Saturday, November 21, 2015

REVIEW: 'The Man in the High Castle' - Juliana & Joe Search for Answers While Frank Fights for His Life in 'Sunrise'

Amazon's The Man in the High Castle - Episode 1.02 "Sunrise"

Frank's fate hangs in the balance as he is held captive by the Kempeitai. Juliana makes contact with a mysterious man who gives her a clue about the films. Obergruppenführer Smith is surprised by an unfortunate turn of events.

It's so easy to be transfixed by The Man in the High Castle because it's world building creates a truly powerful, chilling and memorable visual experience. That is able to carry the show so far. When one examines it more closely, there are a handful of plots that don't seem to be going anywhere. They are all just slowly building tension. Keeping things tense and the imagery beautifully horrific is what the show is setting out to do right now. Of course, some stories make a huge impact in this second episode. Certain events of action do help inform the characters as people whose motives are easy to understand in this very complicated world of radical change. The characters will have to match the production design in order for the show to remain essential viewing. But "Sunrise" depicts a world where that could easily happen as long as all of the stories are building to something very meaningful.

Joe and Juliana are both in Canon City awaiting contact from someone in the American Resistance. They were sent on these journeys to the Neutral Zone because of the films. They are the symbols that keeps hope alive in these dark times. They are the things worth protecting right now. No one really understands what they truly remain. The universe depicted in the films would be near impossible to create as some Nazi officials point out. Those officials seem certain that the Man in the High Castle is dead. But the members of the Resistance still believe him to be alive and the key to bringing freedom back to the country. Joe and Juliana are at the center of that life right now. Neither one of them is there for those idealistic reasons though. They are just as uncertain as the audience is at this point. Juliana came to get answers about what her sister got herself into. Joe went because he was ordered to infiltrate the Resistance by Obergruppenführer Smith. They both have very visceral reactions to seeing the films for the first time. But it doesn't provide them with any meaningful answers about their lives or why they are in Canon City right now.

It doesn't seem like Joe or Juliana are going to get any answers quickly either. They were both told that someone would be waiting for them at the end of this journey. They've arrived and haven't been contacted by anyone. All they have is each other. They don't even know if they can trust each other. Juliana is incredibly grateful that Joe gave her the money to get some food and stay at the hotel. That also proves that he is a generous and nice person. Joe is keeping it a secret that he is a Nazi spy. For the majority of the hour, it appears as if that is the reason why no one has reached out to either Joe or Juliana. They are just waiting in this town. Juliana has started working at the diner in order to earn some money. Joe is keeping his eye on her. He learns from Smith that she is on a mission very similar to his own. But that doesn't keep the two of them from enjoying a beautiful sunrise together. That moment is absolutely wonderful to watch. It's a beautiful way to start the day. But it also hints that much darkness is coming for them through the remainder of the episode.

Juliana believes she has met her contact at the diner. There is a man who regularly comes in, does some origami and reads from the Bible. He is a man who lives outside of the Nazi way of life. He is willing to embrace those ideals even though they are very illegal in this land. Juliana wants to believe that he is the person she was brought here to see. Joe reports back to Smith as soon as he learns what's going on with Juliana. That also shows that Joe has a willingness to question his orders. He discovered the film because he actually wanted to learn what he has traveling with across the country. He doesn't want to tell his boss about Juliana because he wants to see where that connection might go. He also finds a way to view the film in order to see what's so special about it. He doesn't understand any more than Juliana. But it also connects him with her in a way that neither can explain all that well.

That's an important connection considering Juliana's contact is really just a Nazi contractor determined to kill anyone who appears in the Neutral Zone with one of these films. Joe learns about that and races to stop Juliana from certain death. It's a tense concluding beat for the episode. Juliana is fighting off this man of considerable size who wants to push her off the bridge where she experienced the beautiful sunrise just a day ago. Joe shows up to save her but he is really nothing more than a distraction. Juliana is the one who pushes the man over the side of the bridges. That really unnerves Juliana too. She is trained in aikido - an art form that cherishes all life. She just killed a man. That rocks her to her core. She trusted Joe enough to give her mother a message should she not make it back from this meeting alive. But now, she's trusting him to take care of her and comfort her after this tragedy. In that moment, she doesn't even realize that she has dropped Frank's napkin drawing of her. This mission is causing her to lose her way. And now, she has to figure out where she goes from here.

Things look incredibly bleak for Juliana back in the Japanese States as well. Frank has been detained by the police in order to get information on where Juliana went. Both the Nazi and Japanese officials know that she fled to the Neutral Zone with one of the film reels. They even know she took a bus. They just don't know where she went so that they can find her and kill her for her crimes. Frank didn't ask for any of this. He wanted Juliana to turn the film over to the police so that they could continue to live their lives as happily as they could. He has so much to fear with being of Jewish descent in this world. He doesn't want to create any problems. And yet, he is currently being tossed around by the police until he talks. He has information they want and they are not afraid to do anything to get it.

It's a very harrowing experience for Frank. The Japanese don't view Jews the same way that the Germans do. But they still comply with execution in order to keep that relationship stable. They don't treat Frank as a human being. They beat him. They strip him down. They threaten his family. It's all in the pursuit of learning this small piece of information about the Resistance. It shows just how seriously the new world order actually is. Much like Joe and Juliana, Frank doesn't share the ideals of the Resistance. When the person on the other side of the wall is revealed to be the man who gave Trudy the film, Frank is actually quite angry at him. He didn't ask for any of this. And yet, he doesn't tell the officials what they want to hear. He's afraid for not only his life but the lives of Juliana, his sister and her children. His family members have even been brought in to the station and wait in an execution room that is slowly filling with the gas. Frank is holding out hope that all of this won't end in his death. It's an incredibly bleak situation for him. And yet, he manages to survive. The Japanese are given another story that satisfies them more than their pursuit of answers from Frank. He is able to go as a free man. However, his sister and her kids were killed. That's the cost of this experience for Frank. Because of Juliana's decision to travel east, his entire world has been destroyed. The officials are no longer looking at him with suspicious eyes. But he won't be able to return to the life he once knew - even with the support of his best friend, Ed. Both Juliana and Frank are broken by these experiences. How they move forward will determine the people they will be for the rest of the season.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Sunrise" was written by Frank Spotnitz and directed by Daniel Percival.
  • When Joe and Juliana ask each one question, Joe wants to know if Juliana has a boyfriend while she wants to know what he would do if he could do anything he wanted.
  • It's fascinating to see Smith's home life. He has a good life because he is a respected member of the German intelligence. But he's also strict yet fair when it comes to raising his son and the dilemma that comes from his questions of needing to be good at school.
  • Smith also survives an assassination attempt in this episode. That shows just how skilled he truly is in the moment of battle. The Resistance staged these attacks all over the city. So, it would appear the movement is much larger than anyone really anticipated.
  • Tagomi is aware that the Nazis are no longer being all that forthcoming with the Japanese government. That makes him more wary than usual - especially with the Crown Prince and Princess set to arrive in just a few days.
  • It's chilling to watch as Frank's sister knows exactly what is happening to her and her two children and there is nothing she can do to stop it.

As noted in previous reviews from this series, every episodic review was written without having seen any succeeding episodes. Similarly, it would be much appreciated if in the comments section, the conversation would only revolve around the show up to this point in its run.