The Man In The High Castle (2015)
Written by: Frank Spotnitz, Philip K. Dick
Starring: Alexa Davalos, Burn Gorman, Carsten Norgaard, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, DJ Qualls, Joel de la Fuente, Luke Kleintank, Rick Worthy, Rufus Sewell, Rupert Evans
THE MAN IN THE HIGH CASTLE (2015)
Season One Available on Amazon Prime
An Amazon Original Series
Based on a short but powerful novel by Philip K. Dick, THE MAN IN THE HIGH CASTLE shows what life would have been like in the United States had the Nazis and the Japanese won World War II. In this alternate 1960’s, a young woman named Julianna, living in the Japanese ruled San Francisco, comes into contact with a film reel which shows footage of the allies winning the war. Shocked at what the film shows and wondering what it could mean, she proceeds to deliver it to its intended destination after the original courier, her sister Trudy, is shot dead by the Japanese police. Whatever the film means, the Japanese nor the Nazis want it in circulation and are doing all they can to retrieve the films purportedly created by the Man in the High Castle.
Having watched and reviewed the pilot episode earlier on in the year, I’ve finally watched the entire first season of THE MAN IN THE HIGH CASTLE, now streaming on Amazon Prime Instant Video. Is it all I expected it to be? Yes and no. Whilst it has a strong plot idea to grab the viewer’s attention, it spends a little too long in moving the story along at a pace that I’d deem suitable. Far too mcuh time is spent with idle characters who do very little and it feels as though some parts could be cut to make a concise and more effective output for the viewer to enjoy. The story and characters themselves though are very complex at the root of them and offer some great scenes where the character in question is torn between what is right whilst some others could do with their characters spiced up a little.
What’s interesting about THE MAN IN THE HIGH CASTLE is that not everything is plain and simple as you would expect it to be. Yes, the Nazis and Japanese have split territories and live in harmony though, despite this alliance, hardcore members of both parties wish to eradicate the other. Then you have the resistance who want to reclaim the States for themselves and get rid of their Nazi and Japanese overlords. Then you have the Nazis working discreetly with select Japanese members of state to help keep the Nazi/Japanese balance to prevent a war that the Japanese have no hope in winning. The web is a complex one and there doesn’t seem to be a particular side who is right or wrong though the programme does its best to reflect each side fairly though in our hearts the resistance are the ones we sympathise with. The character Frank Frink is oblivious to all this as the typical American citizen who wants a life of peace for himself and his family but girlfriend Julianna’s quest for the truth thrusts him into a situation where the real ugly side of reality is revealed to him. The Japanese military police, the Kempeitai, are not there to help him nor his fellow white man, and the sooner he understands this, the sooner he begins to change his mindset and realise that he is in fact a prisoner in his own country. Julianna’s turn into a resistance member, whether she intends to or not, means he is along for the ride with her if he’s to stand by and protect the woman he loves. But for that love and devotion there are consequences and Frink is not the only one to learn the hard way.
Many of the characters in THE MAN IN THE HIGH CASTLE are neither black or white in terms of good or bad. Most of the wicked characters, including the Nazi SS soldiers and Kempeitai, have some sort of redeeming quality to them such as their loyalty to their prince or tradition or love for their family. This doesn’t resolve them of their sins though. Even one character who turns out to be doing a good job has a shady history and most of the characters fighting for good have done bad to save their own skins. I don’t think there’s one single character in the series who is wholly good… oh wait, there is one. Ed. Played by DJ Qualls, Ed is the kind human being you’d want by your side and Frank is so grateful to have him as a best friend and also a voice of reason. Being nice though can sometimes lead to your downfall…
Performances from those involved in the series are top notch with Alexa Davalos bringing a likable quality to the lead Julianna Crain. She’s a protagonist we can root for though her kindness and good heart seems to blind her from the truth of Joe Blake, who too has a film to deliver though for entirely different reasons than Julianna. Hanging around with Joe whilst her boyfriend Frank is at home being threatened by Kempeitai, she begins to forge a friendship and it’s not hard to see that a love triangle is forming which will no doubt evolve through the upcoming seasons. There’s some terrific performances from other cast members too with Joel de la Fuente oozing sinister as Kempeitai Inspector Kido, something which he seems rather good at after playing scheming Dr Johann Pryce in Hemlock Grove, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa as the gentle, thoughtful trade minister Tagomi, Carsten Norgaard as undercover Nazi traitor Rudolph and our very own Rufus Sewell as high ranking Nazi officer Obergruppenführer John Smith. The only actor who seemed out of place in the entire series is Burn Gorman as The Marshal with his exaggerated performance a little too caricaturish to be taken seriously.
As a whole, THE MAN IN THE HIGH CASTLE is such as interesting idea that you can’t help but stay glued to the screen in hope of finding out what the films mean. Don’t expect for this to be resolved in the first season though. Much like Lost, THE MAN IN THE HIGH CASTLE opens up more questions than it does answers and likes to drag out the storyline to keep people watching. Unlike the snappy, action-filled Outlander, THE MAN IN THE HIGH CASTLE has more filler than necessary and can be quite boring at times where nothing much happens and the crux of the episode could have been explained quite simply without running around the houses first. With Amazon Original series tending to run indefinitely or at least for a good 4 seasons minimum, I expect the facts about the film reels not to be explained in a hurry. As long as they are explained and it doesn’t end up like the infuriating Lost which didn’t have an explanation at all, I’ll be happy. However, in the meantime, I think I’ll just end up reading Philip K. Dick’s short novel. My questions will be answered quicker and I’m curious to see how different the series is to the original material.
Intriguing concept but incredibly slow paced, THE MAN IN THE HIGH CASTLE is worth getting into if you can handle the plodding narrative.