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Reviews Sci-fi/Fantasy TV

Review: The Man in the High Castle – Season 1

Based on: The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick
Producer: Amazon Studios, Scott Free, Headline Pictures and Electric Shepherd Productions.
Showrunner: 
Frank Spotnitz
Writer: Philip K. Dick (based on short story), Frank Spotnitz (written for television)
Starring: Alexa Davalos, Rupert Evans, Luke Kleintank
Distributor: Amazon Video
Genre: Drama, Military and War, Historical, Science Fiction
Rating: TV-MA

Philip K. Dick was an American science-fiction writer, born on December 16, 1928. During his lifetime, he published 36 novels and 121 short stories, with common themes of alternate universes, altered consciousness, and authoritarian governments. Dick died on March 2, 1982. Many films have been based on these works, including Blade Runner (1982), Total Recall (1982 and 2012), The Adjustment Bureau (2011), and Blade Runner 2049 (2017). Sony Pictures Televisions produced Electric Dreams in 2017, based on the works of Dick

In 2015, Amazon Prime released an adaptation of the 1962 Philip K. Dick novel The Man in the High Castle. The series depicts an alternate history 1962, in which the Axis powers were victorious in World War II. The United States is divided up into the Greater Nazi Reich (most territories east of the Rocky Mountains), the neutral zone (the Rocky Mountains), and the Japanese Pacific States (territories west of the Rocky Mountains). This Amazon Original series has been nominated for three 2017 Emmy Awards.

CONTENT GUIDE

Violence/Scary Images: Fights/brawls including a martial arts fight, man hit on back of the head, woman smacked; intense violence/gore, including seppuku (suicide), hanging of a corpse, bloody eyes, gunfight/shootings with blood, execution-style shooting to the back of the head, use of attack dogs, ambush with machine guns; torture/beating of a man, man being pushed off of building; intense images including the ashes of disabled and mentally ill people, family with children gassed (off-screen), corpses seen individually and in mass graves, man commits suicide by gun to head up chin (off-screen, gun shot heard).

Language/Crude Humor: 14 uses of religious profanity (Jesus, God); 27 mild obscenities (h***, c**p, d**n); 12 scatological terms; two anatomical terms; 11 derogatory terms, including b***h, b*****d and p***k; 23 racial slanders against Asian and Jewish people; Africans are referred to as ‘subhumans’; Albino man called ‘too white’ and a freak; +30 F-word; the Nazi salute is said multiple times throughout series; death threats given throughout series.

Sexual Content: Boyfriend and girlfriend hug and kiss; also talk about having kids. Sex implied after couple kisses. Man strips down to his underwear, then naked, genitalia not seen, but circumcision questioned (side buttocks). A topless prostitute is briefly seen. Sexual harassment/favors, including male interviewing unzipping of pants. Woman seen in negligee.

Drug/Alcohol use: Lead characters drink at a bar. Smoking. LSD administered as truth serum. Adult gives teenager wine. Woman abuses unnamed medication.

Spiritual Content: Various Shinto practices, including meditation.

Other Negative Themes: Talk of torture, including “cracking” genitalia and plucking fingernails; talk of “blowing” someone’s brains out; Nazi imagery, including the Hitler salute and the Swastika; talk of nuclear war; Bible burning discussed; genocide and totalitarian regimes; euthanasia discussed; various Nazi ideologies; shipping of contraband, including swallowing and excreting item; forgery; treason.

Spirituality: Various Shinto practices, including meditation.

Positive Content: A discussion on World War II, Allied vs. Axis, and other historical events.

SEASON RECAP

EPISODES 1-2

Episode 1, The New World, begins with Joe Blake (Luke Kleintank) watching an old propaganda film set in 1962, New York, Greater Nazi Reich. Joe meets up with a Resistance leader and is given the task of delivering a package to Canon City, in the Rocky Mountains. On the West Coast, Juliana Crain (Juliana Crain) practices Aikido in San Francisco, under Japanese control.

She meets with her sister Trudy and boyfriend Frank Frink (Rupert Evans). Frank’s best friend Ed (DJ Qualls) is also introduced.

Trudy then gives Juliana a mysterious package before being killed by Japanese soldiers. The package is of a film reel, depicting the Allies winning WWII. Frank calls the footage fake, possibly made by the Man in the High Castle. Juliana wants to deliver the film to Canon City, much to the derision of Frank. Japanese Trade Minister Nobusuke Tagomi (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa) discuses the shaky alliance of the Pacific States and the Greater Nazi Reich.

In Riker’s Island Prison, Obergruppenführer John Smith (Rufus Sewell) tortures a Resistance leader, confirming his knowledge of Joe’s contraband delivery to Canon City. Tagomi meets with Rudolph Wegener (Carsten Norgaard), a disillusioned Nazi official. Joe also discovers his package is another film reel. Inspector Kido (Joel de la Fuente) investigates Trudy and Juliana; he also imprisons Frank. Juliana meets up with Joe, though she is ignorant of his connection to the Resistance. The ending reveals Joe is actually a Nazi spy under Smith, attempting to undermine the Resistance.

In Episode 2, Sunrise, the Kenpeitai beat and imprison Frank. Joe shows romantic interest in Juliana and she takes a job as a waitress in Canon City. John Smith eats breakfast with his family, and discusses how selfish desire leads to moral decay. Joe and Smith update each via phone, with the superior notifying Joe of a female Resistance member.

Kido threatens Frank with the death of his sister, niece, and nephew unless Frank gives information on Juliana. Imprisoned Resistance member Randall attempts to encourage Frank to not give in. Juliana also meets the Line-Faced Man reading a Bible. German and Japanese officials meet and discuss suspects in search of the High Castle reels. But, tensions between the two nations arise.

Resistance terrorists ambush John Smith and Erich Raeder, leaving the latter in critical condition. Ed goes to look into why Frank hasn’t appeared for work. Joe watches the film reel at an abandoned theater, and the content shocks him. Juliana eventually meets up with Line-Faced Man, who attacks her; Joe rescues her. Inspector Kido finds another smuggler with Trudy’s reels. He then releases Frank from the firing squad. But, Frank’s family is not saved in time.

EPISODES 3-4

In Episode 3, The Illustrated Woman, Juliana and Joe take refuge in his apartment after the killing of the Line-Faced Man. Joe determines the man was most likely a Nazi agent and the Reich will send others to look for him. Frank returns home, tormented by the words of Kido, and meets up with Ed.

John Smith tells Joe to leave town, but Joe is reluctant. Juliana calls up Frank; Frank makes up a cover story after hearing the wire-tap. Joe encounters the Marshall, a sadistic bounty hunter searching for the Line-Faced Man. The Marshall connects his last whereabouts with Juliana. In San Francisco, the Crown Prince and Princess perform a Shinto Ritual. Frank informs his brother-in-law of the death of his family.

The Nazi Embassy tries to persuade the Crown Prince to not give a public address; the Prince refuses. John Smith searches for the informant who caused the ambush from a captured Resistance leader. Juliana and Joe find a list of Resistance leaders including the diner boss. Upon heading back to Canon City, the Marshall attacks and pursues Juliana.

In Episode 4, Revelations, Juliana hides from the Marshall, but Joe rescues her. The Shoe Shine Boy deviates the Marshall and tells the two of the location of Lem. Armed with a real gun, Frank plans to assassinate the Crown Prince, with Ed trying to dissuade him.

Juliana meets with Lem (Rick Worthy), but Lem just wants the film. He also distrusts Joe. Lem agrees to take the two to the Man in the High Castle. Joe updates Smith, saying he will meet the Man in the High Castle. Smith says the Man must be killed, even if it costs Joe his life. Marshall threatens Lem. Lem then retrieves the film reels from Joe and Juliana.

Frank buys illegal antique bullets. Juliana discovers Joe is “lying,” with Joe fronting as a Resistance member. The Resistance leader Smith imprisoned commits suicide. Juliana draws out the Marshall, but Joe confronts him, stating he is a Nazi spy and needs Juliana alive. Juliana fakes her death to the Marshall, with a burning car with a corpse in it.

At the Crown Prince’s address, Rudolph attempts to slip a Japanese Science Minister a microfilm, but fails. Ed updates Juliana about Frank’s assissination attempt. Frank prepares to assassinate the Crown Prince, but someone else shoots first, leaving the scene in disarray. Juliana also heads back to San Francisco on a bus.

EPISODES 5-6

In Episode 5, The New Normal, as gunshots ring out, a Japanese bystander sees Frank with a gun; authorities chase him down. The Crown Prince is rushed to the hospital, as all foreigners’ visas are detained, including Rudolph. He swallows the microfilm to hide it. Despite increased security, Juliana makes it back to Frank’s place in San Francisco.

The Crown Prince is in critical condition, as Tagomi talks with the Crown Princess. Juliana meets with her parents and Joe Blake returns to New York. Tagomi wants Rudolph to flee, but Rudolph wants to complete his delivery to the Japanese Science Minister. Major Klemm reviews Joe on his mission, with Smith joining in. Yoshida interrogates Juliana, with Kido joining in. Both questioning parities are suspicious.

Resistance member Karen tells Juliana to get a job at the Japanese Authority Building to infiltrate it. Frank meets Mark Sampson at the funereal of his family. Rudolph regains the microfilm. Despite Tagomi’s warnings, Rudolph slips the Science Minister the microfilm, as a German official spots him. Smith invites Joe for a family get-together, as Joe eyes a confidential folder. As Juliana leaves a lecherous job interviewer, she bumps into Tagomi.

In Episode 6, Three Monkeys, Joe goes to visit Smith’s family for a VA party. Throughout the episode, Joe seeks the confidential Grasshopper file. Juliana and Frank attempt to reconcile, though the relationship is rocky. She also attends her first day working at the Japanese Authority building.

Juliana speaks with Tagomi. Joe discusses his background with Thomas, Smith’s son. Kido still investigates the Crown Prince shooting. Smith goes to pick up his mother-in-law from the airport with Joe. There, he runs into an old friend, Rudolph. Kido confronts Tagomi, suspecting some collaboration based on Rudolph’s international visa. Kido also tracks the bullets to the antique store Frank bought them from. The antique dealer (Brennan Brown) also confronts Frank.

Juliana discovers a surveillance room in the Japanese Authority Building. Frank joins Mark for an undercover Jewish prayer service. Smith reveals to Joe he knew Rudolph lied, with his mother-in-law pickup being a cover story to intercept the traitor. He turns Rudolph in to the Nazi police. In a cliffhanger, Smith catches Joe reading the confidential Grasshopper folder.

EPISODES 7-8

In Episode 7, Truth, Smith finds Joe in his office, viewing the Grasshopper folder. Smith knew his subordinate lied, and calls on Klemm to confiscate Joe. Frank explains to Ed his initial plan to assassinate the Crown Prince, but the presence of a child discourages him.

Joe tells Smith the full truth. Smith then gives him a new mission: Find Juliana and the film, under penalty of death. Juliana’s father finds her at the Japanese Authority Building; he explains why he works surveillance. Betty, a Japanese buyer, invites Robert, the antique dealer, to dinner with her husband. However, the Japanese couple looks down on him.

Joe meets up with Rita, a single mother whom he has a relationship with. Juliana sees Trudy in a crowded Japanese street market. Kido tells Tagomi of Juliana’s Resistance connection, but Tagomi keeps her on the job. Joe asks Juliana about the film, under wiretap; Smith then sends Joe to the Pacific. Frank and Robert talk forging antique items. Tagomi looks into Trudy’s file; he then sends Juliana to her. Trudy’s corpse lies in a huge killing field. A shocked Juliana walks the Japanese street mart, with Joe trailing behind.

In Episode 8, End of the World, Lem gets a call from a contact to go to San Francisco. Juliana finally tells her parents Trudy is dead, though her mother does not believe her. Frank creates a forged holster, as Ed warns him of the Kenpeitai. Frank tells him he is leaving. Joe meets Juliana again, and inquires about the film.

Robert takes the forged holster, despite momentary hesitation. Lem and Karen attempt to meet a film contact, but the Yakuza kills the contact and takes the film. A doctor diagnoses Smith’s son with Landouzy-Dejerine disease, but Smith is in denial. The doctors offer euthanasia as an option. High-level Nazi official Heydrich (Ray Proscia) comes to remove Rudolph from Smith’s custody. Karen and Lem meet Joe with Juliana, despite suspicions. Smith meets with Rudolph again, but argue about ideals.

Robert manages to sell the forgery to the Kasouras and Frank gains the money. Lem and Karen plan to regain the film from the Yakuza with Joe’s help and Smith’s transferred funds. Frank wants to leave quickly for the bus, but Juliana wants to tell her parents goodbye. Her father informs her the Yakuza deal is a trap and Juliana goes to warn Joe at the Bamboo Palace. The Kenpeitai raid the Bamboo Palace, but mysterious black car occupants abduct them. Kido runs out the back, missing them.

EPISODES 9-10

In Episode 9, Kindness, The Yakuza guard pushes Juliana and Frank into a makeshift jail. Frank decides to skip the bus to wait for Juliana. Thomas stumbles down the stairs, implying the progression of his disease. Joe questions Juliana about her and Frank’s destination. The Yakuza guard then takes Juliana, but leaves Joe. At the docks, she meets with Okamura, a Yakuza leader. Lem and Karen are also present. The Resistance completes the transaction to free Juliana, but leave Joe. Juliana wants to free Joe too, so she promises to gain Okamura’s requested payment.

Smith visits a recovering Erich at the Reich Rehabilitation Hospital. As a trusted contact, Smith hands him a note to give to Hitler, just in case something happens. Ed intercepts Juliana, and she reunites with Frank. She convinces Frank to use his money to free Joe, though he wants to deliver it personally. Rudolph meets with Heydrich, who wants Rudolph to assassinate Hitler (Wolf Muser).

Frank meets with Okamura, and frees Joe with the money. However, Joe starts a gunfight with the Yakuza for the film. Ed gives Juliana and Frank some yen and they part ways. Smith pushes Captain Connelly over the edge of the Reich building, and calls it a suicide. A Japanese general visits Tagomi concerning uranium deposits; Tagomi is then informed of the weaponization of the Heisenburg Device (Atomic Bomb), which he intended for peace. Okamura tells Kido he knows the true identity of the Crown Prince shooter. Heydrich visits Smith’s home, and suspiciously invites him to go hunting, as Juliana and Frank plan to meet Joe at a school. However, to their shock, a Nazi Joe executes captive Frank in the High Castle film.

In Episode 10, A Way Out, Juliana and Frank are still in awe of the film reel. Joe enters, but Frank fights to keep the film away from him; Frank fails. Smith prepares for the hunting excursion with Heydrich. Juliana and Frank meet with Lem and Karen, for a way out of town. The Resistance can provide an escape, but only if they get the film back and kill Joe. Kido finds and kills the true sniper of the Crown Prince, a Nazi instigator. Kido covers this up to prevent war between the Nazi and the Japanese states.

Smith meets with Heydrich and his guard in the Catskill Mountains. Karen gives the game plan to Juliana: Infiltrate the Reich Embassy with a fake passport and get to Joe. In Germany, Rudolph meets with his family; then, an aged Hitler himself. At the gun factory, the boss sees Ed attempting to destroy Frank’s gun; the Kenpeitai capture him. Heydrich loses face, and pressures Smith under gunpoint to an alliance. Joe escapes the Reich Embassy with Juliana, but realizes their destination is a Resistance trap. Juliana has a change of heart, and lets him depart on the boat.

Rudolph does not kill Hitler in order to prevent war with Japan. Instead, Rudolph commits suicide. Heydrich’s guard is shot, and Smith apprehends Heydrich. Kido apprehends Ed, with Frank struggling to let the Kenpeitai know he is the assassin. Finally, Tagomi goes into meditation, and slips into an alternate 1960s San Francisco, presumably our world where the Allies win.

REVIEW

Season 1 quelled my concerns from Episode 1. The series went past the initial intrigue of the “What If?” scenario and really made me care for the characters.  Visually, it is stunning. They did a great job using Vancouver and British Columbia as the set for many locations. The music set the tone for several scenes, especially those of tension and cliffhangers.

One important note involves the format of Amazon streaming. I loved the X-Ray notes, which appear when you move the mouse on the screen. They provide so much background information that the series almost becomes a mini history lesson. It is not obtrusive, like Pop-Up Video from the 90s. But, it is there when you want it. For example, when Rudolph returns to Germany, a production note discusses Volkshalle and Germania, Hitler’s prosed revitalization of Berlin realized in this alternate universe. Other production notes of interest include Japanese culture and 60’s American culture.

I appreciate that High Castle does not stray away from the source material, at least not to my knowledge, in Season 1. I familiarized myself with the book, although I didn’t read it. The basic premise stays the same. This is unlike the adaption of Electric Dreams, which drastically changes the original source material of Philip K. Dick.

Surprisingly, one of my favorite characters is a minor character: Robert the antique dealer. Up until he was introduced, the High Castle didn’t really have much comic relief. I thought maybe Ed (DJ Qualls) would provide this role, given his past comedic roles. When Robert was first introduced, I thought Betty and Paul were taking advantage of his interest, and setting him up for Kido. I was relieved the writers didn’t kill them off. As dark as this world is, Robert provides some humor to give relief from the overall miserable state. I also really liked the fortitude and nobility of Trade Minister Tagomi, as he helped to bring hope to this dark world.

John Smith still ranks as one of my favorite characters. Season 1 gives him more depth, giving sympathy to the SS Officer. Rufus Sewell remains threatening, but his family provides him a more relatable side. The debilitating disease of his son makes Smith vulnerable and sympathetic, despite the brutal actions he committed and commits. His hesitation to kill or imprison his old-friend Rudolph also reflect this.

Episode 6 highlights what’s best in this season. Smith invites Joe over for a VA party and he (along with us) sees the seemingly wholesome Smith family. We hear Rudolph’s disillusionment with the Nazi regime after the extermination camps, despite the victory of the Nazis in WWII. Smith clearly vocalizes his conscience vs. his duty. The episode ends with a perfect cliffhanger: Smith finding Joe shifting through his confidential files.

MAIN CRITICISMS OF HIGH CASTLE

My main criticism of High Castle is visible plot armor given to certain characters. The death of Frank’s family establishes the danger from the dystopian government. But, Season 1 does not seem like it follows through with this. There are points where Joe, Juliana, and other characters should have been killed.

No more is this realized than in Episode 7. Where Episode 6 is my favorite, leaving me questioning what will happen, the following deflates this completely. According to Smith’s duty, Joe should have been killed, as he collaborated with the Resistance and is shifting through confidential files. But, Joe isn’t killed. Klemm even states during the subsequent interrogation they should have already put a bullet in Joe’s head. I couldn’t agree more.

Rudolph’s suicide helps break this, but it is a little too late for me. I don’t expect a bloodbath, but a few more unexpected deaths may have aided the gravity of the series. I must note, my friend who has already seen the rest of the series says this plot armor for characters is removed.

Another main criticism is the love triangle between Joe, Juliana, and Frank. Though typical fare for any series, it makes all three of them look dumb. Frank holds out for Juliana, despite her diminishing affections for him. Joe almost gets himself killed for treason due to his affection for Juliana. Protecting Joe really distracts Juliana from her initial (and better) goal: Why was her sister killed and what is the purpose of the High Castle films? I don’t mind characters making bad decisions, but it would be nice if these characters grew from their mistakes.

Spiritual Application

One of the X-Ray notes that really caught my attention discussed the issue of ‘Positive Christianity.’ This note appears about halfway through Episode 2, Sunrise. According to the note, ‘Positive Christianity’ attempted to reconcile Christianity and Nazism. German philosopher Alfred Rosenberg greatly supported the movement, desiring the “extermination of foreign Christian faiths imported into Germany.”

Rosenburg wanted to replace the Bible and the Christian cross with Mein Kampf and the swastika. In addition, this movement sought to deny the Semitic origins of Jesus Christ and the Scripture. In contrast to the title, Rosenburg deemed Catholicism and Protestant sects of Christianity as ‘negative Christianity,’ according to the Jewish Virtual Library. Although Hitler claimed to be a ‘Christian’ in speeches and Mein Krampf, it was a means to an end: He desired to maintain the political support of Christian churches in Germany, according to historians.

In the radicalized world of High Castle, the Greater Nazi Reich fully embraces ‘Positive Christianity’ and the Bible is banned in the Reich. One major thought that can be pulled from this fictional depiction: The removal of the Jewish roots of our Christian faith. Although not as extreme as ‘Positive Christianity,’ this important connection is often times forgotten in modern American churches.

Romans 11:11-24 says we (Gentiles) are wild branches grafted into the natural branches (Israel) of the olive tree. We share in their promises and inheritance of salvation. Unfortunately, Gentile believers tend to dismiss Israel, as Paul predicts the Gentile question in Romans 11:1 which says, “I say then, have they stumbled that they should fall?” Again, although not as extreme as ‘Positive Christianity,’ this dismissal manifests today even in replacement theology, which states the Church completely replaced Israel.

However, God is not finished with Israel. Romans 11:26 says “all Israel will be saved,” in order to fulfill His covenant with His people. This promise to restore Israel is a testimony to the faithfulness of God, and a testimony to His ability to fulfill His promises in our lives as followers of Jesus.

Categories
Reviews Sci-fi/Fantasy TV

Review: The Man in the High Castle – Season 1, Episode 1

Based on: The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick
Producer: Amazon Studios, Scott Free, Headline Pictures and Electric Shepherd Productions
Director: 
David Semel
Writer: Philip K. Dick (based on short story), Frank Spotnitz (written for television)
Starring: Alexa Davalos, Rupert Evans, Luke Kleintank
Distributor: Amazon Video
Genre: Drama, Military and War, Historical, Science Fiction
Rating: TV-MA

Philip K. Dick was an American science-fiction writer, born on December 16, 1928. During his lifetime, he published 36 novels and 121 short stories, with common themes of alternate universes, altered consciousness, and authoritarian governments. Dick died on March 2, 1982. Many films have been based on these works, including Blade Runner (1982), Total Recall (1982 and 2012), The Adjustment Bureau (2011), and Blade Runner 2049 (2017). Sony Pictures Televisions produced Electric Dreams in 2017, based on the works of Dick.

In 2015, Amazon Prime released an adaptation of the 1962 Philip K. Dick novel The Man in the High Castle. The series depicts an alternate history 1962, in which the Axis powers were victorious in World War II. The United States is divided up into the Greater Nazi Reich (most territories east of the Rocky Mountains), the neutral zone (the Rocky Mountains), and the Japanese Pacific States (territories west of the Rocky Mountains). This Amazon Original series has been nominated for three 2017 Emmy Awards.

CONTENT GUIDE

Violence/Scary Images: Fights/brawls including martial arts fight; intense violence/gore, including gunfight with blood, execution-style shooting to the back of the head, use of attack dogs; torture of a man, including hanging him up and beating him until he is bloody and dead; intense images including the ashes of disabled and mentally ill people.

Language/Crude Humor: Two uses of religious profanity (Jesus); four mild obscenities (h***, c**p, d**n); three scatological terms; one anatomical term; one derogatory term, including b-word and seven racial slanders against Asians; one F-word; character jokes around about sex.

Sexual Content: Boyfriend and girlfriend hug and kiss; also talk about having kids.

Drug/Alcohol use: Lead characters drink at a bar.

Spiritual Content: None.

Other Negative Themes: Talk of torture, including “cracking” genitalia and plucking fingernails; talk of “blowing” someone’s brains out; Nazi imagery, including the Nazi salute and the Swastika; talk of nuclear war; genocide and totalitarian regimes.

Positive Content: A discussion on World War II, Allied vs. Axis, and other historical events.

EPISODE RECAP

Episode 1, The New World, starts with Joe Blake (Luke Kleintank) in the theater while watching an old propaganda film. Someone then secretly gives him a card. The location is New York City, 1962, but America doesn’t exist. In this alternate timeline, the Greater Nazi Reich is in control.

Joe heads to a factory and meets the manager, Warren. Warren leads an underground resistance group. Fervent, Joe wants to help the Resistance, but his youth discourages Warren. The Resistance leader also warns Joe of possible torture if captured, but gives the passionate young man the job regardless. Joe is tasked with delivering a package from New York City to Canon City, in the neutral Rocky Mountains States. As Joe prepares to leave, Nazi soldiers raid the factory for the Resistance members. They kill the majority of factory workers and capture Warren. But, Joe manages to drive away.

On the West coast, Juliana Crain (Alexa Davalos) practices Aikido in San Francisco. The Japanese control the States west of the Rocky Mountains, which are now called the Japanese Pacific States. As Juliana buys medicine from a Japanese shop, she has a very fortuitous conversation with her sister Trudy. Juliana meets her boyfriend Frank Frink (Rupert Evans) later in a bar. Frank notes the Jewish heritage of his grandfather and his fear of being found out. His best friend, Ed McCarthy (DJ Qualls), enters as a news report shows Hitler is still alive. But, Ed points out the possibility of Parkinson’s disease due to the Führer’s shaking hand. He believes Hitler won’t live much longer and his successor will destroy the West Coast with the H-Bomb.

A GLIMPSE OF A BETTER WORLD

Juliana leaves the bar and runs into her sister Trudy again, who gives her a package. Japanese soldiers then chase Trudy and shoot her off-screen. Juliana manages to escape and opens up the package, which contains a newsreel. The reel testifies to the Allies’ victory in World War II, showing Roosevelt and Churchill. She watches this reel over and over again.

Frank enters, and Juliana explains the content of the footage. He calls the footage fake, probably made by the Man in the High Castle. This mysterious anti-fascist figure creates films that make it look like the Allies won. Fearful, Frank insists the footage be destroyed, as it is treason. However, Joanne insists on delivering the package to Canon City, substituting for her sister. Frank derides her decision, instead wanting to report the footage to police.

At the Nazi Embassy in the Japanese Pacific States, Ambassador Hugo Reiss and SS Officer Kurt Scausch meet with the Embassy to Trade Minister Nobusuke Tagomi and his Kotomichi. The alliance between the Japanese and the Nazis is on shaky ground. The Japanese know of Hitler’s declining health and question if peace will continue with his successor.

At Riker’s Island Prison in New York, Obergruppenführer John Smith supervises the torture of Warren. Warren is bloody and bruised; John Smith knows of the Resistance truck and its destination. On the road, Joe’s truck has a blowout. A Nazi police officer helps him and confirms his transit papers. Both discuss their respective military background (Joe about his father and the police officer himself in the military). The police officer even says, “I can’t even remember what we were fighting for.” At that moment, ash slowly rains down on the entire scene. Joe asks about it and the police officer says it is from the hospital burning the terminally ill and crippled, as they put a “drag on the state.”

THE COMING STORM

Juliana finds Randall, another resistance member at a bus station. She boards the bus towards Canon City. At an airport, a secret meeting is held between Tagomi and Rudolph Wegener. Though denied in public, Wegener states both of the potential Führer’s successors think the petition of the Americas was a mistake. Wegener informs Tagomi the Nazis will take the Pacific states back by nuclear force once Hitler dies.

Juliana continues to travel from San Francisco to Canon City. Her belongings are stolen, but she manages to keep the newsreel on her person. Joe also crosses Nazi state lines into the neutral zone. Joe discovers a hidden compartment under the truck; the compartment contains a package, and the package is another newsreel. Back in Riker’s Island Prison, Smith continues to oversee the torture of Warren. He rebukes a guard for ceasing to flog the Resistance leader, and the guard resumes his torture. Smith plans to dump Warren’s dead body for Resistance leaders to assume the Nazi’s are ignorant of the truck’s destination.

In San Francisco, Inspector Kido is investigating Trudy and by connection Juliana. He goes to Frank’s apartment with armed guards. The inspector grows suspicious of Frank, but leaves. Kido also warns Frank the penalties for perjury are severe.

Warren’s dead body is dropped off on the street. Inspector Kido captures and beats Frank. Randall is cornered by the Japanese soldiers. Tagomi confers with the Oracle. Juliana meets up with Joe, but she does not know the Resistance sent him. The episode ends with Joe talking with Smith on a phone, revealing he is a Nazi spy trying to expose the Resistance.

REVIEW

Whenever I watch the first episode of anything, I always ask myself the same question: Does this episode make me want to see more? In the case of High Castle, it does. The production quality and acting both exceeded my expectations for Amazon Video. On a weird note, I really appreciate the opening. Not only does the haunting rendition of “Edelwiess” set the tone, but the graphic map visually shows the nature of this world. The viewer can easily grasp what occurred from the start.

This first episode contains superb acting. I am always fond of a strong female lead done right, and it seems like Alexa Davalos will be able to deliver. Rufus Sewell is threatening as the SS officer John Smith. Even the fearful reaction of the torture guard conveys his character. It was also fun seeing DJ Qualls, as he was popular back when I was younger. The most striking scene involves the “Nazi” police officer, his forgetting of why America fought in the War and the subsequent rain of human ash. Some may call it heavy-handed, but I cannot deny the effectiveness of the message. The ending plot twist with Joe Blake serves as a curious cliffhanger to draw me into the next episode.

I am not familiar with the source material for High Castle. But, the trope is a classic: What would the world be like if the Axis Powers won World War II? As a film teacher, one of my students wrote a screenplay regarding the same question and we actually produced a short. As a child, the 90’s series Sliders helped break me into the genre of multiple universes. I am fond of it. I strongly believe part of the intrigue from all of these stories comes from contemplating the divergences (at least at the start). The audience can safely spot the differences and wonder how they came to be. In the case of High Castle, horror replaces wonder, considering the brutality of the Nazi regime.

For how long High Castle will maintain this intrigue is another question. Part of the initial strength of Sliders’ alternate universe trope was following the characters (and the viewer) as they visited a new world every week. We explored the divergence of each world and moved onto the next one. Of course, comparing Sliders to High Castle is a stretch. Nevertheless, after the world building and novelty of the shocking divergence ends, I hope the story and characters of High Castle will continue to capture my attention. Considering the praise from both reviewers and friends, this hope may be fulfilled.

Spiritual Application

Back in my college days, I had the chance to interview a Holocaust survivor for my college newspaper. It was part of a commemoration of the 60th anniversary of the United Nations Convention on Genocide. The then 79-year-old man described how he saw the rise of anti-Semitism in Europe. He was born in Germany and his father owned a café. In November 1938, during the events of Kristallnacht (The Night of Broken Glass), his family’s café was ransacked.

The Holocaust survivor described how the young Nazi party burned almost every synagogue and arrested every man from 18 to 65 and sent them to concentration camps. Even his father was sent to a concentration camp, but a higher official managed to get him out. The survivor’s family managed to write letters to relatives in America and arranged an escape in 1941. They took a train to Lisbon, a boat to Casablanca, and boarded a ship to America.

It was a sobering interview. But, there was one question I asked…the answer to which I did not put in the school newspaper. It was a personal question forwarded by my pastor who himself had a background in Messianic Judaism. He wanted me to ask the Holocaust survivor about the Church in Germany during the events leading up to genocide. The survivor simply responded the Church could have prevented much of what happened, but it did nothing.

The fiction of High Castle is a reflection of real history from our world. It is almost impossible to not bring up the quote often assigned to Edmund Burke: “All that is necessary for evil to triumph in the world is for enough good men to do nothing.” There were some German Christians that did stand up to the Nazi regime; for example, the Nazi Party killed Dietrich Bonhoeffer for dissenting. But, the majority were silent. Likewise, the modern Church must speak against the evils of its day and stand up for truth, even if it isn’t popular. Bonhoeffer truly lived out (and died in) the words of Jesus from Matthew 10:28, where he states, “do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” The old saying remains true: If we do not learn from history, we are bound to repeat it.