The Man in the High Castle Season Two

I really enjoyed the second season of this intriguing series, and if anyone wonders if it is worth watching; the answer is yes. This review contains spoilers; so if you haven’t finished watching all ten episodes, stop reading now and go watch, then please come back. A lot of great story plots and characters are featured in this season.

Warning:  Spoilers to follow...

This series combines so many interesting elements; not just story-wise, but visually as well. The sets, costumes, props, and hundreds of background actors really bring this world to life.

Season one was pretty good, but very slow moving. Season two is action packed. The main characters are reintroduced in the first episode, where we also learn the identity of The Man. It is not Hitler, as some have thought, but a man by the name of Hawthorne Abendsen, played by the great Stephen Root. His “high castle” is his mind, apparently, kind of like Sherlock’s mind palace. We don’t get a lot of back story on him, but he is still a fascinating character.

We also get more action from the Resistance, which now includes a fiery leader named Gary, who is played by Callum Keith Rennie. Frank is going to get in deep with them, which is both a good and bad thing for his character. It’s good in that he gets a lot of dramatic scenes, but it also limits his character; he’s very angry and little else. If he didn’t have Ed around to humanize him, I don’t think he would have any depth at all. Speaking of Ed, played by DJ Qualls; that man pretty much saves Frank's story from lacking humor and emotional moments.  He has such an expressive face, he was wonderful in every scene.  The comedy team of Qualls and Brennan Brown, who plays Childan, really made this arc more interesting. Does anyone else think that Brown could be Data’s (Star Trek: TNG) other long lost brother? The resemblance is uncanny.

Joe had a rough arc this season. He was separated from Juliana the whole time, which was disappointing, and he spent most of his time trying to come to grips with his heritage. I felt for him after he was reunited with his father and found out that he was a Lebensborn baby. However, his dalliance with that blonde lady was boring, and he really didn’t have much to do. I thought the writers really didn’t use his character effectively.

The best part of this season was following Juliana in her quest to find a mysterious man from her mother’s past, who appears in a key role in the films. I think that the best decision the writers made this season was this: to get Juliana into the dark heart of The Reich. It is a fascinating world to visit; so pretty, clean, and calm on the outside, but twisted and bleak inside. Everything is fine as long as one plays their role, keeps their head down, and doesn’t have anything at all wrong with them, either physically or mentally. What a terrifying way to live.

Obergruppenfuhrer John Smith and his family are also a compelling story. Smith is a ruthless Nazi, but he obviously loves his wife and children very much. It is clear that John and his wife Helen are a team, and that they have a very good relationship. I found myself forgetting the horrors that the Nazis inflicted as I admired the Smith’s stately home. Their kitchen was very nice. It had a TV, a lit up mini fridge, and what looked like a washing machine built right into the wall. Pretty high tech for the sixties, I thought.

Thomas Smith is a sensitive boy who also, unfortunately, wanted to be the perfect Nazi. He had a very sad fate in store for him, which added much drama to this season, and I really felt bad for him and his family. Yes, they made their own beds, and now had to lie in them, but it was still horrible to watch his mother’s despair as she knew that she was going to lose her son, one way or another. That final scene of Thomas’s, as he walked away from her into the arms of The Reich’s health department, and as she was crying his name and being restrained… that really got to me. I have two children who were diagnosed with disabilities when they were little (one severe and one mild), and I can’t even comprehend what it would be like to see them taken away to be “eradicated.”

The Japanese are not much better than the Nazis, in this story; they can be ruthless, also. Chief Inspector Kido seems to be a very cold man, but in the end he does what he can to avert war with the Nazis.  Trade Minister Tagomi is portrayed as a gentle man who only wants a safe world to live in. He spends a lot of time in an alternate universe getting to know his family, who are alive in that one. He is happy to make peace with his son, hold his grandchild, eat a Twinkie, and bond with his daughter-in-law who just happens to be Juliana. I loved watching him explore another world, and get more clues about how those pesky films might travel through realities.  I hope more seasons are coming soon, so we can get more stories about this world and others. There are lots of different ways that the writers can go with this show, and that’s what makes it exciting.

I loved Juliana’s interactions with Abendsen and that scene where he explained how Juliana was their only hope. He said that she had an unnaturally consistent mind and that she was always the same. One selfless act of love and hope would save them all. I loved that exchange. Alexa Davalos was excellent this season. She really sold Juliana's desperation to survive the madness all around her. As a reward, she gets the one thing that she wanted the most — to not be alone. Her sister, or a version of her, is there to meet her.

The final episode is so great, with John Smith, Kido, Tagomi, and even Himmler, of all people, racing to save the world from a plot to start World War Three. It's funny how the death of Hitler was suddenly a bad thing. Who are the good guys in this story and who are the villains? When I think of a resistance movement, I think of the wonderful people who helped the Jews escape the Holocaust, not people blowing up other people. Is it all just a matter of perspective?

This series is so complicated and sad, but also quite brilliant. They really stepped it up this season in pace, action, and compelling acting. The guest cast was great; we got three cast members of Battlestar Galactica and three cast members of Supernatural. Valerie Mahaffey was great as Susan, as was Tate Donovan as George Dixon. That scene in the alley between George and Juliana as everything comes full circle was amazing. The scene in the war room as the Nazis plan their final war as the Master Race was so chilling.  The threat of nuclear war is still a horror that we live with today, and one that the world might never get away from.  I love a fictional apocalypse or dystopia, but let's keep them fictional, pretty please.

This was a very good season and except for the less than exciting arc for Joe, a big improvement over season one, which was still quite good. I’m hopeful that season three is being planned because a period drama that includes sci-fi elements and mind-bending storytelling doesn’t come along very often.

Mallena loves her DVR, her Pug, anything in the sci-fi, fantasy, or supernatural genres, and her family.  Well, maybe not in that particular order.

4 comments:

Josie Kafka said...

I'm really excited to read this review, Mallena! I just skimmed it, because I've only watched one episode so far. It's a rather dour show and I feel like I have to be in a particular mood to watch it.

Mallena said...

Josie, I learned a few things while writing this review. First, season reviews are hard. It's not easy to make 20 pages of notes into something coherent. Secondly, it's also hard to find ways to praise a show about Nazis, without seeming to praise Nazis. For the record: boo those meanies, yay freedom. This second season is a lot less dour than the first and keeps the story moving at a brisker pace than the first season. Keep watching, it's worth it.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the review Mallena! I finally finished the season today and definitely agree that it was significantly better than season 1. I especially loved the attention to detail the shows gives the alternate historical period - 1960s Nazi Berlin was fascinating to see!

Obergruppenfuhrer John Smith and Juliana are definitely my favourite characters. Seeing their stories develop this season was a highlight for me. I found the Pacific States resistance story a little boring and repetitive... I just didn't enjoy watching it at all.

Can't wait for season 3 :)

Sancho

Mallena said...

Thanks Sancho, I appreciate your comment. I'm sure that this series is making Nazi America all shiny and bright and the Pacific Resistance so dark and dreary to make their story more complex. It is a really clever angle to present this show that way. Evil is not always evident, it can hide behind a lovely facade.