The Man In The High Castle, Season 1
Created by Frank Spotnitz
Released November 20th, 2015 by Amazon Prime
Five episodes watched for review
Amazon Prime has become a well-known provider of streaming content over the years, with their unique model of releasing pilots for shows to allow subscribers to vote and decide on what proceeds yielding a number of series, from Transparent to Bosch and Hand of God to Red Oaks. The newest series to join their ranks is The Man In the High Castle. Strike Back and The X-Files writer Frank Spotnitz creates the series from the novel by legendary author Philip K. Dick. Exploring an alternate reality America in 1962 where the Axis powers won World War II, the first season shows a lot of promise, examining numerous aspects of this society, anchored by strong performances that makes for a compelling watch.
Of particular interest in the show is how the first season portrays strife amongst the political parties themselves, independent of outside forces. Far from a harmonious relationship, the show delves into detailed friction between the Japanese and German officials who occupy the US, and as the season continues, the stress brought on as result clearly takes its toll on various government individuals. The fact that the power is not evenly distributed between the two, something the opening credits themselves make abundantly clear, sets a very intriguing history to the partnership that the show often explores in compelling fashion. While both governments present a united front to the people of America, the issues between the two is a very promising aspect of the season.
Which is not to say that the individual governments themselves are conflict-free. Both the German and Japanese governments face issues of leadership and power, the latter of which comes to a head in a big way during the season, and proves to be equally fascinating to watch. It’s also interesting to see the differences and similarities in the belief systems between the two countries’ diplomats, something the show indicates subtly, rather than drawing heavy attention to it. These issues, coupled with the insecurities and concerns of certain diplomats in their own storylines, makes the government aspects of the show one of the season’s strong points.
The look at the citizens is also intriguing, particularly in how the season looks into the effects that an oppressive regime has in making people want to rebel against it. State-sponsored attempts to crush the rebellion or gain information are key aspects to the political awakenings of two main characters, and in the process, the writers manage to make a seemingly uninteresting secondary character into a compelling one. While one of the character arcs unfortunately involves the death of a female character to motivate a male character, the arc then goes to some interesting places, offsetting the cliché somewhat. The writers also don’t shy away from showing the exacting toll that the resistance fighters have to face, as the victories they do gain are short-lived and come with consequences that they’re not fully aware of until well after the price has been paid. The first half of the season also touches on the fact that this is the only world that many individuals have grown up in, and they aren’t aware of any other possibility until their eyes are opened, an idea that opens up a lot of potential for characters as well as the story. The vastly differing characters who end up as part of the resistance is thus an equally fascinating part of the series, and the manner in which it’s portrayed allows both the storylines to be gripping and the performers some strong material to work with, and they deliver with compelling performances.
Not everything in the show is a strong point, however. While both the dynamics of the Japan-occupied sector and the German-occupied sector of the US are explored, the third part of the country remains mysterious due to the lack of detail, and not intentionally so. Much of the time in this area is spent on a subplot that doesn’t seem to go anywhere and appears to be an excuse to introduce a character who ultimately doesn’t add to any of the ongoing stories, and seems to be there solely so that viewers who don’t find the story of the resistance or either regime’s political concerns interesting still have something to latch on to. The performances, as mentioned earlier, are however a strong aspect of the show, as veteran performers such as Alexa Davalos, Rupert Evans, and Rufus Sewell provide their characters with some strong emotional poignancy, allowing the character beats to land much more effectively as a result. Despite being a novel from a celebrated science fiction author, the series is much more dramatic and seemingly uninterested in the less understandable aspects of the show’s world. This is neither a benefit nor a detriment, as it’s clear the writers are aware of what kind of show they intended to make, and on that end, it works wonderfully, and is well worth a watch.