Review: The Man in the High Castle

The Man In the High Castle Review

by Seth Marshall

                It has been about a month since the release of the first season of “The Man In the High Castle”, an Amazon adaptation of the Phillip K. Dick novel of the same name released in 1962. The book and the novel present an alternate history set in the United States, where the Axis won the Second World War, with Japan occupying the states west of the Rocky Mountains, Nazi Germany occupying the states to the east of the Rockies, and the Rockies themselves remaining a neutral zone of sorts. The webseries pilot premiered a number of months earlier in the year and was successful enough for Amazon to green light the first season, which was released in its entirety on November 20. The show has received very favorable reviews and has been renewed by Amazon for a second season.

 The United States as it appears in The Man in the High Castle

The United States as it appears in The Man in the High Castle

                There are many similarities between the book and the webseries. Both are set in 1962, some fifteen years after the end of the Second World War, which in this version of history ended in 1947 with the surrender of the United States. Both feature similar themes, such as the stigma of defeat which Americans endure under occupation. There is also the intriguing reversal of roles; while in actuality it was the Japanese and Germans who were the occupied and had to stifle their guilt and shame of losing the war and work with the people who had defeated them, in this case it is Americans who feel the shame of defeat and must deal with the stigma of having to serve the people who brought an end to their country. They also must watch as their country is rebuilt to suit the needs of the Japanese and Germans; many iconic American ideas have disappeared- baseball is no longer played, cabs have changed from yellow cars to carts pulled by Chinese, and many locations are now off limits to American citizens. Both the book and series portray Nazi Germany and the Empire of Japan as superpowers engaged in a Cold War, though both suggest that this may change in the future. Finally, both the book and show contain the same characters.

 The Man in the High Castle novel, released in 1962 by Phillip K. Dick

The Man in the High Castle novel, released in 1962 by Phillip K. Dick

There are a number of differences between the two, however. Reader beware, we are now venturing into spoiler territory. None of the book takes place in the Nazi-occupied states, and Reinhard Heydrich is not seen in the book, though he is mentioned as being one of the contenders to take over Martin Bormann’s position as Fuhrer. The plot differs between the two as well. While in the book Julia Frink has left her husband and remains in the Neutral Zone throughout the novel, in the show she returns to her husband and becomes a part of the resistance movement. There is also the subject of The Grasshopper Lies Heavy; in the book, it is a novel written by a man living in the Neutral Zone and present an alternate history of the war (yes, an alternate history in an alternate history), while in the show The Grasshopper Lies Heavy is a series of newsreel films that show different versions of history, some in which the Allies won, some in which the Nazis have now occupied the West Coast. These are just a few of the many differences between the book and series.

 Times Square under Nazi occupation.

Times Square under Nazi occupation.

Whatever the differences though, the series has accomplished the same mission as the book, which is to present a fascinating and chilling alternate history with a deeply engrossing plot and well-written characters. The writers have avoided the trap of simply making the Japanese and Germans run of the mill bad guys- they are genuinely interesting characters who add to the complexity of the show. Perhaps some of the most disturbing aspects of the show are the American characters who are collaborating so willingly with the occupiers- Joe, SS Obergruppenfuhrer Smith, agent from the SD who is hunting down his missing contact- these are all men who have whole-heartedly embraced the ideals of Nazi Germany. Their complicity in what is happening is perhaps most poignant in a scene from the pilot episode; Joe is forced to pull his truck over because of a flat tire. A policeman stops to help him and in conversation we learn that he had fought in the war for the US Army- but now it seems like a distant memory for him, and he remarks that “it’s hard to remember what we were even fighting about.” Almost immediately after he says this, Joe notices what almost appears to be snow falling (it’s summer time)- the police officer tells him that it is a burn day at the crematorium, emphasizing how people have completely turned from the principles that they once fought for. The show’s writers have also managed to capture the essence of the German and Japanese regimes in this disturbing “what if” scenario. It is clear that the writers researched the topic before making the series, as the show gives insight into the Kempetei, German race policies, and . I would highly recommend the series to those interested in the period or simply looking for a new show to watch. Season two of “The Man in the High Castle” is expected to premiere sometime in 2016.