In episode 2 of The Man in the High Castle the relationships and events which will drive the rest of the series become much more clear. John Smith’s family is introduced and his son Thomas is held up as a shining example of Nazi youth. Smith and one of his surrogate sons, Erich Raeder, are attacked, showing that the apparent stability of the Reich is maintained through the frequent use of violent force.
In the Neutral Zone, Juliana and Joe get to know each other better as they await communication from their contacts. Juliana also gets to know a custumer at the diner. In San Francisco, tensions between the Germans and the Japanese continue to escalate. Kido, under pressure to find Juliana and the film, takes drastic steps to get Frank to talk. Frank must decide between protecting his family and fighting for the freedom he longs for.
Many of the series’ central themes are introduced in these first 2 episodes: The near impossibility of making rational choices about big issues when people one loves are in immediate danger and how that is exploited by torturers and oppressors; The choice between fighting and suffering for justice, possibly even dying for the cause, or surviving through moral compromise in the form of expedience, opportunism and collaboration; The incompetence, near apathy and disorganization of the North American resistance movement; The overall role of apathy and amorality on all sides in allowing oppression to continue; And the power of art, literature and music to influence hearts and minds, whether it’s the Christian Bible, Mark Twain’s Huck Finn, a catchy pop tune or an effective visual advertisement.
Kido supervises while Frank is beaten, then taken to a dank cell.
Juliana can’t sleep and sees Joe outside smoking. She meets him outside and they decide to go for a drive. He takes her to a bridge over a dam in the Rocky Mountains. They arrive at dawn and watch the sunrise.
They get back to Canon City just before the diner opens. Joe asks if Juliana has a boyfriend. She tells him she has Frank. She asks him why a guy like him is driving a truck. He says he’s following in his father’s footsteps. He also reveals that he’d rather be doing anything else, but he has no choice other than to continue on this path.
Joe paid for Juliana’s hotel room, so she asks Lem to hire her as a waitress so she can pay him back. Lem is skeptical about hiring her, but gives her a chance, since he needs a waitress.
Joe goes into the hotel bar, where the bartender tells him he got a phone call while he was gone. The older man who does origami is there. The TV in the background is playing Guess My Game, the same game show that Juliana’s mother likes.
Over in the American Reich, the Smith family gathers for breakfast. Mom Helen and young daughters Jennifer and Amy set the table. Teenage son Thomas sits down to eat with a school book next to him. John questions why Thomas has a book at the table when it’s against the rules.
Thomas explains that he has a test today and he wants to get a better grade than his closest competition for the smartest student in class, Randolph. Randolph has a rebellious, independent streak which, John counsels Thomas, is the path to moral decay. Thomas is the very essence of a good son and citizen of the Reich, with all of his thoughts directed toward pleasing others, particularly authority figures such as his school, family and community. What Thomas wants doesn’t play into his thoughts at all, only what he’s been groomed to want. John praises Thomas for being a good son and student and lets him study at the table. He says that Thomas will become a useful member of society, while Randolph will not.
Thomas takes the importance of being useful to heart.
Joe calls John back. John tells him that they’ve learned that a female courier from San Francisco is headed to the Neutral Zone. Joe asks if the woman is also carrying a film. John is surprised, since Joe isn’t supposed to know what he’s carrying. He orders Joe to stop seeking out more information than he’s entitled to.
Japanese soldiers burst into Frank’s cell and force him to strip naked. Kido arrives and takes a good look at Frank’s midsection, then asks why Frank isn’t circumcised, since he’s a Jew. Frank says that only his grandfather was Jewish, his parents and his grandmother were Christian. Kido says that Japanese racial laws are now aligned with the Reich’s, which makes Frank a Jew in their eyes.
Presumably the Reich follows the one drop rule– if they can find any Jewish blood anywhere in your family tree, you’re considered Jewish.
Kido goes on to say that Frank, his sister and her children will now have to be executed. Frank begs him to spare their lives. Kido says he could overlook the whole thing, if Frank cooperates with their investigation. Frank is willing to cooperate, until Kido asks his question. Where is Juliana Crain? Kido wants her and the film she’s carrying.
Kido has given Frank a choice that isn’t a choice at all. Betray Juliana and his principles or allow his sister and her children to die because he wouldn’t compromise his morals. Juliana is good at taking care of herself, but even if Frank tries to trade her life for theirs, his family will never be safe, now that Kido knows the truth. Trying to save the kids might not do him or them much good, if they end up being tortured and killed before long anyway.
Welcome to the world of The Man in the High Castle, where we have to consider what kind of death would be easier for children in the long run, rather than what’s right. Dying children and how and why they die are also ongoing themes. They’re themes that have only become more and more relevant in the real world as time has gone on and the US has created concentration camps at the border in which children die because of their ethnicity and disaster and poverty relief are openly apportioned according to ethnicity and political cronyism.
Juliana is serving the lunch crowd and watching the clock for 12:05 to see if anyone will attempt to make contact today. She’s called over by the origami man, who’s reading the Bible. They’re outlawed in the Reich and the JPS so Juliana doesn’t recognize it at first. The man tells her it’s the King James translation and says you can find a lot of interesting things in the Neutral Zone. He says it like it’s a code phrase.
Joe sits in his hotel room and waits, bored. He flips through the TV channels, a mixture of Japanese and Reich shows, settling on American Reich, this universe’s version of Dragnet. Then he takes out his copy of The Grasshopper Lies Heavy ands considers it.
The German ambassador and his henchman drop by Tagomi’s office to tell him and Kido that they know a woman left San Francisco with the suspect film. They of course don’t want this matter to interfere with the state visit by the crown prince and princess, but if the Japanese don’t find the woman and the film promptly, they’ll take care of the matter themselves, using any means they deem necessary.
At 12:05, Juliana’s customer asks for his check. He tells her that he was just reading from the book of Ecclesiastes, which says that all life under the sun is pointless, so you should look for life beyond the sun. Juliana asks what’s beyond the sun. The man says the Japanese believe it’s the Emperor, duty and self-sacrifice. The Nazis are atheists who believe there’s nothing at all.
Juliana asks what the man himself believes. He answers by saying, “Chapter 12, verse 5.” He slides her tip over to her and tells her she can buy a copy of the Bible at the bookstore.
As John Smith and Erich Raeder are being driven into Manhattan by car, they discuss the films, why it might be taking so long for Joe’s contact to show and the Führer’s obsession with them. When they drive through a small alley, John’s impeccable sense of survival kicks in and he notices that there are too many people and vehicles. Before he can say anything, a truck backs out in front of their car, blocking their way. Several men leap into the road and start firing machine guns. John’s sixth sense allows him to duck out of the way of the bullets in time, but the driver and Erich are both shot several times.
While the gunmen pause to reload, John runs from the car to hide behind nearby packing crates. That gives Erich room to slide down so he won’t take anymore bullets and allows John to shoot the gunmen with his pistol. When he’s out of bullets and the gunmen pause to reload a second time, he goes back to the car, where Erich has taken out his pistol. John uses Erich’s pistol to shoot almost all of the remaining gunmen singlehandedly, while a truck in the alley explodes into flames. The police arrive just as he stops the last gunman from reaching for another gun.
John Smith, unstoppable hero of the Reich.
Ed gets worried because Frank hasn’t shown up at work or called in sick. The factory boss gives him permission to go check on his friend.
Frank is still naked and chained to a cell wall. A man in the next cell calls over to him. It’s Randall, the Resistance member who gave Trudy the film and met Juliana at the bus station. He tells Frank that the Japanese won’t keep their word and let him go even if he tells them where Juliana went.
Juliana asks Lem for a 10 minute break. She uses it to go to the used bookstore. Joe watches her walk there. The bookstore owner keeps his Bibles hidden, because even in the Neutral Zone, they’re still contraband. He sells her one for 7 marks, after she asks him a couple of times.
When John arrives at his Reich office building, another officer, Lawrence, informs him that Erich is in critical condition, with a bullet lodged 2 inches from his heart. Another Reich officer and his aide have gone missing after crossing a bridge into Manhattan. Smith deduces that these were coordinated attacks in retaliation for the Resistance member he killed.
Lawrence says that the man John captured was a “Semite” named Doc, aka Jason Meyer, also a member of the Resistance, whose parents were killed in the Cincinnati Camp on May 17, 1951. Lawrence is shocked at the way the Semites continue to come back, like lice, no matter how many the Reich kills. John gets terse with him, reminding Lawrence that lice aren’t terrorists like these men. They have a much bigger problem than mere insects. He varies the route he takes to work everyday, but somehow the Resistance knew where he’d be. He’s going to find out how.
Randall initiates another conversation with Frank about freedom and the Resistance. Frank isn’t interested. He says that the Resistance ruined his life and the film won’t help change people’s minds or spur them to fight. Randall tells him that evil triumphs when good men do nothing. Frank screams in frustration.
He can’t do much if he’s already been executed for being Jewish, and neither can his sister or her 2 children. Does Randall not get that part? The stakes are much higher for Frank than for the average white or Japanese person in the JPS. He should have been grabbing his loved ones and running for the Neutral Zone at the first sign of trouble.
Joe visits the bookstore, looking for something for a 10 year old boy. The bookseller hands him The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain, one of the most banned books of all time. Joe doesn’t recognize it.
It’s generally banned for its racist content, since it depicts slavery and the time period with extreme accuracy. You’d think the Nazis wouldn’t have a problem with that, but maybe they picked up on the antislavery message some people miss. Or maybe they don’t like a story about a boy and a man who run away and think for themselves, given John’s speech to Thomas at breakfast. Mark Twain, subversive in every era.
As he’s paying, Joe asks what Juliana bought. The bookseller refuses to answer. After Joe leaves, he lets his nerves show.
Juliana reads the Bible verse her customer suggested she look up, Ecclesiastes 12:5: “When they shall be afraid of that which is high, and fears shall be in the way, and the almond tree shall flourish, and the grasshopper shall be a burden…”
She stops at that point, because burdensome grasshoppers are very similar to the title of the film, The Grasshopper Lies Heavy. Could this be a signal that he’s her contact?
Juliana puts Frank’s drawing back in her pocket and tries again to call Frank from the pay phone. She lets it ring for a long time. Eventually, Kido answers and asks if it’s her. She hangs up and runs back to the diner.
Tagomi casts the I ching before meeting with Wegener in his office. He tells Wegener that they have to cancel his meeting that was scheduled for the next day, the day of the crown prince and princess’s arrival. The German ambassador’s knowledge of high level Japanese security matters such as the film and the female courier shows that they have a leak, so the risk is to great. They’ll find another time.
Wegener argues that it’s now or never. He won’t be able to come back using a forged Swedish passport. Hitler is ill and will die soon, most likely leading to a war between the empires. Tagomi suggests that Wegener let him deliver the secrets, but Wegener doesn’t trust him to go through with it. He reminds Tagomi that the other man said this was in the hands of men. He has to let Wegener do this.
Kido has had Frank’s sister, Laura, and his niece and nephew, Emily and John, brought into the station. He has a picture taken of them to show they’re in custody, then sends them to a waiting room that’s dressed up like a comfortable living room, with a TV and music.
Kido brings the photo straight to Frank and tells him, with a bit of a smile on his face, that they’ll use Zyklon-B gas on his family unless he cooperates. It’s been improved since the Nazis used it in concentration camps in the war, so that it’s now odorless and fast-acting. They’ll just fall asleep. Kido explains to Frank that they know Juliana took a bus to the Neutral Zone, so he just has to tell them which bus she got on.
Kido takes his argument one step too far. “Is it worth dying for her? A woman who doesn’t even love you? Who thinks you are a failure?”
They must have questioned everyone who’s ever overheard a conversation between them to get that information. Or maybe it was just her mother.
Randall calls out to Frank from the other cell that Kido is lying and to stay strong. Soldiers enter his cell and beat him. Kido says that Randall is a social deviant, while Frank is a loyal citizen. He gives Frank time to think his decision over, but tells him not to take too long. He leaves the photo with Frank.
Joe watches from his hotel room as Juliana and the Bible/origami customer make plans to meet and talk away from the diner. As their conversation is ending, he crosses the street to enter the diner himself. He asks Juliana about the man she was talking to and says he’s jealous when she wants to know why he’s asking. She doesn’t think he’s the jealous type, but he points out that she doesn’t actually know him very well.
Later, Joe calls John to report what happened between Juliana and the Bible/origami customer. He gives John a description of the man.
Laura and the kids become impatient at being locked in a room. Laura notices the vents in the ceiling and the plastic on the furniture.
Randall continues to taunt Frank about the tough choice he has to make, showing no compassion for Frank’s situation. He keeps arguing that they’ll most likely kill everyone either way and the only way to bring the empire down is for people like them to stay strong, no matter the cost. He thinks the JPS and the Reich are scared of what the film could do, how it could inspire people. He keeps yelling encouragement to Frank even as more soldiers come to his cell to beat him and take him away. His last words to Frank are, “Don’t let them take your soul!”
Before Juliana goes to meet the Bible/origami customer, she stops at Joe’s room and asks for a favor. She gives him a letter and asks him to get it to her mother if she doesn’t come back.
Joe, of course, opens it as soon as she leaves. She tells her mother about the film and Trudy, which reveals to Joe that her name is Juliana, not Trudy. She writes to her mother that the film shows a better world, which piques his curiosity. He takes his copy to the town’s abandoned movie theater to watch. Luckily, it still has electricity, despite the marquee saying it’s closed forever.
When he’s done, he sits in his room contemplating what he saw. John calls to tell him that the Bible/origami customer is an SD agent who’s prone to killing suspects. He orders Joe to stay away from the agent since his mission is off the books and they can’t officially protect him.
Kido gives Frank, who is still naked, one last chance to tell him where Juliana is- now or never. Frank begs Kido to kill him, but not his sister and the kids. Kido walks away.
Now clothed, Frank is dragged outside to stand before a firing squad. Laura and the kids sit on the couch and begin to fall asleep. Frank is tied to a pole. A bag is tied over his head.
Yoshida shows Kido a woman they picked up in Oakland who was carrying Trudy Walker’s satchel with 3 newsreels inside. It’s the woman who was on the bus with Juliana. They decide they’ve been chasing a false lead.
Juliana meets the SD agent at the dam in the mountains. She tells him she wanted to make sure they were alone. The agent asks for the film and Juliana hands it to him. He says, “Excellent work, Trudy.” Then he tries to throw her off the dam. Good thing she’s an akido expert who’s used to fighting men who are larger than herself and younger than him.
Did she ever tell him her name?
They struggle up against the rail until Joe shows up in the truck, providing a momentary distraction that allows Juliana to throw the agent off her. They all size each other up, then Joe pulls his gun. The agent and Juliana run at each other. Juliana flips him over herself and right over the bridge railing, as well. He’s gone and Joe is stunned.
The agent dropped the film during the fight. Juliana starts to crawl over to pick it up, but then she remembers Joe is there with a gun and she’s not sure who’s side he’s on. He reassures her that it’s okay, brings her the film, and gives her his coat.
He takes her back to his truck, but Frank’s drawing has fallen out of her pocket. The wind blows it away.
The firing squad prepares to shoot, but Kido orders them to stop. The bag is removed from Frank’s head. He’s brought inside to where Ed is waiting for him. They’re letting him go. Since the woman they arrested is a known smuggler, they no longer think Juliana has the film.
Unfortunately, Laura and the kids are already dead. But Frank is free to go.
Frank has to be held back as Kido walks away from him again.
Kido: “You have suffered enough, and I am not a monster.”
Frank: “If you ever need any more Jews to kill, you know where to find me.”
Kido: “Yes, I do.”
Kido and Frank are an example of how a government monster creates a terrorist without technically breaking the law. Frank was okay with living his life, keeping his head down and staying out of trouble, but now Kido has made it impossible for him to ignore the injustices of the world. Frank has very little left to lose and Kido proved Randall right. He killed Laura and the kids without cause and without remorse, just because he had the power to do so.
They didn’t even really die for being Jewish. They died because Juliana and Trudy were involved in events Laura knew nothing about. Being white and not Jewish wouldn’t have protected them. It was just a convenient excuse. Trudy was gunned down in the street by Kido’s men on the suspicion that she might have a film. She didn’t even get the courtesy of questioning and a firing squad.
Just in case you thought the Japanese were better than the Nazis, this is a reminder that they are also an occupying force who don’t give the people they are oppressing any more rights than the Nazis do. In fact, the Nazis assimilated white Americans into the Reich as full citizens, while the Japanese maintain a racial hierarchy that places Japanese Americans below native born Japanese.
Of course, the Nazis do away with the need for a social hierarchy with their extermination programs that ruthlessly weed out the ill, disabled and “racially inferior”. Since the Japanese give in to Nazi demands to weed out their own “racially inferior”, don’t provide adequate resources for the sick and disabled, and are prone to shooting people in the street or disappearing them, they don’t get any points from me.
Ecclesiastes 12:5 describes the symptoms of old age, leading to death, with the almond blossoms and grasshopper as metaphors. The biblical interpretations point out how bent and broken a grasshopper’s body looks compared to a human’s, so it evokes old age. But I suspect the metaphor here is closer to the story of the ant and the grasshopper, in which the ant works hard and stores food for winter, while the grasshopper plays. When winter comes, the ant is ready, while the grasshopper will starve if the ant doesn’t take care of him. The grasshopper has proven to be a useless burden on society, like the old, the sick and the disabled.
Images courtesy of Amazon Prime Video.