Amazon's THE MAN IN THE HIGH CASTLE
Review by Dennis D. McDonald
I’ve always loved time travel and alternative history stories so, even though I’ve never read Philip K Dick’s original novel, I was immediately drawn to this series.
The first few episodes were interesting but underwhelming. I was tempted to stop watching. But these two basic plot questions - - “What if?” and “What happens next?” - - finally got me to me and I finished watching all 10 episodes. And I’m glad I did.
This series is not as great as House of Cards, Breaking Bad, or The Sopranos. But it does have its charms, chief among them being the basic story: what if Germany and Japan had won World War 2 and divided the US between them with a no man’s land of lawless Mountain States between the Japanese Pacific States (West) and the Greater Nazi Reich (East)?
The show has both strong and weak points. The period details of an early 1960s America under the thumb of the former Axis powers are superb. Automobiles, home furnishings, electronics, popular culture, and architecture all reflect a “reality” that might have been. Chilling details of mass murder and gas chambers coexist with life as usual for the ruling classes and those who have accommodated them.
Unfortunately, the three main young characters with whom we would normally be expected to sympathize and identify with are not portrayed very strongly. Their characters’ personalities are just not that engaging. Given their key roles front and center throughout the story they tend to drag things down dramatically. I can’t tell if this is due to the acting or to weak scripting.
Fortunately, strong or sympathetic characters do exist. Chief among them is the evil and devious Nazi strong man played splendidly by Rufus Sewell of Dark City fame. Being on the receiving end of Sewell’s evil gaze is enough to chill one to the bone.
Also worth mentioning are the Japanese trade minister portrayed by Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa who is prone to episodes of melancholic mediation, and Ed McCarthy, played by DJ Qualls. Had either of the two main young male characters been played by Qualls the overall story would have been much more effective, in my opinion.
That said, the show is well worth watching. Its ending might be viewed as a cliffhanger in anticipation of a Season 2, but that’s OK with me; there is a lot to chew on here.
Also, as much as this show twists history, I think you will appreciate it even more if you know the details of the events that are being twisted.
Review copyright (c) 2016 by Dennis D. McDonald