After all the fireworks of the previous episode, it’s not much of a surprise that “History Ends” eases back on the throttle quite a bit. It’s an hour full of quieter moments (at least until the end), some more effective than others. That’s largely dependent on how invested you are in the characters involved...but not always.
For instance, I ended up finding the reunion of Ed and Frank more emotional than I would have guessed possible. It could have been corny and overblown, but instead it plays out in a series of small gestures that add up to a moving whole. Ed learns Frank is still alive from Sampson in Denver, and although we haven’t been given much evidence that Frank has been at the top of Ed’s thoughts lately, he’s still eager to see his old friend. Sampson brings Ed with him back to Sabra, but he takes care to warn Frank first so he can prepare himself. Frank is reticent, ashamed of showing his face—not so much because it’s disfigured from the blast, but because he believes Ed will see him for the killer he’s become. Ed forces the moment, however, and they share a hug and later a cup of tea. Ed assures Frank that the posters he’s made are inspiring to many people and Frank expresses guilt for the lives he’s taken, both directly and indirectly. Nothing big and dramatic here, just the human moments of kindness and companionship that are worth fighting for in a world like this.
I’m less enamored with the amount of time spent on Helen Smith’s journey of grieving this season. There are story reasons for it—her instability is seen as a liability to Himmler, who has strongly advised John Smith to keep her in line—but her therapy sessions don’t do much for me, and her murder of Alice Adler remains the season’s most over-the-top absurdity. Smith may already be plotting a way of easing his wife’s grief, anyway; when Mengele invites him to interrogate the traveler Fatima Hassan, Smith doesn’t get far before she vanishes from sight, blowing out the electricity as she goes. Given that he’s already seen a world where Thomas may still be alive on film, this fresh evidence that travel between worlds is possible will likely spark his own efforts to reunite with his son.
Smith also learns that he’s lost a surrogate son of sorts, as the Kempeitai have discovered Joe’s corpse in his sleazy hotel room. Kido questions the prostitutes who frequent the place and finds that one of them recognizes Juliana’s photo. This naturally leads him back to Tagomi, who presents him with the file Juliana brought him indicating that the trade minister was a Nazi target. There’s a mole in Kido’s ranks, and it doesn’t take him long to zero in on his new number two.
While this is a low-key episode for the most part, the montage that ends the hour packs a punch. For all the sci-fi twistiness this season has indulged in, it’s important that the creative team is always cognizant of the show’s underlying reality. Contrasting Himmler’s Year Zero speech about “the end of history” with Frank’s belated Bar Mitzvah is a little on-the-nose, sure, but it stirs the emotions in a way High Castle has rarely matched in the past. This is a transitional episode, but it feels like the calm before the storm.
- The Fuhrer doesn’t waste much time mourning Joe before sending his new and improved Hitler Youth model (the one we saw gunning down prisoners for target practice in the previous episode) to replace him.
- Juliana teams back up with Wyatt/Liam to make her way back to the Neutral Zone, taking out a couple of Japanese soldiers at an abandoned gas station along the way. It’s good to see Lem again, cheery as ever.
- Childan sells the belt buckle with a speech about how John Wayne represents “the myth of American self-delusion,” which...I mean, I’m not going to argue with that.
- Smith sends Hoover out the west coast to inform Kido that Himmler wants to close the books on the investigation into Joe’s murder as quickly as possible. Kido, knowing that Joe had Japanese targets in addition to Nazi defectors, may have other ideas about that.