This is a full season review for Amazon’s new show, The Man in the High Castle. The intent of this review is to critic and avoid as much spoilers as humanly possible. The entire 10 episodes can be watched on Amazon right now. However, most of this review will remain light to no spoilers for your viewing pleasure.
The Man in the High Castle adds to a terrific list of premium plug in shows, like Daredevil, Jessica Jones, House of Cards and so on. While Amazon has had some success in shows like Transparent (which has taken home 5 Emmys) and Bosch, none have quite touched the acclaim or success of Netflix’s shows. The Man in the High Castle might just be the difference maker Amazon has been searching for.
The Man in the High Castle is an eerie, alternate history set in the 1960s. All the history you took for granted at that point has been changed. United States? They never entered World War II and instead, watched their Allies in Europe get crushed by Hitler and Nazi Germany. Japan prevailed in the Pacific, and in 1949, Japan and Germany shared occupation of the United States. Japan controls most of the Pacific territories, with San Francisco being their headquarters. Nazi Germany controls a larger portion in the East, with a small segment being controlled by no one (Neutral zone).
While most mediums(television/movies, comics) will do their absolute best to remind you of their ‘catch’, The Man in the High Castle is not a constant reminder of change. Here, things are subtle, with delicate changes that remind you of the similarities of today, with cultural differences that reside from Japan and Germany. The evolution of things, from the value of women, Caucasians becoming minorities and large leap in technology is undeniably eerie. The United States of America is relegated to resistance groups, hidden among the unrelenting power of the Japanese and Nazi occupation.
However, despite The Man in the High Castle being a sci-fi show in roots, deep down it really isn’t. Hints of more spectacle are noted from the beginning, such as The Man in the High Castle himself but this is never the primary story telling root. No, this is the characters, quite a large ensemble that powers this series.
At the forefront you have Juliana Crain(Alexa Davalos), the epitome of wrong place, wrong time. Unfortunately for her, she has been instructed with being courier of important films (think old school theater films). These films are what could be the difference in the war and ultimately, her paths cross with different characters, each with their own intention, whether it be patriotic or self devotion.
The series has an odd layout, primarily in its narrative structure. The story framework feels like something adopted from Christopher Nolan, as many story strings are being pulled together. Each string ties a character or a few characters, with story elements that change and evolve in ways that most will not see. In doing so, the show constantly feels organic and entertaining, despite almost no reliance to action sequences.
No, the show does not rely on action set pieces to fuel it but rather the constant, cascading, mounting story that seems like nothing good can ultimately come from it. The cast here is absolutely excellent. Alexa Davalos, who plays Juliana Crain does really well here as ultimately being vulnerable but never defeated. Her struggle to find answers never comes off as a crutch or over reliance. Likewise, the other absolute stand out here is Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa who plays Trade Commissioner Tagomi. Tagawa’s performance is soulful, calming and incredibly human. He steals almost every scene he is in.
Also, worth noting is the performance of Rufus Sewell who Obergruppenfuhrer Smith. Smith is another villain, in the long list of them, however, Sewell’s performance is central to the success of the show. Primarily, the human aspect Sewell brings, often questioning his own rationale and villain like intentions, makes you intrigued by each decision he makes. Not only that but he brings life like qualities to an evil power that did atrocities that are quite inhumane.
The Man in the High Castle is sewed well with sci-fi roots (thank it’s original source material, Philip K. Dick) but ultimately, its characters are telling a bigger story here. The struggle each character must go through, even the villains, in maintaining their own order is a constant, evolving battle is fascinating. Not only that but the series feels like a roller coaster, threatening to plunge off the deep end every chance it gets. Thankfully, the roller coaster is worth the ride.