The fifth episode of The Man in the High Castle, “The New Normal,” puts the series back on track after its brief foray into the wild-wild west and ups the ante on all the narrative arcs, delivering both visually and through the storytelling.
Juliana returns home, only to discover new clues that lead her closer to unravelling the mystery behind the films. Meanwhile, Joe faces a tough debriefing upon his return home. Kido begins his investigation into the events surrounding the Crown Prince's Speech while Tagomi and Wegener make a last-ditch attempt to complete their mission.
"The New Normal" picks up immediately where we left off after the last episode. The crown prince of Japan has been shot, and all hell is breaking loose. As panic ensues and the crowd disperses, Frank stands shocked, gun in his bloodied hands. It’s a damning look for him and he pockets the gun, dropping Juliana's necklace on the spot, as he runs away while medics carry a seriously injured crown prince out of the arena on a stretcher.
On stage, news cameras are confiscated and the dignitaries are held for questioning. Wegener and Tagomi look on, exchanging nervous glances. Wegener is still holding the microfilm. Separated as Tagomi follows the Princess, Wegener swallows the film and is detained as his fake credentials are examined. The scene ends beautifully, the action slowing down and the music tinkling an eerily merry tune as Tagomi stumbles upon Juliana’s necklace. This first scene of episode five is shot brilliantly, effectively using high and low angles to set the tone. If this is any indication of what’s to come, I’m once again firmly hooked on the show.
Frank arrives home, distraught, and is quickly accosted by Ed who has been waiting for his arrival and demands to know what he’s been doing. Ed is angry, and Frank desperately searches for news of the shooting on the radio. Ed informs him that Juliana called and he warns Ed in no uncertain terms that nobody can know about the gun.
Meanwhile at the hospital, the Crown Prince clings to life. A desperate princess tries to stay by his side but with Tagomi’s arrival, she agrees to calm down and sit in the waiting room.
On the outskirts of San Francisco, Juliana's bus arrives. She’s at a checkpoint as sirens blare and armed men with dogs check credentials. The tension is high and Juliana appears to try and slip away from the commotion.
Next we see her, she’s arriving at their home. Frank is less than enthused to see her; he speaks in obscure sentences and says only so much as “the Kempeitei came looking for you.” Way to lay on the guilt there, Frank. At this point, Juliana knows nothing of what her actions have caused and I feel a little sorry for her. "Did you find what you were looking for,” he asks, before telling her to go see her mom and turning away. Ouch.
At the hospital, the crown princess is understandably upset. She speaks of Tagomi’s oracle with scorn and he promises her justice. The prince remains in critical condition and now she must wait.
At Juliana’s parent's house, her mother worries that the Nazi’s are finally going to invade; it’s like the start of the occupation all over again, she explains. Juliana reveals nothing of where she’s been and her stepdad, Arnold, inadvertently reveals what happened to Frank’s family. Juliana panics as the truth sets in and quickly makes herself scarce. We are reminded that her parents don’t know Trudy is dead as she makes her exit. She rushes home to Frank and weeps into his arms.
In New York, we finally catch up with Joe. He stashes the truck's keys and grabs the portrait of Juliana, but with no rest for the wicked, he’s quickly accosted by the Nazis and taken in to be questioned. A long shot of Smith’s office is an ominous omen as we cut back to Frank and Juliana in San Francisco.
Juliana apologizes and tends to Frank’s wounds. She tells him he should take a few days off, but he angrily tells her that’s not going to happen, that there will be no funeral, that there’s nothing left. The boy is barely holding it together. Realization hits Juliana when Frank explains why he was let go– the girl who stole Trudy's bag. Frank is cold and detached and I want to smack Juliana a little. Though she is clearly upset by what has happened, she seems to be expecting just a little too much from Frank right now.
In Wegener’s hotel room, we get a brief moment of humor as he explains to Tagomi he’s finding it difficult to relax and pass the microfilm as he is under constant guard of the Kempeitei. “At least, it’s safe,” Tagomi snarks, and I want to high-five him for his rare moment of levity. Wegener wants to continue his mission, he can’t leave without finishing what he started, but Tagomi is wavering, fearing for Wegener’s safety.
“Risking your life to prevent a world war is one thing. Risking it to save mine was never part of the deal.” I really love Wegener. I surely hope this doesn’t immediately get him killed. Writers these days tend to have a knack for killing my favorites.
“I will not wash another good man’s blood from my hands today,” Tagomi parts with. The same goes for Tagomi. Don’t you kill my babies, writers!
At the factory, Frank and Ed discuss Juliana and what she knows. Frank is edgy and Ed is surprised he didn’t let Juliana in on his secret. He goes about doing his job, complimented by his boss on his good work. Frank assures him everything is back to normal. Ha!
We catch up with Kido as he directs his men to make a thorough search for the weapon used to shoot the prince. He comes upon a scene that takes my breath away. From atop we watch as the Crown Prince’s guard commits seppuku. Kido watches on with interest. This could be his fate if he doesn’t find the shooter. He instructs his agent to be his Kaishakunin – the one who will behead him after the deed is done. It’s a grim scene but imparts with brutal effectiveness the Japanese’s feelings on honor, duty, and shame.
Juliana returns to her dojo where she learns that she can no longer practice aikido as she’s a wanted woman; a dojo is a place of harmony and nothing can interfere with that. She immediately heads to the Kempeitei and turns herself in.
The episode has already drawn me in with its beautiful direction, but Bryan Spicer truly ups his game here as he cuts and weaves between Juliana’s questioning and Joe’s interrogation by Major Klemm (Steve Byers) and Smith.
Joe protects Juliana, telling them he had no choice and had to give up the film to Lem, to convince him he wasn’t a spy. Joe hasn’t mentioned Juliana and John Smith calls him out on it. The Marshal indeed has been working for the Nazi’s and checking in with Smith. Joe claims Juliana was “no one”. Meanwhile, Juliana claims she was traveling to Trudy’s favorite places looking for her sister, nothing more. She’s shown a picture of the man who gave her the film, Randall; she claims she doesn’t recognize him and is slapped hard for her response. Kido enters and reinforces that disobeying the rules has severe consequences. He is both brutal in his delivery and, seemingly, still uncomfortable by the turn of events with Frank’s family. Juliana is free to go, but things will never return to normal. There’s not much dialogue in this scene, and not much is revealed, but it’s possibly the duo's most powerful scene to date even though they are on opposite sides of the country. They protect their secrets and each other and the overlapping shots and dialogue, as we switch back and forth, is a brilliant technique. Rufus Sewell again steals the scene, though, as he plays the cool and imposing SS officer, seemingly disinterested in the interrogation although I suspect he’s anything but. I’m again reminded why I love this show.
Juliana next heads to Randall's house, finding it in disarray. She sinks to the floor, crying, and it’s there she meets another Resistance leader, a ‘friend’ of Randall’s. I suspect this woman is a whole lot more. She confirms Randall is dead and Juliana asks about Trudy. As always, the film is the main topic of conversation and Juliana confirms she delivered it to Lem. Juliana asks about the Man in the High Castle and is told if she came looking for answers, she will be disappointed; all the Resistance knows is they deliver the films and they receive intelligence they can use against the “Pons”- the Japanese. It’s a credit to the world-building that the casual ethnic slurs thrown around this show aren’t offensive. It comes out natural and as you would expect an occupied population to react to their situation. A not-too-subtle invitation to join the resistance is thrown out there and Juliana seems to recoil a little, claiming there has to be something more. I suspect her hesitation won't be for long, though.
Back in New York, Joe tests his boundaries with Smith. Smith tells him he’s failed. He’s just one component in a complex machine and if he goes his own way, the machine will break down. Smith warns him to never disobey a direct order from him again… and then he invites Joe to his house to celebrate VA Day. I get the feeling this is something of a test for Joe, but as Smith relaxes I want to believe it’s his softer side shining through. No, it’s okay. I’m delusional. I know this. I just really like John Smith and I find that hard to reconcile on a moral level. Moving on...
At the memorial service for his sister and her kids, the large percentage of Japanese people attending seem to offend Frank. The ceremony is basically a mock funeral, a show so his brother-in-law can continue to keep face.
Back at Randall’s Juliana wants to find out who set up Trudy. There’s a card with a name on it: "Sakura Iwazaru." The mysterious resistance woman urges Juliana to get a job at the Nippon Building and find this man. But if she agrees, there’s no turning back.
At the service, Frank’s family isn't named correctly. He is angered by the sham funeral and speaks out. His outburst is met with awkward silence. Afterward, he meets a man, Mark Sampson; Laura worked for him for a while. He gives his condolences and lets him know he can drop by anytime to talk. "To life, Frank," he says as he departs, hinting he’s got more to tell.
At the Nippon building, Tagomi and Kido, discuss their affairs. Tagomi wants the foreigners to be allowed to leave, but Kido is having none of it. There is a thinly veiled sheen of distrust between the two. Tagomi has no choice but to sneak Wegener out of town, providing him with a diplomatic plane ticket. In the hotel lobby, Wegener spies the Science Minister; it’s his last chance to hand off the microfilm, but he’s with a man named Muller, somebody Wegener knows. The scene is tense and Tagomi insists he cannot make the handoff. Wegener goes ahead with it anyway and successfully deposits the microfilm into the minister's pocket. He appears to have made it out, but Muller is definitely on to him and I suspect he won’t be a free man for too long. Not in this show.
Juliana arrives at the Nippon Building. She’s’ greeted at gunpoint, but her ID checks out and she’s allowed in to interview for a job. Inside, the smarmy Mr. Eto offers her a job as a secretary, but he’s also got other needs. She would have to "undertake certain personal services, as and when he requires them." He promptly unzips his pants and lets her know exactly what services he requires.
"Do you want the job or not?" he asks, prompting Juliana to run out and directly into Tagomi, who’s walking down the hall. He drops the necklace and they share a moment as Juliana recognizes the necklace before she bolts down the hall.
The episode fades to black and I am 100% reinvested in this show.
Acting-wise, everybody brought his or her A-game to this episode. Rufus Sewell barely spent five minutes on screen and yet, as always, his portrayal of John Smith was captivating. Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa shined as his character got to go through all the emotions this episode since his character spent a hefty portion of it on screen. What intrigues me most is his connection with the Crown Princess. I still know next to nothing about their relationship, but they obviously share a bond. If I’ve missed something, please let me know in the comments. Rupert Evens, who has until now somewhat annoyed me, toned it down a tad and shined as he journeyed through Frank’s pain. And finally, Alexa Davalos settled back into her character as Juliana settled back into San Francisco. I hate to say it, but I think maybe my dislike of the Canon City arc has a direct correlation to how she plays against Luke Kleintank. There’s a spark of chemistry missing that I desperately want to feel. Well, that and the Marshal. Let’s never speak of him again.
The real star of this episode though was Bryan Spicer. His direction brought a renewed feeling of place in time to the episode and he raised the bar, upping the drama, which had lulled for the previous two episodes, and pulling me back in. I was struck multiple times by the beauty that is the world of High Castle.
I cannot wait to hit next and continue on to episode six, “Three Monkeys”. Join me next week for my recap and review, and as always you can watch The Man in the High Castle on Amazon Prime.