Episode 4, Sabra, focuses on the strained partnerships and heightening tensions of the alternate reality of The Man in the High Castle. Ed and Robert begin their journey back to the west coast, complaining at each other the whole time. John and Helen continue to struggle with their grief over Thomas’ death and the increasing scrutiny and pressure on them because of John’s promotion. Joe and Juliana grow physically closer, but choose every word they say carefully.
Meanwhile, the JPS begins experiencing protests over the fuel shortage because of its effect on everyday life. Wyatt shows up at Juliana’s door, wanting to get to know her better. Thelma and Nicole also get to know each other better, in an illegal way that could get them both reeducated at best and executed at worst. Tagomi and his painter get to know each other better over dinner, but Joe has plans for dessert.
The title, Sabra, refers to the Catholic community outside of Denver that secretly shelters a community of Jews, called Sabra. The term sabra means a native-born Israeli Jew. It’s taken from the name of a cactus fruit that’s tough on the outside but soft and sweet on the inside.
The Neutral Zone and the Japanese Pacific States turn people into this version of themselves, people who are tough and wary but can still have normal relationships with those they trust. In the Reich, trust is virtually impossible, as even one’s closest friends and loved ones might be convinced to turn one in for the good of the state. Joe was once a young cactus fruit, but now he’s been squeezed dry, and the shell that’s left works for Himmler.
Episode 4 opens with Sampson and the gunman driving to Saint Theresa’s. Since Sampson is known there, he easily gets them into the gated compound. The gunman takes the keys to the truck and begins checking the village for Jews. While attending a religious service, he notices that the priest has a number tattooed on his arm, like the Nazis put on Jews in the concentration camps. He holds the priest at gunpoint.
Frank Frink, who has severe burn scars all over his left side, stands up and tells the gunman that he’s a Jew, so the man should take him instead. Then Sampson says the same thing. The entire congregation follows suit. While the gunman is distracted, one of the villagers, Lila Jacobs, shoots and kills the him.
Frank tries to argue that he could have ended this peacefully, but Lila asks what they would have done with the gunman after that? As long as he hated Jews and knew they were living at St Theresa’s, he was a threat. Lila complains that the group is becoming careless. Mark tells her that it’s his fault, and apologizes.
Joe is in another nice suburban neighborhood, this time driving his own car. He hears on the radio that the DiMaggio Brothers, including Joe, are on loan from the NY Valkyries and tickets are available for the baseball game. Then the radio plays some girl group pop music. Joe stops in front of a certain house and rings the doorbell. He asks for the husband, pulls out a gun with a silencer on it, steps inside, shoots the wife and husband, and comes back outside moments later with a briefcase full of scientific documents. It’s all very routine.
Juliana takes a turn at the I Ching this time. She gets Hexagram 23, Po: Disintegration. One moving away from the other. Something coming to an end. She and Tagomi wonder whether it means her and Joe or her and Tagomi. She says that she’s seeing Joe tonight, but she’ll be careful.
John finds Helen still in bed when he’s ready to leave in the morning. Bridget does everything, so Helen has nothing to do. She asks to go back to therapy. John says he’ll think about it.
Juliana and Joe start their planned meeting with a little spy vs spy, establishing what we’re really here for. They both deny having any useful knowledge about anything. Joe does tell Juliana that he gained Himmler’s forgiveness by giving up his father, which is just important and real enough to begin to regain her trust. Except the part about turning on his only living relative.
Mark visits with his kids at St Theresa’s. Frank is painting nearby. He’s the artist that created the sunrise painting featured on the posters. Frank shows Mark his latest work, a silhouetted man in a hat with a red arc over his head and a red line across his body. It’s the next step after the sunrise, which represents hope. The man represents “the forces of darkness arrayed to prevent that new dawn.” Frank thinks people have forgotten or never knew what the world should be like. They think the current world is normal.
He’s had the shadow man painting turned into posters already and wants Sampson to distribute them. Sampson tells him that the Kempeitai are already arresting people for posting his sunrise. Frank doesn’t want anyone to get hurt, so he agrees to back off for now. Sampson will distribute the posters when the time is right.
Lila asks Sampson what the gunman said about Sabra. Sampson tells her that all the gunman knew were rumors. Lila decides to go into town for supplies and to check on the rumors for herself. Sampson says he’ll stay behind and continue to study so that someday he can be Rabbi Sampson.
Joe pays off one of the Yakuza to get the Kempeitai file on Tagomi. The Yakuza says that he has an inside man at the Kempeitai.
Tagomi’s painter, Tamiko, brings her painting to his office, wrapped as a gift, and asks him to dinner.
Ed and Childan strike a bargain for a belt buckle worn by movie star John Wayne, in the movie Stagecoach, before he left to fight in the war. He died in the Battle of Dayton, Ohio. One of his old lovers sells them the buckle and a photo proving its history. Ed makes Childan give the woman a fair price.
Kido makes a deal with the Yakuza to allow them to sell all the black market oil they want if they find Frank Fink for him. They meet in the brothel, and he notices Gina chatting with a member of the band, which makes him jealous. As soon as Gina brings him to her room, he questions her about the other man. Then she caresses his face, and he responds.
Nicole films the destruction of the Lincoln Memorial while Thelma covers both Nicole and the destruction as part of Jahr Null. Nicole isn’t happy about the lackluster way the young Aryans are hammering Lincoln to bits. She gives them a fascist pep talk, then rearranges her camera to make the men look larger than life. Thelma only cares about her crush on Nicole and making her look good.
Billy Turner: “We’re correcting American history here. Setting the record straight.”
Jack and Ed say goodbye in the hotel lobby, with kisses and all. Jack tries to talk Ed into staying another night, or forever, but Ed remembers he has a grandfather at home. Jack tells Ed that he’s becoming more himself as he spends more time in the freedom of the Neutral Zone.
Robert interrupts and hurries Ed to the bus.
Some of the women of San Francisco stage a street protest, demanding more oil for their household needs. Juliana wanders down the street and walks through it, out of curiosity, just as the Kempeitai arrive to violently break it up. With a lighter touch. They only beat the protesters with batons, instead of shooting them.
Juliana helps a couple of the injured escape, then Joe appears out of nowhere and drags her down an alley, just as Kido arrives. A buddhist monk calmly walks into the street, pours oil around himself, then lights himself on fire. Joe and Juliana watch for a moment, then run away.
Kido also watches the monk burn, and notices a pile of Frank’s sunrises on the ground, in postcard form. He looks at one closely.
Juliana and Joe make it back to her apartment. She’s shocked by what she’s just seen. Joe tells her that, “People are capable of anything, especially when they’re desperate.”
He should know.
Juliana wasn’t expecting to have Joe in her apartment and has left out a map of the Reich with Lackawanna marked. Joe notices it and questions her. She works her way up to telling him the truth about her received memories. He dismisses them as déjà vu. She sits in his lap, and they speak seductively of being sure they were meant to be together this way, before they finally give in to what they’ve wanted to do all along.
It’s a bit odd to go from the violence to seduction, but some people are excited by violence and some are immune to it. In this case, I think Juliana was motivated to distract Joe from the implications of finding the map, and maybe to try to win back some of his loyalty, since she’d just accidentally given him some prime intel to use against her.
Afterward, while Joe is getting dressed, Juliana tells him she had a dream that the world turned to ash, then they were in a tunnel together. Joe doesn’t react with any kind of recognition, just chuckles and says he’s happy to be in her nightmare. Then he tells her wants to get her out of the Reich. He has connections. He could even take her to Lackawanna.
I think she was testing him to see if he’d seen the films or received any memories of his own, but he’s been tortured into having the ability to hide his real reactions. If he even has real reactions any more. I also think wanting her might be an old reflex response for him, rather than being based on any actual affection that he feels now.
Kido questions Tagomi on Joe’s latest kill, Howard Wexler. Kido knows that both assassinations were made by the same killer. Tagomi can’t share much with Kido, as everything he wants to know is top secret. This doesn’t help Kido’s perpetually bad mood.
Thelma and Nicole have a private interview and house tour at Nicole’s father’s NYC apartment. After the required amount of flirting, they decide to meet on a regular basis so that Thelma can learn everything about the Year Zero project. Thelma’s thorough education starts with them making out in the game room.
Joe has a phone call with Himmler to tell him about the files he found in Wexler’s briefcase. Himmler is proud of him and tells him it’s what he was born for. But he also wants to know when Joe’s going to knock off Tagomi, since the trade minister knows too much. Joe says he just needs more time… to hook Juliana before he kills one of her favorite people.
He knows where Tagomi lives and works. It shouldn’t be that hard to kill a man who lives alone.
Smith is becoming obsessed with watching Thomas in the films. He has a nightmare in which he follows Thomas into a memory. Ashes from a crematorium or and atomic bomb are falling. Erich Raeder gives Smith directions, then Thomas hurries him along. He finds Rudolph Wegner waiting for him in an alley where Nazi soldiers are shooting families. They run out of ammo just as Wegner says, “Cincinnati is beautiful in the fall.” A soldier picks up a girl by one arm and leg, then spins her, preparing to kill her by smashing her head against a brick wall.
Smith wakes up just as the soldier flings the girl at the wall. I appreciate being spared the carnage. That dream was one giant bundle of guilt over the cruel, unjustified deaths he’s caused and the karma that he thinks is now coming for him.
After telling everyone they’ve met, over the last few months, that they’re collecting expensive items to take back to San Francisco in a giant, slow bus, Childan and Ed are shockingly accosted by robbers on motorcycles while on the deserted road to San Francisco. They meekly pull over, even though the bikers don’t seem to have guns, and hand everything they own over to the gang. They’re left standing in the middle of nowhere with nothing but the clothes on their backs.
There are a lot of problems with the writing of this episode, which I’ve decided not to nitpick (same for the season), but I can’t let this whopper go by. This is just plain dumb. Childan is pompous and arrogant, but he’s not dumb. There’s no way that he would have made himself such a target. He’d buy smaller items, then keep them secret and hidden.
If he was going to buy huge items and drive a slow bus, he would have hired protection along with it. He runs a store. He understands the concept of robbery. They’ve been in the Neutral Zone long enough to know how lawless it is. If the writers wanted to make Ed and Childan lose everything, there were better ways to rob them, that would make sense.
Kido’s assistant, Nakamura, has lunch at a diner. Moments after Nakamura leaves, Joe sits at the same booth, and pulls out an envelope that Nakamura left taped to the underside of the table. It’s the Kempeitai file on Tagomi.
Now we know who the Yakuza’s inside man is.
Wyatt Price knocks on Juliana’s door late one night. He wants to take her out while he’s in town. His real name is Liam. Juliana is a completely different person with him, actually relaxed and happy for the first time in ages, possibly all season.
Lila gets to the saloon in Denver just as a Yakuza operative is showing Frank’s photo around the bar.
Tagomi goes to Tamiko’s house for dinner. He brings her six perfect strawberries as a gift. She serves them after dinner. She tells him that she was embarrassed that she didn’t know he was the Trade Minister, but she loves the view of the bridge from his office.
How long before she asks to paint it, and searches his office while she’s there?
Late at night, John and Helen look at the view from their bedroom. Helen tells him that she feels their old life, the one that had Thomas in it, slipping away, and she doesn’t want to lose it. He says he’s decided she can go back to therapy.
As Tagomi walks home from Tamiko’s house, Joe follows him. Tagomi, knowing Joe is there, stops walking. He closes his eyes, either to try to travel or to meet his fate. Joe stands a few feet away, raises the gun, and cocks the trigger.
Fade to black.
The Great American Pastime continues to be played and watched with enthusiasm in the GNR and the JPS. And some well known professional baseball players play for the Nazis. But John Wayne went down swinging in Ohio. So sports have survived the Nazis just fine, but we have more evidence that the arts are neglected.
The Israeli spirit lives on in Sabra and hopefully other small enclaves in remote parts of the Americas.
I love Kido and Gina. He wants to think of himself as a traditional Japanese so much, but America and its ways have grown on him and changed him. He’s much more of a maverick than he’d ever admit. Falling for one of the gaijin, who’s not even of an appropriate social class, fits so perfectly with that.
I also love the idea that Ed is becoming more himself as he experiences the Neutral Zone. He does seem to be speaking up more and growing more of a spine. He’s becoming the one who’s willing to take a chance, rather than always choosing the safe option. Now Childan is the one who’s stuck in the old way of thinking.
The self-immolating monk is based on a real event that happened in Vietnam in June, 1963. The event protested religious oppression and shocked and saddened the world, but wasn’t the only time Buddhist monks have self-immolated.
That being said, I’m not sure it was appropriate to include an image on TMITHC of a monk graphically martyring himself over a recent cooking oil shortage. The only thing I can figure is that they wanted to draw a correspondence between the monk and Frank, who was also self-immolated, but survived. Frank has now embraced a philosophy of non-violent protest and compassion, which has attitudes in common with Buddhism. So maybe there is some implication that Frank is a martyr/saint.
Joe is so far gone that he treats assassination like he’s a door-to-door salesman. It’s creepy to watch him try to convince Juliana that everything will be better once they’re in the Reich. Isn’t she a wanted criminal in the Reich? Their liaison is like watching a film noir where you wait to see which character will betray the other in the worst way. No way does this end well.
Sometimes Himmler talks like an old-timey gangster. I guess that’s basically what he is. He’s certainly a dynamic villain with a love for his work. And he loves his Lebensborn assassins like they were his own children. Of course he’d probably eat his own children, but still, it’s touching, in a frightening way.
Erich Raeder’s body is found, and Smith visits him in the morgue. The medical examiner tells Smith that Erich died from blunt force trauma but wasn’t tortured. His body was left outside, where animals could get at it. Smith stares at the body, trying to make sense of this murder. The body was hidden, so they weren’t sending a message by killing him. Erich wasn’t tortured, so the murderers didn’t want something from him. So why get rid of Smith’s loyal assistant?
Rudolph Wegner, who is in John Smith’s dream, tried to assassinate Hitler in season 1, but killed himself instead because he couldn’t bear the guilt of all of the death he was already responsible for. Smith and Wegner used to be drinking and sailing buddies, but something happened in Cincinnati which caused John to stop sailing. John’s dream suggests the two of them were responsible for many cruel deaths while stationed there.
Images courtesy of Amazon Prime Video.