Review: The Man in the High Castle
Philip K. Dick might find it hard to recognize Amazon’s The Man in the High Castle. He would hear names, basic plot points—sense a sameness, but the details would confuse as another alternate future.
Find The Man in the High Castle here on Amazon Prime Video.
Amazon delivers The Man in the High Castle as sort of a multiverse version of Dick’s original book. Dick’s book told a slightly different story. Bob Childan still owns his Americana Antiques store in San Francisco. While the Japanese still occupy the Western portion of the former United States, and the Nazi’s the Eastern portion subtleties of occupation and behavior vary. Juliana and Frank Frink aren’t married. Germany has colonized the near solar system. The Grasshopper Lies Heavy is replaced by newsreels of alternative worlds.
The worlds diverge. But with this, we get deeper richer characters. Amazon delivers a wondrous world building, with much more depth than Dick provided in the novel, especially for the Nazi assimilated Eastern United States. There is an emotional strength to actually seeing Nazi artifacts disfiguring beloved American buildings and monuments. The Nazi flag draping Times Square is always heart-wrenching.
Amazon goes beyond physical artifice. They provide insights into inner lives of Nazi leadership through the struggles of Obergruppenführer John Smith’s family, the hypocrisy of Aryan supremacy and the loneliness of a wife trying to keep up appearances in a world she not only disclaims in her heart but a world she feels has disclaimed her. And in season 3 we watch the fragility of privilege break as lesbians who run in the highest circles find their shields of protection smashed against Nazi ideology.
Season 3 sees the rise of resistance to the Nazis and the Japanese. Posters of sunrises appear across the occupied territories. Unlikely alliances form because several characters actually who have the ability to travel to the alternative of the newsreels, that post-War American led future intrigues all of them, as it proves that freedom ringing affects individuals at all levels as much as does oppression.
The Nazi’s, of course, once they discover that the alternative future is a physics reality and not a propaganda film shot in the Neutral Zone, seek to invade and conquer. But there is a secret about reality skipping that they don’t know (which I’m not going to reveal here on day one of the drop).
The Man in the High Castle offers a warning. It is easy for people to get sucked into their reality and stop looking for a better one. For many, what is, just is. But for some, the alternative reality inspires them to seek a better future. Reality is what we make of it, no matter who ends up in charge.
The authors don’t explore that the future seen in the films is one that cannot belong to these characters. Too much has already happened since the divergence of victories. Even if they succeed in evicting the Nazis and the Japanese from America, the America of those films will not rise from the ashes of the insurrection. They will build a different future that must deal with the aftermath of the occupation. That realization may be the reason Amazon gave the green light for a season 4. Dick gives no hint of this future in his novel, one he admitted didn’t really having an ending itself.
Season 3 of The Man in the High Castle delivers crushing blows to the main characters, along with moments of sweetness and possibility. Both prove scarce and delicate in the show’s fictional future. The Nazi’s are ruthless and the Japanese cunning and unforgiving. But the people on all sides remain people. Frightened and worried, puzzled and scorned, sometimes even gracious.
While space travel gives way to quantum mechanics, viewers will find their binge-dazed brains twisted with real science fiction (remember for Dick, space flight was still kind of science fiction). Despite the change in technologies, the Nazi’s demonstrate a hateful disregard for the conquered population. The leadership will hold to its ideology even if only one man is left standing in the end. To the Nazis, there is only one history and they will write it.
Amazon’s The Man in the High Castle diverges most pointedly from Dick in its near abandonment of the I-Ching. The use of the I-Ching created a circular logic in the book of The Grasshopper Lies Heavy. It was written by Abendsen under the influence of I-Ching while Dick writes The Man in the High Castle under the guidance of I-Ching. Dick literary adventure asks readers to question invention and fiction, reality and fact, he asks them to wonder, perhaps, if even they live in a constructed fiction nested in constructed fictions.
Season 3 continues the dark, bleak narrative of a fallen America. One where Jews must hide as the Nazis go beyond just eradication of people, into the extermination of ideas. What our Hitler could not accomplish, the Gobbles administration takes to new depths. And where bounty hunters in Neutral Zone search for the hidden enclaves of Jews for reward money. The legacy of faith that sustains today’s Jews also sustains to communities in The Man in the High Castle. The Jewish communities refuse to let the Nazis put the final stamp on the narration of history.
The Man in the High Castle also reminds viewers that as much as we despise the memory of Hitler, he would have failed without support. His direct leadership and staff, and the people caught up in the furry and fervor of the Nazi ideology and rampant early victories, the sense that history is ours, aided and abetted Hitler’s vision. In the last moments of The Man in the High Castle, viewers get a sense of how close those leanings are to the surface of any reality.
Amazon has created compelling viewing. The episodes are truly binge-worthy. I felt compelled from cliffhanger to cliffhanger to want to know. Television, it turns out, is our lens into other quantum realities. In some ways, Amazon makes technology its vehicle for the I-Ching. Viewers and writers cast their virtual sticks and coins to construct their reaction to the alternative reality of the show and what it means for our contemporary choices about allegiance and loyalty, ideology and truth. America’s “reality shows” have nothing on Amazon’s Philip K. Dick-inspired alternative reality where most of the brash youth and their pithy elders of those shows would find little quarter for self-indulgence.
See IMDB for a full list of cast and crew.
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Based on Philip K. Dick’s award-winning 1962 alternate history novel, The Man in the High Castle explores what would have happened if the Allied Powers lost World War II. Season three of the Emmy award-winning The Man in the High Castle finds Juliana Crain (Alexa Davalos) exploring her destiny after finding safety in the Neutral Zone. She works with Trade Minister Tagomi (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa) who also finds his destiny starring at him from an alternate reality, to interpret the mystery of the films. Animosities between the Reich and the Empire continue to rise. Joe Blake (Luke Kleintank) returns from Berlin and is sent on a diplomatic mission to San Francisco, where he and Juliana reunite as Joe’s missions and motivations become clear. Obergruppenfuhrer John Smith (Rufus Sewell) finds himself celebrated by Nazi high society, but political forces are closing in as North American Reischsmarschall Lincoln Rockwell and J. Edgar Hoover plot against him. Smith’s wife Helen (Chelah Horsdal) takes action to protect her family while they struggle with the aftermath of son Thomas’ death. Smith learns about a new Nazi experimental program inspired by the films.
The Man in the High Castle stars Alexa Davalos (Mob City), Luke Kleintank (Pretty Little Liars), DJ Qualls (Z Nation), Joel De La Fuente (Hemlock Grove), Brennan Brown (Focus), Bella Heathcote (The Neon Demon) Chelah Horsdal (You Me Her) and Jason O’Mara (Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.) with Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa (Revenge) and Rufus Sewell (Victoria). The series was developed by Frank Spotnitz (The X-Files), with Ridley Scott(The Martian), David W. Zucker (The Good Wife), Richard Heus (Ugly Betty), Isa Dick Hackett (Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams), and Daniel Percival (Banished) serving as executive producers for Season Three. Additionally, Eric Overmyer (Treme, Bosch, The Affair) serves as showrunner and executive producer for this new season.
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