Are you ready to watch The Man In The High Castle?
If yes, then prepare yourself for things like ashes from cremated bodies falling like snow in the Rockies, a bounty hunter tracking down and killing escapees from American concentration camps, open pits of Japanese killing fields festering in the redwood forests of Northern California, and a new generation of Crypto-Jews saying kaddish for a Jewish family that has been gassed with next-gen Zyklon D (and that part is way, way worse than you think).
Are you sure you are ready for that?
Against the backdrop of a Nazi- and Japanese-occupied United States, The Man In The High Castle doesn’t pull any punches in its depiction of a dystopian past following the United States’ defeat in the Second World War. The scenes from the benevolent-malevolent occupation of the former United States by the Nazi Reich and the Empire of Japan are stomach-churning, and the other references, the ones that are described but not seen, might be worse- the lynching of the Jews of Boston, the nuclear attack on and devastation of Washington, DC, and across the globe, the subjugation and enslavement of Africa by the Nazis. Who’s kidding who? It’s plausible.
It’s not too hard to get used to the idea of San Francisco as a Japanese-controlled metropolis, with the natives living in relative squalor downtown, while the overlords reside in the former villas and mountainside homes of their vanquished enemy. If anything, the Japanese Pacific States, despite their scarily efficient and intelligent Kempetei secret police, seems relatively benign (minus the rounding up and extermination of Jews and general lack of habeas corpus) compared to the SS regime of the East Coast and Midwest, where the Gestapo has turned Rikers Island into a torture facility and converted the Hamptons into residences for the American Nazi elite.
Season One follows the lives of a handful of protagonists through a series of intrigues, betrayals, and shadowy conspiracies dealing with the circulation of subversive propaganda film reels and a secretive cabal within the Nazi party itching to get rid of Hitler, upset the delicate balance of power, attack the Japanese, and take the entirety of North America for the Reich. It’s a veritable web of suspenseful intrigue, rich cinematography, and a stunningly compelling plot. I was hooked from the pilot and burned through the entire series in just a few days, despite the deeply troubling implications of some of the material.
The evil portrayed is tactile. It’s ugly. There are uncomfortable assumptions that you’re going to be forced to make and go along with about the Nazification of America, the eradication of Jews and other minorities, the normalization of life under occupation, and the willingness of red-blooded Americans to go all in on collaborating with their new Fascist overlords. But again, it’s alarmingly plausible. After all, that movie played not too long ago in the real world during the 1940s.
Coupled with that, there are some unsatisfying and stultifying relationship/romantic narratives that we have to suffer through, all while developing what can only be described as a rooting interest, and at times begrudging respect-don’t-say-admiration, for some very, very unsympathetic characters who have done some very, very awful things in the name of duty and Empire. Or duty and Reich. Take your pick. But make no mistake, the most compelling personalities in this series are not the good guys, who are generally boring and not dynamic- the real intensity in this show oozes out of the bad guys and will keep you glued to your Kindle. There is incredible depth and richness to the Japanese and Nazi protagonists that offers a glimpse into their hearts of darkness and shows you, every now and again, a glimpse of humanity.
The show does cause some internal struggle, though, when you are asked to consider if in this construct there are bad guys worth rooting for, or if it is really possible to develop empathy for a theoretical old-man Hitler. No joke and no exaggeration, for in this impossible and dreadful matrix, you’ll be forced to grapple with those questions. I wish you luck in that endeavor, and in attempting to not binge-watch this show before the end of Chanukah.
Man In The High Castle is available on Amazon Prime