely avoided. Tagomi sees this as a sign that he needs to head back to his responsibilities, taking the lessons learned during his time away and applying them to the world he lives in. After he says his goodbyes he asks Juliana for what’s presumably the film of the atomic bomb testing, which he’ll use to show those in power just what destruction lies ahead, and how it should be avoided. Juliana gives him the film, and before she has time to get back inside, he’s vanished.
Things aren’t so cool and calm back in the world controlled by the Nazis and Japanese. Juliana, having fully integrated herself into the Nazis’ good graces, approaches Henry near his office and tells him that Lucy is in a room upstairs feeling faint and unwell. He rushes upstairs with Juliana, only to be held at gunpoint by George. Thus, the Resistance’s big plan is underway.
That plan? Use Henry, who controls the news, to break into a station and get a message out to the millions of people watching. By using his family as leverage — George, who may be bluffing, reveals that Lucy is pregnant, and thus Henry should probably cooperate — the Resistance gets Henry to go on air and reveal that the Reich has been lying to the public and that Hitler is actually dead. He barely gets those words out before he’s shot dead as Juliana watches in horror.
With the Resistance seemingly operating with no pushback from the Nazis, acting Chancellor Heusmann calls John Smith to reprimand him for his handling of the situation. Now he has no choice but to go on the air and confirm that Hitler is indeed dead. Of course, the Nazis don’t go on the air without a plan, and a dangerous one at that: Heusmann goes live and tells the people that while it was initially assumed that Hitler died of natural causes, an investigation has found a rare poison in his blood, and a further investigation has put the blame solely on the Japanese. Heusmann labels it an assassination and an act of war, kicking off a chain of events that leads straight to the detonation of the episode’s title.
NEXT: Frank’s last stand
With the Reich investigating the Japanese, now is the time for the Resistance to strike. Gary brings Frank in to discuss the plan for the bomb. It’s actually fairly simple: drive a car into the garage under the guise of being a chauffeur, park the car, flip the switch for the bomb, and get the hell out of there. Gary says he’ll do the job himself, but Frank wants to take it on. He says if Kido is one of the targets, then he’s meant to execute the attack as a way of getting revenge for the death of his sister and her kids.
In the previous episode, I criticized the show for getting a little too hurried in its back half, and that feels true again here. The plot threads that need to be rushed through in order to get to that climax, with Frank setting off the bomb inside the Japanese headquarters, never feel all that important. A lot gets lost in the noise, as The Man in the High Castle never takes a moment to dwell on its emotional implications.
Take the meeting between Thomas and Juliana for instance. He’s come to her for the truth about his illness, but she knows she can’t say much to him, both for his protection and for her own. Juliana’s entire arc in this episode is supposed to be about her maybe crossing a line and hurting some people that she genuinely likes, even if they are Nazis, and yet actress Alexa Davalos is never given much space to explore Juliana’s deeper pain.
Instead, we get a flashback that’s meant to give Ed and Frank their own emotional moment, and yet that doesn’t quite hit home either. In the flashback, Ed meets Juliana, the girl his best friend can’t stop raving about, for the first time. It’s an adorable flashback that shows the strength of the trio, that their friendship is something special. It’s meant to make Frank’s (potential) sacrifice later all the more heartbreaking and noble, but considering how Juliana and Frank haven’t had a scene together in ages, and Frank has pretty much treated Ed like crap the entire season, it’s not exactly convincing watching the show roll all that back for a quick moment of sentimentality.
The sentimentality would be nice if it was given room to breathe. Instead, “Demolition” surges forward, as Tagomi makes his way back to the current timeline and discovers that Kotomichi, his trusted ally, was a victim of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings in the future alternate timeline. Again, this is a revelation that could use a lot more time to explain and understand, but something tells me that The Man in the High Castle isn’t all that sure about what to do with its time travel conceit. It feels like they’re just throwing things at the wall and seeing what sticks with no real plan of how to make it stick.
The rest of the episode flies through plot points. We see John Smith watching the film of Juliana and Thomas’ meeting, after which he takes the film to keep it out of Nazi hands. Then, the final big moment: Frank and Sarah infiltrate the Japanese headquarters, only to be detained by a security guard and then spotted by Kido. Shots are fired before the bomb explodes, but we’ll have to wait for the aftermath. All we know is that Kido survives the bombing, and while we assume Frank is dead, that’s hardly a guarantee. It’s one more mystery The Man in the High Castle might have no interest in explaining anytime soon.
Episode Grade: C+