The Man In The High Castle S02E01 “The Tiger’s Cave” REVIEW
Available on Amazon Instant now
Writer: Frank Spotnitz
Director: Daniel Percival
Essential Plot Points:
- In case we have forgotten the horror of The Man In The High Castle’s premise since the end of season one, season two opens with a bunch of kids in an American classroom in Long Island taking a pledge of allegiance before class and doing the Nazi salute. Brrrrr.
- Joe, fleeing from the Resistance on the fishing boat, makes a deal with the crew when they find out that he’s a Nazi. He’s flown away by seaplane and they get 200,000 yen each to spend as a reward. But, because Nazis are devious arseholes, they blow the boat up anyway.
- Joe isn’t happy. He delivers the film to Obergruppenführer John Smith, and tells him he wants to quit. Smith isn’t particularly interested.
- Later, Smith takes the film to Hitler in Berlin. The Führer clearly isn’t well – he’s shaking uncontrollably. Hitler views the footage of San Francisco being destroyed and sweeps his lamp off his desk in fury. He tells Smith he HAS to find the Man In The High Castle.
- Someone else doing some furious desk-sweeping is Frank, who can’t get the Japanese to release his friend Ed, who they’ve arrested for trying to assassinate their Crown Prince.
- He goes to see the antiquities dealer Childan, and, by pointing out that the bullets in the gun were bought from him, blackmails Childan into taking him to his wealthy lawyer client Mr Kasoura. There, they ask Kasoura for help freeing Ed.
- Juliana, who betrayed the Resistance by letting Joe go, is taken to see the Man In The High Castle at last. He turns out to be named Abendsen and is clearly rather unhinged. His “castle” is just a barn filled with impossible films.
- He gets her to try to identify a man in one of the films who seems to be responsible for the destruction of San Francisco – she can’t.
- Because of Wegener’s treachery last season, the Japanese are now building a bomb (the one that will destroy San Francisco, perhaps?). Or so the newly-arrived General Onada tells his team when he arrives in the city.
- Trade Minister Tagomi isn’t happy about this: after all, his meditations take him to a world in which Japan and Germany never won the war, and it’s a happier place. He asks his assistant about what happens when he meditates, but it’s clearly only happening to him.
- Juliana is taken from Abendsen’s lair and the new man in charge, Gary Connell, says he’s going to kill her despite his orders saying not to. She escapes and there’s a shootout in which the Resistance’s Karen is killed. Gary is furious.
- Juliana realises that she last saw a young Gary at the funeral of her parents (possibly – it’s hard to tell because it was a weird dream montage…).
It’s impossible to review this opening episode of The Man In The High Castle season two without making a reference to the fact that right-wing politics are becoming scarily every-day in what used to be a liberal, sane world – and thus, watching this show feels less like “dark entertainment” and more like “a possible glimpse of the world to come”. Grim. But still, for now, at least, it’s just a TV show, and we’ll swallow down our bile to review it as such… and hope it can serve as a warning to anyone out there who’s thinking: “Hey, maybe the Nazis were admirable chaps after all!”
Saying that, there’s an issue with this series that can’t be ignored. Season one of The Man In The High Castle was a complex, fascinating exploration of an alternate history in which – we’re sorry to say – all the “goodie” characters were as boring as watching a documentary about paint drying (excellent double-agent Wegener aside: we will miss him), while all the “baddie” characters, as well as being murderous, evil bastards, were intriguing and highly watchable.
Rufus Sewell’s layered Obergruppenführer has always been the highlight, along with Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa’s tormented Trade Minister Tagomi and Joel De La Fuente’s brisk, terrifying Inspector Kido. And it seems this trend will continue into season two, because it doesn’t seem to matter what the writers throw at Juliana, Frank and Joe (even if we’re never quite sure of just how “good” or “bad” Joe is), they’re always less fun to watch than everybody else.
Even Juliana’s meeting with Abendsen, the Man In The High Castle himself, is less interesting than it should be – it’s too brief, too nebulous, and Stephen Root’s twitchy performance as he drops a few hints about the show’s future feels a little too studied and irritating. You can’t help feeling that the show really needs someone more compelling to follow – although, given the introduction of the always-watchable Callum Keith Rennie as one of the Resistance leaders, perhaps one of the “good” guys will finally fill that niche. Even if he is a right bastard as well.
Mind you, as we discovered in the last season finale, any scene containing Hitler automatically ramps things up a few levels. The fabulously named Wolf Muser is clearly enjoying himself in the role of Old Man Fuhrer, and seeing him freak out about the destruction of San Francisco here is a lovely nod to the now-infamous portrayal of “Hitler freaking out” from the film Downfall that was parodied so mercilessly on YouTube (here’s one about Trump winning the election). Hopefully we’ll see more of Obergruppenführer Smith interacting with his Führer, now he’s in Berlin. (Which, incidentally, is beautifully designed and realised by the show’s art and FX teams.)
As for the plot: there’s surprisingly less fallout from last season’s final-scene jaunt by Tagomi to a parallel-world USA than we would like to have seen, but perhaps this will build up as the season continues. The wheels are also pleasingly in motion now for the Japanese to start challenging their German allies, although as we all know, it won’t end well.
And, amid all the big-picture arcs, it was touching to see both Smith and his wife having an emotional reunion, and Tagomi taking the time to call Wegener’s wife to find out what happened to his partner-in-crime. Poor Tagomi: he’s a man with a conscience and a soul in world that’s lost both.
- We don’t quite understand all of Juliana’s dream montage (yet), but it was certainly pretty.
- Mrs Smith doubling over with relief when she realises her husband survived the attempted coup is beautifully acted. For a while there, she really thought it was all over for her family… as it no doubt must be for poor Mrs Wegener in Berlin.
- This shot of Tagomi is simply beautiful:
- The final moment, with Juliana having a flashback, really wasn’t as interesting as the writers seemed to have thought we’d find it. For real tension, why not end it with her thinking she’s about to be killed? Why would be care about some random guy at a funeral? Still, perhaps we’ll find out later how momentous this memory really is…
And The Random:
- Showrunner Frank Spotnitz left the show this season (although this episode is still written by him). As it was a little unexpected – that old “creative differences” chestnut – the series this year actually has no showrunner, per se.
- Best Quote: Tagomi: “You must know, your husband died trying to make the world a better place.”
Mrs Wegener: “And did he? Trying is not enough, is it?”
Reviewed by Jayne Nelson