The Man in the High Castle panel treated the audience to several clips of Season Two, and a very thoughtful Q&A, that respectfully steered clear of spoilers. However I will have spoil a bit of Season One, so only click through if you’re caught up! Just as with last year’s panel, the cast focused on the themes and tone of the show more than plot detail, or even acting choices. It’s fascinating to see how invested the cast is in the morality of the show, and in the ideas that shape that alternate timeline the show explores.
The panel opened with a trailer for Season Two. As it continued we saw clips featuring Alexa Davalos’ Juliana Crane, Rufus Sewell’s John Smith, a particularly tense and heartbreaking scene with D.J. Qualls, and a meeting between Frank Frink and the Yakuza. Again, without spoiling things, it’s interesting to me to see even in small clips, how they’re expanding the world beyond Philip K. Dick’s book.
The panel featured Rufus Sewell (Obengruppenfuhrer John Smith), Alexa Davalos (fugitive Juliana Crane), DJ Qualls (Ed), Brennan Brown (antiques dealer Childan), and producer David W. Zucker, each of whom stressed thier love of Dick’s original book. Zucker als ohinted that they would be playing even more with alternate timelines in the second season, as characters wrestle with what-might-have-been as well as what-is.
Asked about how the tone of Season Two will different from Season One, Zucker said that the show is going deeper into characters, and exploring how they’re impacting their world. Davalos added that Juliana has made some serious choices in Season One, and that even more than before, “she’s forced to become a chameleon in order to survive.” Meanwhile, Sewell told us that Smith is “expressing something on the outside that he’s battling on the inside… he’s riven with doubt. He was left very close to top of the ladder in the Reich, but the Reich is close to devouring his family.”
D.J. Qualls talked about his character’s arc: “ Season Two finds Ed in a dark place. Is he going to try to live and be a free man, or sacrifice himself for his friends? We find Ed broken and beaten, and a deal will have to be struck that might compromise all of his relationships.”
Asked how his characters is doing, Brennan went deadpan: “I think Childan’s stressed out.”
Rufus Sewell ducked around answering questions about John Smith by saying, “There’s nothing I can tell you… I know it makes for bland answers, but I’d rather protect the experience of watching than protect the interview experience.”
After we watched the clip of Ed, DJ Qualls elaborated on why he loves the show: “We separate motives from actions. The ideas of arch good and bad don’t really exist, you get to see behind everyone’s role. There are heartbreaking choices made this season. Ed’s life is based around the love of three people. – his grandfather, Frank, and Juliana, and our lives are completely changed in 30 days. Your crutches are crumbling. We’re all left scrambling, and as actors, we have no idea where the writing’s going.”
When talking about the practicalities of working together as a cast, Rufus Sewell mentioned that “Being head of the Nazis was kind of a lonely job” while Davalos spoke to her love for her cast, saying “every single one of them has the most beautiful hearts, to have these people around u makes the show incredibly rewarding.”
When it came time for audience Q&A, the first question came back to Smith’s arc. Sewell said, “You’re going to see a lot more of Smith’s family. What got to me was Smith’s double life. In Season Two we have these two opposing stories – he’s a loving father, but he’s also committed himself to this horrifying Nazi ideology. We go quite deep into that in this season.”
One questioner wanted to know if they show would explore more of this alternate world, particularly if we’ll get to see Africa, and/or space. Zucker’s diplomatic reply: “Short answer is yes, but I won’t say anything specific.” So…which is it? Africa or space? Davalos added, “We have not completed the book. There’s massive worldbuilding that we haven’t touched on.”
A teacher got up, and told a brief story about her own students – they’re currently working on a production of Cabaret, and are extremely uncomfortable playing Nazi roles. The teacher asked how the cast deals with daily need to inhabit those roles.
Sewell does it by asking himself, “How do people just get on? How do people construct narratives in which they’re heroes? The more responsible choice, for me as an actor, is to humanize them. Reducing Nazis to vampires or werewolves takes away the fact that the Nazis were human. It can happen again.” Zucker added, “It’s one of the most profound and discomfiting part of what we do each day.” Sewell said that the way he gets through it morally is “I align myself with the beliefs of this show. The heart of the show is in the right place.” Brennan agreed, saying that he works his way through having to say racist things by reminding himself that the show is “serving a profound ethical purpose.”
Zucker was asked how much he’s thought out the entire series, and whether the show had a definite ending yet. (The cast all turned and regarded him with great interest.) His reply was typically measured: “I’d say that there are destinations… how we get to those destinations we don’t yet know.”
Asked whether the show had deepened the cast’s knowledge of World War II, Sewell came back to the themes of the show, saying “It’s really frightening how quickly, by cutting yourselves off from rest of world, the media, hatred can be normalize. If you cut people off from the truth, you can manipulate them to do the most terrible things and they think they’re the heroes.”
So, as with last season, The Man in the High Castle may not be a cheerful show, but it promises to be a thought-provoking one. I’m excited to see where the writers take the show now that they’re completely off-book, and I’m…I guess dread-cited? to see what happens to the characters. You can watch the Season Two trailer here, and tell us what you think in the comments!