While episode 2 brought a series of endings to the world of The Man in the High Castle, and the feeling of fully completing storylines from previous seasons, episode 3, Sensô Kôi, contains reunions, beginnings and revelations. John Smith has the biggest revelation of all. Dr Mengele convinces him that the films he’d dismissed as fake after he learned about them as part of Hitler’s collection are, in fact, documentation of other realities in which other versions of ourselves live similar but different lives. The awakening to possibilities that cascades through Smith’s head is practically visible.
Juliana and Joe are reunited, but spend most of their time circling each other cautiously. The two amateur spies have grown up to become lethal weapons and the young pair who were uncertain of their causes have firmly chosen where they stand. Unfortunately it’s not on the same side. The films prove that they have a deep connection in every reality, but death is usually involved when they are together, going all the way back to the season 1 films. The current crop of films raises the stakes even higher.
Nicole’s film documentary about Thomas Smith has its premiere with everyone who’s anyone in the American Reich in attendance. It’s clear that the film is thinly veiled propaganda meant to position John Smith as the next Reichsmarschall. The film leaves Smith’s enemies seething, especially Hoover and Rockwell, my very favorite villain duo on this show ever. Rockwell has a certain charismatic panache that we don’t see often on MITHC, and Hoover just loves being his sycophantic evil flunkie so darn much.
Kido finally gains custody of the Criminal Priest Hagan, though Hagan isn’t caught by Nakamura, but rather through a poorly thought out attempt at travel. Hagan caves in to
torture interrogation and gives us the revelation we knew, or at least hoped, was coming: Frank Frink is alive.
Tagomi and Juliana watch the films which Tagomi received from Hawthorne, the Man in the High Castle. Juliana receives more memories of lives she hasn’t lived, and draws closer to her spiritual father, Tagomi. Juliana is evolving into a mystical figure who appears to be a chosen one. Tagomi is her mentor and protector across the multiverse. Hawthorne was sent to pave the way for her, starting with his own semifictional original film.
There was more truth to that film than Hawthorne realized when he made it, showing that he also has a deep connection to the multiverse, and has had it since before he became TMITHC. He wasn’t chosen for his position by accident, and neither were Juliana or Tagomi. All three have an instinctive, spiritual ability to see through the fictions of their current situations and to use their conviction about what the world could be to inspire respect and loyalty in others. We may be coming to the end of both Tagomi and Hawthorne’s times, as both have Lebensborn after them. But Juliana is just getting started, and appears to be the most powerful of the three.
Her power doesn’t save her from death in some realities, though. The episode begins with Tagomi and Juliana screening a film in which Juliana and Joe are in a mining tunnel, perhaps the same film that Tagomi was viewing in episode 1. Joe, dressed as a Nazi soldier, shoots Juliana, who is a lab subject, then himself. Dr Mengele rushes to look at Juliana’s body.
Cut to Eidelweiss.
The show returns to a “robbery” in progress, which is actually John Smith covering up his wife’s murder of Alice Adler. The guy may be ruthless and immoral, but he’s unquestionably devoted to his wife and children. Then he returns to the
NYC High Castle penthouse, still in his black burglar outfit, and tells Helen that the cover up is done. Helen apologizes for losing control and accidentally killing Alice. John comforts her, because, you know, these things happen.
He relates her new truth to her: There was a robbery, and the police will catch some suspects, one of whom will confess to murdering Alice. Hoover and the SD will pay attention to the case because of the rumors about Gerry Adler’s death, so Helen needs to stay clear-headed and keep her mouth shut about Alice. She also needs to quit therapy. Helen breaks down in tears. The enormity of what’s happened finally hits her.
Joe pretends to be a tourist looking for a street car in a nice San Francisco neighborhood. When he asks a couple of Kempeitai for help, one comes close to shooting him, but the other reminds the first that they are practicing a lighter touch now. Except, oops, Joe shoots them both dead, since they’re on guard duty outside the house of his latest target. Sometimes Kido’s way is the best way.
It’s the middle of the day. Joe strolls on up to the front door and uses a key to open it. His target meets him there. The man is one of the last who was involved in Joe’s father’s conspiracy plot. He insults Martin for renouncing his beliefs and renewing his loyalty to the Reich before he died. Joe makes sure to kill him extra hard for that. He tells the man, “My father died a hero.” With a heart made of steel.
Now that her film about the Smith family has been met with huge success, Nicole brings a new project to Billy Turner for them to work on together, “Jahr Null”, Year Zero, an experiment in depriving people of their national consciousness in order to fully assimilate them into the Reich. By erasing American history, the Reich can ensure that the youth of America will never know that they were ever meant to be anything other than Nazis. Billy’s all in. It sounds like a fun ride.
The Reich is a great place for the amoral and unscrupulous, at least at the top.
The Reichsführer sends Joe his next assignments, a scientist who defected to the JPS and Trade Minister Tagomi. Joe’s commitment to his new path is tested for the first time.
Kido and Nakamura visit the scene of the assassination. Joe left the murder weapon behind, but Kido knows that it won’t give them any clues. He also knows that the victim was killed by the Nazis to provoke the Japanese.
Juliana and Tagomi continue to watch the films. In this one, Juliana is a Resistance soldier in the restricted area seen in the opening of episode 1. The area has been turned to ash, as if an atomic bomb was detonated.
When the film ends, Juliana receives memories from the worlds of both films. She remembers riding in a truck to the lab in the mining tunnel and seeing a sign saying it was in Lackawanna Mine No. 9. Nazi soldier Joe is seated next to her and secretly takes her hand. She also remembers being with a group of soldiers walking through the bomb-blasted restricted area.
She tells Tagomi about the memories, and that she knows Joe in this world. Tagomi shows her a copy of Joe’s current fake passport, explaining that Joe is acting as a spy for the Reich and will be at a reception Tagomi is attending tonight. He asks if Juliana trusts Joe. Juliana says that they saved each other’s lives and kept each other alive, but never actually says that she trusted him. She proposes that she go to the reception with Tagomi so that she can meet Joe again for the first time, to get a reading on what kind of man he is now. Tagomi thinks it will be dangerous, but considers her proposal.
John Smith pays a visit to Dr Mengele’s domain, the Ahnenerbe Institute, where Mengele oversees his multifaceted scientific research projects. Himmler wanted him to introduce Smith to his research before Himmler’s upcoming visit to America.
Himmler had Hitler’s film collection sent to Smith, but Smith isn’t interested, telling Mengele that he’s already watched a number of them and found them to be fakes or inconsequential. Mengele argues that they can’t all be dismissed so easily. Hitler understood that the films could be weaponized against the Reich. Himmler wants Smith to sort the real films from the fake, then catalogue and organize them further.
Smith is surprised that he’s being given this task instead of Rockwell. Mengele assures him that Himmler means for it to be done by him. Then Mengele explains that the films are connected to other research avenues he is pursuing, which will help with the sorting and cataloguing.
Mengele shows Smith to a viewport in a lab. There is a black woman inside with patches of white skin, as with the skin condition vitiligo. She is strapped to a gurney and drugged unconscious. Mengele tells Smith that her name is Fatima Hassan, and she is a film courier from another reality- a traveler. He knows to use the term traveler, which means he probably tortured it out of someone.
Smith doesn’t understand what Mengele is talking about, or why the courier hasn’t been sent through the normal channels for interrogation. Dr Mengele explains that he experimented on and killed the Fatima Hassan from this world as part of his medical experiments. The original’s pattern of skin pigmentation was different from this one, so even if she faked her own death, this isn’t her. He shows Smith a photo of the original Hassan’s hand as proof.
Smith finally gets it. “So you’re saying that, what, different versions of us exist in other worlds?”
Mengele: “Precisely. Across the multiverse. She’s living proof. Same fingerprints, same individual, who has somehow learned to traverse the astral plane.”
Smith says that it’s like something out of Frederic Brown, a famous science fiction writer of the first half of the 20th century. He’s handed the film that Fatima brought with her to this reality. Suddenly, the films have become very important to Smith. He decides he’d better take this one and many others home with him for some concentrated viewing and celluloid stalking of his son’s doubles.
Mengele continues to talk, explaining that the Institute’s scientists are developing a mechanical means of traveling between worlds, but it’s still mostly theoretical. Smith’s head is busy exploding, so he doesn’t hear much.
Himmler has Smith’s number, and judged correctly that this project would be much more important to him than it would be to Rockwell.
At the reception, Ambassador Weber and Trade Minister Tagomi greet each other warmly, then Weber introduces the new Junior Trade Attaché, Joe Cinnadella. At that moment, Juliana leans into Joe’s eyeline. Diplomatic chit chat continues, while Joe is confused.
Kido meets with the latest Yakuza leader, Okami, at his favorite brothel. They too engage in the expected diplomatic chit chat and make noises about full cooperation. After Okami leaves, Gina, Kido’s confidante and sometimes object of obsession, brings him a drink. He confides in her again, noting that Okami means “the wolf” and this wolf is getting hungry. But he needs to persuade the Yakuza to work with the Empire in order to survive the oil embargo. His mouth curls around the word “persuade” as if saying it is the most distasteful thing he’s had to do all day. It probably is.
Then his thoughts turn more personal, regretting that his family’s visit during his recuperation has left him unsettled. Gina tells him that he’s been lonely for the entire time she’s known him. He gives her a searing look, then says he’s leaving. They stand up, and she politely asks him to come lie down until he feels better. He once again looks at her with intensely restrained passion that says he wants to continue to have her sort out his confused thoughts just as much as he wants sleep with her. But, he leaves, because Kido will not allow himself to have nice things.
I hope there’s a reality somewhere in which they run away together, buy a ranch, have 10 kids, and form a dynasty. I’d watch that spin off.
At the reception, Juliana and Joe have a brief, coded conversation in which they unsuccessfully try to size each other up. They agree to meet again. Tagomi arranges to meet with Joe the next day.
Helen prepares for the premiere of Nicole’s film, but she dreads the event. John has to force her to go. Then she wants to talk to Mengele while she’s there, to get details on how Thomas died. John has to talk her out of this as well, knowing it would look as though they doubted the rightness of Thomas’ choice, and that the details would only hurt Helen more. He tells her that they need to remember Thomas as dying with conviction, as a strong, heroic, young man, and let it go.
I’ll be shocked if we don’t eventually discover that Mengele is doing medical experiments on Thomas.That might be the thing that breaks John’s loyalty to the Nazis for good.
Tagomi runs into his painter acquaintance in the park again. They discover that they are both widowed. She has finished her painting of the bay, leaving it without warships, as it looks in the other world he visits. When he admires it, she gives it to him, saying she’s been waiting for someone who likes her art.
Could she be a traveler as well? She seems quite unattached to anyone, and has an unusual history. Something about Tagomi attracts travelers to him.
Back at the Denver saloon, Childan hits the bar and discovers that the Neutral Zone savages are only serving beer. Mark Sampson joins him at the bar and they strike up a conversation, since they’re both San Francisco businessmen moving stock out of the Neutral Zone. Childan mentions buying and selling Judaica, which peaks Sampson’s interest. Childan says that it’s the blackest of black markets in the Reich and the NZ, but the Japanese are interested in Judaica as Americana. Sampson shares with Childan that the reprisals for the bombing have stopped and San Francisco is safe again.
A rough-looking man eavesdrops on them from a nearby table. It’s doubtful that his intentions are good.
At their meeting, Tagomi tells Joe that he knows the oil shortage is really an embargo and his people won’t stand for it. He wants to remind the Germans that the US also tried to control the Japanese through an embargo, and the result was the attack on Pearl Harbor. Joe is to convey to Oberstgruppenführer Smith that the Japanese consider the embargo an act of war. Joe questions whether Tagomi means the ambassador, but Tagomi ignores him and returns to his paperwork. Kotomichi shows Joe out of the office.
Tagomi let Joe know that Himmler isn’t fooling anyone as to what the chain of command really is.
Once Nicole makes her entrance at the film premiere, Billy brings her over to meet Thelma and her husband, Wayne Harris. He doesn’t seem to be anything other than a required but useless accessory. Thelma gushes over Nicole, and the feeling is mutual. They take a stroll around the room to get to know each other better and introduce Nicole to the right people. By the time the film ends, they’ve made plans for lunch the next day.
When John and Helen arrive, he tells her he loves her, just before they have to face the enshrinement of their dead son. Thelma brings Nicole over for an introduction, and Helen wanders off to publicly swallow a pill. Someone draws Nicole away, while Smith tells Thelma to publish the news that Alice Adler’s murderer has been found and is a career criminal who confessed.
Smith is about to go wrangle Helen when Rockwell calls him over. Rockwell congratulates Smith on assassinating the last of the Heusmann dissidents who defected to San Francisco, and for a moment there’s confusion, because they each think the other ordered the assassination. Then Rockwell twists the knife a little over Erich’s disappearance, wondering if he defected. He goes even further, claiming that both Alice and Gerry Adler were murdered. Smith corrects him, of course.
Nicole’s film is very sincere as a whole and very flattering toward John Smith. It calls John not just a father to his own children, but a father to the nation, who inspires devotion and loyalty. Rockwell looks like he wants to plan another assassination.
Hoover gets his turn at a video chat with the Reichsführer, who does love these little bedtime calls. He reports that Helen is a liability to Smith, having been inebriated at two recent public events. He’s also certain that Smith had both Adlers eliminated in order to cover up his family’s genetic disease. Himmler orders Hoover to document everything but to report it only to him.
At home that night, Helen says she knows she messed up, and John tries to impress upon her that she has to do better until they get past “this thing”. But she doesn’t know how to get past it. It’s too huge for her, and she’s confronted with a “glorified, phony version” of Thomas everywhere. The move to the penthouse, with staff to do everything and the expectation that she’ll exhibit ladylike behavior, has taken away most of her responsibilities. Now she has too many restrictions, and no way to escape her sadness. She lives in a gilded cage.
Helen asks John what he thought of the movie. He answers honestly, which used to be the norm between them, but has become rare these days. He says, “It sickens me. All of it. What they’re doing to us.”
But then the calculating operator comes back and works the room. “But we can use this. We can use it to protect our girls.” The film is being used to test the waters, to see if the public would accept him as the next Reichsmarschall of America. Himmler is grooming him. Embracing that is the best way to keep the entire family safe. Rockwell will fight back, but Hoover will follow the power.
Then he gets to Helen’s part. He tells her that Erich’s gone missing, and he thinks Rockwell made a move on him. So he needs Helen to really focus on herself and the family for now.
Nicole and Thelma lay their cards on the table during their lunch. Nicole is ambitious and always looking toward the future. Thelma is looking for discretion, something she can’t get from most “friends”. Nicole believes she would like to be Thelma’s discreet “friend”.
Mark loads up his truck for a return trip to San Francisco, but at the last second, the man who was eavesdropping at the saloon pulls a gun on him. He wants to know what Mark knows about Jews in the area, since he was asking Childan so many questions. Mark claims he doesn’t know anything. The gunman has heard rumors that a Catholic compound up in the mountains, St Theresa’s, hides Jews, so he orders Mark to take him there.
Jack and Ed are still together and enjoying each other’s company. Ed wants to travel all over the Neutral Zone. Jack reaches out to hold Ed’s hand, but Ed pulls away. Jack tells him that no one cares in the Neutral Zone. Ed isn’t used to being demonstrative in public. In the JPS, the Japanese don’t care so much what they do, as long as they keep it private, unlike the Reich, where it’s illegal.
Finally, Ed is unmistakably outed, and the JPS policy on queers is outlined.
Childan interrupts. He wants to leave for San Francisco now, or five minutes ago. Ed isn’t ready. He’s enjoying the freedom and he thinks it’s good for Robert, too. Robert questions what he means. Ed stumbles, then says that he means Robert doesn’t have to impress the “‘Pons”. Robert says he’s leaving in the morning.
Childan’s sexuality is still in question, and I’m not sure if he knows what it is. We’ve see him hire prostitutes to flatter him or play dress up, but he doesn’t appear to have intercourse with them. So, he’s either an asexual with a fetish, or gay but in denial?
The Japanese capture the Criminal Priest Hagan trying to sneak through a checkpoint. The old Resistance really was useless.
Joe finds Juliana at her old apartment, where she’s living again. They tell each other that Smith used them each against each other, even leading Joe to believe she was dead. Joe gives her a brief history of his misadventures in Berlin. She asks how much reeducation he had to swallow, and he answers that it was enough to keep him alive.
He tells her that he knows what this looks like, but he has no choice. It’s just a job. Being a Nazi doesn’t define who he is. She gave him hope, so that he never gave up. Them meeting again is no coincidence. Juliana says, “Then what is it?” But they kiss instead of trying to sort out their complicated connection and loyalties any further.
The kiss trigger another pseudo memory of Nazi Joe shooting her. She stumbles away. Joe tells her not to worry about the “Pons”. “The future is the Reich and the Reich is the future.” They can be together, and on the right side of history. She just has to become a Nazi.
The reeducation definitely fried his brain. Maybe it included a partial lobotomy.
Smith sits alone in his home office and watches one of the films. A crowd is watching waterskiers. Thomas is standing amongst the crowd with friends, happy and healthy as ever.
Juliana watches the film where Joe shoots her, then himself, and tries to sort out the memories it triggers. She realizes that there are flashing lights deeper in the cave before she’s shot, and a mechanical buzzing sound. She thinks they’re related to something important. She’s also realized that the lab is in the Poconos, in Pennsylvania. Juliana now believes that all of the films relate to the one film, and that she needs Joe’s knowledge to find the mine and figure out what’s going on.
Nakamura has the Criminal Priest Hagan hung from the ceiling and tortured. It takes still more pain to get him to share information with Kido, but after an electric cattle prod is set off on the open sores from where he’s been beaten/whipped, he tells Kido, “Frank Frink is alive.”
According to AVClub.com commenters, Sensô Kôi means an act of war. This would refer most overtly to the Nazi’s assassination of their defector and 2 Kempeitai, as well as the slow burn provocation of the oil embargo which the Reich refuses to acknowledge. Tagomi comes right out and tells Joe that the embargo is an act of war. (In one of the best Tagomi moments EVER.)
But we also have Nicole firing an obvious shot at George Lincoln Rockwell with the message that his days are numbered as Reichsmarschall, and Mengele telling Smith that someday they’ll have a machine they can use to transport troops to alternate realities. Then there are the subtleties of Juliana vs Joe and everyone vs the Jews. Maybe that one isn’t actually subtle.
It’s easy to forget now, when Juliana and Frank have been separated for so long and the show made him look like a villain in season 2, then faked his death, but Frank and Juliana also have a deep connection. The early films showed him to be just as important to the multiverse as Juliana and Joe. It’ll be interesting to see where they take Frank, and Frank and Juliana, from here.
They’ve taken his character about as far as they can go into extreme, ruthless violence, and had him and Juliana be very far apart both in the physical world and in ideology. While Juliana was killing Dixon to save a Nazi child, simply because she believes in protecting the children, Frank was bombing the entire Nippon Building, innocent and guilty alike, out of revenge for Kido’s senseless murder of his child relatives. They had the same reasoning, but Frank took it many steps further.
Kido turned Frank into the Resistance killing machine he became, while Himmler turned Joe into the same. Himmler wanted to make killers for his own purposes, while Kido doesn’t understand human nature as well as he thinks he does. He doesn’t understand that the more you try to crush people, the more some will find their strength in defiance. This is what Inokuchi is trying to teach him by asking him to use a lighter touch. I’m not sure it’s a language Kido will be able to learn.
Himmler is having the same issue with his elite Lebensborn killers. Once you take the humanity out of people, they stop noticing it in others, and lose their ability to read people and situations as effectively. Himmler’s elite Lebensborn, including Joe, are so numb and cold that they don’t see actions motivated by affection and loyalty coming.
One of the themes that’s beginning to emerge this season is the importance of being centered within one’s self, and staying true to one’s convictions. The characters who are strong, like Juliana, Tagomi and even Nicole, have each found a path that feels right to them and are at peace within themselves.
Joe’s issue has always been that he had no inner conviction or purpose. Being given a strong motivation and direction by an immensely powerful father figure like Himmler, and then being told that it’s what he was born for, would finally give Joe something to latch on to as his identity. The severe punishment for disobeying orders would take away his tendency toward uncertainty and a lack of commitment. He finally has a place in the world, can tell himself he has no choice about the evil he does, and can stop trying to figure out who he really is. He is Lebensborn and the Reich is everything. Thus, he’s more sure of himself and his actions than we’ve ever seen him, and he’s become dangerous to everyone.
These new films appear to be warnings that the atomic threat didn’t end when Juliana killed Dixon. What is it that makes the difference between Juliana alive but the bomb has been detonated, and Juliana dead in the tunnels with Joe? Is the bomb still detonated if Juliana dies? Do we want the bomb to be detonated, to stop the experiments?
Childan mentions Norman Rockwell, the painter, as opposed to George Lincoln Rockwell, the Nazi, as the type of real Americana that Japanese collectors want. Norman Rockwell’s style is what the Germans are subverting into their own propaganda while they will try to wipe out actual Americana with the Jahr Null campaign. The Japanese preserve and fetishize American history, while hoping to persuade Americans to accept the Japanese system as a new, better phase in their history.
This season is making it clear that if you can’t live in the Neutral Zone, life is better under the Japanese, Chief Inspector Kido notwithstanding. Many of the wost parts of living under the Japanese, such as the intolerance toward Jews, are actually rules they’ve put in place under pressure from the Reich. Other rules, such as asking queer people not to flaunt their sexuality, are in keeping with the time period of MITHC, and with Japanese culture, which is more private in general.
Could the endgame be for the Resistance to form an alliance with the JPS to overthrow the Reich? Then the Allies/Resistance and the Japanese could redraw the world map in a way that’s less conducive to any one power gaining complete control. They’re in the process of showing us that the Japanese aren’t strong enough alone to beat the Reich or control the world, and that the Japanese aren’t the uncompromising fascist state that the Nazis are.
Images courtesy of Amazon Prime Video.