Series Synopsis: What if the Nazis won World War II? The Man in the High Castle, based on the book by Phillip K. Dick, explores an alternate timeline where the Nazis and the Japanese won World War II and split the United States down the middle. It follows the stories of a few choice figures who are fighting to figure out exactly what their reality is, and why things don’t seem quite like they’re real.
Amazon released the first two episodes of The Man in the High Castle for early viewing, and from that moment on I was hooked. When the whole season was finally released I plowed through it. As with everything Amazon releases, The Man in the High Castle provided audiences with ten beautiful episodes of a captivating story. I dare anyone to try and put it down after starting it because each episode builds suspense and curiosity. Overall, I’d give the first season four out of five stars, the only detractor being the fact the first ten episodes seemed more like an elaborate set-up than their own story line.
The story began in an America that didn’t win World War II. It was explained, through character point of views, that the United States had been divided into the Nazi East (“The Greater Reich”) and the Japanese West (“The Japanese Pacific States”), with a neutral zone in the middle around the Rocky Mountains. As would be expected, the powers that be rule their areas with what could accurately be described as an iron fist. The Nazis and the Japanese both hold the reigns tightly, and their influences had seeped into everyday American life.
Perhaps the most captivating thing about the series was the Game of Thrones-esque way of following specific character threads. Something that always kept me going with Game of Thrones was the simple fact that the story, especially in written form, constantly changed POV. I could read three or four chapters and barely progress through the overall story. The Man in the High Castle had that very same feel.
The audience would be following Juliana Crane (Alexa Davalos) and Frank Fink’s (Rupert Evans) story one moment, then Joe Blake’s (Luke Kleintank) story the next. Then they’d be given a peek into Japanese politics through Joel De La Fuente’s Inspector Kido, or Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa’s Mr. Tagomi. Finally, Nazi life was modeled by Obergruppenführer John Smith (Rufus Sewell).
In other words, it was difficult to settle on any one thread because the writers had to take the time to explain the complex world their stories were taking place in. Not only did the audience need to learn about the characters and their immediate world, but we had to also be introduced to the sharp story line of the resistance and the secret they carried. The Man in the High Castle, to continue to compare it to Game of Thrones, required a great deal of world building that took away somewhat from the central story.
While I enjoyed the stories as they unfolded, there were times throughout season one where it felt bogged down or a little unclear because of the need to supplement stories with world building. There didn’t seem to be any central story line from start to finish, as much as a bunch of threads being worked together to set up the second season. This was perhaps the only detractor the series, as it would have been nice to have a bit more of a first season resolution instead of continuous tension leading up to a big cliff-hanger.
Nonetheless, there were good stories. Juliana Crane developed as a character after she ran into her sister, who pulled her into the story of the resistance passing along film created by the titular character who remained a mystery through the first season. Her path crossed with Joe Black’s, who pretended to be another member of the resistance when in reality he was a Nazi spy trying to prove himself. Frank Fink became the reluctant hero, a character pulled kicking and screaming into a storyline he wanted no part of, and along the way ended up losing most of what he held dear.
The Nazis focused on stopping the films from being passed around because they showed a world where the Nazis hadn’t won. A world that the audience would easily recognize, but the characters wouldn’t. The Japanese focused on the Nazis and the constant tension between the two powers that threatened to collapse into each other and leave destruction in their wake at any moment. The Man in the High Castle was a heart pounding series because the stakes were always high and were almost never resolved.
The two performances of note came from two of the Japanese characters, Joel De La Fuente’s Inspector Kido and Cary-Hirouki Tagawa’s Mr. Tagomi. Everything else paled in comparison to the stories these two characters brought to the screen. Inspector Kido’s refusal to accept failure and ruthless pursuit of his duty was a sight to behold. While Mr. Tagomi’s quiet, reserved wisdom resonated with me because he was clearly one of the few who really understood what was going on in the world. I kept watching because of these two actors and their intense and wonderful portrayal of their characters. Everything else was icing on the cake.
Even though there was no true resolution to the season one storyline, the final scene just so happened to be everything I hoped it would be. The Man in the High Castle will definitely leave audiences hanging after ten intense episodes, but it is definitely worth watching. The best news is that the audience won’t be left hanging too long because The Man in the High Castle has been renewed for a second season. So hold onto your hats, folks, because it is going to be a wild ride.
Be sure to check out our interviews with the cast and creators from NYCC 2015 HERE.