What if the Allies had lost WWII? That’s the question on which Amazon’s show Man in the High Castle is built.
Before I begin, let me give you a spoiler-free rundown of what’s going on.
It’s 1962, and the USA is split into 3 sections. Everything east of the Rocky Mountains is part of the Greater Nazi Reich. Everything west of the Rocky Mountains is part of the Japanese Pacific States and the Rocky Mountains is the Neutral Zone.
In the Greater Nazi Reich, we have Joe Blake:
In the Pacific States, we have Juliana Crain and her boyfriend Frank Frink:
Oh, and their good friend Ed McCarthy, who is just too damn precious for words:
There are also lots of other characters, but these are the ones we care about in the beginning, not to mention once we begin delving into the other characters, we get into serious spoiler territory.
Why do I love this show? I’m glad you asked…
- Every episode ends with a cliffhanger, and many of them are game-changing cliffhangers. They’re not always huge, but every time they make you want to go directly to the next episode. However, the show itself makes you want to go slow and pace yourself so it lasts longer (there are only 2 seasons out right now – a 3rd on its way later this year).
- They don’t talk down to the audience. Very much like HBO programming, you better sit up and pay attention because we ain’t got time to explain it all to you. If you don’t get it, then you better hunker down for a 2nd viewing. (Unfortunately, that’s where I feel the comparisons between this show and an HBO-style program end. I love this show, but the 2nd season did not have a showrunner, and I believe the show suffered because of it. Season 1 was quality TV, while Season 2 was mediocre TV pretending to be quality.)
- Alternate history always has one or two events that were changed, thus setting the world on a completely different track. They haven’t fully explained in the show what went “wrong,” so to speak, but they drop hints here and there. There is no mention of Pearl Harbor, but there is mention of FDR’s and Stalin’s assassinations, and we know the Nazis dropped the A-bomb on DC. Aside from that they never lay out the alternate history, but it’s fun to try and piece things together! (Of course, you could always just read the book’s synopsis to see the alternate history).
Here’s why I’m not as excited about this show as I might be about, say, Game of Thrones…
Our characters are increasingly getting separated from one another, and not in a Game-of-Thrones way where you know they’re going to meet up with other characters and form awesome partnerships (like Tyrion/Dany, for instance). They’re just going elsewhere. Either they’re setting us up for a wild 3rd season, or we’re going to have to keep track of characters who are just off doing their own thing. Obviously, every character is contributing to the larger plot in their own way and there will be repercussions for all their actions, but I don’t see a payoff as spectacular as we would expect from an HBO show.
Despite its shortcomings, it’s a show with an interesting premise and that’s how they hook you. You’re fascinated by the premise and then you slowly become attached to the characters.