The Man in the High Castle

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I have found that, given the time, I like “binging” on a TV series, and moreso when an entire season of shows is released at once, such as Netflix’ extraordinary “Daredevil.”  Amazon has been in the production business  competing against Netflix, Hulu, and any other competitors or disruptive newcomers.   Maybe it’s the advertising, but “The Man in the High Castle” is the first that I’ve watched of theirs. Or, maybe I’m a sucker for new content uninterrupted by commercials.  Whatever.  I’ll take it.

It’s based on a Hugo (science fiction) award winning novel released in 1962.  Essentially, it’s an alternate history based on the Axis powers having won the war, and as a result, the U.S. has been split into zones, with the Nazi’s holding the eastern two thirds of the U.S. and the Nipponese on the West coast.  And, there’s all sorts of tension afoot, such as Hitler’s failing health, Germany’s superior technology should they wage war against Japan, and, let’s face it, it’s just stressful for everyone living in a fascist State.  Throw in films made by an unknown party that show alternate past and future events, and the sci-fi factor further unsettles what is already a changed world.  If the film showing triumphant Allies is real, what happened?  Or, is the depiction of a person in their character a sealed fate? Or open to change?  These are ultimately intended to be delivered by the resistance to “the man in the high castle” who may be the one who created them or someone who wants to watch them.  It’s never really made clear.   We do eventually arrive at a man viewing the films, but not the titular one, I think.   The show takes some liberties with the plot, simplifying it some regards, but also restructuring it for an open-ended number of seasons depending on interest.  Without plot spoilers, it certainly ends with a twist (with a capital T). 

We have the “good” guys – a lady whose sister is killed while trying to transport one of those terrible films, that’s Juliana, who I suppose is the protagonist but who is essentially the vehicle for moving from one crisis or aha moment to the next.  We like her because she’s resisting the evil around her, even if not believably so.  There’s Frank, her boyfriend.  He takes a licking and continues to find ways to put his friends at greater risk.  And there’s Joe, a newly recruited resistance fighter who falls for the heroine, but otherwise suffers from the resulting conflicts between her and his Nazi uncle, who, of course, sent Joe on the mission as a spy.  Nevertheless, he makes better moral decisions than most in this tale of woe.

Then we have bad guys.  There’s Tagomi, the Japanese Trade Minister of the Pacific States of America.  Only, he’s a good guy.  And there’s a Chief Inspector Kido, the kind of cruel and sadistic police representative you expect in these situations.  He has no hesitation to torture or kill, but, dang it, we find out that he’s honorable.  And there is Obergruppenfuhrer John Smith – I guess 15 years of occupation can make a loyal American Nazi – and he suffers the same vices as Kido and, alas, the same virtue.  He’s also the cleverest (and most watchable) of the bunch.  It’s unfortunate that the other characters were not as well sketched.  Likewise, the script is not as tight as it could be – killer moments, pun intended, are too infrequent.  The period interpretation is pretty great with cultural references dropped periodically, and the production valumanhighcastle_home_top_storyes are appropriate for an oppressive environment, though gloomy, desaturated colors were already a tired artistic approach. 

It’s not great TV, but it’s enjoyable enough.  I like that Tagomi holds to his Buddhist beliefs, despite the “modern” mocking of others.  His heart is for the Empire, as it should be.  For the same reason, I like the aspect of Inspector Kido in that, as brutal as he is, he recognizes his role in the Empire, which requires as much self-sacrifice as “by the book” police work.  I like Obergruppenfuhrer (it’s a mouthful, but the actors say it with a straight face) John Smith as well.  Brutality is expected, but he has tested his morals in an undisclosed past event (likely his role in ethnic cleansing) and is unshakably resolved that Nazi rule is the best for civilization… even as he finds corruption within its ranks or is confronted with his son’s inherited disease that will someday result in a death sentence (a “drag on the State”).  And there’s Mark Samson, who is Jewish and dares to openly raise his kids in the traditions while in a Nazi State.  And, there’s, Juliana, who is searching for truth, justice and the American way as suggested by the secreted film, even though it’s never suggested how history might be caused to change. 

Nevertheless, these are all faith issues which ground the characters in a sense of believability, despite the challenges presented to each and unyielding forces against.  I may have enjoyed seeing a more action oriented alternative history, but that ship, or “rocket,” has already sailed.  It will be interesting to see where they take this in the next season.  But, if they keep playing an alternate version of “Edelweiss” to start the show, I’ll continue to fast forward through it.  Creepy.


3 of 5 STARS_thumb

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