Review: The Man in the High Castle Season 2

Alexa Davalos in The Man in the High Castle

Alexa Davalos continues to be the centerpiece holding The Man in the High Castle together in season 2. Amazon’s exclusive series about an alternate version of events following WW II is based on a book by Philip K. Dick.

Season 2 takes up where we left off with season 1. Now that we gained an understanding of the world as it exists in season 1, we move into more character driven storytelling. (Here’s my review of season 1 if you need to catch up.) We get to know each of the characters better in season 2, which gives all the key actors a chance to show off some depth.

You recall the many films sought by both the Japanese and the Nazis in season 1 were revealed to be alternate realities. For most of season 2, we are in the reality of the divided North America with the Nazis ruling the east and the Japanese the west. But for some of season 2, we live in the 1961 America that we know. The 1961 with John Kennedy facing off against Nikita Khrushchev over the Cuban Missile Crisis. The 1961 in which the mushroom cloud images of the American hydrogen bomb tests on Bikini Atoll were familiar to everyone.

The major players remain the same. Alexa Davalos is Juliana Crain, who is essential to every aspect of this complicated tale.

Rupert Evans and Callum Keith Rennie in The Man in the High Castle
I’m ready to resist

Actors who carried over from season 1 include Rupert Evans as Frank Frink – a Jew who is a genius with metalworking and who was living with Juliana when we first met them. DJ Qualls continues as his pal Ed. Frank and Ed deal with Robert Childan (Brennan Brown), a man who sells American artifacts to the Japanese for exorbitant amounts of money.

Luke Kleintank in The Man in the High Castle
My father is WHO?

Joe Blake (Luke Kleintank), who only pretended to be a Nazi in season 1, goes to Berlin in season 2 to meet his Nazi father. Turns out his father (Sebastian Roché) is first in line to assume power if Hilter dies. Dad’s a full-blown white supremacist. If he assumes power, he plans to bomb everyone who isn’t pure Aryan out of existence and start over with a “perfect” world. Joe has a good heart and joins his father in Berlin with some reluctance. Killing millions of people doesn’t sound like a great idea to Joe. Also, there’s a little problem with him still being in love with Juliana Crain.

Joel de la Fuente in The Man in the High Castle
The hierarchy is everything.

Inspector Kido (Joel de la Fuente) remains ruthless in pursuit of traitors. But he’s also secretly an advocate of peace.

Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa in The Man in the High Castle
Pretty nice place, maybe I’ll hang around a while.

Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa as Trade Minister Tagomi is also secretly working for peace. He is the one who figures out how to jump from one reality to another. It’s because of him that we learn that the jump can only happen when the person in question – in this case Tagomi – died in the reality where he’s going. Otherwise two versions of the same person would exist in the the same place.

Rufus Sewell and Chelah Horsdal in The Man in the High Castle
Thomas will go to South America where he will be safe.

John Smith (Rufus Sewell) and his wife Helen (Chelah Horsdal) are prominent in season 2. Chelah Horsdal has a much bigger part in season 2 and plays it beautifully. Much of the drama in the Smith household revolves around their son Thomas’s (Quinn Lord) disease. A person with a disease is considered defective by the Nazis and is put to death. More time is spent with wives and families in season 2. We see how the Nazi lifestyle and philosophy affects women and children.

Juliana “defects” to the Nazis in season 2 and spends a lot of time with the Smiths. During the time she’s in New York with the Smiths, Frank thinks she left him and Joe thinks she’s dead. Inspector Kido looks everywhere for her. Trade Minister Tagomi finds her, but in an unexpected place. All the fellas want Juliana.

New Characters in Season 2

Callum Keith Rennie in The Man in the High Castle
This is war. People are going to die.

Several important new characters appear in season 2. Gary (Callum Keith Rennie) and Sarah (Cara Mitsuko) work together in the Resistance. More and bigger roles for women in season 2 were one of the best things about the season for me. Cara Mitsuko, in particular, impressed me with her talent as the tough Sarah.

Gary and Sarah recruit Frank to join the Resistance. Frank willingly takes on very dangerous assignments for them. Frank and Sarah have one of two sex scenes in season 2. There’s plenty of violence but not much sex in The Man in the High Castle.

The other sex scene is between Joe and Nicole Becker (Bella Heathcote). The gorgeous Nicole lives in Berlin and sets out to seduce Joe from the moment he arrives. She takes Joe to a party and gives him LSD. She encourages him to seize power at the upper echelons of the Reich. She is always beside him while he is in Berlin.

Tate Donovan plays George Dixon. Dixon turns out to be Juliana’s sister Trudy’s (Conor Leslie) father – a surprise to Juliana. He also turns out to be in the Resistance and does his best to get Juliana to do lots of harm while she’s hanging around with the Smith family in New York. Dixon’s character addition to season 2 is all-important.

Juliana meets the man in the high castle himself – Abendsen (Stephen Root). Yeah, I thought it was Hitler at the end of season 1 and I’ll bet you did, too. But no, it’s a scruffy dude in a warehouse full of reels of film located in the middle of nowhere. He’s seen every reel of film. He knows every face. He explains to Juliana what has to happen so that a hydrogen bomb does not flatten San Francisco. Once we know what’s required to save San Francisco, the rest of the episodes take us to the final climactic moments when we learn whether San Francisco remains intact or goes up in a mushroom cloud.

Some Thoughts

The season ends with room to grow into season 3. We aren’t left with cliffhangers, but there is plenty more than can happen in this science fiction world of alternate realities.

The level of acting from all the main characters is excellent. It’s a big cast with actors who do admirable work. The supposedly evil men in power – Rufus Sewell’s John Smith, Joel de la Fuente’s Kido, and Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa’s Tagomi are all marvelous. Alexa Davalos inhabits several personas with ease.

I also want to mention Emily Holmes, Gabrielle Rose, and Valerie Mahaffey who had smaller roles but added much.

I mentioned that the series isn’t much involved with sexual intrigue. There’s too much else going on. But the homosexual subtext leaped out at me. I assumed that antiquities dealer Brennan Brown was gay through all of seasons 1 and 2. But in season 2 he hires a female prostitute for sex. Weird. The vibe between Emily Holmes as the Smith’s friend Lucy and Juliana was such that I expected Lucy to jump Juliana’s bones in every scene. She didn’t. Admitting to such impulses in that world under a Nazi dictator would be a death sentence.

The Nazi iconography is just as chilling in season 2 as it was in season 1. Especially the thousands of storm troopers and Berliners who raise their arms in the Nazi salute and shout, “Sieg Heil.” Since certain Americans have taken up the Nazi salute lately it made me cringe even more every time I saw it on the screen. We also have a group of people taking power in the U.S. who want to repress or remove LGBTQ people from our society. Season 1 of The Man in High Castle was an interesting what if exercise. Season 2 feels closer to the bone as a possible reality.

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