Cameron Lee ‘20 / Emertainment Monthly contributor
Spoiler Alert: This review contains spoilers for the 2nd season of The Man in the High Castle
The Man in the High Castle is at its best when it takes full advantage of its concept. Like its first season, there are moments of greatness here but these are mixed with lackluster characters and pacing issues that drag the show to a halt.
This season picks up shortly after the first season ended. Juliana Crain (Alexa Davalos) is in trouble with the resistance for giving Joe Blake (Luke Kleintank) the forbidden film. She is sent to the Man in The High Castle (Stephen Root), who berates her with questions about the film she just saw. Juliana’s boyfriend, Frank (Rupert Evans), becomes trapped with the Yakuza for a deal he made to get his friend, Ed (DJ Qualls), out of Inspector Kido’s hands. Meanwhile, Trade Minister Nobusuke Tagomi (Cary – Hiroyuki Tagawa) somehow manages to travel into the alternate timeline that was teased at the end of season 1. There he finds his wife, who is dead in his reality, and her son who just happens to have a child and is married to an alternate version of Juliana. In New York, SS officer John Smith (Rufus Sewell) sends a very conflicted Joe to his father in Berlin. He also has to deal with keeping his son’s medical diagnosis a secret by any means necessary.
The first half of the season moves at a slow, and often frustrating, pace. Interesting questions and characters are frequently moved to the background just as they start to get compelling. The two leads, Juliana and Joe, are the two least interesting characters on the show. It’s not that the actors aren’t trying their best, the problem is that they’re poorly written. More often than not, their role comprises of looking pissed off, not agreeing with any of what the well-developed characters have to say. They often mess up other characters’ plans by way of the pure stupidity of their actions. Frank, as a character, has improved substantially and his storyline is one of the season’s highlights. Going from a weak man who had lost everything to a strong resistance fighter is compelling.
Towards the end of the season, Frank presumably dies in the bombing of Kempeitai HQ. Storywise this is a great way to end his arc, but, on the other hand, he is one of the best characters on the show. Knowing the golden rule of television, that we need to see a body or that the character needs to have fulfilled his or her purpose (aka Jon Snow, Glenn from the Walking Dead, and many others), Frank is most likely fine. We’ll just to have to wait and see. John Smith’s storyline also proved to be a highlight in this season. Mr. Sewell continues to give the best performance on the show, he is ruthless but also sympathetic. His moral dilemma of serving the reich while also saving his son from a horrible fate could have turned out cheesy, but it’s handled with care and good performances and avoids turning into an ABC lifetime drama.
But, by far the best part of the season is Trade Minister’s Togami’s journey into an alternative version of 1962. The show has many science fiction elements to it, its source material is from the same author who created Blade Runner and Total Recall. The idea of having alternate versions of our characters in an alternate timeline provides so many possibilities for the future of this show.
The latter half of the season picks up and does go deeper into the shows “what if” scenario. Hitler dies, Japan and Germany almost start world war 3… all that good stuff. The final scene of the season ends with the Man in the High Castle revealing that Juliana’s sister is alive. Is she the alternate version of her sister? What does the Man in the High Castle want? Who knows? But, if the show sticks to its strengths and goes all in on its alternate universe concept, The Man in the High Castle has a chance to drastically improve. Overall this season felt like a show in transition, with no clear direction until the very end.