The Man In The High Castle Hits Way Too Close To Home With Season 2

Photo: Liane Hentscher/Amazon Prime Video.
If you're one of the millions of Americans potentially struggling with collective trauma right now, maybe hold off on watching season 2 of The Man in the High Castle. The sophomore season of the dystopian drama — which takes place in a world in which the Axis powers won World War II — is more troubling, post November 8, than it was 15 months ago, when the series premiered.

In the Amazon series, half of the United States is controlled by the Greater Nazi Reich, divided from the Japanese-controlled Pacific States of America by a neutral zone that's akin to the Wild West (nope, not Westworld). While the first season spent a lot of time focusing on those latter two regions, the new one follows its main character, Julianna Crane (Alexa Davalos), as she leaves San Francisco for New York — a.k.a. the capital of the American Reich. Her departure leads to one of the most disturbing scenes of a show that already brought us an Americanized version of the Nazi SS. (Spoilers ahead!)

In episode three, aptly titled "Travelers,"Julianna arrives in New York, seeking asylum from the Japanese Kempeitai (secret police) who believe she is acting on behalf of the resistance movement. In reality though, she has seeking answers about contraband films: These movies feature an alternate reality version of the United States in which the Allied powers won the war. (No one ever said this show wasn't complicated.)

But Julianna's immigration isn't easy. There are rules for joining the Nazi Reich, and when she finds herself unable to prove that she's a "true-blood Aryan" she is subjected to a battery of invasive tests, designed to assess whether or not she is a desirable addition to this new America.
A doctor measures her skull with metal tongs, and holds up swatches of skin tones to her face. "Olive complexion with slight tones of yellow," he declares, before asking her to disrobe. As a person of questionable racial heritage, and a woman to boot, she has no expectation of privacy or personal boundaries. The doctor pokes and prods her unapologetically, grilling her on the scars lining her back (as we learned in season one, Julianna was hit by a bus a few years prior) before x-raying her spine, her ribs, and her hips, lingering on her pelvic area.

We later find out why: During her interrogation, Obergruppenführer (real word) John Smith (Rufus Sewell) asks his junior if Julianna has been cleared for entry. She has not, because of "a medical issue," which turns out to be a fractured pelvis. It's possible she won't be able to conceive, which is a problem. "For a woman your age seeking asylum, the ability to bear children is a factor," she is informed.
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Photo: Amazon Prime Video.
There are two issues in play here. The first is Julianna's genealogy — whether she is racially fit to enter the Reich. The second is her ability to bear healthy children. The two are related because Julianna wouldn't be expected to reproduce for the Reich if she herself doesn't meet the racial standards required by the regime. It's eugenics, plain and simple. Nazi America is straight, white and Christian. Anything other than that is "alien" — therefore undesirable. Women are an integral part of the plan to populate this new German territory, but only those who fit the strict ethnic and physical requirements.

A little later in the episode, Julianna is released into the custody of John Smith. They meet his wife, Helen Smith, at Julianna's new home — a dormitory for single women. Inside, a picture of Hitler hangs on the wall, with the inscription: "A woman's responsibility to the Reich is both cleanliness of body and cleanliness of home."

Translation: So-called "racially pure" women are expected to marry so-called "racially pure" men, have so-called "racially pure" sex and provide so-called "racially pure" babies while providing a so-called "racially pure" family life. Then the cycle begins again.

The villains aren't evil people, but they believe in evil things.

At its core, The Man In The High Castle is a fascinating thought experiment: What would America look like under the Nazis? But that question is actually less compelling than the one that directly precedes it in time: What would it take for Americans to become Nazis? The terrifying answer the show provides us with is: not that much.

The action of the series takes place in 1962, just 25 years after the end of the war (in this reality, World War II ends in 1947, after a bloody American civil war between those who want to keep fighting the Nazis after they've dropped an atom bomb on Washington D.C., and those who don't). Many of the characters we meet have known another system of government, another way of life. Some even fought against Germany.

And yet, they seem content under this new Nazi rule. They love their families, they support their neighbors, they have golden retrievers and white picket fences. What they don't have is diversity — racial or otherwise, democracy, or freedom of choice.

When Julianna thanks her for helping her settle in, Helen dismisses her with a wave. "Now you're someplace where people actually look out for one another," she says. It's a line that seems so delusional given the context, but she truly believes it. That's what makes The Man in The High Castle so scary. The villains aren't evil people, but they believe in evil things. And that is a takeaway worth remembering.

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