For the first time, I can say I’ve binge watched a season on a streaming service. In this case, I was able to watch Season 1 of The Man In The High Castle very quickly after its initial release on 11/20/2015 . In the end, I was not disappointed. The storytelling is intricate, music is appropriate, and the video quality is exceptional. That being said, I shall get into my review. Be warned, while I am not explicitly revealing spoilers, in the course of explaining characters and plot lines, information from the season will be discussed so watch the season if you don’t want to be spoiled or use the points as a guide in the overall review of the season. Lastly, I am taking this review without the direction of the novel by Philip K Dick as it seems the show is taking minor direction from the novel but is more loosely based on it rather than a direct novel to film translation.
The course of each episode is slow but switches equally between existing story lines while adding new perspectives and dynamics then equally balancing and pursuing new information. Of all the storylines, Juliana Crain’s is the most fast paced. We move directly into her overturned world when her sister asks her to pass along a film of great importance to being pursued by the Kempeitai and eventually working to join the resistance by way of the Nippon and the Trade Minister.
My favorite storyline is that of Trade Minister Nobusuke Tagomi. While it is the slowest of all the storylines, it does present the most intrigue. It is hard to tell what angle the Trade Minister is playing. By the end of the season, all I can tell is he believes in the teachings of a Chinese mystic book which guides him in determining the value of people. When he hires Juliana, it seems like a balance as to if he is using her to improve the position of the resistance, help find and eliminate the resistance, or help to remove the looming threat of the Nazi takeover. The main goal that is presented is his quest to maintain lasting peace while assisting those who want to prevent or be prepared for the next war.
The story of Joe Blake is a precarious one as he is stuck balancing working as an operative but consistently seeing how the resistance is using him but not taking any outward actions against him. I liked this storyline but hs situations seems very convenient as no one really pursued him further when he was cagey about his whereabouts and was able to conduct his subterfuge quite easily. I never really found him in any danger throughout the season but four the revelation in the new Grasshopper film quite the intrigue.
The story of Obergruppenführer John Smith is probably the slowest burn but has the biggest payoff by the end of the season. Initially, I find him to be along the lines of a new local police force but find that his journey more intriguing. Smith is actually tasked with finding the Man in the High Castle by way of tracking the mysterious film reels while being caught in the power struggle with HIgh Command.
In contrast with Smith, the story of the Kempeitai looking for the insurgents seemed more methodical but always hinted that they were falling short of their German counterparts. Overall, their story had a better payoff since we learn that they were working with the club owner who got his hands on the 2nd Grasshopper film reel. This story works for me as it is in good contrast with the Germans and balances two methods of approach, even though we don’t see too much of the German approach outside of Smith and Blake.
Now to the key point of the season. By the end of the season we learn that there are at least two films showing an alternate view of events. These tapes are going to be pivotal in future seasons as we currently only know of Juliana and Frank Frink (Juliana’s boyfriend) having seen both films. The repercussions are huge in that we don’t know how either tape was created. The first tape is of importance in that we see the Allies celebrating some major victory seemingly at the end of a war but knowing that they have lost. The second film shows the destruction of San Francisco but is currently perfectly intact and Blake eventually shooting Fink.
As we close out the season, it seems to me that The Man In The High Castle is Hitler himself. This assumption comes from the shelves full of reels which has at least three films that we know about, possibly four if Hitler was watching yet another variation of events. which would imply the resistance and Smith are working for the same side at different angles (reminiscent of Star Wars’ The Clone Wars). While the obvious connection of Hitler to the man in the high castle is the literal castle, it still begs the question of who is making the films and if they are propaganda or some form of alternate dimensions.
The final surprise is that Tagomi, in not having seen any of the films, is able to view at least one of the alternate timelines where the United States wins the war. It is quite surprising of how he is seeing (or imagining) this but what I’m seeing here is of particular note to me since we don’t know if this is a vision or some sort of dream from prior to the war.
SpeculationIt seems that going forward, the Heisenberg device is a key to unlocking the mystery behind the reels as it could potentially be a device to traverse the multiple dimensions which was how the films were created and why Germany and Japan wants the technology. Based on the events in the reels, it would seem that either the device malfunctions (in San Francisco if Japan makes the attempt or in Germany if the Germans make the attempt) or is used for pure destruction. The resistance would fit into the story by wanting to reclaim the technology and get it back to whoever created the reels.
In any case, it is of particular note to me of what Hitler’s plans are, what Tagomi’s abilities are or how his imagination relates to the reels and who The Man In The High Castle actually is.