To prep for the second season of The Man In The High Castle on Amazon Prime, I have just spent the last two days binge-watching the first season, and it was time very well spent.
I found the premise of the show, based on the 1962 Hugo Award winning book by Philip K. Dick, interesting. What would the world look like if World War II had a different outcome, the Axis Powers of Imperial Japan and Nazi Germany winning? And with two very strong headed countries, how long would their “partnership” really last when they do not trust each other?
So, a quick look back at season one.
The story takes place in 1962, fifteen years after the end of World War II. Before the war, President Franklin Roosevelt was assassinated in 1933, extending the Great Depression and US isolationism. So, the US lacked the military capability to stop the Nazis and the Japanese from conquering the Soviet Union’s Slavic peoples and Oceania. By 1947, the US and the rest of the Allies surrendered. In the US, Imperial Japan established the Pacific States of America on the West Coast, and Nazi Germany controlled the Greater Nazi Reich in America from the east coast to the Rocky Mountains. The middle states in the Rockies are called the Neutral Zone, a buffer between the two. By 1962, Hitler, while still alive, is incapacitated from advanced syphilis. The Nazis have developed and used the hydrogen bomb and created rockets for extremely fast travel across the world.
Living in fear of reigning countries are the Americans who have had to adapt to the new way of life, including trusting no one. In San Francisco, Juliana Crain is constantly criticized by her mother for participating in the Japanese arts and meditation at a local dojo and shopping from them for their tea, a slap to her family who died in the war fighting the “Japs.” Her boyfriend, Frank Fink, has to hide his Jewish roots to avoid extradition and death by the Nazis. When her half-sister suddenly shows up and gives her a reel of film depicting an alternate reality (showing the Allies winning WWII) before being killed by the Kempeitai, she becomes tangled in the resistance, a group who is collecting these films and delivering them to someone they call “The Man in the High Castle.” They do not know where these films are coming from, or why, or who this man is, just they are to deliver them and most likely will die for them.
In New York, Joe Blake is hired by a resistance group to make a trip (with a film hidden on his truck) to the Neutral Zone. Little do they know he is actually a double agent working with the Nazis to discover a resistance agent in the neutral zone, who happens to be Juliana’s sister. They meet when Juliana decides to pretend to be her sister and sets off to deliver the film and get answers. When the Japanese and Nazis become suspicious of her activities, they arrest Frank, torture him, discover his heritage, and kill his sister and her kids. In retaliation, he plans on assassinating the Crown Prince and Princess of Japan but backs out last minute.
However, the Crown Prince is shot. Tension between the Japanese and the Nazis continue to grow with Hitler’s failing health. When he dies, who will take over? And what will happen between these two powers? Japan is struggling to keep up with the Nazis in technology. Nobusuke Tagomi, a high ranking official in San Francisco, is working with a ranking Nazi informant to get possession of nuclear technology for Japan from Germany. They understand that the successor will used this technology against Japan to gain complete control.
All the story lines slowly intertwine with each other, Juliana becoming more involved with the resistance, which includes getting a job working for Tagomi. They do not know of each other’s secret life but he does discover hers. Frank, who does not approve of Juliana’s activities, meets Joe when Joe is sent to San Francisco to collect a new film and kill Juliana.
The relationship she has with the men in the show each are complicated. She feels indebted to Joe from their time in the Neutral Zone. He saved her life from a bounty hunter. She saved his life when he was imprisoned by a corrupt Japanese business man who had a new film for them. His orders have been to kill her but each time he has a chance, he doesn’t. His feelings for her have started to change the Nazi in him. However, Frank does not trust this. And he has good reason.
The first set showed all the news casts we Americans have grown up seeing, winning WWII, seeing the parades in New York, Normandy Beach, the iconic sailor kissing the nurse. These bring tears to the viewer’s eyes who know nothing of the free world we live in. Yet the new film that Juliana receives shows a different reality: first a nuclear bomb destroying San Francisco and then a line of men, on their knees with Nazi soldiers behind them, executing them, a bullet through the head. The final man in the line: Frank. His shooter? Joe.
Now they know Joe’s secret, yet at the end of the season, Juliana lets him leave on a boat to Mexico. He claims he is not the person in that video. He’s a changed person. Through the season, we have seen his struggle. Even at the beginning, when the viewers were introduced to him, it was obvious something did not sit well with him, through his interactions with his commanding officer, Obergruppenführer John Smith, his hesitancy for following his orders. Hopefully, we will find out more about this in season two. Why is he struggling and what is the importance of the file Smith found him looking at when he stayed overnight at his house? Is there possibly something the Nazis are holding over Joe’s head?
And these films.
Where are they coming from? And who is this Man in the High Castle?
The films go under the title The Grasshopper Lies Heavy, referenced to a book by Hawthorne Abendsen, possibly titled after Ecclesiastes 12:5 (“The grasshopper shall be a burden”) which several of the characters have read. The book, about an alternate universe where the Axis Powers lost WWII, has been banned, like the Bible, by the Nazis (the history time line is a bit different than today’s reality: Roosevelt has only two terms, new president removes the fleet from Pearl Harbor, saving it, Berlin is captured, Hitler and other officials are tried for war crimes, Churchill remains the British PM and eventually, as a character claims, the British Empire defeats the US to become the sole world superpower). How are these films being created, showing something that has only happen in our existence (or the Abendsen book’s) and why is this new film an alternate reality showing the future?
What is the interest the Man in the High Castle has in these films he is collecting? All the parties know of him, consistently being referenced by the Nazis, Resistance, and the Japanese. But no clues are really given until the very last scene of the episode ten (if you can call them clues, maybe more like teasers).
First, Tagomi, the high Japanese official, goes to Union Square in the heart of San Francisco to meditate with a charm he found that belonged to Juliana, created by Frank. When he opens his eyes, he is in an alternate 1962 where the Allies have won and the US is in the midst of the Cuban Missile Crisis. Throughout the series, the references to Japanese mediation are strong, with some minor references to the Bible, but is he seeing what is real and, possibly, there is a way to change the history? Or, randomly, are they stuck in a 1962 wormhole and there might be a way out?
Second, when a high Nazi official goes to visit (and attempt to assassinate) Hitler, he finds him watching the alternate newsreels, stating he learns something new every time he watches. Now, I’m not saying that Hitler is the Man in the High Castle, and we know that the Nazis are collecting the films, but what is his interest in them, and how does he use these new learnings? Or is he? Since he was not killed, I’m sure we will learn more in the next season.
So many questions have been opened in this first season of the show. I have found myself rethinking through the story, the characters and trying to see if I can figure any clues to this mysterious man. This show definitely keeps your mind moving in so many ways, not just the questions of what is really happening but the scary depiction of what could have happened had WWII gone a little differently. While today’s society is not perfect with the complete acceptance of different cultures and natural deformities, to see the horrific treatment of humanity spread and become “normal” definitely has the stomach turning, at least mine. I will admit there are scenes and lines that just anger and sadden me. I know it’s not real, but it is also not something easily stomached.
I’m not quite sure where it is going, but I am very excited to binge watch season two now that it has been released on Amazon Prime.
I am also curious to what other viewer’s theories are. Let me know in the comment section and look for my post on season two shortly!