Titles: Season 2 – (episodes 1-10) – “The Tiger’s Cave”, “The Road Less Traveled”, “Travelers”, “Escalation”, “Duck and Cover”, “Kintsugi”, “Land O’ Smiles”, “Loose Lips”, “Detonation”, “Fallout”
Directors: Daniel Percival (2 eps), Colin Bucksey, Daniel Sackheim, David Petrarca, John Fawcett, Paul Holahan, Karyn Kusama, Alex Zakrzewski, Chris Long
Writers: (created and written by) Frank Spotnitz, Rob Williams, Erik Oleson, Wesley Strick, Francesca Gardiner, Rick Cleveland
Starring: Alexa Davalos, Rupert Evans, Luke Kleintank, DJ Qualls, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, Rufus Sewell, Joel de la Fuente, Brennan Brown, Callum Keith Rennie, Bella Heathcote, Lee Shorten, Stephen Root, Quinn Lord, and many, many, more
Duration: 50 – 60 minutes
Network: Amazon Prime
The Man In The High Castle season 2 is an impressive accomplishment, it masterfully weaves together a tapestry of humanity and history that is epic in scope, thought provoking, entertaining, intelligent and engaging.
Admittedly I found The Man In The High castle challenging, I found the task of understanding the production’s narrative somewhat daunting at times, it tells a story so populated by characters interwoven in convoluted relationships, that I found myself confused as to what was going on occasionaly. I do not fault this excellent production for that, I would have been better prepared if I had rewatched season 1 again prior to watching season 2. As the new season wound its way towards the finale I was reminded vaguely of highlights from the previous series of episodes, and those memories helped fill in some of the gaps caused by my having forgotten some of the details of what had gone before last year.
In my defense I would point out the story involves a plethora of flashbacks that are not always immediately recognizable as such, and also involves jumping between different realities and multiple locations and time periods that, if you are not paying close attention can lend themselves to causing confusion. When i discovered my focus had drifted enough to cause this to happened I rewatched the episode in question to be sure I was keeping up with what was going on.
This production of Phillip K Dick’s tale of American dystopian alternative history is one of the most literary series I have ever seen outside of PBS, it is leisurely in its development, detailed and dense with material that it is similar to reading a good book that might seem a little challenging to get through, but you stick with it because you know its worth it and you’ll be glad you did.
Without dwelling on the technical stuff overly long it has top notch production quality from stem to stern. It is visually very impressive and it has the look of having been painstakingly made to be as authentic as possible. It has an ensemble cast of the best quality portraying an almost encyclopedic parade of characters in circumstances varying from quietly nice to luridly hellish. The story is pregnant with violence, paranoia, suspense and tension with last moment escapes from tricky situations.
The main plot is an alternate history of the world in which the Axis powers won World War II. The United States has been partitioned into three parts: The Japanese puppet state Japanese Pacific States, which comprises the former United States west of the Rocky Mountains; the Greater Nazi Reich, a Nazi puppet state that comprises the eastern half of the former United States; and the Neutral Zone that acts as a buffer between the two. The alliance is a fragile one because of conflicting agendas and self interests of the different parties involved. This, of course, means trouble and multiple problems for everyone involved in trying to make it work. The Nazis and Japanese simply don’t like each other, each considering themselves better than the other.
There is turmoil aplenty, and always at the center of things is Juliana Crain (Alexa Davalos), who finds herself caught up in situations that threaten her existence and those of the people she cares about, She emerges as a Gibraltar of certitude of what’s wrong and what right in a world that challenges most peoples ideas of good and evil. Her role in the story was initiated by her step sister who was involved in the resistance of the west coast under Japanese occupation.
Other notable characters include Frank Frink (Rupert Evans, Juliana’s former boyfriend who gets seduced into working for the resistance and is driven by hate because of the unjustified murder of his family by the Japanese authorities. Frank is almost always in the company of his best friend Ed McCarthy (DJ Quails), who is a little more light hearted than Frank and a loyal and faithful friend.
They get involved with an antiques dealer, Robert Childan (Brennan Brown) who brings a certain amount of levity to the series with his sarcastic and snobby remarks Brown is good in the role and continues to pad an already impressive resume as a character actor.
Other remarkable characters that play a major role in season 2 are:
John Smith (Rufus Sewell), an SS Obergruppenführer investigating the Resistance in New York. he’s manipulative and only concerned with the survival of himself and his family. Fortunately, for him, he’s endowed with the mindset of a chess player in the world of politics, suspicion, and betrayal he lives in.
Nobusuke Tagomi (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa), the Trade Minister of the Pacific States of America. His true loyalties are ambiguous throughout the first season and he accidentally travels to an alternative reality at the end of season 1. He is a tragically sad man whose face reflects the toll the years have taken on his spirit. In a world determined to go to war he is determined to fight for peace.
Chief Inspector Takeshi Kido (Joel de la Fuente), the ruthless head of the Kempeitai stationed in San Francisco. Kido is the personification of the dogged investigator, stubborn and relentless in his search for the guilty suspects he seeks. He’s not a bad guy deep down, and ultimately ends up on the side of peace.
I am still not certain about the nature of the titular character whose name turns out to be Hawthorne Abendsen (Stephen Root) who seems to be some sort of time and dimension traveling entity that everyone wants to find without success. he just seems to appear when he likes and then disappears again as it suits him. He always seems above being affected by the turmoil that surrounds him and remains unaffected by it. His collection of films that portray two different realities is also at the center of the story and he is the McGuffin that drives the narrative. He speaks cryptically whenever he makes one of his rare appearances. He is always jovial and seems to find all of the serious events around him amusing, It is not clear whether he is mocking us or just has an ironic sense of humor, at least not to me.
The depiction of military occupation was graphically disturbing at times but never indulgent to the point of seeming overly melodramatic or cliched. The violence depicted was never used to make up for lack of story or anything else, it didn’t need it. It is a depiction of things we have seen before in stories of this type so some stereotyping is unavoidable. There are winners and losers in this game of life and death, and there are surprises who emerges as having won and lost.
The Man is The High castle is a tale of humanity sometimes at our worst, ultimately a tragedy, but with a whisper of hope still within reach. It is a reminder that sometimes the action of one individual can change things for the better and even sometimes change history and save the world.
*UPDATE – 1/3/2017*
A new trailer has landed announcing that the series will be returning for a third season