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Tagomi Provides S02.E08 Of The Man In The High Castle With Its Sole High Point
In an episode that otherwise takes the viewer to new lows.
Well, Hitler's finally dead.
While The Führer's health played a role in the events of first season, it has not come up much in this one. But any committed viewer knew this was coming. I'm so much less excited about what will happen now than I was a few episodes ago, though. Which is unfortunate, since Hitler's death is a major turning point -- unleashing, as Nicole tells Joe, a pack of jackals all looking to gain some kind of advantage in the power vacuum that now exists in Berlin.
It's ironic that the show's narrative has become mundane and predictable at the same time it's increasing its reliance on supernatural elements. Borrowing from Philip K. Dick's original story, the first season emphasized the ways in which people -- even people who love their individual freedoms as much as Americans do, will easily acquiesce to an authoritarian government. This is the counterfactual heart of the story -- its moral center. A small but interesting question explored by historians of the years between the first and second World Wars centers on why Americans, suffering under the same extreme economic hardships as Germans, did not embrace fascism on a larger scale. Sure, a few groups did exist -- notably The German American Bund and Christian Front. But most Americans rejected the message of these groups. Dick's novella, and the first season of TMITHC, argues that, if forced into a position of having their liberties stripped away, Americans would eventually accept their new condition and adopt the required survival strategies rather than resist. They suggest that maybe we aren't that exceptional after all.
Season 2 has largely abandoned this core element. Instead of complying, everybody is now resisting something: Frank has joined the Resistance; Smith is fighting to keep his son from being euthanized; Nicole is rejecting the older generation; and Juliana is subverting...well, everything. Even Childan is abandoning his slavish compliance to the Japanese authorities while Kido questions the benefits of blind loyalty. In this episode, we discover that the Resistance has been waiting for the moment of Hitler's demise to launch an uprising. Sure, this creates things like conflict and drama and narrative tension, but it also makes this show little more than a modern-day, less funny version of Hogan's Heroes or Red Dawn. It's like the writer's room spent a day repeatedly watching George C. Scott's monologue from the beginning of Patton and got all "America -- fuck yeah!"
Simply put, the show has lost its way. The only thing that remains counterfactual is the window dressing. Nothing brings this home more than Joe's storyline. For seventeen episodes, we have watched as he fumbled his way around in the dark, waffling between embracing his potential role in the Reich and being, as he has said numerous times this season, "his own man." It now looks like he has made his choice to side with the Nazis. And why does he do it? Because he's got major fucking daddy issues.
For fuck's sake, this is what we waited almost two seasons for?
I was ready to abandon this show wholesale. Then I had a moment with Tagomi that renewed my hope that it can still get back on track. His desire to fix the damage that his alternate timeline self caused to his family provides a much quieter but satisfying look at what's possible if one we're given the chance to go back and fix our mistakes. We are certainly hanging out more in sci-fi than counterfactual territory here, but I have no problem with that, given the thoughtfulness that has gone into the storyline and how well Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa plays Tagomi. The moment that he presents the repaired baby cup to his son is the bright spot in an episode otherwise chock full of plot but devoid of almost any deeper meaning or surprises.
Between Frank's never-freaking-ending rage, Joe's parental attachment disorder (plus that fact he is apparently the son of the new Führer), and whatever Juliana is doing, I'm hoping that at least some of this season's issues get resolved in Tagomi's new reality. At the very least, please tell us if he's developed a taste for Twinkies.