‘The Man in the High Castle: Season 2, Episode 1’ - TV Review

The disturbingly beautiful rendition of “Edelweiss” by Jeanette Olsson in the opening credits of The Man in the High Castle brings us to the alternate reality where the Nazis rule eastern America and the Japanese have control of the west coast. Adapted from Philip K. Dick’s short novel of the same title, The Man in the High Castle shows us an America that lost World War II; however, this world is not as simple as an alternate version of history. When videos inconsistent with this reality are discovered, showing America winning the war, the characters risk their lives trying to get their hands on the films. Season 1 left us wondering whose side characters were really on, with growing tensions between the Nazis, the Japanese, and a secret group called Resistance. The sci-fi element throughout Season 1 has been subtle but present enough to raise questions as to whether these characters can recover the history that we know. Season 2 provides similar suggestions of alternate realities coexisting, and the first episode, “The Tiger’s Cave,” leaves us anticipating another great season.

In the Season 1 finale, Trade Minister Nobusuke Tagomi (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa) got a glimpse of the “real” San Francisco that we recognize from our own history. Season 2, however, immediately brings us back to the alternate reality of Season 1. With Paul Anka’s “My Home Town” playing in the background, Thomas Smith (Quinn Lord) walks into his high school and flirtatiously smiles at a pretty girl. His classmates then recite a pledge to the Nazis followed by a powerful moment of the students chanting “sieg heil” to a portrait of Hitler at the front of the classroom. This scene sets a tone for Season 2 that juxtaposes a playful atmosphere with a disturbing reality. This scene is so gripping because it seems so real. It shows us how small everyday practices, like reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, could have transformed, making Hitler a revered figurehead in America.

Regarding some of the key players, this episode starts right where Season 1 finished, with Joe Blake (Luke Kleintank) fleeing on a boat, Juliana Crain (Alexa Davalos) captured, and Frank Frink (Rupert Evans) arguing with Inspector Kido (Joel de la Fuente) about the shooting of the Crown Prince. Their situations are all dramatic, as each is in a position where their lives are at risk (which is pretty commonplace for these three characters). The scenes focused on each character are rather short, which keep us in anticipation. We also see the return of Obergruppenführer Smith (Rufus Sewell) and Childan (Brennan Brown), both brilliantly acted roles.

In this episode, we are also introduced to two new characters, a villainous resistance member Gary Connell (Callum Keith Rennie), whose dark-rimmed glasses complete his sinister look, and THE man of the title, played by the great Stephen Root, who is perfectly temperamental and philosophical in this role. Hopefully, we will get to see him a lot more this season. He seems to have an understanding of the alternate universes but refuses to offer much information that would help us make sense of the sci-fi element. This is fine, though, as it prolongs the suspense.

The show’s set and costumes are crafted so well, down to the smallest detail. The red-and-white-striped flag with a swastika instead of stars outside the high school and the map of the world color-coded by divided territories at the back of the classroom in the first scene remind us of the alternate reality of this world and everything that would be different if this were our reality. When Smith visits Berlin, we get to see some other powerful visuals. There is a giant arena with a ring of bright red Nazi flags that Smith stands in, looking tiny in such a large space. Everything Nazi is bold and tall, asserting an in-your-face kind of power. In another shot, a silhouette of an ill Hitler’s profile, recognizable by mustache, is visible as he receives the reel that drove last season’s entire plot. The play with light and dark and shadows is stunning and maintains the dark and somber tone of the series.

The episode as a whole raises more questions than it answers, as usual, making for an intriguing start to Season 2 and leaving us itching to start Episode 2.

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