One of the most evident changes in The Man In The High Castle this year is the accelerated pace. Several times this season I’ve been caught off guard by how quickly storylines have been resolved or twisted into intriguing new directions. Take all the action surrounding the Reich’s high command in this episode alone: Hoover shows up unannounced at the Smith residence and presents Helen with evidence that she murdered the widow Adler. When Smith confronts him at his office, Hoover gives him an ultimatum: resign or be exposed as a traitor to the Reich. It looks like Smith’s goose is cooked during a subsequent meeting with Rockwell, the visiting Himmler, and Hoover, but J. Edgar turns the tables, insisting that there is no evidence against Smith supporting Rockwell’s allegations.
But that’s not all! Rockwell retreats to Havana, which is also now part of the Reich, for an exile that he hopes will be brief before he reclaims his power. He has two exotic dancers sent up to his room to perform a sex show for him (this formerly chaste series is now dropping trou with more regularity), during the course of which he is stabbed through the chest and killed. With its echoes of The Godfather, Part II and Scarface, a sequence that at first appears to be setting up tantalizing possibilities for the rest of the season is abruptly terminated. The risk of powering through the story this quickly is that some potentially juicy material may never come to fruition, but isn’t it better to leave us wanting more than to drag it out too long?
Sometimes this new abruptness can feel like a cheat, as when a Japanese patrol arrives just in time to scare Joe off his mission to assassinate Tagomi. But it works well in the case of the Smith/Rockwell power struggle, as only a brief flashback to Hoover’s office in which Smith presents J. Edgar with a compromising file is required to alert us as as to why the director has abruptly switched loyalties. Himmler isn’t fooled by any of it; he knows very well what Smith has been up to, but it suits his purposes for now. Smith is now the acting Reichsmarschall and Himmler is free to pursue his larger scheme.
That scheme (Projekt 701, per the documents Juliana finds hidden in Joe’s hotline case) evidently involves spreading the Reich’s reach beyond dimensional borders, to every possible world. Himmler—and by extension, Joe—know a lot more than they’ve let on so far about the big picture. In a phone call explaining his failure to carry out the Tagomi hit, Joe tells the Fuhrer that Juliana— “the asset”— knows about Lackawanna and can lead him to High Castle, meaning Abendsen. Is Joe all in on Himmler’s plan, or does he have a double-cross in mind?
In previous seasons, that question would have dangled for a while, but Joe is no longer the malleable cipher he used to be. He’s fully on board with bringing about “a world of perfection and happiness.” To resist, he tells Juliana, is to invite the kind of pain he went through during his captivity in Berlin. What happens next turns the whirlwind of activity surrounding John Smith into a mere appetizer. Having liberated Juliana’s gun from her purse, Joe orders her to get dressed and take him to Tagomi and High Castle. She makes a break for the bathroom, he knocks down the door, and...she slits his throat with a razor. And he bleeds out. And dies.
It’s a genuine holy-shit moment, given that Joe was positioned as one of the co-leads from the show’s inception. But let’s not get carried away here; this is a series that takes place in a multiverse, which means any character death must be taken with a grain of salt. This Joe didn’t work out, but maybe there’s another Joe out there more suited to Juliana’s needs. Still, this particular Joe is the one we’ve followed from the start, so there’s inevitably some shock at seeing him dead on the floor, despite the many problems I’ve had with his character over the years. And we’re only halfway through the season!
- The episode title is “The New Colossus,” Nicole’s name for the Hitler Youth monument that will replace the Statue of Liberty. (It’s also the name of the poem mounted on the real Lady Liberty’s base, the one about huddled masses yearning to breathe free.) The only surprising thing about this is that the Statue of Liberty wasn’t torn down years earlier in this reality.
- Ed and Childan may be shit out of luck, but at least Ed held onto John Wayne’s belt buckle and the photograph proving its authenticity. Not that Childan wants to touch them until they’re back in the realm of hand soap.
- Frank is preparing for his Bar Mitzvah with Sampson, but the people of Sabra are divided as to whether he should be allowed to stay. Frank doesn’t want to put the colony in danger by his presence, but a vote allows him to stay for now.