Amazon’s The Man in the High Castle made headlines last month for its marketing campaign, which involved plastering the Nazi insignia on the seats of New York City subway cars. Sure, it probably wasn’t the best advertising strategy, but the stunt did one thing effectively: it provided a glimpse into the world of the show, where the Axis powers won World War II.
The drama, based on Philip K. Dick’s novel, offers some chilling imagery of an alternate history. In the United States circa 1962, a giant swastika shines in Times Square, crowds of American children happily shout “Sieg Heil,” and Nazi soldiers gun down civilians in the street. The country is split into three sections: the Greater Nazi Reich, the Japanese Pacific States, and a neutral zone between them. Visually, the show is beautiful: it simultaneously captures the look of a period piece as well as a futuristic, alien world.
High Castle introduces two characters looking to join the resistance: Juliana Crain (Alexa Davalos), who lives in San Francisco and has assimilated into Japanese culture, implied by scenes showing her studying martial arts and herbal remedies; and Joe Blake (Luke Kleintank), a young man in New York City who wants to carry on the patriotic mission of his father. The two become acquainted once they arrive in the neutral zone on their separate missions. The protagonists know no other world—they were either children or yet to be born when the Axis powers won the war—and now in their teens and 20s are done being complacent.
A lot is established in the first episode—before the audience even has time to get used to the setting, the possibility of an alternate world where the Allies won the war is introduced through a mysterious film reel given to Juliana by her sister. And suspicions arise of double agents and a new war on the horizon. In this world Hitler is alive, running his part of the United States, but his health is failing, so members from both sides begin to speculate who will take over and what that means for the parts of the country not under his rule.
The show does a poor job examining how characters of different races or sexual orientation are managing the new world—it’s mentioned briefly in a throwaway line in this first episode—though maybe more of that’s to come. I suppose not every harrowing issue need be explored in the show’s first hour. But now that this complicated and terrifying new world has been laid at our feet, I’ll be sticking around to see what happens next.