What if the Allies lost World War 2? How different would our world be under those circumstances? Phillip K. Dick imagined such a world in his 1962 release of The Man in the High Castle, which has been adapted into a moderately successful series produced by Amazon Studios, and is getting ready to enter into its 4th and final season. If you’ve never picked up the book I strongly recommend you read it has many differences from the series, but it is not necessary to enjoy the series.
Following the assassination of President Franklin D. Roosevelt by Guiseppe Zangara, the United States takes an isolationist approach to World War 2. This approach allows the Axis powers to defeat the European forces and shift focus on the American lands. After dropping an atomic bomb on Washington D.C, the American forces surrendered; the United States are divided into two separate areas as spoils of war.
The east is controlled by the Nazi Regime and dubbed the American Reich; while the west, now named the Japanese Pacific States, is controlled by the less technologically advanced Japanese Empire. The Rocky Mountains serve as a natural border called the Neutral Zone which serves as a buffer zone between the two nations who are experiencing a Cold War-like atmosphere. Additionally, this Neutral Zone also serves as a “Wild West” for people fleeing the harsh conditions set by both empires.
We are given a deeper look into this world through the eyes of Juliana Crain (Alexa Davalos) as she undergoes a transformation from damsel in distress to an eager explorer. She represents the appropriate response for a person that undergoes the number of trials that this character survives, each taking a more visible toll on her psyche. Through her, we see the contrasting settings in the cleverly constructed world; from the integration of Americans into the Japanese society to the lengths that the Resistance is willing to take in order to meet their vision, to the 1960’s era of the Nazi living.
Joe Blake (Luke Kleintank) introduces us to SS Obegruppenfuhrer John Smith (Rufus Sewell) and the inner political games within the Reich that are not much different than the ones that we see in our current political atmosphere. Frank Frink (Rupert Evans) completes the exposure by introducing us to a Japanese ruled San Francisco, the struggles of everyday people under this regime, and a deeper look how the Resistance plays a part in the events unfolding in the series. Both of these characters are victims of their own environment, a direct contrast to each other but with a single thread that brings them together.
One of the main changes from the book is the presence and role of the titular Man in the High Castle; in the novel his role is author of a heavily banned book, while in the series he serves as a collector of highly classified films. While the series takes liberties in their reimagining of the novel itself, their use of the dreaded deus ex machina, is actually one of the better applications in modern storytelling. It doesn’t feel like a way out of poor story narrative, but instead it feels as a long-time coming event that gives the rest of the narrative a more sci/fi feel.
Despite the subject matter, The Man in the High Castle is an outstanding exposure to the alternate history genre. While it does not glorify Nazi beliefs, it does not shy away from exploring how that radical mindset could have been displayed if those events had become a reality. Historical atrocities are not ignored, but instead are displayed in a way that a ruling and victorious empire would: as historical events for the greater good.
At times, some of the events will turn your stomach, however it does so in the perfect way. The series is very reminiscent of early seasons of Game of Thrones; you become emotionally invested in the character’s journeys. I don’t want to reveal spoilers for those that have not seen the series but learning of the different aspects of the films and how they are acquired was one of the best plotlines I could have imagined. It provides for a limitless story progression that I truly hope could be explored in spin-offs or other media.
As the final season (which begins on November 15) is getting ready to be released, now is the perfect time to watch the series if you haven’t done so; and if you have there is no harm in giving it a second run through. There are very few shows out there that can provide with such content, that while delivering strong criticism and political bias, it does so without compromising the source material.
Check out the first three seasons of The Man in the High Castle available now on Amazon Prime, and patiently wait with me for November 15 to arrive. Have you seen the series? Read the book? What do you think of the other differences between the two mediums? Let us know in the comments below.