I’m not a binge watcher so it took a while to finish The Man in the High Castle (Jessica Jones had priority). There hasn’t been a lot said about it here so I’m throwing out my two cents (and some extra change) about the show. Spoilers ahead including just who is the titular Man in the High Castle.
I know a lot of people had trouble with the premise. If Nazi Germany couldn’t even cross the English Channel to invade Britain then how did they manage to reach the United States? I’m not going to try to convince you of the plausibility of that version of history. Either you can roll with that or not. But it does set up an interesting situation.
In the alternate 1962 of the show, Imperial Japan and Nazi Germany are not quite in a cold war with each other. Germany has the atomic bomb, rocket planes and a clear edge over the Japanese. Hitler is an old man, members of his inner circle maneuver for advantage and war with Japan is likely when Hitler dies. That’s not too different from the book*.
But the shows goes in its own direction from there. While there are scenes that are immediately recognizable from the book, some significant things have changed. Some characters and events have been added, some cut out and others significantly changed. I’m okay with that and wasn’t expecting the show to simply be a visual version of the book.
Obergruppenführer John Smith is an interesting addition. Since it is a senior general rank in the SS and Smith was on a first name basis with Reinhard Heydrich, who apparently replaced Himmler as head of the SS, he must to be one of the most senior Nazi officials on American soil. He was introduced in the first episode as a standard Nazi villain but starting in the second episode we see he is not so simple. I couldn’t help but think that Smith was not too different from some protagonists, particularly the type of spymasters you find in British cold war spy fiction. He is zealously ruthless in his duties but thinks he is doing the right and necessary thing. After all, Smith stayed loyal to the Führer even with a gun to his head. You may not like his personal code, but like many of the other characters on the show Smith has one and acts in accordance with it.
Since I teased it in the title and first paragraph I need to follow through on the actual Man in the High Castle. It’s mentioned early on that he collects the films showing alternate versions of history. In the last episode when we get the aerial shots of Hitler’s hideaway it finally hit me that Hitler was the Man in the High Castle. (If you haven’t read the book, that’s a significant change.) This version of Hitler is different from the one we usually think of. This Führer has not only defeated the Allies but also survived several years of cutthroat internal politics. He is clearly in touch with reality even though he collects films of alternate history.
Assorted thoughts that will hopefully get resolved with a second season:
- Is Tagomi stuck in an alternate San Francisco that isn’t Japanese occupied or (most likely) is it just a temporary vision like in the book? Is it our San Francisco or just a one similar to ours?
- What is the source of the films? Was the film of nuked San Francisco and Nazi-uniformed Joe from what would have happened if Heydrich had succeeded? Or from an alternate timeline that’s just a little different from the one they’re currently in?
- Does Joe still have the film (my guess) or did he give it to Juliana?
- Even if Heydrich is denounced as a traitor, there will still probably be some blowback for Smith for killing the head of the SS. If nothing else Heydrich’s supporters will want some payback assuming any survive the inevitable purge. And what is Smith going to do about his son?
- A war between Japan and Germany may have been averted for the moment but it’s still looming.
*Okay, details like Bormann being Führer at the start of the book are different but the broad strokes are similar.