How would the world be today if the Nazi and the Imperial Japan had won the Second World War? That’s the alternative reality proposed by The Man in the High Castle, TV adaptation of the novel by Philip K. Dick, now available on Amazon Prime.
The show takes us to 1962, 15 years after Germany and Japan won the war, in a country, the Unites States, that doesn’t exist as such anymore. Divided between an East Coast ruled by the Nazi, a West Coast totally influenced by the dominant Japanese culture and, in between these two, a neutral zone where those who are not accepted because of their race or ideology can find their place. It is in this neutral zone where the two main characters meet: Joe, a young guy recently recruited by the Nazis to infiltrate the Resistance; and Julianna, who replaces her sister as a member of the movement after the latter has been murdered by the Japanese government. The Resistance’s goal is to distribute some films that show a very different world, and get them to the man in the high castle, an omnipresent figure all over the ten episodes of this first season.
The similarities with the current country, rather than the differences, break with all what we have seen so far in the television landscape.
One of the greatest challenges for the production team was to introduce a historical show in a time that never existed and that, therefore, had to be created from scratch. Thus, we find Nazi symbolism in everyday items of the North-American way of life: the boards at Times Square, the North-American flag where the swastika replaces the 50 stars that currently represent the different states; and a family life that reminds us to the traditional American dream. Viewers are constantly trying to decide whether what they are seeing is the United States or not. Actually, it is the similarities with the current country, rather than the differences, what breaks with all what we have seen so far in the television landscape. There are Nazis without an accent, local Nazis, whose lives are similar to those of the viewers who may be watching the show today.
This is a production about remembering. While the main motif of the show is “What would have happened if the others had won?”, this is also the question that the main characters constantly find themselves trying to answer. The films that the Resistance is trying to distribute show a world very different from the one the characters know and drive them to the same question: “What if the Nazis had not won?”. While the older characters try to forget the world that they once knew and lost, and decide to come to terms with the reality they have ahead, the young people composing the Resistance seek refuge in the nostalgia for a life they never got to live. And, in the background, moral issues such as hope and curiosity for a better world fight against fear. As Randall, a member of the Resistance played by Hank Harris says, “Evil triumphs only when good men do nothing.”
While it has been criticized that some episodes might be slow, the actors’ magnificent performances, especially those of Rufus Sewell as Obergruppenführer John Smith, and Rupert Evans as Frank Frink, a Jew dragged into her girlfriend’s actions, make the show very recommendable. It is not by chance that The Man in the High Castle became the most viewed show on Amazon Prime, after taking the lead held to the date by Bosch. Probably, the enormous and polemic marketing campaign that placed swastikas in the Metro stations of New York contributed to this success. As a result of this accomplishment, Amazon, focused on growing as creator of original shows, has announced a second season of 10 episodes.
The show’s creator, Frank Spotnitz, assures to Variety that “you get insights into who we are now by looking at who we could have been,” and he adds, about his success and referencing the racist politics proposed by Republican candidate Donald Trump: “presidential campaigns kind of bring out all different responses to that fear and uncertainty, and I think that’s what this show does. It shows all different responses to fear and danger.”
It makes us face questions as important as institutionalized racism, a very current issue, and how would we all react to such extreme situations.
Ultimately, this is a provocative show that, even though it could have deepened more in some of the introduced issues, makes us face questions as important as institutionalized racism, a very current issue, and how would we all react to situations as extreme as those shown. The Man in the High Castle is, without a doubt, one of the great proposals of the year that we leave behind and that, let’s hope, will keep surprising us during the second season.