Amazon UK TV review: The Man in the High Castle Season 2 (Episodes 1 to 5) – spoilers
Ian Winterton | On 21, Dec 2016Reading time: 4 mins
Warning: This contains spoilers. Not caught up with The Man in the High Castle Season 2? Read our spoiler-free review of the opening episode here.
“Most people are different, depending on whether they’re hungry, safe or scared.”
So says Abendsen (Stephen Root ), the titular Man in the High Castle. But, though seemingly rendered cynical and world weary after years of exposure to film reels showing humanity’s darkest deeds, he’s still attempting to do good. And it’s exploring this question – are we merely the product of our environment or do we always have choice? – that’s at the heart of Season 2.
“I don’t believe our fate is inevitable,” says Juliana (Alexa Devalos). “I don’t know if we can change it, but I believe we have to try.”
Each of the primary characters in The Man in the High Castle has choices to make. Even an individual as loathsome as Obergruppenführer Smith (Rufus Sewell) decides to murder a doctor, rather than follow the rules of his beloved Reich and have his ailing son terminated.
Each character, too, is pitted against the institution for which they find themselves serving. Nazi agent Joe Blake (Luke Kleintank ), realising “This isn’t the man I want to be”, wants to quit and return to his honest construction job; unfortunately for him, he’s rather more tied up in the Third Reich than most people.
But caught between every faction going is Juliana. After handing the film reel over to Joe at the close of Season 1, the resistance want her dead, she’s wanted by the Japanese authorities in the Pacific States and it’s almost certain that the Nazis know she’s already been in touch with the elusive Abendsen. So, when she runs from gun-wielding Japanese troops towards equally well-armed Nazi guards, it seems perfectly logical that she should make an unthinkable choice: seeking asylum in the Greater American Reich.
Meanwhile, Japanese Trade Minister Tagomi (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa) continues to try and do good, despite the corruption of his superiors – this season represented by pompous egotist General Onada (Tzi Ma). What will likely prove to be Tagpolmi’s wake-up call comes when he attempts to undermine the General’s plan to transport nuclear fissile material in buses, which will prove fatal to the innocent American passengers. He knows it’s not his fault but they will die, he says ruefully, “because I failed to prevent it”.
Experiencing a similar epiphany is Frank (Rupert Evans), whose involvement with the resistance is distinctly more cordial than Juliana’s, especially when he falls for Japanese-American guerrilla Sarah (one of the best of this season’s new characters, brilliantly played by Cara Mitsuko). Though acting out of the best of motives, it’s once he starts killing that he commits. “They say it takes a lot of effort not to be free,” he says, following the firefight. “I feel better than I have done in a long time.”
With Juliana in New York, we get to see more closely how life under a victorious Third Reich might be. Especially chilling is the medical examination she is forced to endure before being granted asylum – a series of checks to establish racial purity is literally dehumanising. And her studies for her citizenship test give the show’s creators another way to remind America that, while it’s no Third Reich, it’s far from perfect. “We must study the American exterminations before the Reich,” says her tutor – Smith’s son, Thomas (Quinn Lord). “What? Didn’t they teach you about the Indians?”
As well as spending more time in Nazi New York, the world of The Man in the High Castle also expands through Joe’s story as he visits his father, Reichsminister Martin Heusmann (Sebastian Roché), in Berlin. He’s shocked to discover that he is lebensborn, the result of the Reich’s (real life) breeding programme and, judging by the reverence with which his father’s housekeeper treats him, he and his kind are something akin to Nazi saints. This is just one of the startling revelations that this season of Man in the High Castle specialises in. As well as Joe’s disturbing parentage, the plot literally thickens at the close of Episode 5.
Tagomi, who crosses over into our reality again, wanders through San Francisco as the Cuban Missile Crisis plays out. Sitting in the legendary beat poets bookshop City Lights, he slowly turns the pages of a book on World War II, watching as the Nazis and the Japanese Empire are defeated. But, when he sees the mushroom cloud over Hiroshima, he’s clearly devastated – superb acting from Tagawa in a scene of incredible power.
But this incredible first half of Season 2 isn’t done with us yet. Tagomi visits his home in our reality and discovers he’s divorcing his wife. His son, who consequently hates him, is married and has a baby. And his wife, emerging from the other room? Juliana.
Well played, Man in the Castle. Consider us gripped.
Seasons 1 and 2 of The Man in the High castle are now available exclusively on Amazon Prime Video, as part of a £5.99 monthly subscription – or, if you also want free next-day delivery and access to Spotify rival Prime Music, a full £79 annual Amazon Prime membership.