Last Friday, after 12 months of anticipation, Amazon’s original series “The Man In The High Castle” returned for a second season of 10 episodes. There was a mammoth task this season to answer all of the unexplained questions of Season 1, including that shocking cliffhanger in which the Trade Minister found himself in an alternate reality – one which looks like our own.
For those who are not familiar, the basic premises of the series imagines an alternative history in which the Axis Powers – Germany, Japan and Italy – were victorious in World War 2. The series is set in the former United States of America, which has been divided between Japan (“the Pacific States”) and Germany (“The American Reich”), as well as a neutral zone in the middle, with no overall control by either power. Much of Season 1 is driven by Juliana Crane’s discovery of the Resistance and a mission involving films that appear to show different realities. Season 1 culminated in Juliana allowing Nazi agent, Joe Blake, to escape the Resistance with a much desired film.
WARNING: The rest of this post will contain spoilers for the entirety of Season 2. Please do not read any further if you have yet to watch the show.
The big question in our minds after Season 1 is just what happened with the Trade Minister? Was he hallucinating when he arrived in the alternate reality or did he somehow travel there? The list of questions involving the plot line just grow and grow throughout the series. The Trade Minister spends much of this season in the alternate reality, getting to spend time with his wife and son (who are no longer alive in the show’s universe). Eventually, Episode 9 finally answers some questions. We discover he has in fact travelled there through his meditation. Although there isn’t a great amount of detail about this. Finally, his story in the alternate reality allows him to see a film. This is crucial because it shows the testing of a Hydrogen Bomb, and this film is ultimately used to stop the war from going ahead in the show’s reality. There’s still questions left to answer: what exactly happened to the alternate reality version of the Trade Minister? How many others possess this ability to travel between worlds? I was quite disappointed with the route taken here. Season 1 built the Nazi dominated reality so well, and Season 2 descended into any old sci-fi show at points. It become too focused time travelling and universe jumping that it lost the show’s identity a little. Hopefully for Season 3, whilst I’d hope they will continue to explore this, I would like to see them take the focus back on to this world which had been so carefully constructed.
One aspect where this season far massively contrasts with the first is the pace. The first season became very slow and drawn out at times. It often took episodes to develop the smaller plot points. However, this season almost went to the other extreme. We had people travelling from America to Germany and visa versa within minutes, but with more regards to the plot, Juliana’s new life in the Reich didn’t last very long. It felt like her undercover Nazi life was over before it really began. Personally, I’m not the biggest fan of the way Juliana is written and find her a difficult protagonist to root for – however, I found myself really interested by her storyline in the Reich and only wished it lasted longer. The conclusion in Episode 10 just seemed to happen too quickly and easily. Before this season, we were led to believe the Resistance in New York were weak and almost crushed under Obergruppenfuhrer Smith. However, it took them just a couple of episodes to bring their plan into action. This inconsistency can be explained by the change in showrunners, there was bound to be a change in vision. But the contrast in pacing, some plot points and overall vision is quite clear.
Once again, this show did the impossible and allowed us to root for and sympathise with Nazis. As a big supporter for Joe in the first season, I found myself disappointed with his storyline in season 2. I thought there was a real breakthrough with his character, but he seemed to be back into the Nazi fold very quickly. I was screaming for the Obergruppenfuhrer and Joe to team up, but it just never happened. Instead, the show decided to play them on opposing sides. I was also massively disappointed a Juliana and Joe reunion didn’t happen. It was the genius of Obergruppenfuhrer Smith that kept them apart. Smith was the real standout star of this season. The layers on his character are fascinating. The only other character I can both loathe and love to this extent is Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones. The elements of the show surrounding his family are a stroke of genius. It shows the determination of why Smith is who he is. It’s the rare occasion when we found ourselves supporting a Nazi. Perhaps the other genius of the show is we are consistently praying that Hitler doesn’t die. His death was a huge catalyst for almost every plot line in the show. We were previously introduced to Hitler at the end of Season 1, and personally I was shocked to find myself supporting him. The moments following his death did not disappoint. The show became action packed and filled with twists. Although I found the climax a little rushed, the plot and twists were the better part of the show.
Despite the backstage troubles with the show, they delivered a solid second season. It wasn’t really the direction I had hoped for, and there is certainly a real consistency issue which needs to be addressed for Season 3. In true “High Castle” style, the cliffhanger had use asking even more questions? How on earth is Trudy still alive, and will we discover more about the man in the high castle other than the short glimpse we saw this season? Will we ever discover how and where this films had came from? This season certainly showed and explained why they were important, given they were instrumental in preventing nuclear crisis, but we still need to find out how they came to be? Unfortunately we must now begin the ~12 month wait for Season 3.