tek's rating: pending

The Man in the High Castle, Amazon
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Caution: spoilers!

This is a 2015 series based on Philip K. Dick's 1962 novel of the same name (which I haven't read). It's an alternate history story that sounded fairly interesting to me, but I didn't have Amazon Prime when the series came out. However, I finally got to watch the first season in 2018. It's, um... complicated. But before I start trying to explain at least some of what's going on, I should mention that the theme song is a rather haunting rendition of Edelweiss, by Jeanette Olsson.

Season One
The show is set in 1962, in an alternate reality in which the Axis powers won World War II, after dropping an atomic bomb (or "Heisenberg Device") on Washington, D.C., in 1945. What was once the United States of America is now divided into three territories. Most of the country is controlled by the Greater Nazi Reich, with the capital of Nazi America being in New York City. The western part of the country, the Japanese Pacific States, is controlled by the Japanese Empire, with the capital in San Francisco. In between the two territories is the Neutral Zone. At the start of the series, a man in New York named Joe Blake gets a job working for the Resistance, driving a truck to Canon City, in the Neutral Zone. Meanwhile, in San Francisco, a woman named Juliana Crain gets a package from her sister, Trudy. Shortly thereafter, she sees Trudy killed by the Kempeitai (Japanese military police). The package contains a film reel, which shows the Allies winning the war, instead of the Axis. She decides to go to Canon City, pretending to be Trudy, to deliver the film to her sister's contact there. Of course she ends up meeting Joe, and the two become friends... however, unbeknownst to Juliana, Joe turns out to be a Nazi spy. He works for a Nazi officer in New York, Obergruppenführer John Smith, and is supposed to infiltrate the resistance. Juliana gets a job at a diner run by a man named Lemuel Washington, who eventually turns out to be a member of the Resistance. Someone called "the man in the high castle" is collecting films like the one Trudy had given Juliana, but for now his identity remains unknown, as does the significance of the films.

Back in San Francisco, there are various other things going on. There's a Japanese trade minister named Nobusuke Tagomi, who conspires with a Nazi officer named Rudolph Wegener, to get plans for a Heisenberg Device to Japan. Also, the Kempeitai are searching for Juliana, and they end up arresting her boyfriend, Frank Frink. To force him to talk, Chief Inspector Takeshi Kido also detains his sister and her children, threatening Frank with their deaths if he refuses to comply. And ultimately, they do end up killing them, but later release Frank. And... Frank has a friend named Ed McCarthy (DJ Qualls), who works with him in a factory that makes gun replicas. For most of the season, Ed doesn't do much aside from worry about Frank and offer moral support, or whatever. But Frank makes a real gun, and then has to buy bullets, which is risky both for him and the seller he finds, because it's illegal. And when the Japanese Crown Prince and Princess make a visit to San Francisco, Frank intends to shoot the prince, in retribution for his relatives who were killed. He decides not to do so, but then someone else shoots the prince. And there were witnesses who had seen Frank with a gun, so he becomes a suspect in Kido's investigation of the assassination.

After some troubles in Canon City, including being sought by a totally badass bounty hunter called the Marshal (Burn Gorman, whom I know best from Torchwood), Juliana returns to San Francisco, and Joe returns to New York. John Smith invites Joe to celebrate VA Day with his family... and Wegener also shows up, as he's an old friend of Smith's. (He's on a holdover in New York on his flight from San Francisco back to Berlin.) But Smith eventually realizes Wegener is a traitor, and has him arrested. He also finds reason to distrust Joe, but... for reasons I don't recall, gives him another chance. He sends Joe back to San Francisco, to continue looking for the Resistance. Meanwhile, Juliana makes contact with a Resistance leader in San Francisco named Karen Vecchione, who wants her to get a job in the Nippon Building, where both Trade Minister Tagomi and Chief Inspector Kido work. After a very unpleasant (to say the least) hiring process, she ends up getting a job working for Tagomi (who is a much better person than the HR guy who did the hiring). Eventually, Juliana and Frank decide to leave the Pacific States for the Neutral Zone, being assisted in their plans by Ed. Meanwhile, in New York, a Nazi officer named Oberst-Gruppenführer Reinhard Heydrich takes custody of Wegener from Smith. And... well, there's lots of stuff going on, like a plot against Hitler, and deep distrust between Smith and Heydrich. And at one point, Smith learns that his son Tom has a medical problem that can't be treated, which would eventually require Tom to be euthanized, because of Nazi regulations. So for now, Smith is keeping the condition a secret from everyone, including Tom himself, as well as the rest of their family. And Juliana gets another film, which she and Frank watch... and it shows Joe in Nazi uniform, killing Frank. Which obviously is impossible, so they don't really know what to think about it, but at least it makes them lose whatever trust they may have had in Joe.

Various important things happen in the season finale, which I'll have to spoil, so you may want to skip this paragraph. Ed gets caught trying to destroy Frank's gun, so he's arrested by the Kempeitai. And when Frank finds out, he goes to turn himself in, to save Ed, though it's unclear whether that effort will be successful or not. And Juliana is supposed to lead Joe into a trap in which Lemuel would kill him, but she ends up helping him escape, instead, sending him on a boat to Mexico. Heydrich sends Wegener to Berlin on a mission to kill Hitler, but when he meets the Führer (who has a bunch of the films the Resistance have been collecting for the man in the high castle), Wegener ends up killing himself, instead. Heydrich also tries to recruit Smith to his cause, but Smith refuses. Also... there's a necklace Frank had made for Juliana, with a heart charm, which he lost on the day he was planning to shoot the Crown Prince. Later that day, Tagomi had picked it up, and it's seen occasionally after that, including at the very end of the season finale. Tagomi sits on a park bench in Union Square, holds the necklace, closes his eyes, and concentrates, and... when he opens his eyes and looks around, he seems to be in the 1962 San Francisco of our own reality.

Well, I've left out tons of details, and I'm probably forgetting tons of others, and I'm sure there are lots of plot points that I never completely managed to follow at all. But it's definitely an interesting series, and I look forward to finding out what happens in season two. (And no, I don't have any idea what you should think or feel about any of this, beyond the obvious fact that Nazis are evil and hopefully in the end they'll be defeated in every reality, including our own. Even in the present.)


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