It’s been nearly 10 months since we witnessed the excellent pilot to this alternate history show, based on the book by Philip K. Dick, and now, in preparation for the rest of the season to be dropped next month, the second episode has been released, and it’s even better than the first.
The story, for those who don’t know, is that TMITHC asks what would happen if the Allies lost the war and America was taken over by the Japanese on the west coast, and the Nazis on the East. It’s 1962, Hitler is dying, conflict broils between the axis forces and a mysterious film titled ‘The Grasshopper lies heavy’ tells of the Allies winning the war, and anyone found with it is seen as treasonous.
The first episode was an exciting blend of big ideas, fantastic technical work and great script writing. It looked and sounded beautiful and deftly told its story, weaving the lives of its characters into this terrible new world, whilst keeping alive the central mystery of the show, Who is The Man in the High Castle?
Episode 2 is a brisker, sharper, more engaging and defter piece of television, with a greater confidence and a more satisfying style of storytelling. The central tension between Juliana and Joe in the neutral zone is nicely developed, and whilst it’s the quietest of the story lines, it’s also the most engaging. The 60’s aesthetic of the diner and streets mixes well with the degradation of a fallen country and the encroaching evil and sense of dread.
Frank gets the most dramatic story, held captive by Inspector Kido, he struggles with revealing the location of Juliana or seeing his sister and her kids die. He encounters the voice of a man in the next cell, telling him that it’s down to ordinary men to not give up. This all builds to its climax in a scary, dramatic and deeply oppressive fashion, as we cut between these events and those of Juliana and Joe.
It’s also interesting to see the developing tension between the Germans and the Japanese, as neither of them trust each other, but they’re both able to obliterate the other, and they plan to. The brooding atmosphere and tension of these scenes is terrifically staged, with 60’s songs playing over shots of Mad Men like scenes of smoking and drinking.
Elsewhere, the set design is constantly fantastic, it’s realistic and draws the eye, it’s strange to see such a change to well known images of landmarks and posters. The cinematography of the show is gritty, the colours saturated, only the reds stand out, and the shots are often beautiful to look at.
The music is well composted, it slowly drifts through the episode like a serpent, wrapping itself around the most tense scenes and uncoiling to strike at the end. The performances are great all round, from little known actors as well, which takes away any “Ooh I know them” distractions and they all fit into their roles with great charisma and Joie de vivre.
Overall, I’d say this was a really great second episode of what is shaping up to be a fantastic series. I’m certainly interested to see where they go with the story, and I look forward to finding out what that film really is.
Rating: A- 9/10