John Smith Confronts Ghosts From His Past In The Man In The High Castle’s “Mauvaise Foi”

Credit: Liane Hentscher/Amazon Prime

The First Choice

It’s 1946. The Allies have lost WWII and Americans are embracing the Reich because they’re supplying much-needed resources. John Smith and his American military friends wait in John’s house for their commander to arrive. Rufus Sewell looks utterly gorgeous. Thomas is just a baby and both he and Helen are starving because she hasn’t eaten enough to be able to feed him. When the commander arrives, he has a swastika armband on and he’s brought food and other provisions. It’s as simple as this: the Nazis are offering good positions to anyone who signs up immediately. Anyone who doesn’t will probably be killed. 

When the commander leaves, the men talk it out but there’s hardly anything to talk about. There’s no hope for America except under Nazi rule. They couldn’t fight them off when they had an entire military. With DC reduced to nothing thanks to a nuclear bomb, the Nazis hold all the cards. One man takes an armband, reasoning that simply wearing it doesn’t mean they believe what the Reich believes. But Danny, John’s other friend, can’t. He’s Jewish. John gives him food and tells him to run. Together, John and Helen decide joining the Reich is the only choice if their family is going to survive. This is the first choice, the one that will lead them down the path they’re on now. Helen acknowledges it isn’t easy but it’s their only option. 

Peace Talks Gone Wrong

Mallory and Elijah welcome BCR leaders for dinner where they discuss the upcoming peace talks with Japan. It’ll be the first time anyone has negotiated with a black man as an equal. Admiral Inokuchi arrives for the meeting late on a rainy night. He starts out aggressively, threatening to bring the full Japanese army against the BCR unless they stop their assassinations. But once the peace talk gets going, it’s fairly easy. The BCR will stop attacking in return for their own territory that they control. Inokuchi seems inclined to agree. They part on good terms.

And then guns begin firing. The BCR’s leader is killed and all of the Japanese guards are shot. Mallory and Elijah escape as Kido arrests Inokuchi for high treason. General Yamori is very pleased and wants to try the Admiral in San Francisco. But his happiness is immediately doused when Kido says he’s still investigating Tagomi’s murder. Kido’s superiors remind him that he chose his path 15 years ago. He chose absolute loyalty to Japan, even giving his son to their cause. He can’t change his mind now.

Knowing the Kempetai are on their way, the BCR quickly pack up. A young member is sent out with Childan to kill the shop owner but he lets him go instead. Childan returns to his shop, which the police have trashed. His assistant, Yukiko, helps dress his wounds and expresses worry about him but something about her still seems disingenuous. 

Juliana is the Smartest Person in the Room

Wyatt gets the surprise of his life when he shows up to a Resistance meeting in DC and reunites with Juliana. He was sure she was dead and has devoted himself to distributing the High Castle films because he knew that’s what mattered most to her. They kiss and then make out and, honestly, good for her. At the meeting, Wyatt vouches for Juliana when others are skeptical about her. She sees photos of Helen in the Neutral Zone and wonders how Helen may have changed in the last few years and whether her marriage to John has changed as well. Juliana believes Helen may be integral to their cause.

Facing the Consequences

In the present, John arrives in the same place he left but in a whole new world. A car and a map to Bailey’s Crossroads are waiting for him. Helen finds him parked out “their” house. She’s happy he’s returned from his business trip early and they enjoy a quickie in the afternoon, something John can hardly believe. Happy, shirtless, post-coital John Smith is a sight! Rufus Sewell is fit.

Thomas comes home later in the afternoon and John is so happy he can’t even speak. He stares disbelievingly at Thomas and then hugs him fiercely. He’s even near tears. For him, it’s been years since he saw his son and this Thomas is older and bigger. They go out to breakfast and Thomas broaches the subject of joining the Marines to fight in Vietnam. John is adamantly opposed because he can’t bear the thought of losing his son again. He’s almost near tears once more. 

Their conversation is disrupted when a black couple sits at the counter to order breakfast. The entire diner stares at them and a few racist white men harass them. The diner owner calls the police and the couple is arrested for, you know, wanting breakfast. John never says a word despite Thomas looking at him imploringly. There’s a sense that this world’s John Smith would have stood up. Thomas questions his dad, who at first hides behind the rule of the law and then breaks down. “It’s all bullshit, Thomas. It’s a fucking lie. Medals, flags, anthems, pledges of allegiance, freedom. I look around me, I don’t see freedom, I don’t see order, I just see chaos. I don’t see anything worth giving my son’s life for.” Thomas is incredulous. “Who are you?” he responds before leaving the table. 

At home, their argument continues. Thomas believes in freedom and American morals but John, who has seen his son the victim of a nation’s ideas, is still opposed. Helen tells her husband to leave it alone but with limited time in this world, John wants to ensure his son lives. They are again interrupted, this time when John’s friend comes over to watch football. It’s Danny, the Jewish friend from his own world. John looks so haunted and disengaged from the game and his friend that Danny leaves early. Outside, John apologizes profusely to Danny, who doesn’t understand but hugs John anyway. 

We return to 1946. John is on guard for the Reich. Danny calls to him from a truck. He and other Jewish Americans are being carted away, presumably to an extermination camp. Danny begs his friend to undo the latch on the truck. John is trapped; he’s terrified of getting caught and terrified for his friend. In the end, he does nothing except turn away looking sick. 

In the present, the full weight of his choices seems to finally land on John as the memory reverberates through him. 

Stray Observations:

  • Helen gets a “wife companion” that she doesn’t want and who was most likely (read: absolutely) was sent by Himmler to spy on her.
  • This episode’s title, “Mauvaise Foi”, translates as “bad faith.” It’s a direct reference to Smith (and Kido to a lesser extent) that when you are under enough social pressure, you sometimes adopt values you don’t believe in and will even disown your freedom. 
  • As the younger generations are more openly rebelling against the Reich and Japan’s control, the older generations are divided. There are those who are absolutely loyal to whichever regime. There are those helping to lead resistance efforts. And then there are ones like Kido and Smith who made choices years ago but are feeling called to rebel and they may be the key to systemic change. 
  • I know I talk a lot about how gorgeous Rufus Sewell is, and he is, but he’s also a phenomenal actor. This was an episode almost entirely devoted to his character and he brilliantly conveys the complexities of John Smith. 
  • John has always been a difficult character to understand. He’s a high-ranking American Nazi and has been complicit and active in the Reich. He’s closed off almost to the point of inscrutability. This episode sheds light on why he’s chosen this path and why he behaves this way. If you don’t shut down, how else do you do the things he’s done and feel the associated feelings? But he does feel guilt, remorse, and even disgust at himself and the Reich. It’s part of what separates him from pretty much the rest of the Reich, particularly the German Nazis. They love doing horrible things but John hates it and, by extension, himself.
Stephanie Coats