As the penultimate episode of season 3, Baku marks the end of this season for several characters, while it serves as the set up to the finale for the rest. We say goodbye to Frank, Mark and Tagomi in this episode. We’ve already seen the last of Sabra and Lila for this season.
The focus of these last two episodes shifts away from the details of the characters’ personal lives, and toward the implications their lives have for the larger universe. This emphasis shows how much the characters have grown, as tensions rise within each political state and the characters are called to respond to it. Most rise to the occasion. But not all. Not surprisingly, the Nazis typically fail the test, except for Helen.
The episode title, Baku, refers to the alias Kido uses in the Neutral Zone. Baku is a mythical Japanese creature who eats nightmares when called. If called too often, it will also devour the sleeper’s hopes and dreams, leaving their lives empty. The Baku’s body is made up of spare parts that were leftover when all of the other animals had been made, leaving the Baku looking strange but fierce.
Kido’s choice of this name suggests that he sees himself as a protector, but has realized that he can go too far. It also suggests that he is reevaluating who he is. He’s been in America a long time, and is now made up of spare parts taken from experiences gained during the War, pre and post War on two continents. He is no longer simply a Japanese soldier. Does he see himself as living an empty life, having chased so many nightmares away that he lost track and chased away the hopes and dreams of his own life as well?
Baku can apply to other aspects of the show as well. The Resistance has become a Baku, made up of pieces that don’t fit together and don’t know when to quit. North America and the world are political Bakus, with their original cultural and political affiliations having been broken up and pieced back together into two empty empires that aren’t working for much of anyone.
John Smith, as a man without honor, loyalty or morals, is also a Baku. He’s made up of the shell of himself that’s left behind after he’s given everything else away in favor of survival. All that’s left are the spare parts that no one has valued enough to take yet. His strategy has eaten up his own and his family’s nightmares, but now it has become their nightmare.
The episode opens on Smith watching films alone in his home office, completely engrossed. The world depicted in the films has become his escape, a place he retreats to at the end of each day, which has become more important than his real life. Smith’s own life is impossible to change and impossible to escape, or at least it feels that way to him. He’s closed himself off from Helen and the girls, assuming he’ll lose them soon to Himmler’s machinations.
But in the world of the films, he’s a completely different man. He’s happy, even dancing a little. He with Thomas and Helen. He’s in a world where the USA still exists and its ideals have continued. Martin Luther King Jr. can be seen giving his “I Have a Dream” speech. This world allows dissent and free speech, even among the most marginalized groups.
What would this hollow man do to live in a world like that?
After Edelweiss, Smith is at work, still thinking about Thomas. His assistant brings him the news that Juliana has entered the GNR, then he gets a call from Tagomi. Tagomi wants to meet with Smith in the Neutral Zone to discuss the oil embargo, defectors, and the Reich’s plans for Die Nebenvelt. Smith is dismissive of Tagomi at first, but Tagomi says that, “War is far too grave a matter to go through traditional channels.” Once Tagomi brings up Wexler, the Poconos and Die Nebenvelt, Smith has no choice but to take him seriously.
Wrigley Field has gone from hosting baseball to soccer. The Chicago Norseman now call it home instead of the Cubs.
Liam/Wyatt and Juliana meet up with some of Liam’s old crowd in a restaurant near the stadium in Chicago. Juliana recognizes one of them, Chuck, from her acquired memories and the film where the mine is exploded, covering the area in ash. Her first words to Chuck are, “You’re good with a rifle, aren’t you?”
Always good with the small talk, that one. But it does turn out that Chuck is a sharpshooter. Liam also introduces Juliana to the restaurant owner, Vince, and another ex-Resistance fighter, Ledette. Both are naturally suspicious of Liam and Juliana.
Frank and Ed have painted their first mural on a wall in Denver. They decide to keep going, and make another one the next night.
Himmler approves of John’s meeting with Tagomi, and orders him to search for Hawthorne while he’s there. Himmler wants him to leave immediately, but John asks to delay a day so he can be there for Jennifer’s genetic test. Himmler won’t hear of anything coming before his orders. He tells John, “Put your faith in the Reich.”
Helen invites her old friends Lucy Collins and Mary Dawson up to the penthouse for drinks and gossip. She makes them Alice Adler’s favorite cocktail, the sidecar, and whispers in their ears about the inequalities in the treatment of native-born Germans vs American Nazis. Helen especially makes sure to note that she has certain privileges as the Reichsmarshall’s wife that the others don’t have, like meeting Goebbels and seeing his clubbed foot for herself.
Helen tells Lucy and Mary that Eva Braun, Hitler’s wife, convinced him to change his policy on the women’s cosmetics ban during the war. She explains that it’s not in the history books, but when you get high enough in the system, you hear things. And, she tells them, the native Germans in Berlin protect each other. But you didn’t hear it from her.
She’s hoping to plant some seeds and get them thinking about their own rights and roles in the Reich. Whispers among housewives can eventually turn into major dissent among many, and an underground network that nobody in power would ever think to pay attention to. (See: The Handmaid’s Tale)
When Juliana and Liam show The Grasshopper Lies Heavy to Liam’s Chicago crowd, they watch with rapt attention and cheer at the end. Cynical Ledette asks to see it again. Juliana and Liam are stunned, after the reception they got at Sabra. The oppressed citizens of the Reich, unlike the much freer people of the Neutral Zone, are ready to rebel.
After the film, Juliana and Liam get out the blueprint and explain the machine and the anomaly where the membrane between worlds is extra thin to Ledette and Chuck. Juliana summarizes it as, “Destroy the machine, destroy the anomaly.” The anomaly makes the area around the machine unstable, and the machine uses so much power that it makes the area even more unstable. Destroying the machine will cause an explosion big enough to permanently destroy the anomaly, so the Reich can’t just rebuild the machine. Liam says they need to do thorough recon.
Chuck wants to call his Resistance contact in NYC, but Ledette feels that this isn’t their fight. Juliana gets up from the table. It’s up to Liam to convince his friends. Liam says that they fought for years for an outcome like the one in the film. Juliana and the film have given him something to fight for again. Ledette decides that it’s a worthwhile cause, since it’s given Liam hope again.
Smith tells his assistant to accept Tagomi’s invitation, with the condition that they pick the place. Smith wants to meet at High Castle’s farmhouse. He orders his assistant to have it secured and prepared.
Billy Turner has his mojo back. He conspicuously explains the logistics of the Jahr Null celebration/ destruction of the Statue of Liberty to his Ministry of Propaganda team, including Thelma Harris, with the architect of the plan, Nicole, nowhere in sight. After the rest of the team leaves the room, Billy tells Thelma to stay away from Nicole, since he had to make a lot of calls to clean up Thelma’s arrest.
Frank and Ed secretly paint another mural at night. Before they split up to go to sleep, they agree to travel to other cities doing the same thing. This will be the way they spread their message of freedom. Both Ed and Frank finally feel free. Frank even speaks of going to NY.
This is the most bizarre plot point ever, since Frank is wanted, Jewish, handicapped and his scars make him easily identifiable. Why on earth would he even appear in daylight or in public in Denver, never mind the Reich? The Reich would shoot him on sight as an undesirable. In the Neutral Zone, someone will turn him in for the reward.
Before Tagomi leaves for the Neutral Zone, he meets with Tamiko. He’s worried that she doesn’t want to see him anymore after he killed the Lebensborn assassin in front of her. Instead, she thought it was hot, and kisses him. He stands them both up so they are positioned better to get into the kiss.
Smith looks through a suitcase of Thomas’ old things and remembers him. He even smells Thomas’ shirt. Helen packs John’s suitcase for his trip to the Neutral Zone. He tells her that he’s postponed Jennifer’s genetic test, which was supposed to be the next day, until after he gets back. When they do the test, a nurse will come to the penthouse instead of the school.
Helen wants to know why he has to leave at the last minute. John explains that he needs to go prevent a war with Japan, or Jennifer’s blood test won’t even matter.
Helen gets a strange look for a moment. As Jennifer’s mother, I’m pretty sure Jennifer’s blood test will always matter to her. John’s level of attachment to his son vs his daughters has just been made clear to Helen.
Jack tells Ed that the Yakuza have located his and “Bobby’s” stolen stuff, and that Robert also called him, but was cut off. Ed is suspicious of the situation. Jack thinks it would be great to get the stuff back and take a road trip to San Francisco. Ed calls Robert to check in, who tries to impress upon Ed that the story about the stuff is a lie, and he needs to grab Frank and run. Ed is, as always, slow on the uptake.
When Robert gets off the phone, one of his old customers comes into the shop, looking for a particular baseball that Childan had before he left San Francisco. It’s gone now, but, to keep the customer interested, Childan tells him that once Jahr Null starts in the Reich, there should be a big increase in the flow of Americana into the West. Childan is still a practical businessman before he’s anything else.
The first thing Smith does at Hawthorne’s farmhouse is wander through it, looking for clues. The basement still has some personal items in it, where Smith finds a photo of Hawthorne and Caroline that’s been used as a bookmark. He recognizes them and the house in the photo from one of the films, and gives new search parameters to his men.
Frank, Ed and Jack meet up in the morning where they can see their new mural and watch people noticing it. It’s the first time Jack and Frank have met. As Ed is explaining to Frank that they are in danger and need to leave, NOW, it’s already too late. Sato comes up beside them, and Kido is behind them. Kido grabs Frank, cuffs him, and throws him in the back of a car. Sato beats up Ed and Jack so that they don’t interfere, which is like beating up puppies and kittens.
Jack puts up a good fight, and is left unconscious. Ed is left on the ground, calling out for Frank. As Kido is stuffing him in the car, Frank calls for Ed to, “Tell Juliana that I love her!” Kido drives away with Frank.
Tagomi arrives at the farmhouse in the evening. He knows what he wants to say, and takes control of the meeting away from Smith, earning Smith’s respect in the process.
Tagomi: I wish to extend my deepest condolences for the loss of your only son. I, too, have experienced the same.
Smith: Thank you. Now, on the phone, you mentioned Dr Wexler and Die Nebenwelt.
Tagomi: Yes. This machine is powerful. Meant to cross the thresholds between worlds.
Smith: The Reich won’t be held hostage, Trade Minister. Nor will we engage in negotiations based on ill-gotten or half-baked intelligence.
Tagomi: I had hoped to discuss these matters alone, apart from our government, because we have achieved peace together once before.
Smith: What do you mean?
Tagomi: Last year, you presented a film in Berlin. You averted war. I provided that film for Chief Inspector Kido.
Smith: I don’t know what you’re talking about.
Tagomi: It is possible to reach other worlds without the use of technology. The different truths of those worlds are of great value. And of great personal comfort. I received the film from my son. [Passes an envelope to Smith.] This is a list of 15 German defectors still living in the Pacific States. The Empire has approved the return of them to the Reich. And please, accept this as a gesture of recommitment to our trade agreements. And in return, the Empire ask only that you honor our oil treaties. Thank you for meeting, Reichsmarschall.
Smith: I will see that the Führer gets your list.
Tagomi: I believe that our two countries have great value for each other… in peace.
Smith thought he could play Tagomi, but Tagomi has his number. He let Smith know that though they’ve both lost their sons, Tagomi visits his alternate son in another reality whenever he wants. Because Tagomi is a traveler, no one else controls when or where he travels, or even knows about it. Traveling via giant Nazi machine, under Himmler’s watchful eye, wouldn’t be so simple.
Tagomi offered to help Smith learn to travel, in exchange for political cooperation. This meeting was a win-win for Tagomi, because he’ll either gain an ally, or he’ll have accelerated Smith’s descent into madness over the loss of Thomas. Right now, Smith has a bit of an obsession. Where would his mental illness go from here?
Liam, Chuck and Juliana drive to meet Chuck’s Resistance contacts in the Poconos, Jeremy and Paul. The next day, they do recon in the woods near the mine, and scout the exterior of the facility. It matches the films and Juliana’s memories. They meet with an old miner who shows them old maps of the mines and helps them figure out a way in, through Mine #2, that will bypass the Nazis.
Helen is put on the spot when a nurse shows up at the penthouse unexpectedly to do Jennifer’s genetic test. Helen tells her that the test was postponed, but the nurse breezes in and sets up for the test, anyway. When Jennifer asks Helen if she has to do the test, the nurse answers for her, saying, “Yes. It’s mandatory.” This nurse doesn’t intend to take no for an answer. But just as she’s about to pierce Jennifer’s skin with the needle, Helen stops her. She pulls Jennifer away, putting herself physically between Jennifer and the danger that the nurse represents. Then she orders the nurse out, and says they’ll be rescheduling.
I love it when Helen takes control of a situation. You could see on her face that this was a moment of truth for her. Once they’ve allowed the test, there’s no turning back from the results. Until then, Jennifer still has possibilities.
Mark buys the bounty hunters drinks and convinces them that he agrees with their prejudices. He sits down at a table with them in the saloon and listens to them brag about killing Jews for a minute. Then he tells them that he’s Jewish, too, and shoots them from underneath the table, Han Solo style. He stands up and gets in some kill shots before he runs out of the Grand Palace.
Helen drives the girls to Mary Dawson’s beach house. The girls question why they aren’t in school and didn’t pack anything for the trip. Helen says she just wanted to take a “girls only” trip. Jennifer, who was facing a life or death test, is accepting. But Amy, the girl who saluted her dead brother’s “sacrifice” to the Nazis, might be a bigger problem.
Nazis attack Caroline at the ranch, killing the ranch hands and wounding her before they capture her. Once she’s down, Smith slithers in to ask her where the Man in the High Castle is.
Kido and Sato drive Frank to the site of the Manzanar Japanese internment camp in California, near Death Valley and the Sierra Nevada Mountains. This is the camp where Frank’s fellow Resistance fighter Sarah was held prisoner as a child. It’s a full day’s drive from Denver, and remote because the desert and mountain geography make building roads and living in the area difficult. Kido went out of his way to stop here.
Kido gets out of the car and takes a deep breath of the fresh mountain air as he takes in the panoramic view. He signals to Sato to release Frank from the car, then starts to explain to Frank where they are, but Frank already recognizes Manzanar. Kido seems surprised. He tells Frank that he was there when the camp was liberated at the end of the war in 1945.
Then he gestures to a simplified version of Frank’s “Fascist Threat” painting on a boulder. The remaining lines could represent either Kido’s hat or a sunrise/sunset. In this place, the message of the painting is clear. The Japanese, and Kido, have become the threat, rather than the liberators. But change is still possible.
Kido: I have seen those painted all over San Francisco and the Neutral Zone. I never imagined they were yours. You have been speaking to me this whole time.
Frank: I’ve been speaking to a lot of people. They’ve started to listen. It’s beginning.
Kido: I know I am a part of what you did. I executed your sister, your niece and nephew.
Frank: I did what I did out of anger. I never wanted to survive. Never thought I’d have to face what I’d done. It changed me.
Kido: How? How have you changed?
Frank: Well, I’m free.
Kido: So you are not afraid of death.
Frank: No. No, not anymore. You?
Kido: Only a death without honor.
Kido: Out of weakness, I let you go. That was my mistake.
Kido bows to Frank, then goes to the car to change into his uniform. Frank looks around at the setting, and picks up a handful of dirt. He kneels on the ground and says the Shema prayer, often said at the time of death by Jewish people: “Shema Yisrael Adonai eloheinu Adonai ehad.“ He uses it to ground himself, and connect with his God and his people.
Kido finishes dressing, picks up his katana, and ceremonially approaches Frank. Frank removes his glasses. Kido decapitates Frank with one swing of the katana.
Frank is gone, but his work lives on.
The Shema prayer Frank recites, “Shema Yisrael Adonai eloheinu Adonai ehad,” translates as, “Hear, O Israel! The Lord is ours, the Lord is one.” The Shema is one of the most important prayers in Judaism, and is used to affirm loyalty to the religion and people, and faith in the one God.
“In 1942, the United States government ordered more than 110,000 men, women, and children to leave their homes and detained them in remote, military-style camps. Manzanar War Relocation Center was one of ten camps where Japanese American citizens and resident Japanese aliens were incarcerated during World War II.” – National Park Service, Manzanar National Historic Monument, California
In our world, Manzanar is in a harsh environment and the incarcerated people were treated harshly, even though they were innocent of any wrongdoing. 146 people died during their incarceration at Manzanar.
In the world of The Man in the High Castle, the US lost the war with the Japanese. Prejudice and anger on both sides would have been much worse, and the deprivations caused by war would have also grown worse. What was a brutal prison for innocents in our world likely became as bad as the German concentration camps in the world of TMITHC. Kido was one of the soldiers who freed the Japanese prisoners from the concentration camps, an experience that would have been similar to that of the American soldiers who freed the Jewish captives from German camps. Kido’s hatred of the gaijin is fed by that experience.
By executing Frank at Manzanar, using zanshu/decapitation, and wearing his uniform, Kido showed how much he’s grown to respect Frank. Contrast Frank’s quick, painless death and the conversation beforehand with Kido’s treatment of Nakamura, who Kido hated for his disloyalty, and who was given a prolonged, painful, humiliating death.
I wonder if this execution will also have an effect on Kido. It was a very ceremonial execution, but it was very American as well. He didn’t bring Frank back to San Francisco for public execution, like you’d expect. He acted much more like a bounty hunter or a Resistance fighter than the chief inspector of the Kempeitai. Kido’s excuse for operating in this manner was that he’s not allowed to operate openly in the Neutral Zone. But in the same episode, we see Smith and his SD agents work very openly in two different locations, and we see Tagomi traveling with official security.
When Frank says his near death experience changed him, Kido seems hungry to hear Frank’s experience. He tells Frank that the paintings have been speaking to him. Does he mean he’s been moved by them in the same way others have been, rather than put on the defensive?
It seems as though Kido is killing the monster he created in himself when he kills Frank, since Frank already killed his own monster when he bombed the Kempeitai headquarters. Will Kido be free to change and move on, now that he’s looked at the enemy and seen himself?
Himmler’s last line to John, in the scene where he approves the NZ meeting with Tagomi, “Put your faith in the Reich,” is a strangely ominous and out of context thing to say. I can’t quite figure out Himmler’s game with John. Under the guise of protecting John from others, Himmler seems to be slowly getting rid of everyone John loves and/or trusts. He’s isolating John at the top, seemingly on purpose.
The genetic testing situation in the penthouse seemed strange. People usually show more deference to Helen, unless she’s in trouble or they’re very high up the pay scale. An ordinary nurse should have been more cooperative with the equivalent of the president’s wife. I think that Himmler intervened and told the nurse to keep the appointment. He’s a huge misogynist and he hates disabilities, so he’d want to dispose of girls who would either get sick or be carriers as quickly as possible.
Himmler thinks that John is showing weakness over his family, so he could be moving to take care of this issue for him, as quickly as possible. The syringe didn’t look like an empty syringe that was ready to draw blood. It looked like it was full of an opaque substance. Did Himmler send the nurse to poison and kill Jennifer, in order to avoid the protracted scandal that Thomas’ positive test result caused? Has the actual test already been done at school? Or does Himmler just want to get rid of the rest of John’s family, one by one, so that John’s loyalty will be to Himmler alone?
Mark definitely shoots Holt in the head, but I’m not certain whether he hit Earle in the head or the chest with the shot that knocked him on the floor. Since they didn’t make that kill clear, it’s not 100% certain he’s dead. Sabra could have a very angry bounty hunter for an enemy next season. Or Earle could live long enough to tell someone else who shot him and where to find them.
From the Amazon Prime X-Ray bonus materials:
Throughout John Smith’s military career he has believed in strategy and has pursued the course of action he determined would reduce loss of life. His actions in Episode 309 are no exception.
But he’s always been short-sighted about it. He’s looked at his family’s safety, and what would stop the war in the short term. He didn’t consider the long term effects of Nazi policy in his strategy, so it’s a massive failure. Himmler’s brand of Nazism is so hateful and restrictive that it would collapse in on itself eventually, anyway, without an outside Resistance. History has shown repeatedly that the most extremist societies can’t sustain themselves long term. People will only put up with watching their children die for so long before they rebel, whether the children are dying from starvation or a eugenics policy.
Images courtesy of Amazon Prime.