In an alternate history, the Allied Forces lost World War II and the United States has been divided into Nazi and Imperial Japanese territories, with an area dividing the two — the Rocky Mountain range — as a lawless no-man’s land of a neutral zone. In 1962, a young woman comes into possession of a mysterious film that also depicts an alternate history, one where the Allies are victorious, Japan surrenders and the Nazi regime is obliterated. Intrigued and hopeful, the woman, our story’s heroine, is pulled into the shadowy world of an underground resistance where she searches for “The Man In The High Castle,” a mysterious figure who may have the answers she craves. This is the world of The Man In the High Castle; Amazon Studio’s gripping new drama, whose 10-episode first season is available for streaming November 20.
The series is based on Philip C. Dick’s 1962 alternate-history novel of the same name and is produced by Ridley Scott’s Scott Free Productions. Former writer for The X-Files Frank Spotnitz developed the series and penned the first two episodes, and when I learned he was involved, I wasn’t surprised. I now see similarities between Castle and Files — especially in the exploration of topics that feel gruesome and unsettling and a protagonist hungry for the truth. In both cases, things that would normally creep me out are presented it as fact, rather than spectacle. I can handle the atrocities in The Man In the High Castle’s because they’re not done to shock or titillate, instead they set up the gravity of this world, where very bad things happen.
From the series’ opening credits, where “Edelweiss” is sung by a haunting voice while images of war and invasion are juxtaposed against and projected upon American landmarks, the show is a surreal blend of history and fantasy that is as mesmerizing as it is horrifying. My stomach boiled with revulsion when I heard American accents end phone calls with “Heil Hitler!” but I was also riveted to see these same monsters humanized as devoted family man. To catch a glimpse of the humanity behind the hatred is captivating.
As is the case with many of Amazon’s other offerings, the production is excellent and the acting is superb. Alexa Davalos stars Juliana, our reluctant heroine who thirsts for the freedom the her forbidden film depicts. Rupert Evans is Frank, Juliana’s boyfriend who becomes targeted by the Japanese once Juliana goes missing, and Luke Kleintank plays Joe Blake, a mysterious young man who joins the resistance, but whose motives seem murky. The series’ most intriguing characters are its baddies: particularly Burn Gorman as a bounty hunter called “The Marshall” Joel de la Fuente as ruthlessly efficient Inspector Kido and Rufus Sewell as Obergrupperführer John Smith — the most chilling Nazi I’ve seen since Christoph Waltz in Inglorious Basterds.
The Man In the High Castle > Amazon > Available for streaming Nov. 20