Spoilers ahead as Emad El-Din Aysha takes on two more episodes of The Man in the High Castle.
While I've previously highlighted some of the differences in the television adaptation of Philip K. Dick's The Man In The High Castle, elements of the original novel pop up aplenty in Episode 7. You have Childan finally working up the gumption to phone up the married Japanese woman. It doesn't go as planned, though. He gets invited to lunch and is fed a delicious steak – as in the novel – and, true to form, you discover what a racist he is. That's how he blows it with the young Jap couple, Paul (Louis Ozawa Changchien) and Betty. They were just 'inspecting' him to see how much he knew about American popular culture, especially the African-American component, and they politely end the conversation and treat him afterwards as a servant. He takes revenge by selling them fake American antiquities that he gets Frink to make.
The issue of 'historicity' pops up and, with that, the example of the cigarette lighter - the one Franklin Roosevelt was carrying on him when he got assassinated in Dick's alternate timeline. The Japanese are obsessed with all things quaint and American - a deceased civilisation they vanquished - to the point that they give themselves American names and live in newfangled American houses, with a butler to boot. Much the same can be said about Americans themselves and their love-hate relationship with the Natives they pulverised into the dirt. That might explain Frink's narrative, in the novel:
…Africa. For the ghosts of dead tribes. Wiped out to make a land of - what? Who knew? Maybe even the master architects in Berlin did not know. Bunch of automatons, building and toiling away. Building? Grinding down. Ogres out of a paleontology exhibit, at their task of making a cup from an enemy's skull, the whole family industriously scooping out the contents – the raw brains – first, to eat. Then useful utensils of men's leg bones. Thrifty, to think not only of eating the people you did not like, but eating them out of their own skull. The first technicians! Prehistoric man in a sterile white lab coat in some Berlin university lab, experimenting with uses to which other people's skull, skin, ears, fat could be put to. Ja, Herr Doktor. A new use for the big toe; see, one can adapt the joint for a quick-acting cigarette lighter mechanism. Now, if only Herr Krupp can produce it in quantity…
It horrified him, this thought: the ancient gigantic cannibal near-man flourishing now, ruling the world once more. We spent a million years escaping him, Frink thought, and now he's back. And not merely as the adversary… but as the master.
From Occupier to Occupant: Paul and Childan 'trade' historical niceties.
It's been a long while since I've read the novel so I'm not sure what PKD was trying to get at through the historicity angle - perhaps that American and Western civilisation is too literal and material in its way of thinking. Childan almost fails to sell the facsimile antique to Paul, but Betty says she can feel the Wu power in it, evidence of its authenticity since the owner was someone who had felt great pain and loss. That's Frink, of course.
In any case, you get to meet the executioner of Africa in Episode 8, the disarmingly charming Reinhard Heydrich (Ray Proscia). In the process, Obergruppenführer John Smith figures out how the resistance fighters were able to find out the route he was taking for their ambush. You never cease to be impressed either by Rufus Sewell's performance or the Obergruppenführer's wiliness and complexity. He later discovers his son has a hereditary illness, the kind that's incurable and can get you killed in the Nazi system, forcing him to confront his own misguided principles and the system that enforces them.
Police State: Rufus Sewell is more than just a man of action here. He exercises his heart just as much.
The different warring factions in the Nazi heartland was a theme in the novel and a historical reality. It was this vying for power that forced Trade Minister Tagomi into his moral quest in the novel, since the Japanese have to work with the SS against the German army to avoid nuclear war, compromising their humanitarian principles. (The SS were the ones who wiped out the Africans). Here's what Tagomi says in the story:
…There is evil! It's actual like cement.
I can't believe it. I can't stand it. Evil is not a view. He wandered about the lobby, hearing the traffic on Sutter Street, the Foreign Office spokesman addressing the meeting. All our religion is wrong. What'll I do? he asked himself. He went to the front door of the embassy; an employee opened it, and Mr. Tagomi walked down the steps to the path. The parked cars. His own. Chauffeurs standing.
It's an ingredient in us. In the world. Poured over us, filtering into our bodies, minds, hearts, into the pavement itself.
We're blind moles. Creeping through the soil, feeling with our snouts. We know nothing. I perceived this... now I don't know where to go. Screech with fear, only. Run away.
Tagomi does gain more depth in Episode 7 but it’s the personalised, sappy American kind. He lost his son and wife during the war. Why can’t he just be moral as a good Buddhist? This is the problem of evil in the philosophy of religion, forcing Tagomi into a clash of cultures that almost breaks him at one point when he's forced to kill a Nazi commando trying to assassinate Baynes. In the series, Tagomi does have to face a moral dilemma but of a very different kind, as evident in Episode 7. The Crown Prince recovers and wants war with Germany and is eager for Japan to produce its own Heisenberg device. Nagasaki is mentioned in the process, but it still doesn't have the depth of the novel.
Two To Go
On the plus side, Frink is encouraged not to give up hope and not give up his artistic aspirations. The important thing is to never give up on the inside, even if you have to go along to get along. The Jews originally intended to keep on fighting the Germans, stashing away their weapons for the eventual confrontation – just as Frink did in the novel – only to bide their time instead and survive as they always have through spirit and intellect.
So Episode 7 is 'good', but it is also a bit confusing. You don't quite get the point of the subplot where Juliana ends up thinking her sister is alive, and almost sees her, only to discover she is in fact dead. Episode 8 is better and has a nicer subplot of his own, with the latest alternate history tape showing up. Joe is sent to the West Coast – you get to see his council estate-type home – to retrieve it and flush out the resistance in the process.
The problem is that the Yakuza (Japanese mafia) intercedes and nabs the tape to do some double dealing with the authorities. Later the Yakuza tell the cops who the real shooter is in the assassination attempt on the Crown Prince. More on this next time!