This review contains spoilers for The Man in the High Castle.
The Man in the High Castle Season 3 Episode 9
The Man in the High Castle has made an art of the slow burn, but season 3 has dropped small but powerful surprises into the incremental progress of the story to keep us completely riveted and never complacent. Whether it’s the subtle but deliberate way Smith investigates the whereabouts of High Castle or the casual and confident manner in which Juliana talks about infiltrating the Lackawanna mines, each story unfolds with careful exactness so that when something dire or shocking happens, such as the unexpected end for Frank, it hits with the impact of an unheard avalanche. Penultimate episodes of most successful shows each season are typically exciting setups, and “Baku” backs up that notion.
Misgivings from the previous episodes about Juliana shifting gears too quickly have been discarded as we see the reaction to “The Grasshopper Lies Heavy” film from Chicago’s oppress citizens, effectively combining her mission of proselytization with her attempt to take out the quantum tunnel by turning the film into a recruitment tool. Her confidence grows as she recognizes Chuck the sniper from her otherworldly memories and assuages Wyatt’s doubts about their ability to get by the guards once they’re at the mine. “Yes we will,” she says. “We’ve done it before.” There’s something about Juliana’s quiet certainty that lends the whole storyline gravitas.
That being said, Wyatt’s friend Ledette brings up a good point with regard to stopping the Nazis’ current initiative: What good does saving another world from the Nazis do for us? It’s a valid question! And in answering her, Wyatt takes care of another misgiving discussed in earlier reviews and finally convinces us that the films and Juliana have given him hope that he hasn’t felt in a long time; it’s not just an infatuation with a pretty girl that motivates him. As a result, the plan to enter the mine through an adjoining tunnel fills us with hope as well.
Of course, those hopes are somewhat dashed by the discoveries John Smith makes. We often are lulled into wanting to trust the Reichsmarschall when we see him watching films of himself together with Thomas, eating ice cream and viewing Martin Luther King speeches on TV. Tagomi even feels like he can appeal to Smith’s desire for peace by sharing what he knows about Die Nebenwelt and by connecting with him over sons they both lost. But Smith’s discovery of the photo of Abendsen, whom he recognizes from the films, and his subsequent capture of Caroline Abendsen reminds us that, when all is said and done, he works for the Reich.
Similarly, Kido has been sympathetic but still patiently waits for his intel on Frank’s whereabouts to pay off. We may think that the joy Ed and Frank feel about spreading hope with their sunrise paintings is enough, but as soon as Jack mentions the Yakuza and Childan calls to entreat Ed to leave Denver, we know it’s not meant to be. No one could have predicted, though, that Kido would take Frank to Manzanar, the site of Japanese internment camps, to execute him as an enemy of the state. Kido clearly respects Frank and gives him a warrior’s death, but he kills him all the same. It’s unexpected; it’s brutal; it’s tragic; and it’s poetically brilliant.
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It contrasts wonderfully with the moments of triumph elsewhere in the episode, not just Ed and Frank’s feelings of freedom but also Tagomi’s kiss with Tamiko and Mark’s revenge against the bounty hunters. The good guys (although it’s difficult to know who to root for in The Man in the High Castle) seem to be getting a boost over unfortunate people like Thelma, who must be warned by ad-man Billy not to be so obvious when asking about Nicole. In that particular case, it was hard not to focus on the fact that all the important players would be on the same boat in the harbor during the Jahr Null celebration. Does that portend danger?
Helen certainly seems to be headed down a dangerous road, too. Although it’s initially comforting to see her welcoming her suburban friends into her luxurious New York flat, her decision to share unknown secrets about Eva Braun influencing Nazi policy and once again bring up Goebbels’ foot is reckless in the extreme. But it’s clear the The Man in the High Castle is highlighting her increasing discomfort with being a Nazi-complicit American. She’s no longer numbing herself with alcohol, so when the nurse comes early to test Jennifer for the genetic disease, who can blame her for taking the girls away to the beach? Although maybe she could’ve thrown a suitcase together…
As expected, the penultimate episode of The Man in the High Castle season 3 was stellar. Although it ended tragically with Frank’s death, we could be forgiven for hoping for another version of him to show up from another world a la Trudy. The final confrontation will undoubtedly center around the Lackawanna mines, which warms our sci-fi-loving hearts, but we also find ourselves fearing for Abendsen and Helen and dreading the Jahr Null celebration that will bring down Lady Liberty. This mixture of anticipation and repulsion stirs our emotions into a pleasantly paradoxical swirl of emotion, and we’re totally off balance, right where the show wants us before the finale.