Saturday, December 5, 2015

REVIEW: 'The Man in the High Castle' - Chaos Erupts During the Crown Prince's Big Speech in 'Revelations'

Amazon's The Man in the High Castle - Episode 1.04 "Revelations"

Joe is increasingly torn between duty and his growing feelings for Juliana. Ed tries to stop Frank from making an irrevocable decision. Smith's investigation is interrupted when he has trouble with his witness. Tagomi's plan goes awry as events take a dramatic turn at the Crown Prince's speech.

"Revelations" isn't as appropriate a name as The Man in the High Castle suggests here. Some answers are given that help the narrative find momentum again. And yet, it's still a tad too clunky getting to those beats and not doing enough to suggest that more information is coming quickly. It's fine that the show is a slow build with its mystery. The atmosphere, mood and tone continue to make it worth watching as it figures those elements out. And yet, the audience often feels like Juliana who is surprised by how unforthcoming the other members of the Resistance are in handing out information. She and Joe learned that her boss at the diner, Lem Washington, is the contact they came to Canon City to meet. He can finally provide the answers that she wanted when she made this long journey in the first place. Instead, it's just a lot of teasing.

The hour opens with the continuation of Juliana being hunted by the Marshal. The hitman is still a pretty horrible and one-note character in this episode. He's just a constant threat for Joe and Juliana that keeps them active. It keeps this part of the show's universe energized. Joe and Juliana are feeling the pressure to act as quickly as they possibly can. They escape for a moment. It's long enough for them to make plans with Lem to meet the person he hands the films off to. Juliana doesn't want to just be the delivery person. She wants to understand why these films are so important. This episode finally addresses why the man in the high castle wants all of these films if he created them. The short answer is that he didn't create them. But that's about all the answers that Juliana actually gets. The tease of her and Joe actually meeting the titular character of the show was just a ploy for Lem to lure them into the woods and take the films.

Over these first four episodes, it has become clear that Joe is the least effective main character so far. His backstory and motivations are suppose to be a mystery. He proves himself to be a capable liar in order to advance himself on this mission with Juliana. And yet, it's hard to understand why he does anything. The story is telling the audience that he is growing torn between following Smith's orders and helping Juliana. And yet, that doesn't really come across well on the screen. That's suppose to make the big reveal that he too was in the Resistance and carrying a film a huge surprise in that moment. Choosing between his gun and the film indicates his current mindset. And yet, none of it makes any sense at all. He brought the film to the big meeting with Lem because that's what the story required. Otherwise he would be dead. It doesn't really inform the audience of his actions. Why does he bring the film? Does he suspect that it was a trap all along? These mysteries have to be adding up to something. There has to be a reason why he is drawn to helping Juliana other than her being a beautiful woman. Right now, it doesn't seem like anything exists.

Joe is largely along for the ride alongside Juliana. She is a character that works really well. She is on a passionate search for answers. She is desperate to understand what her sister got herself into. She's frustrated that she won't get any solid truths. In fact, all she really receives is news that she doesn't really know Joe at all. He is able to maintain his cover as a member of the Resistance. But she also wants to know how he can lie so well and he doesn't offer a satisfactory answer. All these two have to do now is find a way out of town. Their time in Canon City has come to an end. They need to re-enter the other portions of the show's narrative. That's a good thing too. At times, this arc in Canon City has really dragged as the excitement increased in the other storylines. The threat from the Marshal really wasn't all that serious. Juliana is able to fool him by staging an accident with the origami man's vehicle. It's hard to believe that this is the last time Juliana or Joe will see the Marshal this season. After all, Joe did reveal that he was a Nazi agent to him and gave up Smith as his contact. But it's still a much more exciting and gripping twist to have Juliana back on a bus returning home. She is returning to a place that is much different than the last time she was there. And yet, that's why she chose to get on that bus. Ed warns her that Frank is able to do something dangerous and stupid and she hops onto that bus at the last second.

Frank is becoming more and more unhinged too. People are starting to get worried about him - including Juliana's mother and Ed. And yet, they aren't capable of stopping him either. He is too determined to get his revenge on the Japanese officials who took his family away from him. He understands that he needs to send a big message in order to make a difference. He knows that he can't just kill Kido. He knows that this is a suicide mission no matter what. So, he figures he might as well make as big an impact as he possibly can. It is finally time for the Crown Prince and Princess to make their big speech to the city. The season has been building to that moment since the very first episode. It provides Frank the perfect opportunity to assassinate the prince. If he dies, the society around him will too. He is so determined in this mission that he can't listen to reason. He pushes his friends away because they can't help him. The sympathy from Juliana's mother isn't enough for him to truly open up about the horrors he has experienced as of late. This is the only way he believes he can get justice for the deaths of his sister and her children.

The last few minutes of "Revelations" are the most tense and effective sequence the show has done since the series premiere. It intercuts between the Crown Prince's big speech and Joe and Juliana's plan to escape the Marshal. It's very intense and very engaging. So many plots are coming to a head in this moment. Things are finally being put into motion after several episodes of talk. Of course, the big development is that the Crown Prince is shot during his big speech. However, Frank isn't the person who pulls the trigger. He was planning on doing so. And then, he spots a young Japanese boy in the crowd next to him looking at his gun. In that moment, he changes his mind. But shots still ring out. Panic and chaos engulfs the scene. It's unclear if Tagomi and Wegener were successful in their own mission. Hopefully, they were because that story needs something to happen already. But it is clear that this moment will change things for the series. The show has had a ton of rising action. And now, it's time for all of those details to start providing some truly engaging drama.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Revelations" was written by Thomas Schnauz & Jace Richdale and directed by Michael Rymer.
  • Smith still hasn't made a ton of progress with the investigation into his assassination attempt. The initial inquiry came up with zero leads on a security breach. And then, a spoon is slipped to the prison who promptly kills himself before giving Smith any information.
  • Lem knows that the Nazis attacked the resistance cell in New York that Joe claims to come from. That's why he has always been suspicious of him.
  • Ed is such a weird and unnecessary character. He pops up just to try and knock some sense into Frank. But he has no backbone either. He holds Frank at gunpoint and then promptly freaks out once he accidentally shoots his friend. That's just not a very intriguing character detail. He doesn't have much purpose right now.
  • So who really shot the Crown Prince? It's easy to assume that it's someone connected to the Nazis. But it should be more interesting to see how the investigation into this assassination goes and how Frank gets out of that situation with all the evidence that could incriminate him.

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.