Wednesday, November 29, 2017

TV Series Review - The Man in the High Castle Season 2

The Man in the High Castle Season 2
Based on the book by Philip K. Dick
Starring: Alexa Davalos, Conor Leslie, Tate Donovan, Valerie Mahaffey, Macall Gordon, Daniel Roebuck, Rufus Sewell, Chelah Horsdal, Quinn Lord, Gracyn Shinyei, Genea Charpentier, Emily Holmes, Jessie Fraser, Gillian Barber, Aaron Blakely, Ray Proscia, Luke Kleintank, Sebastian Roché, Wolf Muser, Kenneth Tigar, Bella Heathcote, Gabrielle Rose, Joel de la Fuente, Lee Shorten, Tzi Ma, Alex Zahara, Hiro Kanagawa, Louis Ozawa Changchien, Brennan Brown, DJ Qualls, Rupert Evans, Cara Mitsuko, Callum Keith Rennie, Rick Worthy, Michael Hogan, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, Arnold Chun, Yukari Komatsu, Eddie Shin, and Stephen Root
Release Date: December 16th, 2016
Rating: ★★★★★
To Watch

Juliana Crain's actions have gotten her into trouble. Handing over the film to Joe, a known Nazi, has sparked the ire of the resistance and has led to her being brought before The Man in the High Castle himself. He won't answer her many question, including whether she appears in the countless films he has surrounding him, he only wants her to answer one question, did she recognize one specific man in the film she gave to Joe? She knows she's seen him before but not who he is. Now certain members of the resistance want her dead but little do they know she has remembered the man, he was a comrade of her father's and, as it turns out, her sister Trudy's real father. But George Dixon lives in New York, deep in the heart of the Reich. Knowing she isn't safe in San Francisco Juliana defects to the Nazis. The resistance had the wrong idea about why she gave Joe the film, so why not see if the Nazis will draw the same erroneous conclusion and let her infiltrate their ranks? All she planned on doing was finding George and getting some answers, but he's in the resistance as well and with Juliana being sponsored by Obergruppenführer John Smith she is placed to help like never before and wash the slate clean for the film debacle. Though giving the resistance information on people she's come to know, even if they're Nazis, is harder than she would have thought. Whereas back in San Francisco Frank is good with doing whatever the resistance wants, even blowing up the Kenpeitai headquarters if it comes to that.

Also in New York Joe's actions haven't gotten him in trouble at all. In fact he's being lauded for his work and has been called to Berlin to finally meet his father, Reichsminister Martin Heusmann. Joe learns that his entire life has been a lie. He was bred by the Nazis to be a part of their master race. A master race that is ready to finally take full control of the world and eliminate their allies, the Japanese. Yet from what The Man in the High Castle has seen, if all the pieces line up just right another world war can be averted. This all hinges on Trade Minister Tagomi. Tagomi has found a way out of this world. He has found his way into a world where the Axis powers lost and where is wife and son still live. In this world he also has a daughter-in-law, Juliana. The woman who was once in his employ in his world is here his daughter. But there is a distance with this family he longed to find again. He slowly starts to bridge the gap. Why would he want to return to his world when everything he could ever want is here? His son and Juliana belong to a group that hopes to "Ban the Bomb." The group watches video footage of what an H-bomb can do. Tagomi is shocked by the destruction, his world only has A-Bombs, which are actually used to detonate H-bombs. They are so much more deadly, so much more powerful, but the video just happens to have been shot in what is Japanese territory in his world. If Tagomi could take this film back there he could scare the Germans into believing that the Japanese could destroy them, therefore the delicate balance of world peace would be restored. Only Tagomi could lose his own chance at happiness in saving his world. 

I have spent a little over a week binging The Man in the High Castle's first two seasons and I am not exaggerating when I say I could literally go back to the first episode right now and start all over again. What's interesting about season two is that now that they are running out of narrative from the book they are expanding the universe but then linking it back to the original story when you least expect it. Small, throwaway lines have become fully developed into catalysts for world changing events. While in the book Hitler's death is important, it's almost part of the background noise. It's happening, but it was inevitable. Here, because we actually have characters embedded in the Reich we see the power struggle, we see the plays for control, we get a richer experience. Because so much of season two is taking the characters we loved and scattering them to the four corners of the earth and watching them interact with different characters we never thought they'd meet. This gulf between them makes them all have to survive more on their own but at the same time it makes you feel disconnected. They aren't all trying to get back to each other, they're just trying to survive and make it in the world they've created for themselves so sometimes, just for a second or two, you think, perhaps the series has lost it's way. Yet by the end I realized I should have never doubted anything. The Man in the High Castle was using his knowledge, threading the needle of possibilities to get the best outcome for his world, and that meant the strongest ending you could imagine with each and every character playing their part in order for that end to be achieved. Go team!

Of course for that ending to be possible some characters have fallen by the side of the road and some have just fallen. Frank for example. Frank has fallen. In the first season he was a sympathetic character. He'd just lost his sister and her two kids because of his heritage and his belief in Juliana. His attempt to assassinate the Prince of Japan was a reckless moment that he grew to strongly regret. But seeing his brains blown out in a possible future in one of the films bound for The Man in the High Castle unhinges him. It's like he knows his death is coming so instead of being just grief-stricken he becomes careless. He is reckless with his own life and out of nowhere he becomes an asshole. While I should be marveling in the fact that Rupert Evans is such a good actor that he can make me hate him so much after feeling so sorry for him instead I just want to punch him in the face. I mean it, I seriously NEED to punch him in the face. He's become a dick and he needs to die. Even his best friend Ed, who will literally take anything from anyone calls him out on it. That's how low you've fallen Frank! And yet without Frank I wouldn't get some of my favorite scenes in season two. In order to get Ed released from prison Frank formed an alliance with Robert Childan and the Yakuza to make forgeries of American antiques. This is a bit of a twist on the arrangement in the book where Ed and Frank make jewelry that Childan then sells in his shop. But it's the expansion of the friendship between Ed and Childan that is at the heart of the show. They're both underdogs who don't trust each other but realize they can use each other. In fact, can we just give these two an "Odd Couple" like spin-off right now set in the neutral zone?

Whereas on the other coast Juliana is living this weird Nazi filtered Leave it to Beaver life. In fact, does anyone else remember that horrible John Travolta movie The Experts about Russians trying to become Americans? I feel like it's a weird parallel world like that, they're trying so hard but something is just off. These ARE Americans, and yet they're Nazis! In a flashback we see Obergruppenführer John Smith on his way to Washington when the bomb went off. He WAS an American. He WAS in the army. And yet he's been totally indoctrinated. The insight into the American Reich is something entirely new that this adaptation did which the book never explored. While getting to see it last season through Joe we saw it at a distance. He was technically an insider and therefore the world didn't shock him. But for Juliana, well it is a foreign country. While her world is also foreign to us, the things she points out, the protection she gives the ailing Thomas, these are things we can relate to and therefore her eyes become our eyes. In fact when she tells Dixon that she feels sorry for them I totally agree. They might be people with different beliefs, some of them sick and demented calling for the killing of the ill, but they are still people. They still live and love and are worthy of our sympathy. And that's how you know if you're a good person, if you can find the good in anyone. If, on the other hand you just see people below you? Well, then you're a Nazi in your heart of hearts and are not a good person. 

Though the person who once again makes all the incredibly talented cast look like amateurs is Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa as Tagomi. Everyone has seen him in something, from Big Trouble in Little China to Rising Sun to Mortal Komat to basically every TV show ever, he's always played larger than life characters like Edie Sakamura memorably belting out "Don't Fence Me In." Yet here his performance is subtle, nuanced, and he's finally getting the props he deserves for being such an amazing actor. He is the heart, he is the lifeblood of The Man in the High Castle, and he is perfection. It's not that his foresight saves his world and makes him a hero, it's the little moments that bring it all together. Watching his wife through the window as the blossoms fall from the tree. Carefully fixing a cup that was destroyed and resulted in a fissure developing between himself and his family. The subtle expressions of how he sees this new and strange world he has become a part of and trying to rectify his knowledge with this new knowledge. The joy of holding his grandchild for the first time. Plus finding out that the connection between him and Juliana, that protectiveness he felt in this world is the love for a daughter, it's heartbreaking. Each and every little moment adds up to an Emmy worthy role. But then, to have him turn his back on this happiness, turn away to save his world when he could just live here, that shows the worth of the man. He can't be happy if those he cares for are in danger. Seriously, is someone going to give him an Emmy and me something to wipe away my tears?

An interesting fact about this show is that despite being set in the 60s in San Francisco there has been little to no mention about the drug culture, which Philip K. Dick did somewhat include by the legal and copious use of marijuana in his book. But in season two this all changes! Not only do the marijuana cigarettes, Land O' Smiles, make an appearance, there's far more drug use and "free love." The importance of finally including the counter culture and the peaceful protests is that it gives the viewers something they can more directly relate to. It's more a history we know, with the Berkley protests, but what's more it's a history we're currently living through. What I found extremely interesting though are that those most embracing the love and drugs are the children of those in command in the Reich, the Lebensborn, the genetically engineered superior race of which Joe belongs. They're all about sex without boundaries and drug experimentation. It's like we've gone back in time to the Weimar Republic which Christopher Isherwood wrote about and became immortalized in Cabaret. One starts to wonder, as Joe's new lady friend Nicole says, if perhaps things would be different if the new, younger generation were in charge? Do the youth of Germany hold the same beliefs as their parents? We've seen in Obergruppenführer John Smith's son a certain Hitler Youth fanaticism, but what about those put into power? Joe quickly becomes his father's right hand man and doesn't hold the same beliefs... one wonders, with the death of Hitler, if enough time were to pass would the Nazis just go away? A thought for another season, which I wish was available right now!   


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