The Man in the High Castle
There isn’t really a “pilot season” as such like there used to be. Typically around September, one of the most exciting things for me was to get the extra-thick TV Guide with all the new and returning TV series to look forward to. Now shows debut whenever they damn well please and it’s often hard to know when a show is starting or not. Anyway, Amazon has made it a little easier with their own Pilot Season where viewers can rate and review the pilots on offer and let Amazon know which ones they should pick up for a full season. One of those pilots is The Man in the High Castle, and the pilot is free (like all the Amazon pilots are) to view.
The Man in the High Castle is one of the more intriguing new projects from Amazon for a number of reasons. The series is set in 1960s America, but a horrific one where the Nazis and Japan won World War II and share ownership of the U.S.A. The Germans developed an atom bomb first and dropped it on our nation’s capital, effectively forcing our surrender. Now, with Adolph Hitler in his 70s and allegedly suffering from Parkinson’s disease, there’s talk about whether Joseph Goebbels or Hermann Goring will take over. But the Resistance (or what little is left of it) is convinced that whichever one does take over, the danger to the U.S. remains the same. Another dropped bomb.
Well, that’s intriguing in and of itself, but it doesn’t make an entire series. What if I told you that the series is adapted from a book by Philip K. Dick, the sci-fi author of more well known novels like Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (which became Blade Runner), Total Recall, and Minority Report? You might be asking where the sci-fi element is in this story, aside from just the general alternate history. Good question. Because one thing the Resistance does have to work with, is the documentary made by “the man in the high castle”. A documentary showing footage of the Allies winning World War II. And they want it to be seen.
Now, that’s interesting. And if you’re familiar with the book and it’s history then you may find this even more interesting. The Man in the High Castle as written by Philip K. Dick is engrossing and compelling in that minimalist way that Dick writes but it was (at least the story goes) originally the first in a planned series of novels. The fact that the book reads like a setup is evidence towards this idea and allegedly, the characters from the book would have gone on to somehow switch between these realities, one where the Allies were victories, and one where they were defeated. But this is all speculation as no more books in the series were ever written.
Which leaves the question, what direction will the TV series decide to take this story in? The book doesn’t contain much more than what could be done in the first season. I won’t give anything away but that’s a bit misleading because, at least in my opinion, there isn’t a whole lot to give away from the book. Yet, so far, the series is doing a great job of taking the original story and pacing it out. Not to mention, building a realistically frightening Nazi-led America.
The pilot starts off the story of two characters involved with the Nazi/Resistance cold war of sorts. One is a young man named Joe who is enlisted to make a delivery on behalf of the Resistance. After convincing a top Resistance member of his dedication, Joe heads out with a truck carrying coffeemakers just as the Nazis bust in, taking the other Resistance members into custody. The other central character is a woman named Juliana who sees her sister gunned down by Nazis. This happens right after her sister forces a film reel into Juliana’s hands. A film reel titled The Grasshopper Lies Heavy that contains footage of the Nazi surrender and the Japanese signing of the peace treaty to officially end the war.
In the book version, Grasshopper was a novel by someone known only as The Man in the High Castle and passed around by the Resistance. Here, they’ve changed it to a documentary of some kind which does explain things visually and in a more interesting way than just telling the viewing audience what the book contains. Yet, as viewers, we still know nothing about the man in the high castle, how he has come across this footage (or this information), or what it means for the people of this version of reality. Of course, that’s part of the fun.
By the end of the pilot episode, Joe has discovered that his real cargo is another copy of the Grasshopper film reel and it is revealed that he is working for the Nazis. He also runs into Juliana who has taken it upon herself to finish her sister’s mission: the delivery of the Grasshopper reel to… well, someone. She isn’t sure who she’ll be meeting but only that they will approach her when the time is right.
The real curiosity, to me, is to see where they (Amazon and the showrunners) take this story. It’s implied at least once in the book that the Nazis are aware of “our” version of reality where they lost the war so I’m betting time line hopping will be a big part to this story. The details of that though will be interesting to see unfold. If you’re a fan of sci-fi fiction, alternate histories, or just unique television series, check this one out on Amazon Prime. This is going to be a watercooler show that you may find yourself discussing often a la LOST. But hopefully without the letdown of an ending.