First of all… I should warn you–if you’ve never seen this show, and don’t want spoilers, be cautious about reading this post! I’ll try not to reveal too much.
I’m not one to get hooked on TV shows. I’m definitely not one to get hooked on dramatic, intense TV shows. I usually watch stuff like Star Trek, The Office, Zootopia, Miss Congeniality, etc. because watching emotionally draining stuff is exhausting and really hard for me.
But it’s official, people… I’m a little bit hooked on The Man in the High Castle.
It’s an Amazon Prime show that is based on the Philip K. Dick book of the same name and it envisions a world in which the U.S. lost WWII and is occupied in the West by the Japanese, and controlled in the East by the Nazis. (The featured image of this post shows how the country is divided up in this “reality.”) It takes place in an alternate reality version of 1962 and follows key players in the Resistance that forms–some who get involved rather unwillingly–and also those in the upper echelons of the Japanese and Nazi governments. Film reels depicting different realities–the U.S. winning the war, and alternately, San Francisco flattened by an A-bomb–are part of what drives both the Resistance fighters, and the Japanese and Nazi leaders to pursue these films for different reasons, all pointing back to the mysterious “Man in the High Castle.”
As a former history major and forever history buff I gotta say… you guys, this show is awesome.
The story itself is awesome, thought-provoking, and fascinating. People have probably thought before, in passing, “what if we had lost WWII? What would that look like?” but this show tries to answer that question and puts it all together in a vision of what that actually could look like.
(In my opinion there is of course virtually NO way this could have happened in the way it’s depicted. Nazi and Japanese influence is too deeply embedded too soon after having “defeated” the U.S. Plus, for countries the size of Japan and Germany to actually succeed in taking over and occupying the U.S., they would’ve HAD to have had some majority support among Americans themselves. Anyway…)
So this is totally far-fetched. But you have to suspend reality for a bit to grasp this show’s concept and appreciate the creativity that went in to envisioning a world like this. It is still fascinating and disturbing to imagine what the world could have looked like if the result of WWII had been different. It follows painful ironies that Nazi leaders have to face when the populations they attempt to extinguish are found in their own families. It follows the struggle and suffering and heartbreak of living under tyranny as well as the prevailing tendency of humanity towards freedom.
And the production itself is awesome. I’m no movie expert but generally speaking none of the actors/actresses in this show have been in any huge, well-known productions. But there are very few weak links in the cast, if any. Visually, it’s impressive — depictions of an occupied San Francisco under the control of the Japanese Empire and a Times Square bedecked in Nazi propaganda are totally believable. And the soundtrack is really worth adding to your YouTube playlist — check out some particularly good tracks here, here, and here.
So yes, clearly, I’m really into this show. But I think you should give it a try, too. Here are three reasons why:
1. It really makes you appreciate America as we know it.
America certainly isn’t perfect; but at the end of the day, we can go about our business in peace without the government impeding too much on our lives. We can worship as we please, speak and write freely, travel, start businesses, go to school, etc. without total incursion of the state.
The alternate reality of The Man in the High Castle almost seems to take the situation of the coasts being occupied by the Japanese and Nazis to extremes to make it’s point. In the show, the two occupying cultures are shown to pervade every part of life, from entertainment to ugly racial laws and everything in between. Obergruppenfuhrer Smith’s kids read “Ranger Reich” and adults watch “American Reich,” a 60s style cop show. They pledge “allegiance” to Hitler at school. Almost everyone in the “Pacific States” speaks a little Japanese and Japanese customs are primarily visible throughout San Francisco, as well.
But the fact that similar instances of tyranny and occupation like this have occurred throughout history in real life is part of what makes you stop and appreciate the U.S. for what it is…. i.e., North Korea, the actual Nazi-controlled Germany of the 1930s and 40s, and other dictatorships throughout history. Watching tyranny and occupation and vile eugenic/racial laws play out with a hypothetical 1962 America in the background just made me appreciate the freedom we have in America and feel sad for those who still live under government oppression.
2. The way characters develop, and the situations they’re put in and how they respond, is truly fascinating and the excellent acting makes it even better.
Almost every character faces situations that force them to make a choice between one thing and another — passiveness or resistance; country or family; obedience or defiance. How they respond and develop as a result of those choices is what makes the show so emotionally stirring and tense.
- Obergruppenfuhrer John Smith (Rufus Sewell) is a former U.S. soldier-turned-loyal-Nazi-officer. His actions prove he’s a loyal Nazi and is incredibly devoted to the Fuhrer. Meanwhile, he goes to great and dangerous and extreme lengths to hide a family secret that, were it to get out, would bring the wrath of Nazi eugenics upon one of his children. It’s heartbreaking as he’s depicted as a devoted father but at the same time it makes you say “wow, it sucks to be a Nazi” as he fights against the ideology he seems to also ardently support for the sake of his child. The dynamic between him being a devoted Nazi but even more devoted father moves much of the storyline in Season 2.
- Frank Frink (Rupert Evans) starts off as a guy who wants to live a quiet life out of the spotlight… perhaps in part because of his hidden Jewish heritage. He doesn’t want to make waves and encourages his girlfriend Juliana Crain (Alexa Davalos) to avoid getting involved with the Resistance and to report the films she comes across to the Kempeitai. However, he’s quickly and forcibly made to choose between compliance and defiance. And a traumatic, unjust, horrendous loss early in Season 1 drives his transformation from passive and quiet to a resistance fighter who, in part seeking revenge and retribution but also freedom from tyranny, belligerently stands up to the Kempeitai.
3. I love that the main characters are clearly depicted as having the human consequences of their actions foremost on their minds, in contrast to the Nazis and Resistance who play by an “ends justify the means” rule all the time.
Juliana and Frank both end up killing others either in self-defense, or in defense of others. But they also contrast to the Resistance groups they’re involved with because they make a point of speaking up for the people that will suffer when the Resistance employs “ends justify the means” approaches that are just as bad as those they’re trying to fight.
- Juliana tries to save Thomas from the wrath of Nazi medical eugenics, even though he’s a Nazi’s son and she’s in the Resistance. She’s completely revolted when her Resistance contact threatens to report Thomas and his medical condition to the Nazi authorities, saying that in order to win, the Resistance must become “worse than the Nazis.”
- As the West Coast Resistance plans to bomb the Kempeitai HQ, Frank asks “what about reprisals” — meaning the Kempetai’s practice of rounding up and executing American civilians any time there’s a Resistance attack or sabotage. And prior to that, he demands that their Resistance cell do something in response to these reprisals.
I could go on about other interesting aspects of the show and other characters that are equally as fascinating but hopefully this was enough to pique your interest without too many spoilers. Don’t just take my word for it; you can watch trailers for seasons one and two , and for season three (coming out reportedly on October 5) here.
I haven’t been this emotionally invested in a show in a long time, perhaps ever! I hate getting attached to characters and then something bad happens to them (which does happen in this show but it’s still a good show and I have hope for season 3, haha).
Maybe it’s my background in history that makes me find it so engaging. I think the best thing about it is how it fosters so much debate and discussion because the hypotheticals it presents are so thought-provoking…. The question “what if” can lead to so many interesting things! There are so many unanswered questions after the conclusion of season two that I hope will be addressed in the upcoming third season.
Do you watch/have you watched The Man in the High Castle? Share your thoughts in the comments below 🙂