Welcome back to our weekly recap of The Man in the High Castle. Episode two, “Sunrise,” picks up right where we left off last episode. While episode one introduced us to the world of High Castle in a broad sense, episode two doubles down and introduces us to the brutality of that world in a very personal manner, blurring lines between good and evil and persuading you to come along for a very bumpy ride.
Read on for our recap and review of episode two.
We open as Frank is brutally beaten and brought to the Kempeitei jail. He’s thrown into his cell, in beautiful slow motion, while a haunting score plays. The tone of this episode is pretty much set.
Cut to Juliana, lying in bed, unable to sleep. She sits up and we focus on a scar on her shoulder. Perhaps her capitulation to the Japanese wasn’t quite as smooth as we might have first suspected? She spies Joe outside, and apparently he too has caught a case of insomnia. After Joe -grrr, Nazi double agent, still not over last episode, grrr- assures her that she doesn’t owe him anything for her room, he asks if she feels like going for a ride. It takes her a second, but she agrees, and the two drive off for a little feeling each other out/romantic sunrise over the Rockies watching.
Juliana turns and looks from the beautiful tableau across to the other side of the bridge they are parked on, revealing a more ominous side of the dam. The cinematography in this scene is gorgeous, shifting from orange and gold tones to greys as the camera follows Juliana’s movement. Joe joins her and we focus back on the pretty. The music shifts with the moods and I swoon a little.
The two return to town and engage in a short round of twenty questions. Actually, it’s more like one each. Juliana establishes that “there’s a Frank” and Joe avoids the question of what he’d like to do with his life. He’s not playing fair but Juliana doesn’t seem to notice, instead focusing on the ‘help wanted’ sign in the diner’s window. She’s going to pay Joe back and leaves him hanging in the truck.
In the diner, Lem is skeptical of Juliana, but he does need the help. She pushes hard and it’s obvious the job is hers.
Meanwhile, Joe checks out the local bar. A call has come in for him. In the foreground, a man is seated, idly making paper cranes. It’s a quick scene, but important, as the two take a glance at each other, sizing one another up.
It’s morning in New York, and on Long Island an idyllic family breakfast plays out. It’s so American you can practically smell the apple pie cooling on the windowsill. At least until John Smith enters, decked out in his SS Officer regalia. Rufus Sewell plays the scene so genuinely, and his family interactions are so well meaning and wholesome that you can’t help but like the guy. This is something Man in the High Castle does very well. The characters are engaging and believable enough that you can’t help but like them… at least for a moment, until you remember whom they work for and what their ideologies are.
Family bonding and breakfast is interrupted by a phone call; Joe is checking in. Smith informs him that he’s looking for a girl, and he immediately deflates. Joe seems pretty sure he knows who he’s looking for. When Joe questions his mission and wonders if the girl is also carrying a film, Smith’s whole demeanor hardens and the dread sets in. Again, Sewell plays this brilliantly, his face becoming a rigid and cold mask, all gentleness used with his family dissolving as he gives Joe his orders.
Back in San Francisco, Frank is in trouble. The Kempeitei enter his cell, screaming orders he doesn’t understand in Japanese. After a little extra beating, it becomes clear they want him to strip naked. Inspector Kido enters and it’s time for the humiliation portion of the torture. Kido’s eyes travel downward, noting Frank’s anatomy and the fact that he isn’t circumcised. Frank explains his family situation but Kido reminds Frank that no matter how Christian he was raised, by way of his grandfather, he will always be a Jew. And then, as an added bonus, he threatens Frank’s sister and her two children. It seems Frank is fast becoming a broken man and so when Kido asks where Juliana is, you almost suspect Frank will give her up.
Cut to Juliana. Working the diner gives her an opportunity to scope out the patrons and to try and find Trudy’s contact. When the crane-making man from the bar calls her over, it seems almost certain he’s her contact. But nothing is easy in this world and instead of introducing himself, he instead hints and nudges about the bible, a dangerous book, banned in most places in this version of America.
In his hotel room, Joe woefully plays a harmonica and seems to be struggling with his mission. Flipping channels isn’t working for him, but the film catches his eye.
At the Japanese Authority Building in Trade Minister Tagomi’s office, Inspector Kido, Ambassador Reiss and Oberfuhrer Diels discuss the upcoming visit of the Japanese prince, but a seemingly more important thing is on all their minds: the films. The Japanese have heard rumor that the ‘Man in the High Castle’ is still alive, but the Nazi’s insist, a little too forcefully, that he has been dead for months. The opposing sides feel each other out and much awkward pleasantries and veiled threats are exchanged. The tension in this scene is high and everybody in the room feels it.
Back at the diner, Juliana makes conversation with the crane-making man. They discuss theology and a bible verse. Chapter 12, verse 5, and suddenly Trudy’s note becomes clear to Juliana. He tells her she should go to the bookstore.
Cut to John Smith and Erich Raeder in their car service on the way to work. They discuss Joe’s mission, and Erich seems nervous. The quality of the films is of such high superiority; rumors are that the films are real and have some kind of power. Smith isn’t having anything to do with this fear mongering and with an authoritative air, settles Erich.
It’s then they are ambushed and the short-lived calm flies out the window in a hail of bullets. Erich is hit and Smith dives down for cover. For High Castle, this scene is action-packed, and reminiscent of something you’d imagine you’d see in Good Fellas or Bonnie and Clyde. Erich bravely uses his last breath to get a gun to Smith and you find yourself rooting for the bad guys!
This show… it does strange, horrible, wonderful things to you. It’s truly great storytelling.
The police arrive as Smith is cleaning up the last of the Resistance, and as he struts away from the scene of the crime, bloodied but very much alive and looking like he’s out for a little blood himself, we cut to Ed in San Francisco.
Ed is worried about Frank. Ed is a character who doesn’t seem particularly important right now. Window dressing if you will. But stay with him guys, I promise, he has a purpose. It’s just much later on. (I’m assuming at lease a couple of you haven’t made it to the end yet?)
Anyway, Frank hasn’t been at work and Ed asks his boss if he can go check on him. He can, but he wont be getting paid.
In his cell, Frank is looking worse for wear. A man in the adjoining cell calls out to him, and the two prisoners meet through a hole in the wall. His name is Randall and he is a hardline Resistance fighter. Frank is not at all sure about this guy’s philosophy and it seems pretty clear Randall is also trying pump information about Trudy’s/the film’s whereabouts from Frank.
In Canon City, Juliana takes a break and heads off to the bookstore. From a distance, Joe watches. She tells the owner she’s looking for a Bible and after a little bit of back and forth about the legalities of such a thing, one is provided.
At Nazi headquarters in New York all hell is breaking loose in response to the ambush. After an anti-Semitic diatribe from Lawrence, John Smith reminds him not to underestimate their enemies. He also hints that a mole might be behind the ambush; Smith’s route is varied every day and yet somehow the Resistance found him…
Ed searches for Frank, and peering through his window and noticing the disarray, he realizes Frank is in trouble.
Frank isn’t happy. Angry and defeatist, he asks Randall if it’s worth it, all of this for a film? “Evil triumphs when good men do nothing,” Randall replies. Frank screams in aggravation and we cut back to Canon City where Joe is checking up on Juliana.
Joe asks for a book for a boy and picks up a copy of Huckleberry Finn. Might this be important later on? While he’s at it, Joe asks about Juliana but the storeowner plays dumb; he doesn’t remember any girl.
Juliana, meanwhile, is reading the passage from the bible. Clearly affected by what she’s read, she calls Frank at home, not aware of his fate stemming from her actions. Her anxiety rises and the phone continues to ring. After some static and clicking the Kempeitei cut in on the call. She hangs up and runs away from the call box.
At the Japanese Authority Building, a rousing rendition of “Sukiyaki” plays. Rudolph Wegener waits as Tagomi consults the I Ching. It’s a great little scene both aurally and visually. As usual the films are the main topic of conversation. Tagomi tells Wegener that the meeting Rudolph is set to have must be cancelled as a result of Tagomi’s previous meeting with the Kempeitei and the Nazis, but Wegener’s having none of it. Rudolph is insistent that he must go through with his mission, going so far as to insult Tagomi’s use of “those sticks”.
I really love these two and the underhanded games they are playing. I still have no idea what exactly they are up to... but I like it! And I hope it’s for the greater good.
In the lobby of the Kempeitei, a woman and two children wait. My heart sinks; it’s Frank’s sister, Laura, along with his niece and nephew. Though Inspector Kido is nothing but polite and congenial, dread is setting into the pit of my stomach and it’s a feeling that will stay with you until the very end of this episode. They are led to a small room set up as a living room, complete with cartoons on the TV. If it wasn’t for the plastic on the chairs and the heavy steel door, you could almost convince yourself no harm was to come to this family. Almost. The door shuts with a resounding thud and we cut to Frank in his cell.
Kido places a picture of his sister and her kids at Frank’s feet and wonders if Frank has heard of Zyklon D. “It’s a gas… odorless and fast-acting. They’ll fall asleep and never wake up.”
Kido presses Frank for news of Juliana but he’s not cracking, no matter how cruel Kido is with his questions regarding Juliana’s loyalties. Frank’s neighbor calls out for him to be strong and is beaten for his efforts. “Think it over,” Kido wishes as he departs and Frank breaks down.
This episode is brutal, guys. Brutal.
Joe plays some Billy Holiday in his room as he watches over the diner’s entrance. Inside, Juliana would like to discuss the bible with the Line-Faced Man (official name, guys! Just go with it and pretend it’s X-Files) but not at the diner. He agrees and she goes back to work. Joe enters the diner and checks Line-Faced Man out as he leaves. He questions Juliana about him, claiming he’s “just jealous”. Once again, Juliana doesn’t believe him, but also, once again, she lets him off the hook.
Thank goodness for his wholesome good looks. Juliana annoys me a little.
Joe checks in with Smith and informs him of Line-Faced Man. As he hangs up, Juliana knocks at his door; she has his money to pay him back but she needs a favor too. She needs to go see a man and if she doesn’t make it back, she wants Joe to deliver a letter to San Francisco for her. He agrees and off she goes to meet up with the crane-making nameless guy.
In San Francisco, Laura is getting nervous. He gaze is directed at the air vents while her children, blissfully unaware, watch cartoons. The door is locked and the hallway outside is deserted. As the camera zooms slowly away, it’s clear nothing good can come from this situation.
In the Kempeitei cells, Randall tries a little reverse psychology on Frank, but still getting nowhere, Randall makes one last impassioned plea for Frank to stay strong. The guards enter and beat Randall while Frank watches through the hole in the wall.
In Canon City, Joe reads Juliana’s letter home. How could he resist? Realizing the importance of the film he cannot hold out any longer and breaks into a shuttered movie theatre.
Back again to San Francisco and Kido is giving Frank one last chance. Frank places the picture of his family into Kido’s hands and asks Kido to just kill him, not them. Kido isn’t impressed and walks out. The guards walk back in and take Frank.
Meanwhile, the film rolls for Joe. Though we only see the reflection of Joe’s film in the glass, it appears to be different from Juliana’s. But still, back in his hotel room Joe is shaken up. The phone rings, startling him. It’s John Smith with news of the origami man. He’s an undercover agent for the S.D. (Nazi intelligence), not one of John’s men, and dangerous. John suggests Joe steers clear of him and with a mandatory “Heil Hitler”, they hang up. Joe picks up his gun and sets off.
Frank shouts and screams for his sister as he is led away from his cell. “No, not them!” he cries.
The closing sequences of this episode cut between the bridge over the dam in Canon City, Laura and the kids in the gas chamber, and Frank, in front of a firing squad in San Francisco. The music swells in a heartbreaking melody as the final scenes play out.
I have to stop right here and give a shout out to Henry Jackman and Dominic Lewis, composers for the show. While I often gush about the imagery in High Castle, praise is due to these two for seamlessly working in such a beautiful score; it truly adds to the emotion of the series rather than just being bland background noise.
Laura vigilantly watches the vent while the kids start to doze on her lap.
Frank is led out to a firing squad where his neighbor hangs limp from a post.
On the bridge, Juliana waits for the Line-Faced Man.
The firing squad arrives.
Line-Faced Man arrives.
The woman who stole Juliana's luggage is found bearing Trudy’s name and is taken into custody. Kido believes they are mistaken in pursuing Juliana.
A hood goes over Frank’s head and Laura waits as the kids now sleep. God, I hope they are sleeping.
Line-Faced Man demands the film.
The tension is so high at this point I am practically falling off the edge of my seat. This is why I would recommend a viewing partner. You need someone to clutch.
Line-Faced takes the film and attempts to push Juliana over the bridge wall.
The firing squad readies.
The firing squad aims.
No, really, being alone for this sequence was a grave mistake on my part. This is beautiful filmmaking and heavy, heavy, subject matter. A pillow won’t do. Phone a friend.
Just then, Joe arrives, tires screeching and making enough of a distraction for Juliana to land a satisfying kick to Line-Face’s family jewels and for her to fall to the ground away from the edge of the dam. Joe barrels up, gun cocked, but it’s Juliana who ends up using her Aikido moves to throw Line-Faced over the wall and to his death.
Back to Frank, and I can’t take much more. His hood is abruptly removed and the firing squad marches away. Frank is confused by this turn of events and Kido looks on with a demeanor laced with both disappointment and a smidge of guilt.
Juliana is traumatized by her deeds and the film lies in the middle of the road. Joe soothes her and gently hands her back the film, wrapping her in his jacket while she sobs.
I really, really, want to like Joe. Why must he be a Nazi? And a pretty convincing one at that. Here’s hoping the boy comes to his senses. I want him to be nice because of his feelings and not for the film.
As Joe leads Juliana back to his truck we see Juliana has left the sketch Frank drew of her behind. For sure this is a grave foreshadowing and will come back to haunt her.
Back in San Francisco, Frank is set free and Ed is there to meet him. He’s informed of the smuggler carrying Trudy’s satchel and Frank is relived, believing his family is okay.
“My sister and the kids?” he asks repeatedly.
“We found out too late,” Kido replies with little emotion.
That dread you’ve been feeling for the last twenty of so minutes settles like a lead brick in the pit of your stomach. Tears might stream down your face. They did mine.
“I am free to go?” Frank roars, incredulous.
Kido, for his part, appears somewhat upset about the turn of events. “You have suffered enough, and I am not a monster,” he replies.
And you know what? I believe him. The most evil men and women in history have almost certainly believed they were working for a good cause, and this is one of the things I love most about High Castle. The lines are always blurred. Who do you like? Who do you trust? What side do you root for when they are all just human beings trying to do their best to preserve their way of life? The endless struggle of humanity is being played out this time in a dystopian post WW2 setting, but it could easily apply to 5000 years ago. Or to today.
“You ever need any more Jews to kill, you know where to find me,” Franks growls.
“Yes, I do.” Kido says.
And we fade to black on episode two, “Sunrise”.
I need a drink.