The Man in the High Castle





Paul Asay

TV Series Review

It’s 1962 and all is well in America. At least as far as the Nazis are concerned.

Most of the United States is safely in the Fuhrer’s collection of sycophant states—a New World outpost of fascism called the Greater Nazi Reich. After Germany dropped the bomb on Washington, D.C., and won World War II, Germany and Japan divvied the former United States between them—the Third Reich claiming the Great Plains and everything east, the Empire of the Rising Sun pocketing the Pacific time zone. A sliver of land—the Rocky Mountain region, essentially—is classified as a neutral buffer zone between these two “friendly” empires. And with Hitler’s time as Fuhrer coming to a close, there’s a sense inside the Nazi regime that it’s time for another war—one that will pit Japan against Germany, with the winner claiming the once proud U.S. of A.

But not everyone is content to goosestep their days away. There are those who imagine a much different America—those who believe that somewhere, somehow, such an America actually exists.

Indeed, such realities are locked away in mysterious home movies and newsreels—perhaps evidence that the Nazified world everyone lives in may not be the only world possible. People in the resistance pass around these movies like holy relics, using them to cling to their desperate struggle and sometimes to recruit others along the way.

And even as the now frail Adolph Hitler tries to gather these films for himself, another, more mysterious man—Abendson, the Man in the High Castle—has his own archive. He’s seen the future. All sorts of futures, really. They’re all pieces of a puzzle, Abendson believes. And if he can just figure out how to put them together, perhaps their world could be a very different place, too.

A Strange, New World

Amazon’s The Man in the High Castle is based on the novel of the same name by the late Phillip K. Dick, Hollywood’s favorite science fiction writer. (Blade Runner, Total Recall and Minority Report are among the 11 movies based on his work.) High Castle is arguably Dick’s most ambitious tale, earning him the Hugo Award for Best Novel in 1963. But while it may be a literary triumph, it also transports readers into a grim land filled with manmade terrors.

The same can now be said for the television adaptation. Perhaps more so. Like Dick did, the show’s creators want to make viewers experience, to some small degree, the horror of living under a brutal, fascist regime. We see people beaten and tortured, sometimes to death. Citizens are casually shot in the street. In one of the pilot’s most chilling scenes, people watch as ash flutters down like snowflakes. A policeman explains that it’s coming from the hospital. “Tuesdays they burn cripples, terminally ill, the drags on the state,” he says.

Few of us—hopefully none of us—would want to live in the real world painted by The Man in the High Castle. And it’s a pretty uncomfortable place to virtually visit as well.

Episode Reviews

The Man in the High Castle: Dec. 15, 2015 “The Tiger’s Cave”

Joe, a one-time resistance operative secretly working for the Nazis, brings a valuable, alternative reality newsreel to the Nazi government in New York. But after watching his employers kill many people along the way, including (he thinks) his girlfriend, Juliana, Joe decides he wants out. “This isn’t the man I want to be,” he tells SS Obergruppenführer John Smith. In reality, Juliana is still alive, having met the Man in the High Castle himself. Meanwhile, Tagomi, trade minister for the Pacific States of America, meditates and has his own vision of an alternate reality—a San Francisco “ruled by Americans, walking freely, shouting, laughing.”

Juliana may be alive, but the resistance still seems determined to kill her. She’s shot twice—once with a tranquilizer gun, once with a real one—and is thrown in the trunk of a car. She escapes, clutching a her bloodied, injured arm. Her main pursuer, a resistance leader named Gary, shoots two Japanese guards (finishing off one in cold blood and fairly graphically), but a woman is also killed in the melee. We see her lying on the ground, her neck covered in blood, coughing and gasping her last.

In alternate reality newsreels, we see characters executed at point-blank range, bodies of soldiers and civilians, and an atomic bomb that obliterates San Francisco (including charred “shadows” of victims incinerated by the blast). A bomb blows up on a ship, killing everyone on board. A man smashes a window, injuring his hand in the process. (We see blood on glass shards and, later, the bloody wound itself.) Someone imagines (or has a vision of) flinging herself in front of a bus. There’s much talk about an assassination attempt on a Japanese crown prince.

A crate filled with money also contains a few girlie magazines (nothing critical is shown). Someone mentions how good San Francisco’s “hostess bars” are. People drink alcohol and smoke cigarettes. Characters say the f-word and the s-word once each. They also say “b–tard,” “h—,” and misuse God’s name four times (including three pairings with “d–n”).

The Man in the High Castle – Nov. 20, 2015 “The New World”

Joe meets with Mr. Warren, who heads the resistance in New York City, and is told to drive a truck filled with “coffee makers” to Canon City. Meanwhile, in San Francisco, Juliana’s sister gives her a copy of “The Grasshopper Lies Heavy.”

Both of these acts result in death. Juliana’s sister is almost immediately shot, and Nazi Brownshirts attack Warren’s business. Several people are gunned down in a shootout there, while several more are summarily executed. Warren himself is taken away to be tortured. (We see his bloodied body being hit again and again with a baseball bat, then get dumped in the street.) People talk about grotesque forms of torture (pulling out toenails, crushing testicles, etc.) Ash falls from the sky, created, we’re told, by euthanizing crematoriums at a nearby hospital.

A bus to Canon City is filled with “undesirables,” according to a woman sitting next to Juliana: “Wrong color, wrong religion, wrong bed partners.” (The woman then steals her bag.) We hear racial slurs. Unmarried couples live together. There’s talk of Chi and fortune-telling. People drink beer and hard liquor at a bar. They say the f- and s-word three times each. Other profanities include “h—,” “d–n,” “b–tard” and three misuses of Jesus’ name.

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Paul Asay
Paul Asay

Paul Asay has been part of the Plugged In staff since 2007, watching and reviewing roughly 15 quintillion movies and television shows. He’s written for a number of other publications, too, including Time, The Washington Post and Christianity Today. The author of several books, Paul loves to find spirituality in unexpected places, including popular entertainment, and he loves all things superhero. His vices include James Bond films, Mountain Dew and terrible B-grade movies. He’s married, has two children and a neurotic dog, runs marathons on occasion and hopes to someday own his own tuxedo. Feel free to follow him on Twitter @AsayPaul.

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