The Man in the High Castle
Earlier this year Amazon released several pilot episodes of TV-series it was producing. These episode for their prospective shows were used to gauge their potential. The pilot episode of The Man In The High Castle, an alternate history drama, came out on top. It received rave reviews from both critics and viewers and so Amazon Studios ordered a full season. The show is based on the 1962 novel of Philip K. Dick that deals with the aftermath in which the Third Reich and the Japanese Empire won the Second World War.
I read the novel nearly 2 decades ago when I was a boy. After viewing the pilot I can only say that show runners David Semel and Frank Spotnitz have created a faithful adaptation. Yet, this show also expands upon the side-stories and references found in the original novel to create a larger narrative. As such fans of the novel have something to look forward even if they already know the outcome. Amazon has ordered 10 episodes, including the pilot. As the story follows the novel linearly (for the most part) it has so far only covered the beginning.
The Unites States of America has been carvered into two by the victor. The eastern two-thirds becomes part of the Nazi Third Reich while the western, coastal states becomes part of the Japanese Pacific States. Between them is a small sliver of land that is considered neutral, roughly covering the Rocky Mountains. By 1962 the two victors of WW2 are fighting a bitter Cold War. Nazi Germany seems to have the edge in wealth and technology, but can’t dominate the Japanese Empire for fear of mutual destruction in an armed conflict. Both sides have instituted totalitarian rule in the occupied US, complete with racial segregation oppression.
Juliana Crain comes in the possession of a secret film that shows a world in which the allies won the war. This seemingly bizarre artifact from an alternate history sends on a trip to Canon City, in the Rocky Mountains neutral zone. There she hopes to meet the mysterious The Man In The High Castle who has ‘produced’ the newsreels. Meanwhile Frank Fink, her boyfriend is arrested by the Japanese secret police, the Kempeitai, in San Francisco. The Japanese are pressured by the Germans to unravel who is behind the newsreels as they consider them to be a threat. It appears that the ailing Adolf Hitler is obsessed with them. Meanwhile representatives of both sides are discussion their worry that after the death of Hitler Nazi Germany will attack the Japanese Empire. Such discussions to attempt to mitigate Hitler’s death can well be seen as treason by their superiors. Joe Blake, an American lorry driver headed to Canon City from New York, hope to join the resistance. Joe is in fact a double agent working for the sadistic SS Obergruppenführer John Smith.
The Man in the High Castle episode 2 ‘Sunrise’ Review
So far this description has covered the pilot episode, without going into too much detail. The second episode, Sunrise, continuous where the pilot left off. Frank (Rupert Evans) is brutally interrogated by the Japanese Kempeitai, led by Inspector Kido, for information about Juliana’s whereabouts. They are facing increasing pressure from the Germans to find the newsreel tapes labeled The Grasshopper Lies Heavy. Meanwhile Juliana reaches Canon city while lifting with Joe Blake. There she meets a man who makes Origami birds and talks to her about the Bible. Joe Blake (Luke Kleintank) is keen to make contact with the resistance but so far no one in Canon City approaches him. Joe’s superior, John Smith, has is own problems. His apparent idyllic household hides the contempt his son feels foe him. On his way to work, Smith is almost assassinated in a manner eerily similar to the real-life attack on Reinhard Heydrich in Prague 1942. Smith, deduces he must have a mole at the SS as he changes his route to work every day. Meanwhile he orders Joe Blake to continue his efforts while Smith traces down a lead Blake found, about the man who makes Origami birds.
In San Francisco, Nobusuke Tagomi, a Trade Minister of the Pacific States of America meets with Rudolf Wegener who works for German intelligence. Both fear what Hitler’s death will bring about. Rudolf Wegener is keen to meet the Japanese crown-prince to bring about an understanding, but Tagomi is hesitant as he fears there is a German mole working in his organization. Frank’s sister and children have meanwhile been arrested to put more pressure on him. After a mock execution the Kempeitai release Frank as they found a woman who appears to have stolen Juliana’s bag, but they contained only fake newsreels, not the one from The Man In The High Castle. Inspector Kido does announce to Frank they have already gassed his sister and their children. Juliana finally meets the Origami man in secret. She thinks he works for the resistance after he talked to her about obtaining a copy of the bible. However, he attacks her. Joe Blake knows from Obergruppenführer Smith that the man works for the SD. Joe kills him to gain Juliana’s trust. Leaving behind a sketch at the scene of Juliana that the Origami man has made.
So far The Man In The High Castle has been hard-hitting. The display of torture, execution and shootings make it clear that this show stays true to feeling of the original work. Characters such as Juliana, Frank and Joe are also truthfully adapted. Special mention should go to Alexa Davalos as Juliana, a woman who can just barely stand to be in the same room as a Japanese or a Nazi. With Frank being tortured in San Francisco and Joe Blake being a double-agent this show focuses mostly on Juliana. Yet, her perseverance is captivating. While in the pilot Obergruppenführer Smith did all the torturing in this episode he is almost assassinated, making it clear the villains don’t always get their way. I am happy he survived, not because of his despicable character but because he is such a captivating personality. His insight into how is enemies work almost make it feel as he is breaking the fourth wall. That same feeling is also present during the conversation between Tagomi and Wegener as they discuss their countries cold war issues. They all fear The Man In The High Castle, as he represents and alternative that could still come about.
Check out the show on Amazon Prime. The second episode has just been released, but the season will officially première on November 20th.
Score; 9 / 10. The Man In The High Castle continuous its hard-hitting serialized drama.
Below you can view the trailer for the show, if you have yet to make up your mind.