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The Man in the High Castle Season 1 Review

Before watching Amazon’s alternate history drama I didn’t think I would ever utter the words ‘Don’t shoot Hitler!’ yet as the first season of The Man in the High Castle drew to a close, this was perhaps the least confusing turn of events.

High Castle was adapted from the Philip K Dick novel of the same name depicts a world in which the western powers lost the second world war. Though the exact details of how this happened are yet to be explored in the show, put simply the Japanese Empire and Nazi Reich have basically carved the world up between them and an uneasy peace exists between them.

The plot follows a wide range of characters, from an American Obergruppenführer, through scrappy resistance fighters to a seemingly ordinary couple who end up involved in a mystery involving subversive films.

Even with the wide range of characters, the show manages to spend enough time with each of them to develop sympathy for even the most initially cruel of characters. This is exemplified by the development of Obergruppenführer Smith, played to perfection by Rufus Sewell.

Throughout the series we see that Smith has no issues about his more grisly duties in service of the Reich, though there are hints of past actions he is trying desperately to bury. However it is a revelation in the tail end of the series that shakes foundations of his faith, and this is something that could be a major plot line if the series is renewed.

I was also quietly stunned by the performance of DJ Qualls, who I have also been enjoying in the SyFy zombie romp Z Nation, as the hapless friend and co-worker of one of the main protagonists. His subtle portrayal of a mild-mannered factory who would do anything for his friend, even at the risk of his own safety, is painfully moving.

In a drama of this scope a characters struggles can only be as moving as the world they have to survive in, and this is another area in which High Castle delivers wonderfully. The contrast between life under the Empire or the Reich is both huge and negligible, in that they both boil down to a dictatorship but with vastly different window dressing.

The Nazi’s have, in an extreme sense, embraced the clean cut aesthetics that were championed by America in the 1950’s. Everyone is productive, happy and healthy, but beneath the surface the ‘American Dream’ has been subverted into the ‘Greater Good’ where obedience and conformity are prized above all else.

This is contrasted by the more spiritual aspects of the Japanese states, in which powerful government ministers regularly consult oracles and the energy of objects is of great importance. While this does seem to be the lesser of two evils, it soon becomes clear that under the Empire, Americans are very much second class citizens to the Japanese, which creates some interesting conflicts later in the series.

While Amazon has yet to renew High Castle for a second series, I find myself concerned that in doing so they may do the series a disservice. Having effectively finished the narrative of Dick’s novel, I fear that it may go the way of Lost, and have it’s endearing mystery ruined by poor writers.

Aside from it’s engaging characters and addictive plot, High Castle also offers some deeper questions on the differences between fantasy and reality, and manages to be so engrossing that it becomes had to distinguish between the two.

Following the release of the entire season I found myself huddled in a darkened room watching this stunning depiction of another time, wondering quite how it came to pass. Which given the plot leaves me slightly concerned.

 

Image courtesy of Duncan C via Flickr

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