The primary narrative mode for much of this season has been restraint, often to the point of boredom. It’s as if Frank Spotnitz and the rest of the creative team decided the premise was so out there, the only way to ground it in reality was to proceed with caution. The show is science fiction by virtue of its alternate history timeline, but aside from the film glimpsed in the first episode (which could still be explained by other means), it has shied away from genre trappings. Obviously this is a valid creative decision, but when the results are as flat and monotonous as much of The Man In The High Castle has been, it might be time to shake things up.
“Kindness” isn’t immune to repeating already too-familiar beats, like Kido paying another seething office visit to Tagomi or Frank whining at Juliana for letting him down again. But the episode also accelerates the narrative while embracing some of the genre elements it has shied away from until now. After hearing about the new film for several episodes, we finally get a look at it—and it’s a doozy. It takes a while to get there, however, because the transaction went so wrong at the end of the previous episode and the Yakuza are not happy about the Kempeitai crashing their place of business. They lock Joe and Juliana up in a storage room, prompting Joe to ask “Are you in some kinda trouble?” because he’s just that perceptive.
Karen and Lem pay the 10,000 yen ransom to get Juliana released, mainly because they want her to keep working in the Nippon building where she can be of some use to the Resistance. They have no intention of paying the 50,000 yen Yakuza boss Okamura wants for Joe, so Juliana has to go back to Frank (having missed the bus they were planning to take out of town) and ask him for all the money he received for crafting the phony artifact in order to free the man Frank perceives as a romantic rival.
I go back and forth on whether I feel sorry for Frank or just think he’s a jackass. There’s no question that he’s a petulant, abrasive character, but he’s been dealt a bad hand from the beginning so his frustration is not so hard to understand. Rupert Evans’ performance hasn’t made many concessions to likability, and I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt that that’s been a conscious choice. Things don’t get any better for Frank when he goes to Yakuza headquarters to pay the ransom himself: Joe grabs his gun and uses the two remaining bullets to put down Okamura’s bodyguards. They manage to escape with the film in hand, but this is not the thank you Frank had in mind.
Back in the New Reich, Smith is piecing together the events that led to the attack on his car, and it all leads back to his trusty right-hand man Captain Connolly collaborating with Reinhard Heydrich to take him out. Heydrich is aiming even higher than that, though: he offers to spare Wegener’s family if the traitor, who is on good terms with Hitler, agrees to take out the Fuhrer himself. As for Connolly, he probably should have known his number was up when Smith asked to have a chat with him on a ledge 50 stories above Manhattan. From the first vertiginous shot of the two high atop Nazi HQ, there’s only one way this scene is going to end, but it’s a well-executed piece of green-screenery nonetheless.
It’s harder to say what’s going on with Trade Minister Tagomi. We learn that the microfilm slipped to the Japanese science minister contained the design for something called the Heisenberg device, which Tagomi believes will restore balance between the Nazis and Japanese and ensure peace. Having been shot by a Nazi sniper (something that seems to be an open secret, even if Kido still hopes to pin the crime on Frank), however, the crown prince is in no mood for peace and wants to use the device to annihilate the Reich. Tagomi consults the I Ching as usual, but then he takes Juliana’s necklace in his hand, closes his eyes, and concentrates very deeply on it. Is he forming some kind of psychic connection with Juliana? “Kindness” cuts between Tagomi deep in thought and Frank and Juliana watching the new film, which is a stunner all right: images of nuclear devastation followed by prisoners lined up to be killed…including Frank…who is shot in the head by Joe wearing a Nazi uniform.
The plot to kill Hitler, the Heisenberg device, and this final mind-bender of a cliffhanger are the sort of pulpy, big-canvas developments I’ve been wanting from The Man In The High Castle from the start. The show simply doesn’t have the depth of character to sustain the staid, measured pacing and plotting of the first two-thirds of the season. If The Man In The High Castle has indeed finally found its footing, here’s hoping it’s not too little, too late.
- If I’ve learned anything from television, it’s that the Heisenberg device must be the key to producing a high-grade, blue-tinted crystal methamphetamine. Either that, or it has something to do with German physicist Werner Heisenberg, whose uncertainty principle states that the exact position and momentum of a particle can’t be known at the same time. Perhaps this is a device that renders weapons of mass destruction invisible to detection? That would definitely give the Japanese an ace in the hole in a war with the Nazis.
- Where has Ed’s crotchety grampa been all this time, when he could have been entertaining us with his manga reading and gruff pronouncements? Stellar late-season addition.
- The sequence in which Heydrich gets dressed accompanied by Gene Pitney’s “Town Without Pity” makes him look even more like a Bond villain than Ray Proscia’s performance does (and Proscia was already doing a pretty good job of that).