Saturday, November 28, 2015

REVIEW: 'The Man in the High Castle' - Joe and Juliana Run Into a Dangerous Bounty Hunter in 'The Illustrated Woman'

Amazon's The Man in the High Castle - Episode 1.03 "The Illustrated Woman"

Joe and Juliana must act quickly as a vicious bounty hunter known as The Marshal arrives in Canon City. Tagomi makes plans with Wegener to pass valuable secrets from the Reich. Frank plots his revenge against the Japanese.

The Man in the High Castle set up some big mysteries and stories in its first two episodes. It meanders quite a bit in "The Illustrated Woman." It's clear that the show isn't going to be offering big answers or moving the story forward in a quick way. And yet, this hour doesn't replace all the mysterious intrigue and action sequences with strong character development. This is very much a transitional episode of television. But it doesn't really better define who these characters are. They are largely the same as they were in the second episode. Their stories are just inching along. Everything remains so disconnected. When the action and mood is driving the stories, that disconnect amongst the many stories works. But in an episode like this that doesn't establish a whole lot of new story, it's a bit more maddening that things are so slow moving.

Juliana and Joe's part of the world is made a little bit more tense by the introduction of a bounty hunter named The Marshal. The character is very silly yet still very sinister. It's a completely hammy performance made to keep things in this corner of the show's universe just as intense as the rest of the narrative. The Marshal makes his presence known in big ways. He's searching for his friend, the origami man. That character was much more effective in the second episode because he wasn't trying too hard to be a scary and terrifying presence. The reveal that he was a Nazi spy determined to hurt Juliana was a very strong twist. Plus, the show didn't let him overstay his welcome. Who knows if that character could have been meaningful if he wasn't thrown off the dam? But the Marshal comes in and immediately doesn't work because the show is simply trying too hard. It's a character that doesn't make a whole lot of sense. He's suppose to be terrifying. But he's being played a little too broadly to make that wholly work.

The show is also trying overly hard to keep Joe and Juliana together in Canon City for as long as possible. She kills a man. Joe has the smart idea to get out of town as quickly as possible. As a Nazi undercover agent, he knows just how quickly people can connect the dots. They will kill Juliana as soon as they catch her. He is willing to help her escape. His motives are still very unclear. But he finds himself drawn to her. He listens when she suggests they don't check out at the same time. She keeps him in the city long enough for him to meet the Marshal and see just how dangerous their lives currently are. It's because of that knowledge that they go make sure the origami man's body won't be found easily. A clue on his body leads them to a cave a few miles away with a dead woman's body and a list of names that includes Trudy Walker and the guy at the diner Juliana worked at. It turns out he was the contact all along. So that forces Joe and Juliana back to the city. They want answers in order for this mission to have purpose. But instead, the episode ends with a big shootout with the Marshal. It's an effective and lively sequence to end the episode on. But it still just props up a cliffhanger that will be addressed quickly into the next episode.

Elsewhere, Frank was a character given immediate urgency and emotional relevancy in the second episode. He went through this harrowing experience because of Juliana. And now, his sister and her kids are dead. He is a free man but he has to live with their deaths on his conscience. He views the Japanese officials as being responsible. But he doesn't completely turn against them. When he is approached by a member of the Resistance, he doesn't happily join the cause. This is much more personal to him. They didn't die because of his personal views. They died because he was connected to something he didn't want to be connect with. That doesn't make him want to join the cause. It just makes him angry. He blames himself because he didn't give up the information that would have saved their lives. Instead, he held onto it and is now being blamed by his brother-in-law. He has to face that guilt and learn how to deal with it. He speaks with Juliana for the first time since she left. And yet, they couldn't be honest with each other. Frank is all alone in this world again. Not even support from his best friend can keep him calm. In fact, Frank is channeling that anger into some plot against the visiting Crown Prince and Princess. He's working on a real gun at the factory. This decision could lead him down a very dangerous path. And yet, he is being called to action. That's a fine character development despite the majority of this episodic story not being more than him wallowing in the aftermath of his family's deaths.

And lastly, both Smith and Tagomi are just keeping their individual stories as is for the moment. Smith is still investigating how the Resistance knew the route he would take to the office when he was attacked. It's amusing that the Nazis would use LSD in order to interrogate suspects. But it doesn't lead to anything substantial. Smith can't question his captive. And later on, when he can talk, it's largely just an excuse to create a tense situation to show just how powerful and perceptive Smith can be. That's still a whole lot better than the Tagomi story on the West Coast. The Crown Prince and Princess have finally landed. The series has been preparing for their arrival since the very beginning. Other than the two also being worried about the Nazis taking control of their territories, they don't add a whole lot of new dimension to this corner of the world. In fact, the whole story is that the Nazis alert them to some risks to their big speech to the citizens of the Japanese States. The Nazis seem to know a threat that the Japanese don't. That's about it. It's a lot of talk. It shows that the Japanese officials won't back down from this big moment they've been planning for a long time. But it's not particularly exciting either. It's largely just there to keep Tagomi busy for the episode.

Some more thoughts:
  • "The Illustrated Woman" was written by Thomas Schnauz & Evan Wright and directed by Ken Olin.
  • It's very improbable that Frank's napkin drawing of Juliana would still be atop the dam a day after Juliana dropped it there. That was simply an easy way to let the Marshal know what she looked like.
  • The Marshal also kills the librarian and hoists his body up for the entire town to see. He did so because the librarian was actually a runaway from a concentration camp.
  • After two days, Joe is being summoned back to New York by Smith who determines that this mission is a bust. That means Joe will have to face a debrief sometime this season - should he ever return to the city.
  • So if Juliana's boss is her resistance contact in Canon City, why hasn't he talked with her yet? He insists that the two of them are not friends when they talk for a brief moment here. Does he know something that she isn't aware of yet? Will any of these answers come quickly?

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.