Not knowing much about the series The Man in the High Castle apart from the small synopsis provided by Amazon, I jumped into the pilot expecting intrigue, suspense, and a dystopia. For the most part, I wasn’t disappointed.
The Man in the High Castle takes place in the United States in the 1960s, though it really isn’t that much united anymore. The premise, based on Philip K. Dick’s novel of the same name, explores what would have happened to North America had the Allies lost during WWII. The makeup of the land is depicted with an old-timey map that keeps recurring as we follow the journey of the characters, indicative of a typical Indiana Jones film. Japan and Germany have split up and taken control over the United States, with Japan ruling the West/Pacific Coast and Germany reigning over the East.
The context, visualizations, and settings that are provided in the pilot for this type of realistic-dystopia are phenomenal. And extremely eerie. Swastikas are plastered all over Times Square. Police officers with American accents shout “Heil Hitler.” San Francisco is swarmed with evidence of Japanese takeover. From Wagner to traditional Japanese music, the soundtrack is also well-curated and placed into the show, fitting the atmosphere of the series. The details put into creating this environment definitely caught my attention.
As for the story that accompanies the setting, it’s a good departure from the typical dystopians that we get nowadays (The Hunger Games, Divergent, The Maze Runner, etc). This creative and sensational departure from history, though not entirely unbelievable, leaves viewers hooked on what led the international powers to this point in time and what may follow. On both the micro-level of the two main characters to the macro-level politics game from both the Reich and Pacific States, there’s no doubt that the story will be never be left famished (the show is based on a book, after all).
The casting and acting is where the pilot left a bit of a sour taste in my mouth. Luke Kleintank, the star of the series as Joe Blake (a young worker who is shown as wanting to help the resistance), hardly strikes me as memorable or very convincing. Alexa Davalos, who plays Juliana Crain (female counterpart in San Francisco, Aikido-expert), does not have me quite convinced either, so the acting from both parts is a bit weak. Juliana’s motives for following the footsteps of her sister and her lack of visible remorse for her sister’s death was very confusing. I would have liked to see a more diverse cast, perhaps a Japanese actress playing the part of the female lead from the Japanese colonies in San Francisco. I’m definitely expecting more character development and perhaps more introductions to the cast for leads (not including the military andgovernment officials). Apart from the two leads however, the rest of the characters sell their parts quite well thanks to a believable and well-written script. Notable cast members include Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa as Nobusuke Tagomi (known from the film adaptation of Mortal Kombat) and Rufus Sewell as John Smith.
Apart from the setbacks, I still held interest in the show. The pilot actually made me want to read the book more than anything (I hadn’t heard of the novel beforehand). There’s definitely the potential for dark and unexpected storylines to accompany the historical setting (as shown in the episode when we learn the ashes are from the terminally ill being incinerated), in addition to showcasing the generally overlooked genre of science fiction. While the significance revolving around the film reels “the grasshopper lies ahead,” and the actual “man in the high castle” remains an enigma, I’m definitely interesting in learning more and seeing what lies ahead for this series.