Amazon Studios claimed The Man in The High Castle was their most viewed original series during its initial run. Imagine the irony when a man in his Mancunian castle asked me to review the first season. It came with some stipulations. The title couldn’t simply state the name of series and Review; from this I realised The Kinswah Reflective doesn’t want to feature high in search indexes. It couldn’t be assigned a score and I have to avoid spoilers. With the style of Simms View stripped away, here goes.
Being a literary wannabe, I could understand @Kinswah’s interest in this series but I’m more of a moving pictures guy so I can’t tell you if it’s close to Philip K. Dick’s novel. What I can say is the series as a whole follows one rule from English class I remember: it has a beginning, a middle, and an end. This turns out to be a problem.
The beginning starts like an adventure show, with some espionage thrown in. It’s an alternative world. The Nazis won World War II and America has been divided into three zones. The Germans have the East, the Japanese the West, in the middle (for no reason other than to serve the story) the middle is a neutral zone (Star Trek fans stepdown).
The early set-up sees a young man, Joe Blake, grab a van to go on a mission for the resistance in East America, or the Greater Nazi Reich. At the same time we see a young woman called Juliana witness her sister getting knocked off by the Japanese forces on the other side of the country.
Her sis, Trudy, was a resistance worker and had a film reel. We learn that these clips reveal a different world, one where the Germans lost the war. IE, our version of events. She takes it upon herself to deliver the film herself and heads off to complete Trudy’s mission.
See what we have going on here? Joe and Juliana heading to the same destination, and yes, they end up crossing paths. In these early episodes we have action pieces, this isn’t a spoiler, but, if you see a big bridge in one episode, expect someone to fall off it in the next.
Juliana leaving draws her family under suspicion. They are investigated by the Japanese and taken into questioning. In the oppressive world painted here, it’s not a good thing to be under the spotlight.
What it breeds is a doubting of everyone we meet. Enter the middle part of the story.
Juliana and Joe head off on their separate ways and we have the subplots build. An attempt is made on the Crown Prince in the Japanese state, the Germans are a politically divided bunch. Bizarrely Hitler is portrayed as the man maintaining peace. That’s right, the man that committed the genocide of six million Jews is a voice for peace.
His party see the Japanese as weak, they admit a war would finish them off. But for reasons not (initially) clear, Hitler wants to avoid war, even one he should win. The German narrative follows John Smith, a high-ranking American born Nazi officer. He interacts with Joe Blake and Rudolph Wegener.
Wegener is an old friend but a conflicted player in the game. His story makes up for the lag in the middle section. Upon instruction from the resistance, Juliana gets a new job working for Nobusuke Tagomi. He’s the Trade Minister for the Pacific States of America and a pretty nice guy. He fends off the inspector, Kido (not a bad man, just a bit of a jobsworth) and never abuses his position. Being a spiritual type, he’s looking beyond the politics of man.
The final episodes see the action pick up again and it is tense. Juliana and her partner do the work of the resistance which places them in peril. Wegener and John Smith’s ultimate missions are unveiled and we learn who the Man in the High Castle is and why he wants the film reels back. Well, we are left to make some assumptions there.
Studios often get criticised when they interfere with the production of a show or movie but perhaps here Amazon should have had a little word. Normally live action stories omit parts of the source material to the anger of fans. Here, a little leaning in the middle would have worked wonders.
A great ending allows us to overlook this and move on to season two with renewed expectation.