Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

A damaged face from the past turns up on The Man In The High Castle

DJ Qualls (left), Brennan Brown
DJ Qualls (left), Brennan Brown
Photo: Liane Hentscher (Amazon Prime Video)

“They think this world is normal.”

The Man In The High Castle hasn’t been particularly heavy-handed about drawing parallels to our current state of affairs this season, which may be why that line of dialogue hits as hard as it does. The fact that it’s said by Frank Frink, a character I had no interest in seeing again until he actually showed up, is another sign that the new regime has the series on the right track. His face disfigured by the bomb blast he unaccountably survived, Frank is born again hard. He’s all in on the Resistance, designing inflammatory posters that even Sampson thinks might be a bit too on-the-nose as far as Kido is concerned.


This idea of normalization, which we hear discussed often in the age of Trump, is what makes it so easy for Joe to drive up to a suburban house listening to girl-group pop, walk through the front door, and kill the occupants for a briefcase. In his mind, he’s just doing his job; this is what the world is now, and this is his part in it. When Juliana tells him about her memory of a place she hasn’t been yet, he tells her it’s just a dream. Conceiving of another world, or another way this world could be, just isn’t part of his makeup.

Key to normalization is good propaganda, which Nicole seeks to provide with her “Year Zero” campaign. Tell the people that this is their world to create from the ruins of the old one (in this case, by smashing up the Lincoln Monument) and maybe they won’t notice they’re not in control of it at all. Nicole’s efforts in glorifying the Reich are matched only by her desire for self-glorification, to which end she seduces Thelma, the gossip columnist who can make her a star. Homosexuality doesn’t fly in the Reich unless you’ve reached a certain stature, but it’s permissible in the Neutral Zone, which is why Ed doesn’t want to leave it. Alas, after only one kiss with the cowboy of his dreams, Ed reluctantly accompanies Childan back to San Francisco...or at least, that’s the plan until their bus is attacked by motorcycling scavengers straight out of The Road Warrior. The freedom of the Neutral Zone does come with a price, but at least Ed gets to extend his stay.

Normalization takes root in the failure to imagine any other reality is possible. We know that Juliana’s vision are not merely dreams, but this is less clear in the case of John Smith, who finds himself in an apocalyptic setting surrounded by swirling ash. Thomas is there, and Smith follows him; all around them, Nazis are executing women and children. “Cincinnati is beautiful in the fall,” he is told, before waking in his bed. Maybe this is just a dream, but more likely it ties in with Juliana’s Lackawanna visions (even if Cincinnati isn’t all that close to the Poconos). There’s a destination here somewhere, but like the characters, we’re only catching glimpses of it at this point.

Stray observations

  • Sampson and Frink have found a refuge, even if it’s not as secure as they once hoped. Among the residents of St. Theresa’s is Lila Jacobs (Janet Kidder), who brings an end to the brief bounty hunter menace by putting him down with a gunshot. Lila later encounters one of Kido’s men on the hunt for Frank.
  • Juliana tells Joe she doesn’t know what happened to Frank, and she doesn’t much seem to care. Her dance card is full these days anyway, as Wyatt—or Liam, as he now introduces himself—shows up at her door to make a dinner date.
  • Tagomi enjoys his own dinner date with the painter Tamiko, but the trade minister should have stayed for dessert as he instead finds himself with a gun to his head courtesy of Joe. I half-expected Tagomi to wink out of existence before Joe’s eyes, but instead it’s a cut to black and a cliffhanger for the next episode.
  • I’m sure there are other examples of The Man In The High Castle recontextualizing images from our own history, but this episode provides a particularly striking example as a monk sets himself on fire as part of an oil shortage protest.
  • Remember when John Wayne was killed at the Battle of Dayton? Sad.

My debut novel Charlesgate Confidential is now available from Hard Case Crime.