'The Man In The High Castle': Season 1 Review
Empire, 7 January 2016
Whether the original 'V' from 1983 or the forthcoming USA Network series 'Colony', generally speaking whenever there's been a depiction of an occupying force in America, it's been analogous to the Nazis. But in the case of Amazon's 'The Man in the High Castle', metaphors aren't necessary. The Nazis, along with Imperial Japan, won World War II and have split the country, with the Germans controlling the East, the Japanese the West and the Rocky Mountains serving as a sort of neutral zone.
Created by The 'X-Files'' Frank Spotnitz from the novel by Philip K. Dick, and set in 1962, 'The Man in the High Castle' serves as a chilling look at what happens when a society is subjugated and, unlike more heroic takes on this concept, does not find the will to rise up and fight back. Instead, outrage gives way to complacency as the vast majority of the population does what it needs to in order to survive.
That is the world we're introduced to in the series with growing tensions between Germany and Japan, exasperated by the existence of reels of film that show an alternate history in which America won the war. Film that the Nazis, paranoid over how the populace would react to such a notion, will stop at nothing to retrieve. It's what brings together a disparate group of characters, among them San Francisco's Juliana Crain (Alexa Davalos), to whom a reel of film falls to; Joe Blake (Luke Kleintank), who claims he wants to join the small but growing Resistance, but is actually a (morally torn) Nazi agent; Frank Frink (Rupert Evans), Juliana's boyfriend who is arrested by the Japanese after she has disappeared and finds his life altered forever as a result; John Smith (Rufus Sewell), an SS Obergruppenfuhrer investigating the Resistance in New York; and Pacific States of America trade minister Nobusuke Taogomi (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa), who finds himself in the middle of it all while being guided by the ancient I Ching.
Until a final sequence of the season that suggests Fringe-like future possibilities, the reels of film are little more than a handy MacGuffin designed to explore this world, the various people living in it, the things they do to survive, the compromises they're forced to make and the stands they won't back down from. As such it serves as the perfect prism through which we can view the ever-changing world we ourselves live in, and the threats that seem so far removed yet are closer than we think.
While it slows noticeably around the halfway mark, 'The Man In The High Castle' paints a rich, chillingly believeable world and stands as one of the most important streaming shows currently on the air.