The Man in the High Castle Season 1

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Well, I’ve been awfully neglectful of my blog as of late. Lots of boring reasons. But, I’m going to try to not neglect it so much. I recently binge-watched Amazon’s The Man in the High Castle. This is one of those things I’ve been meaning to watch forever (I was really excited when the pilot came out and STILL didn’t watch it) because I’m such a fan of the book and of Phillip K. Dick in general.

I was also intrigued to see how they were going to adapt a book in which nothing much actually happens or is accomplished by the characters in the book (in all the best sort of ways, mind you) and turn it into a TV series. The answer is by building in some more traditional TV narratives into the alternate history that Dick created.

The result is a largely gorgeous show that takes about half the season to really kick off. Spoilers to follow….

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The universe is brought to life in a mostly realistic and effective manner. There’s a sense that, yes, there must be a lot of CGI involved here. But honestly, for the most part it’s done so well and much of it pretty subtle. So it only enhanced the experience for me. This is not what you’d call a “fun” concept by any stretch of the imagination, but it is a fascinating one. And the TV show lets the clues about how this world ended up the way it did slip out slowly.

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The main issue I have with the series is that it takes a LONG time for you to care about the three main “heroes” of the story (if one is to think of Joe as a hero) because their motivations are kind of murky and generic. Juliana and Joe are both likable, though they don’t make really strong first impressions. With Juliana, her motivation seems to be in the power of the film she sees and wanting answers about it. But, there’s a certain leap of logic one has to take here. Exactly HOW is seeing these films of some alternate universe supposed to actually help anyone? The show tries to answer this later in the season by saying the Man in the High Castle trades these films for secret intel. But Juliana doesn’t know that in the beginning.

And Joe… well, his allegiances are purposefully kept vague through the whole series. So even at the end it’s impossible to tell whether he’s lying to Juliana and Juliana is being an idiot or if he’s telling the truth. We are told he didn’t get to know his father and also that he seems to want to do his father proud. Which aren’t mutually exclusive ideas. It’s just… again… all very murky. Joe doesn’t really have the edge that he needs (in writing or performance) that might make him a more interesting character. He just seems to tell whoever is in front of him what they want to hear, and the audience is never clued into what the truth might be. 

But either of these guys is preferable to Frank, who manages to be irritating and unlikable despite a heap of horrors foisted upon him. I want to like him, it’s just do damn hard when he always seems to do the wrong thing and acts so whiny about it. 

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But, there are a ton of great characters that help make up for the fact that the main heroes could use some work. You could probably argue that Rufus Sewell’s Obergruppenführer John Smith is the main bad guy of the piece, and he’s fantastic. His character becomes one of the most intriguing of the show, and though he never becomes someone you actually root for (that’d be a bit weird, I think) he’s given a LOT of shading, a home life, and struggles of his own that make him a great character.

Another great “heavy” of the show is Inspector Kido, who does some truly terrible things in the course of his job, but has a great sense of honor and duty that makes him pleasingly complex. Far easier to root for is Trade Minister Tagomi. Despite the fact that his scenes can be the most painfully repetitive of the series, he’s also one of the most relatable and likable characters in the whole series as he struggles to maintain peace for his empire. The stories of characters like Robert Childan and Rudolph Wegener help round out the series nicely, representing very different ways of dealing with the world they find themselves living in.

So, while not perfect, I think the show will definitely be staying on my watch list, which is a major accomplishment these days when there are so many great shows coming out across all different kinds of media.

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