The Man in the High Castle is a wonderful new original show produced by Amazon and airing exclusively on Amazon Prime. Its screenplay is loosely adapted on the Phillip K. Dick novel of the same name, and is set in a dystopian America where the Axis powers won World War II and occupied the United States. The show mainly centers around Juliana Crane, a young woman who has adapted well to life in the Pacific states under Japanese control, but is swept into becoming a resistance fighter when her sister gives her propaganda films to deliver to a mysterious figure only identified as the ‘Man in the High Castle.’ The show tells a wonderful story of adventure and the fear that comes with living under a totalitarian government. High Castle has quickly become one of my favorite scripted shows of all time, and I think a lot of that is thanks to the wonderful writing behind this show and the powerful nature of its story, re-telling a history where we Americans are the losers, not the victors. This really is a very gripping show because it constantly challenges what’s right and wrong, getting us to not only sympathize with the American resistance, but also sympathize with Nazi and Japanese officers, and understand their motives and world views. I would highly recommend watching this show if you have not already, it seriously is one of the best new shows to come out in ages, in my opinion. Here are some of my thoughts on Season 1 and some of my hopes and expectations looking forward to Season 2:
Favorite Character – Joe Blake
- Joe is a very interesting character on this show because you just don’t know what to think about him. He seems like the hero, he has a sort of charm and likability that really resonates, yet you never really know where he stands throughout the season. The moment he was revealed to be working with the Nazi Obergruppenfuhrer John Smith was one of the most shocking moments for me, because I was so convinced that he was one of the good guys. But, as the season progressed, the show unfurled in a way that really makes you question what you would consider good or bad, and Joe really did become the hero I always assumed he would, even though he was a Nazi. His growth throughout the season, going from someone who wanted to please his leader and do his part for his country, to a man who wanted to protect the people he cares about and ideals that really matter was a wonderful part of the show. I sincerely hope his parting scenes with Juliana weren’t the last we see of Joe, because there is so much story still to be told between Joe and Juliana. I think if this show continues is to continue to be strong, he’s going to have to be a central figure in this show.
Least Favorite Character – Frank Frink
- One of the toughest things I grappled with while watching this show was trying to get invested in the character of Frank Frink. Frank is the boyfriend of Juliana, a woman who truly took the burden of her sister’s dreams to heart by fighting for the resistance, but for some reason we never see the same kind of heroics from Frank. Sure, he’s beaten, tortured, and made to suffer by the hands of the Kempeitai, but Frank always comes off as a sniveling coward for some reason, even as his story develops in parallel to the adventure Juliana is on. Frank deals with all of the sorrow and sadness he’s feeling by lashing out, by shutting down, and by being vengeful without purpose or meaning, which comes off bad and in stark contrast to the stories of Juliana or even Joe. As hard as I’ve tried, I just can’t feel any sympathy for Frank, and while his stories don’t take away from the genius of the show as a whole, he really does exist in this story to show the difference between those who want to do the right thing and those who have no clue what the right thing is anymore. If anything, Frank is probably the personification of what an average person would be under a world ruled by the Axis powers, but still, it’s not a pretty sight at all.
Best Character Development – John Smith
- I think one of the best attributes of this show and its writing is the ability to make the viewers question what is right and wrong, to question where the line between loyalty and morality is and how to determine what a hero looks like in a world we luckily never had to see. I think one of the most challenging characters in the whole show is probably John Smith, the Obergruppenfuhrer of New York for the Greater Nazi Reich. Originally it seems like Smith is the villain of this show, the guy who’s pulling Joe’s strings and making him do the bidding of the devil. But, as the show develops, we see more of John’s life and family, and there starts to be this real sinking in that the story being told in this dystopian America is nowhere near as black and white as would be comfortable. One of the biggest potential storylines going forward is with John’s son, who has a genetic disorder that would lead him to be euthanized under Nazi eugenic standards. Seeing John react to this information with denial and concealment really humanizes his character and I really think the issue has the potential to change his character completely and lead to some drastic change going forward. From episode one to episode ten, there is no other character on the show who grew on me more than John Smith, he went from this loathsome, smirking villain to this complicated, somber family man who is simply trying to hold on to the values he thinks will provide the best life for his family. I give the writers of this show an amazing amount of credit for getting me to emotionally invest in the character of a Nazi officer, I didn’t go into watching this show thinking that was possible, yet here I am praising this character!
Favorite Storyline – Juliana and Joe both go to Canon City to deliver the films
- This may be a bit of a cop-out because it was the original driving storyline, but the respective paths that lead Joe and Juliana to Canon City and into others orbits are exciting, and the story of those two is what really hooked me on the show. The chemistry between Luke Kleintank and Alexa Davalos is sensational, and it really is one of the key character elements that makes the series so rich. There’s a sense of heroism to both of their missions, trying to reach prospective informants to get their films to the “Man in the High Castle,” even if their intentions were very different at first. I think what makes their time in Canon City the highlight of the season for me is the pure adventure of their story, the intrigue behind the films and the man who they are trying to reach, and the life changing connection the two of them build with each other. I could seriously watch an entire series just with them and no other storylines, they shine together that tremendously, and watching them having to escape jam after jam, and nearly getting themselves killed for their missions was great entertainment. I really enjoyed their story in Canon City a lot; it was the backbone of Season 1 and the gateway to greater story for seasons to come!
Least Favorite Storyline – The torture of Frank and the execution of his family
- I think the hardest thing for me to watch on this show was the way Frank was apprehended and tortured when the Kempeitai thought he had information about the films they were tracking from the Resistance Movement. It really jumpstarted the show on a brutal note, making it clear how terrible the world became under Nazi and Japanese rule. But, the horror continued further as the Kempeitai rounded up Frank’s sister and young children and held them as collateral in case he didn’t fork up the information they thought he had. This was the true introduction to the maniacal Chief Inspector of the Pacific States, Kido, who calmly brought Frank’s family into an innocuous room where they would slowly and painlessly get gassed to death. It was brutal to watch thus play out, and it was even worse to watch Kido explain the mishap once he declared Frank innocent of what they were holding him for. Regardless of any storylines they’ve written to try to humanize Kido, I always go back to the moment where he heartlessly told Frank his family was dead and acted like it was just something that happens, and I will never be able to feel any sympathy for that monster of a character. That was definitely an emotional low for the season, and while it set up a lot of story as a direct result, this was definitely my least favorite storyline of the season.
Favorite Moment – The ultimate showdowns between John Smith & Reinhard Heydrich and Wegener and Hitler
- The show really hit a different level of intensity when they introduced the German Obergruppenfuhrer Reinhard Heydrich into the story of John Smith in America. Smith had always seemed like a Nazi hardliner, but compared to his German counterpart, he seemed like a reasonable man. The German Obergruppenfuhrer came into the show and immediately started menacing and meddling in operations in the America, both irking and striking fear in John Smith, who was desperately trying to conceal his son’s medical condition from his higher ups in Germany. When Heydrich essentially demanded Smith go on a hunting trip with him, it was clear to see that something truly diabolical was going to happen, but I had no idea what the show was truly setting up for its season ending denouement. While secluded in a forest hunting, Heydrich admitted to putting a hit on Smith and his comrades, essentially because he did not trust him to go along with his plans to overthrow Adolf Hitler by having him assassinated! I knew they were going somewhere with the animosity between the two Nazi officers, but as astute as I like to think I am watching these shows, I didn’t think they were really going to go through with an assassination attempt on the leader of the Nazi Reich, the real-life figure of Adolf Hitler, but that is exactly where they went. What made it even more interesting was the inclusion of Wegener, the German would-be assassin who took a shot at the Crown Prince of Japan, and was enabled by Pacific States Trade Minister Tagomi. I never quite understood the relevance of his story and his high priority inclusion in the show until it was clear he was going to take the shot at Hitler. This story really got me on the edge of my seat, especially when Heydrich demanded loyalty or death from Smith by the time the phone rang indicating the deed was done. Still, nothing could prepare me for the point when we actually saw Hitler on screen, and he managed to talk Wegener out of killing him and instead talked him into turning the gun on himself like it was mind control. Smith ended up getting the drop on Heydrich who was taken out by a sniper and it was he who took the call, but not from Wegener, but the Fuhrer himself. The scenes were some of the most greatest material of the whole season, and the way they unfolded was just wonderful. I really couldn’t think of a better way to not only wrap up this story with the Nazi leadership struggle, but introduce so many different story options going forward. This story and most specifically this episode of the season (Ep. 10) was not only a highlight of the show, but also one of the best episodes of any show I’ve seen all year. I truly cannot praise the writing, directing, and acting enough for all of this material!
5 Things I’d Like to See Happen in Season 2:
- Joe to return and continue his story with Juliana
- Even though Juliana is with Frank, and they appear to have at least a steady relationship, it’s hard to deny the chemistry between Joe and her. Their on-screen adventures have really driven the story so far, and it would truly be criminal for their adventures to end with him sailing away to Mexico. I expect to see Joe back, and I really want to see his relationship develop with Juliana, partially because it’ll make Frank squirm and yell a lot, but also because the adventures seems to come wherever they go.
- John Smith to find a way to save his son
- One of the most fascinating plot turns in season 1 was when John learned that his son had a genetic disorder and would essentially have to be euthanized under the strict Nazi eugenic orders of the day. His reaction to the news was not as much devastation as it was complete denial, refusing to acknowledge the doctor’s diagnosis and continuing on with their lives as if nothing was wrong. This plot twist is such a beacon of hope for the future of this world, because it may very well allow John, one of the highest officers in the American Nazi regime, to see the errors of their ways, and potentially sympathize with the resistance in some ways. The end of the season gave us some hope that he really isn’t the bad guy of this show, and if he pulls out all the stops to save his son from certain demise, he may even become one of the good guys.
- Ed to be vindicated after admitting guilt in the Crown Prince’s shooting
- Ed is really such a good-hearted character, always looking out for his friend Frank even when Frank’s being a total ass to him, so it was really quite upsetting to see Ed go down as the patsy for the Kempeitai in the case of the shooting of the Crown Prince. I sincerely hope this isn’t the end of Ed on this show, I hope Frank manages to find a way to make this right for him, as was teased at the very end of the finale. Ed doesn’t deserve to be framed for murder, so I hope they can tell a story where the end result is his vindication.
- Kido and Tagomi to continue their bitter showdown
- I think some of the most tense, non-adventure scenes of the show we’re the moments when Kido tried to intimidate Tagomi about his illicit dealings. These scenes produced some of the best dialogue in the show, and have provided actor Joel De La Fuente with amazing material to showcase his particular set of skills/acting chops. While there are some storylines that I’m anxious about wrapping up, I’m hoping that they continue to slow burn the tension between the two of them, because it leads to some great dialogue. I’m definitely hoping the tension between them keeps building to a crescendo.
- The unmasking of the Man in the High Castle
- It’s been ten episodes so far, and we still don’t really know anything about the titular character of this show. Who is the Man in the High Castle? Where is he and what does he want to accomplish with these films? This show has been amazing thus far, but next season I most certainly want some answers about this guy so we can finally figure out the mystery behind the film reels. There are just so many mysteries that need to be revealed, so I’m glad we’ll be getting a second season to answer some of these burning questions!