I finished watching The Man in the High Castle over the weekend. It takes eight episodes of infuriating “puzzle piece movement” before the narrative finally springs its trap on Obergruppenführer John Smith and Trade Minister Nobusuke Tagomi. Only then does the plot equal the incredibly immersive world building in the prior seven episodes. It’s at that point, when the larger conflict is finally fully realized, that those two characters become tragic figures, and all the other stuff with Juliana, Frank, Ed, Joe, and the lame-ass revolutionaries ends up being pointless.
Ultimately, I think I liked this show. I loved the completeness of this world, the utter convincingness of this alternate dimension (and that, spoiler, is exactly what it is). And I loved the larger conflicts: the assassinations and power plays between the Nazis and Japanese and within their respective organizations. And I loved where these conflicts played out: with Smith and Tagomi. What I didn’t like, and this seems to be the root of everyone’s dissatisfaction with the show, is how pointless the “main” characters–Juliana, Frank, and Joe–ended up being.
And they are pointless. By the end of the season, those three characters provide us no real catharsis. Juliana is supposed to seem like a woman torn between her love for two different men, but instead she’s actually the world’s most unreliable person to do anything other than get Frank and Joe into compromising and life-threatening situations. Frank is a moron for staying with Juliana despite her being the reason Frank’s sister and nephew/neice get gasses. And Joe, jesus, he’s just a Nazi pretty face. Fuck that guy.
Oh, and here’s a weird thing: do the writers really expect us to take Inspector Kido seriously when he gasses Frank’s family as an information-gathering tactic and then tells Frank “I am not a monster”? After that, I couldn’t and ended up finding his attempt at seppuku at the end kind of laughable, like the writers were saying, “For real, this guy’s all tortured by his devout obiedience to the state and shit.”
One more thing that I didn’t like: Smith’s son is the one revealed to have the incurable genetic disease. When that happened, I had two thoughts: 1. “Yeah, now who’s the asshole?” and 2. “Well, that’s kind of lazy by the writers.” If the writers really wanted to up the tension and stakes for Smith, why not make him the one suffering from the disease? Think about how that changes his actions as he finds himself thrust into the power struggle for führer? Writers, you missed a shot at glory there!
All that out of the way, I think I’m willing to recommend this show. Again, it’s an incredibly convincing world, and to marinate in it for seven episodes while you wait for the real fireworks isn’t so bad, I think. And the backstory seems kind of cool, too. Despite what the show runners say, I’m convinced that Hitler is the “man in the high castle,” and that he’s been finding and watching these films since the 1930s, using them to subtley alter world history so that he comes out on top. He’s the one who created the incredibly toothless American insurgency as another method to retrieve more films (including the ones he gets from his own german and japanese agents). It’s Hitler’s world, and everyone is just a tool living in it.