This is a spoiler free review, only touching on the quality and concept of The Man in the High Castle.
On November 20th, Amazon Studios released all ten episodes of their latest series, this time a drama based on Philip K. Dick’s bestselling novel, The Man in the High Castle. Set in an alternate history where the Nazi’s and Japan won World War II, the series follows a wide variety of characters all trying to make sense of the world they live in, while some actively search for ways to make things better. As of writing this review, The Man in the High Castle has yet to be picked up for a second season. An additional episode order seems like an inevitability at this point both because of the quality of the show, and because the pilot episode was the most watched to date within Amazon’s innovative pilot television program. For now, all we can do is cross our fingers and hope that it will be back both because it would be great to see more of this show, and because ten episodes was not enough to get us nearly all of the answers we needed.
Set in 1962, it has been about a generation since the United States had been occupied after losing the Second World War. The west coast has become the Japanese Pacific States, and majority of the east now belongs to the Greater Nazi Reich, with a small neutral zone existing in between. Both main areas are now heavily influenced by the cultures that rule them, and life seems to be difficult for all but a select few. The Nazi influence is especially hard to miss as the New York set is clearly devoid of people of color, and hospitals burning cripples on Tuesdays is mentioned like it’s just another day in the Reich. But as always, where there are oppressors, there are people working in the shadows trying to fight back. Where this series gets interesting is that the main form of fighting back seems to be in delivering mysterious film reels to the “Man in the High Castle” even though no one has any idea who he is. The first of these films that we comes across shows footage of our world, when the Allies won the war, but things soon get even more complicated.
There is a wide range of characters featured in this first season, spanning from Nazi’s to Japanese, to the resistance, to those just trying to survive in the world. Particular standouts included Alexa Davalos as Juliana and Luke Kleintank as Joe Blake, who are arguably the shows leads and who you’ll find yourself rooting for almost right away. There was only one performance that particular bothered me, but his appearance was thankfully brief. The rest of the cast holds their own through unendingly complex material, and all too often it was hard to know exactly where each persons loyalties were.
I haven’t read the book series, but even a quick look at its Wikipedia page is enough to make it clear that the Amazon adaptation wasn’t afraid to make changes when adapting from the source material. But as long lovers of the original book are willing to accept that no adaptation will be identical to the book it came from (and we absolutely wouldn’t want it to be) both those familiar with Philip K. Dick’s work, and those coming across it for the first time should be able to readily enjoy this series. You don’t even need to be any sort of history buff to appreciate the dystopian society that the characters are living within, though having an understanding of World War II will certainly add an extra level of enjoyment.
And I have to admit, I’m a little jealous of those who have read the book already (and am tempted to do so myself before the (hopefully inevitable) season two launch) as they probably have a lot more answers than those of us who have watched the first season. Because while this show pulled no punches with having great endings to each episode, the series ending may leave you feeling like there is still a long way to go before this story is finished. Now all that’s left to do is wait and see if Amazon opts to give us more of this world and these characters next year!