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The Man In The High Castle Goes Fishing for Some Decent Relationships
But will we end up just tossing them back into the lake?
I will certainly not be the first to say this, I'm sure, but there cannot be a show out there right now in which the viewing context has changed between seasons more than Man In The High Castle. Recent events have turned what was an enjoyable if shallow exploration in counterfactual history into a program that could have quite a bit of hefty stuff to say about where the nation is headed after the presidential election. As the president-elect surrounds himself with people espousing ideas that have slightly more than a passing resemblance to fascism, will we receive any warnings about where this may all lead in the second season of TMITHC?
Frankly, I don't think so. I remember enjoying the first season well enough, but the fact that I barely remembered anything about it speaks to the lack of any real substance. I had to hit the internet repeatedly during the first episode to remind myself what had happened and who everyone was. About the only thing I do remember is that I really, really disliked the relationship between Juliana and Joe. They did as poorly in the chemistry department as I did in eleventh grade. Thankfully they have been separated through the first few episodes this season.
Which is good, since the core of the show rests in the relationships. I am certainly intrigued by the ongoing mystery about the films TMITHC is creating. And the choices the writers are making regarding the weird experiences of Trade Minister Tagomi are interesting in several ways, not the least of which is the potential for derailing a big part of the show with a massive plotline train wreck.
But the relationships between characters has been the thing drawing me back into the show, especially in this episode. So let's rank the ones I enjoying the most, from "LORD, will Hitler and Stalin break up already!" to "Aren't Churchill and FDR the cutest couple?"
- Joe Blake and his father
I don't care. I don't care. I DON"T CARE. Joe Blake is a giant albatross around the neck of this otherwise competently written and acted show. I can't get behind anything that is being done with this character and I have a sneaking suspicion that the writers struggled to keep this guy relevant. He has continued to resist being drawn in fully by Smith, but said resistance is so milquetoasty that it's hard to accept that he will ever redeem himself in a meaningful and satisfying way. Separated from Juliana and back in the bosom of The Reich, Joe is summoned to Berlin to meet his father, Reichsminister Heusman, for the first time, Reichsminister Heusmann, one of the most important men in the Nazi leadership.
Joe harbors a great deal of animosity towards the father who abandoned him, although the Reichsminister seems to have a version of events that may change Joe's perception of what happened. Joe also meets a lovely woman at a party thrown by his father, an encounter that may bloom into romance. Will the relationship between Joe and his father prove important? I don't know and far as my feelings on it go, please see above.
- Tagomi and Kotomichi
This has been a secondary and fairly minor relationship, but one I have enjoyed and one that could possibly move more to the center of the action in future episodes. Kotomichi has proven himself a loyal assistant to Trade Minister Tagomi, even as the minister's actions put him in peril with the military leadership and the Kempeitai.
Kotomichi clearly thinks highly of the minister and sympathizes with his struggle. He has the makings of a toadie that would turn on the minister at the first sign of trouble. The fact that he has not speaks more to his personal feelings for his boss than any sense of loyalty. Given Kotomichi's knowledge -- however limited -- of the strange recent experiences of the Trade Minister, I'm hopeful we will see more of these two as the season progresses.
- Frank Frink and Robert Childan
Frank has a real bromance going on with Ed McCarthy, given the lengths that he went to in getting Ed out of jail, but Frank is having a much more challenging and potentially rewarding relationship with Americana dealer Robert Childan. After selling his services to the Yakuza, Frank turns Childan's home into a workshop so he can manufacture fake relics that will be sold to rich, unsuspecting Japanese clients.
Frank Frink is too serious by half. He was in peril of spinning off into a hurricane of increasingly-hard-to-watch smoldering rage last season, but his new partnership with Childan cools him out a bit and adds a nice touch of levity to a show that aims at times to take itself as seriously as Frink does. They are like a bickering married couple, and there hasn't been a scene between them that has not satisfied.
- John Smith and, well, anybody (except Joe Blake)
If this show has anything to say about the perils of creeping fascism, the banality of evil, or the unique ability of Americans to resist oppression given their blind, headstrong belief in the power of the individual, it's said through Obergruppenfuhrer Smith. Smith is a walking repository of conflicting motives and allegiances. He is deeply committed to The Reich and the order it imposes on society. One of the best things the show has done is not paint Smith as a crass opportunist (like, say, Childan) but as a true believer. He is not an automaton, though, and feels great love for his family. The scenes of Smith with his wife and son get at the emotional and intellectual heart of the show. He is both thoughtful and obedient, a combination that cannot be long sustained in an authoritarian regime -- a truth that reveals itself when he finds a radical, if temporary, solution to the crisis involving his son's illness. A reckoning is likely coming for Smith. It should be fun seeing how this family crisis plays out.
Moving Juliana into Smith's orbit also holds out the promise of an interesting conflict between the two of them and Joe. Unfortunately, this means bringing Juliana and Joe back together. I'm wondering if TMITHC has a film in which this show continues but these two never have a scene together again. That's a counterfactual reality I could get behind.