Season 2 of The Man in the High Castle continues its alternate history narrative, jumping gracefully back and forth between its bicoastal Pacific States and Greater Nazi Reich storylines. A lesser show would lose focus in a story with worldwide scope, and the Amazon original series has definitely struggled to keep that balance in the past. But by the midpoint of Season 2, The Man in the High Castle juggles its disparate plots and burrows deeper into its complex characters. Nowhere is this improvement more obvious than Chief Inspector Kido and Obergruppenführer Smith’s meeting in Episode 5, “Duck and Cover.”
Season 1 ended with an uneasy peace between the Nazis and the Japanese, and the Resistance. Julianna, Frank, Ed, Childan, and even Trade Minister Tagomi tried to undermine the system. Both ruling powers obviously don’t like each other, and the fate of those powers lie in what either side will do with their burgeoning nuclear power. Smith and Kido’s uneasy confab in the middle of Season 2 is a fascinating microcosm of the bigger conflict.
First, Kido and the Pacific State Kempeitai learn that Juliana Crain defected to the Reich after her run-in with Japanese soldiers and Resistance fighters who nearly killed her in the Neutral Zone. Smith, knowing that she saw and spoke to the titular Man in the High Castle in a clandestine meeting, figures he can uncover his identity through Juliana. So he takes her under his wing and pampers her with a new life outside New York City.
Kido himself pays an unannounced visit to Smith in his New York office along with a file asking for, or possibly demanding, Juliana’s extradition back to San Francisco. Smith is a control freak, so he knows how to play dumb and talk himself out of Kido’s impulsive stop-over. Smith argues that he simply offered her political asylum because she posed no threat to the Reich, but Kido reminds him of the Kempeitai murders in response. Smith denies that Juliana was ever part of the Resistance, but Kido wisely reminds Smith that she only headed east after meeting the Man in the High Castle. However, neither side has any proof of the meeting, so neither of them really know where she stands.
The tête-à-tête would be a frustrating bad guy gridlock if it weren’t for the moment the two share after their argument.
Kido notices a medal on display behind Smith’s desk, inspects it, and realizes it’s a service medal from the Solomon Islands campaign in World War II. “Why display a medal from your U.S. military service?” Kido asks.
“I keep it as a reminder,” Smith responds, “The consequences of the failure of command.” Kido, who served in that battle as well, says, “There were many casualties in that campaign, on both sides.”
These men have carried out more heinous acts than any other character on the show, but the Solomon Islands reference distills High Castle’s commentary on war. Revealing that Smith fought on the American side proves that simply following orders and carrying out heinous acts on one’s own are equal opposites. There will always be many casualties on both sides, no matter who wins or who loses.
Smith later orders his underlings to erase all records of his meeting with Kido, because he has ulterior motives. It may also be one of the first times that he realizes he’s gone too far. He’s a self-aware villain, but on The Man in the High Castle, there’s nothing he can do about it but perform his role as a “bad guy.”