The Man in the High Castle – getting the villains spot on

I felt like I had to mark this with a post. I haven’t written anything proper for ages and I was so impressed by the end of this series that I thought it justified one.

I sat down with some trepidation to watch Amazon Prime’s The Man in the High Castle a few weeks ago. I remember reading Philip K Dick’s book years ago and finding it quite forgettable despite its interesting premise of the Axis winning the Second World War.

After 4 seasons of this I was very, very impressed. It’s hard to quantify though. It’s not the story so much or the tone of the show, which is almost unrelentingly dark, that have left a mark on me. It wasn’t Alexa Davalos’ protagonist, Juliana Crane, although I have to say she does a wonderful job. It wasn’t Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa’s touching and tragic performance as Minister Tagomi or Rupert Friend as the tormented Frank Frink. Likewise, it wasn’t the meticulous detail and little fine touches that made you believe that this world could exist out there in the multiverse. All these great things and they’re not what will stay with me.

No, the more I thought about it, the more I kept coming back to two people at the heart of the show. In a show packed full of memorable characters, these two stand out and were what I was really coming back again and again for.

Joel de la Fuente as Chief Inspector Kido

After what Kido does very early in Season 1, one might think it impossible that an audience would ever have any sympathy for him. He is presented to us as a sadistic authority figure; a villain willing to go to any lengths to get results. It is testament to both the writing and the actor that, over time, we begin to see into his psyche a little more. Kido is a man of duty. He follows a code of honour which seems horrific to others but is the only thing that keeps him sane so far away from his home. He is separated from his family for the majority of the series and their absence seems to rob him of the ability to check the actions he is taking in service of the Emperor.

Kido’s honour code means that the audience knows exactly what to expect from him. The performance makes us believe sometimes that we will see something different; that there will be redemption. We should have paid attention to the man more though, because there is none coming. Joel de la Fuente is brilliant in this role. The man can convey so much through the most subtle facial expressions and is compelling to watch.

Rufus Sewell as Obergruppenfuhrer John Smith

Again, there is no redemption for this character. None is deserved after all his actions. We are taken along a cliff edge where it seems that he might experience a change of heart. He might step away from the life he has created. He does not, though; cannot. The choices he made, when they are explained to us in full, seem no more deserving of our sympathy as they should be. It’s almost as if we, the audience, are being dared to feel sympathy for him. He and his wife, Helen (another wonderful performance in the story by Chelah Horsdal) made the decisions to protect their children, but sold their family’s souls into the horrid world of fascism along with their own.

Sewell’s performance in this show is simply magnificent. He is an immense presence throughout the whole series, knitting together every theme and embodying the whole tone of the show – that something has gone horribly wrong with the world. He sees it too, but is too far gone and he knows it. The scene where he is reunited with his son is so brilliantly done that he makes us feel every ounce of emotion. It’s a real powerhouse performance.

These two performances are what make Tbe Man in the High Castle such a great show. I can’t recommend it enough on the strength of these two actors.

Thanks for reading,

Richard

Check out some of my other TV posts by clicking the links below.

Tonight’s Viewing – Children of Dune (2003)

Project Blue Book – Season 2, Episode 1 and 2 Review

Audrey’s Dance – a poem

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