The Man In The High Castle
Starring Alexa Davalos, Rupert Evans, DJ Qualls, Joel de la Fuente, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, Rufus Sewell
Created by Frank Spotnitz
Based on the novel by Philip K Dick
Season One (Ten Episodes)
Available on Amazon Prime
The French poet Voltaire once observed that “History is the lie commonly agreed upon.” The history we all know feels inevitable- of course the Allies bury fascism at the end of World War II. How could it not be so? Viewed from the future, it seems inevitable that the North wins the American Civil War or that Napoleon is crushed at Waterloo. But history has choke points, moments when a tiny change renders enormous differences in the world. For example, if a fog does not form across the East River to shroud George Washington’s men from British eyes, he is captured, and probably hung as a traitor, in 1776.
“The Man In The High Castle” imagines a World War II where the Axis powers defeat the Allies. In this alternate reality, the Germans develop atomic weapons first and conquer first England and then the United States. The Eastern US is the “Greater Nazi Reich”, and the Western US is called the “Japanese Pacific States”, with a lawless no man’s land, approximately along the Rocky Mountains, located between the two states. The series follows a number of characters in this other world, rebels involved in a resistance movement on both coasts, and government officials on both sides. 1962 finds the Germans and the Japanese grudging allies, the Japanese fearful of the German monopoly on the Bomb, and the Germans unwilling to accept their so called inferiors as equals, with secret castes on both sides trying to bring about another war.
There are wheels within wheels, plotting and counterplotting and secret motives at play, assassinations and attempted assassinations, and it is nearly impossible to summarize the action without giving too much away. A major device in the series is a series of films that all sides wish to possess, produced by or destined to be given to the mysterious Man in the High Castle. The films are glimpsed intermittently, and they show an alternative reality to the one in the show, some of the world that we know where the Allies are victorious, and others of a future where the Nazis attack the Japanese by dropping the Bomb on San Francisco. It is unclear whether the films represent another world, or a possible future, or both, or neither, but it becomes clear that the characters all need to know what the films mean. The series is well directed and acted, and it drives the drama constantly forward, making for incredibly engaging and addictive viewing.
Alternate histories can be seen as a cheap gimmick, the equivalent of a college sophomore’s imaginary what if games after a night of wine and pot. Or they can be used to illuminate, to remind us that history is not inevitable, it is made by men and women, and it can be changed. “The Man In The High Castle”, in its eerie parallels and frightening otherness, is an entertaining and educational look at how the world we know was made, and how it might not have been.