Axis of Evil
‘The Man In The High Castle’ Outrageously Gives the Holocaust a Happy Ending
In its final season, Amazon’s The Man in the High Castle starts off with the I Ching. “Hexagram 64,” they call the first episode. Or, as the popular Wilhelm/Bayes translation describes it, Before Completion. In other words, let’s wrap this up, people, so we can burn all these Nazi prop flags.
There’s not much divination going on as The Man In The High Castle rushes to its close. Sure, Juliana Crain (Alexa Davalos) spends a little time fiddling with yarrow stalks as she tries to determine just what message her late protector Tagomi (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa) might be trying to impart to her in the vision she has of him after she jumps to Earth-2, where the Axis didn’t win the war. But on the whole, nobody wastes time thinking about what they should do next. One by one, the characters come to a crisis. They twitch their eyelids in close-up shots. They experience a long static moment underlain by anxious strings. And then they go and do just what we expect them to do. It’s almost as though someone wrote their fates for them.
Take, for example, Robert Childan (Brennan Brown). Jailed by the Kempeitai, he tells Chief Inspector Takeshi Kido (Joel de la Fuente) everything he wants to know about the Black Communist Rebellion (BCR) that lately held him captive. Of course, he just recently told the BCR that he had an in with the Crown Princess of Japan that would help him negotiate a ceasefire with the Japanese occupiers. At every turn, he submits to those who have power over him. And in the end, his Japanese wife boards the evacuation ship that he can’t, bribe or no bribe. The order that he’s bowed to all these years has no place for him. He sinks back into the crowd, deferential to the last.
The Good Fascist
So, too, Thomas Smith (Rufus Sewell). After hint upon hint, season after season, that he might, maybe, be gearing up to reject the Nazi ideology that let him look away when the Axis trucked his fellow U.S. Army veteran off to slaughter on account of his Jewishness–well, nope. Again, it’s all about power. Smith wields the club, and he can’t let go of it. Without it, he’s nothing.
His sojourns into Earth-2, where his son, Thomas, hasn’t submitted himself to eugenic extermination, don’t seem to have taught him much. Sure, Smith feels guilty as hell about having, at best, looked the other way as the bad guys murdered millions of his fellow Americans. Maybe he makes up for it a little by offing Fuhrer Himmler with a well-placed canister of Zyklon-B, but even this he does out of self-interest. And maybe he means to atone for his sins when he kills himself, saying that he’s become, out of all possible versions of himself, the worst one. But before this, he orders war on the newly independent Pacific States. Why? Because, as Jessica Rabbit would put it, he was drawn that way.
The writers have barely even sketched the supposed good guys of the series, characters like Hawthorne Abendsen (Stephen Root) and Juliana in this final season. Juliana flips between worlds and does some cloak-and-dagger stuff in a department store basement, and gets to hear Smith’s last words. In Earth-2, the good American, not-a-Nazi John Smith died defending her from Nazi Smith’s henchmen, so you’d think she’d react with more than a broody stare. Think again. Hawthorne gets to do a little righteous cackling when his wife manages to escape Nazi custody by, again, suicide, but he mostly just sits in jail. The racist facsimile of the Twilight Zone he hosts is amusing enough, in a disgusting way, but it’s a more an afterthought than a plot point.
Hawthorne’s creepy show presages the genocide the Nazis are plotting against the black people of the Pacific States, but we don’t learn much about the underlying mechanism or who makes it work. Who wrote the script, who directed it, who thought it up in the first place? Who did the lighting, who ran payroll? Let’s see the whole roster of the studio’s employees, like you’d see in the credits of a Disney flick. Bureaucracy may not make for the most exciting television, but the Nazis accomplished the actual Holocaust by bureaucratic means. Consider this from Churchill (as cited in Raul Hilberg’s The Destruction of the European Jews): “the most horrible crime ever committed … has been done by scientific machinery…. [E]veryone connected with it will be hunted down and put to death.”
Of course, in the real world, many of those associated with the machinery of genocide got off with time served awaiting trial, and more than a few got government pensions after their brief prison terms (again, see Hilberg). And so it seems it’ll go in the world of The Man in the High Castle. Generaloberst Bill Whitcroft (Eric Lange) deserted the U.S. Army, joined the Nazis before even Smith, led the American Reich’s invasion of the Neutral Zone, and at least indirectly caused the murder of millions of Jews, blacks, and other racial undesirables. But once Smith is dead and the American Reich breaks free of German rule, he calls Strategic Air Command, cancels the attack on the Pacific States, and tosses his swastika choker on the desk.
Crosscut to the members of the BCR in San Francisco, guns aimed at a phalanx of bombers coming their way. The planes peel off. Everyone’s relieved. Whitcroft gets to be a good guy again. And that, it seems, is where we’ll leave him.
Indeed, not only is there no day of reckoning for anyone but Smith, but The Man In The High Castle closes with something like an absolution for him and Whitcroft and everyone else complicit in the machinery of death. Having built a portal into other worlds, the Nazis thought only of using it for further conquest. They not only fail in that, but failed to account for the fact that the door opens both ways. The portal flares. “It’s happening,” says Hawthorne to Juliana. And out of a bright light and down the tunnel walk scores of people.
They walk with a purpose. Because the show has already established that you can’t go to another world if you have a living counterpart there, we can only presume that these are the doubles of people killed by the Nazis and the Japanese fascists. Considering this, their purpose becomes clear: to serve as emblems of a universe without consequence. If in all worlds but your own, the people you killed still live and thrive and, not only that, are willing to travel to your sad brutal plane of existence to redeem it, then what’s a little genocide between friends?
One thought on “Axis of Evil”
I’m with you. This last season had me watching (I was too invested in it to not) but always feeling that, after every episode, this was, by far, the weakest season. The writing, character development, plotting. Even the acting was at its most melodramatic. And that conclusion just felt like a complete cop-out. Oh well.