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Reason Amazon released the whole season the same day.

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The Man In The High Castle Is Back, And More Dystopian Than Ever

The Season 2 premiere, with an assist from the wonderful Stephen Root, lets its sci-fi freak flag fly.

The Man In The High Castle's second season opens with a deceptively simple scene, but one that frustrated me with its redundancy. Thomas Smith -- son of American-born Obergruppenführer John -- dressed in his chicest Nazi-scout duds, steps off a school bus and into the hallowed halls of Fritz Julius Kuhn High. After begrudgingly helping a peer finish his homework -- on the specifics of Washington and Jefferson's slave populations -- Thomas is chosen by his teacher to lead the Pledge of Allegiance to the Greater Nazi Reich. The students promise to follow the rule of law and fulfill their duties at home and school, and then end the pledge with three hearty "Seig Heil"s directed at the photo of Hitler at the front of the class.

If this is your first time watching TMITHC, the scene perfectly encapsulates the show's Twileich Zone tone, with its chilling German perversion of all-American iconography. But why would this be your first time watching? Unless specifically recommended by those who know better -- for example, everyone I (regretfully) ignored who told me to skip Season 1 of Halt And Catch Fire -- nobody starts watching a show in the middle of its run on a streaming service. It'd be one thing if the rest of the second-season premiere seemed at all interested in slowing the pace for the Adolfs-come-lately, but "The Tiger's Cave" kicks into high gear immediately after the opening credits, speeding down twistier narrative routes, never looking back.

And I am definitely down for the ride. Since the premiere is undoubtedly at its best the farther into its mythology it gets, let's rank the four main storylines from delightfully enigmatic...to Ed.

  1. Hitler Is Not The Man
    First of all: FUCK YES, STEPHEN ROOT. I somehow missed the memo that he'd be playing the titular Man in the High Castle -- a.k.a. Hawthorne Abendsen -- so I got hella giddy when his face, complete with some suspiciously Milton Waddam-esque spectacles, came into focus. Root is one of only three men I'd accept as my stepfather if my mom were to start dating him. (The two others are John Goodman and RuPaul.)

    And he brings every bit of blustering exasperation you'd expect from a Stephen Root hermit-guardian character holed up in a warehouse of bizarro-universe newsreels. After being shot in the head by another mysterious figure of the Resistance because she helped Joe escape with the film, Juliana wakes up, unharmed, in Abendsen's bed. He offers up some vague clues as to how she survived being shot (my favorite being him just yelling "CARL JUNG!"), where they are currently in space and time, and what Juliana's role is in the bigger fight, before interrogating her on the contents of The Grasshopper Lies Heavy. It's the type of fun, puzzling scene fans of Lost used to spend hours diagramming before every scene on Lost was this type of scene.

    We also establish the next tangible checkpoint in Juliana's journey with her search for the man (possibly her Nazi father in the alternate timeline?) who might be the key to San Francisco not getting nuked in the near future. We've been screwed over by screwy time-travel narratives so many times in the past (hello, Lost, which you might recall from the previous paragraph), but I, perhaps naïvely, actually get the sense that the writers know where this story is headed.

  2. Tagomi And Heisenberg
    It's still unclear what exactly Tagomi's role will be in the multiversal arena, but now that we know he can travel back and forth from Allied America to Axis America through the power of meditation, I'm hoping it will involve a lot more action for everyone's favorite trade minister. Until he finds a purpose for his newly established powers, Tagomi's still fighting the good fight down at the Japanese embassy. Now that Inspector Kido has revealed himself to be more of a brutal pragmatist than an outright villain, Tagomi's true antagonist arrives in the form of General Onada, a warmonger determined to use the Heisenberg Device specs they got from Wegener to blow up New York. (Not that Onada knows Tagomi will be working against him yet. As far as he can tell, the trade minister is merely a loyal man who knows where to find the best oyster bars in the city.)

    By the way, do we think the Heisenberg Device is just a nuke, or does it have larger, perhaps timeline-altering implications? My money's on the latter.

  3. Those Darn Nazis
    Though I'm ranking it third, the journey of The Grasshopper Lies Heavy to Germany, by way of an explosive boat trip with Joe, is the only storyline that really moves in an episode dominated by A LOT of talking. The hand-off from Joe to Smith in New York, followed by Smith to the Führer himself in Berlin really demonstrates the massive stage this show is operating on. Which you'd think would go without saying, but sometimes you just need an international trip to counterbalance all the time spent in Juliana and Frank's claustrophobic basement apartment. Also, depictions of Hitler in science fiction are always weird in the best possible way, and Wolf Muser's shaky, paranoid Adolf is no exception.

    But, yeah, I could have done without the whole "Joe demonstrates his humanity by befriending a black man before inadvertently getting him and his friends blown up by Nazis" thing.

  4. Frank's Here Too
    The general consensus among my peers seems to be that Juliana is the worst of the love triangle leads, but in my eyes, no one is more annoying than Frank. I feel like Frank demonstrates his beta-male rage by knocking the contents off that same table every other episode. Is this even the first time he's punched a window? Get a fucking grip, dude.

    The only other character on this show I actively dislike is Ed, an insufferable twerp I have a strong urge to pants every time he's on screen. Because I'm clearly being punished for my actions in a past life, we now must deal with an entire storyline of Frank trying to save Ed, who took the fall for shooting the crown prince. Considering DJ Qualls is still credited as a lead, I'm guessing Frank will either succeed in saving Ed or end up in the same concentration camp as him.

    Am I a terrible person for hoping it's the latter? Yes, but my people have a noted morbid obsession with Holocaust documentaries, so don't blame me. Blame CARL JUNG!

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