You’ve got to hand it to Amazon. They definitely know which pilots to order to series. One of their most ‘out there’ ones is The Man in the High Castle, based on the 1962 novel by Philip K. Dick. Both the BBC and Syfy were circling the project, at that time as a 4-part mini-series, until Amazon swooped in and snatched the hot property. Because hot it is, if not only by using symbols from Nazi Germany; even though it’s completely fictionalized, you have to be extremely careful if you want to incorporate swastikas on every street corner.
It makes it awfully hard to promote the show, too. After several complaints about the imagery on Man in the High Castle billboards, they were taken down. Too confrontational. So is this a show about the Second World War? Not quite. Like the year the novel was released, the story takes place in 1962, albeit in a different time line. ‘Our world as it might have been’, as the tagline on some of the book covers read. Germany and Japan won the war and both got a piece of the American pie. Japan got the West Coast, Germany the East, with a ‘Neutral Zone’ in between.
Although there’s peace, with the two countries having embassies in each other’s parts of America, another war seems to be imminent. While Hitler’s still in power, the status quo is upheld, but apparently he suffers from Parkinson’s. He’s got about 6 months to live, or so they say. His successor will probably, definitely, try to wage war against the Japanese. ‘They’ve dropped a bomb before’, as one character says.
The Man Behind the Curtain
Meanwhile, there’s the Resistance, delivering tapes with ‘the grasshopper lies heavy’ written on it. To who and why is still unclear. On these projection film tapes, there’s news footage of the war. But it’s tampered with; in this version, America won. The stars and stripes prevailed. Juliana Crain (Alexa Davalos, Mob City) receives one of these highly illegal copies, from her half-sister Trudy – who’s gunned down in the street by Japanese officers. It’s not the only thing Trudy left her. There’s also a bus ticket to the Neutral Zone, on which the name of a diner is written and the numbers ’12:5’. She decides to impersonate her sister and see where it takes her. Davalos has got a big role, but unfortunately her face doesn’t show much emotion. Or anything. Her expression never seems to change, which makes it too hard for the viewer to identify with her.
Destination Canon City
Travelling to the Neutral Zone from the other side (New York City), is Joe Blake (Luke Kleintank, No Ordinary Family, Bones, Person of Interest). He volunteers to assist the Resistance, even though he’s only 27 years old. He gets a truck and has to drive it to Canon City. He gets away just in time, because the place is suddenly swarming with Nazi officers, led by Obergruppenführer John Smith (Rufus Sewell, Dark City, A Knight’s Tale, The Pillars of the Earth).
On their ways, Joe and Juliana meet each other. He wasn’t waiting on a girl called Trudy by any chance, was he? No, he wasn’t. He just wanted to talk. At the end of the pilot, Joe makes a call. To John Smith. It seems we’ve got ourselves a mole.
‘The New World’, which is the most watched pilot on Amazon ever, offers a state of the art alternate reality. It’s hard to tell where the set ends and the computer wizardry begins. You find yourself completely in awe of this nightmarish new world, so a lot of the story might be lost at first viewing. But there are many, many hints and clues dropped along the way. It’s definitely not a one dimensional historical fiction drama piece. The Man in the High Castle is as rich as it gets, in subject matter, design, story and scope. Compared to the enormity of the concept, perhaps it’s no surprise the acting feels a bit bleak.