Friday, November 24, 2017

TV Series Review - The Man in the High Castle Season 1

The Man in the High Castle Season 1
Based on the book by Philip K. Dick
Starring: Alexa Davalos, Conor Leslie, Macall Gordon, Daniel Roebuck, Rupert Evans, DJ Qualls, Michael Gaston, Christine Chatelain, Callum Seagram Airlie, Carmen Mikkelsen, Darren Dolynski, Brennan Brown, Joel de la Fuente, Lee Shorten, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, Arnold Chun, Carsten Norgaard, Hiro Kanagawa, Mayumi Yoshida, Daisuke Tsuji, Amy Okuda, Luke Kleintank, Rufus Sewell, Chelah Horsdal, Quinn Lord, Gracyn Shinyei, Genea Charpentier, Ray Proscia, Wolf Muser, Rick Worthy, and Camille Sullivan
Release Date: November 20th, 2015
Rating: ★★★★★
To Watch

Juliana Crain's sister has gotten herself into trouble and it will change the whole course of Juliana's life. She sees Trudy shot by the Kenpeitai in the street. Reeling from this shock she stumbles home and notices that she's holding a film reel that Trudy handed her. She can't believe what the film shows. A world where the Allied forces won WWII. A world where San Francisco isn't occupied by the Japanese and the Reich doesn't control the East Coast. When her boyfriend Frank comes home he urges Juliana to go to the police. Tell the Kenpeitai everything to clear her name of treason. Instead Juliana decides to deliver the film to the neutral zone in Trudy's place. She leaves for Canon City Colorado and doesn't look back. In her absence Frank is implicated in Trudy's crimes. The fact that his grandfather was Jewish means that he and his family have no standing. Before the misunderstanding is cleared up Frank will lose those closest to him all while covering for the woman he loves, a woman who is currently at sea. She has no idea who her contact is or who she is supposed to give the film to. There's a young man from New York, Joe, who she's not sure if she can trust. Yet his help saves her life and she learns that he too is part of the resistance. He too knows of the films and that they are to be delivered to "The Man in the High Castle."

Only Joe isn't really a member of the resistance. He has infiltrated the resistance on the orders of his leader, Obergruppenführer John Smith. Joe is a Nazis. Only his mission in Canon City didn't go to plan because of the arrival of Juliana Crain. Therefore he needs to prove his loyalty to the Reich. Seeing as Juliana Crain went home to San Francisco, it makes sense that Joe will follow her there, uncover all her contacts and discover the new film that has appeared. Only Julia has changed drastically since her experiences. She doesn't want to make all the deaths of those she loved be in vain and she has taken a job as a hostess for the Trade Minister of the Pacific States, Nobusuke Tagomi. Little does she know that this man whom the resistance views as the enemy might have very similar goals to her. He's been working with a high ranking Nazi to undermine the Reich to give Japan parity to Germany. Because another World War is looming. One where there can be only one victor. The films showing a different world might just hold the key to the truth of what is really going on, but will it all be in vain? Is war inevitable?

The difference between a good adaptation and a bad adaptation is that at the end you can't believe it was ten hours long. As you gobbled the episodes up they just flew by. Whereas a bad adaptation, it feels like work to watch each excruciating episode and ten hours can feel like a lifetime. Yes, I'm looking at you The Handmaid's Tale! The Man in the High Castle was the exact opposite in almost every way to that atrocious Atwood adaptation. Constantly compelling, faithful when needed, expansive when called on, always building on the writing of Philip K. Dick while making sure to create a show that was bingeworthy. But that's what happens when your show is created by someone who had astronomical success with The X-Files, AKA Frank Spotnitz, versus someone who's more known for kitschy Canadian shows, though I will say here to Bruce Miller, LOVE Men in Trees! Also The X-Files had a sustained look and feel, and that really can't be said for any of Bruce Miller's many shows. The noir feel that imbues ever scene of The Man in the High Castle is just perfect. While there is spycraft I'd liken it more to the Cold War than WWII which makes sense being set in 1962. But it's just such a fully visualized representation of this alternate world that it's staggering how complete it is from the advertising to the clothing. I just want more and more and more of it!

What I found interesting in translating this book to the screen is that the Japanese are depicted far more bleakly perhaps even verging on evil. The book is so concerned with the Nazi threat, as was Philip K. Dick himself, that comparatively the Japanese are depicted benignly. His personal bias came through in his writing. Therefore I don't know if this was some way to level the playing field and show that both surviving Axis powers were equally evil or to just create more strife in the lives of our protagonists who predominately live under Japanese rule. Because a clearer statement of the evil of the Japanese couldn't be made than having the Kenpeitai accidentally kill Frank's sister and her two children. Nothing that horrific happens in the book, that's for sure. But it serves a purpose in that it makes Frank invested in the resistance. Juliana's sister's death and Frank's sister's death unite them in their desire to overthrow the world they have come to accept. But what's more by showing the Japanese as evil and then going further into their characters, learning more about Tagomi, seeing how the head of the Kenpeitai bristles under what he has to do, all this gives us a deeper, layered, nuanced show, where the villains aren't necessarily so because of their acts but because they have been forced into these roles over time.

Though what this adaptation did superbly was expand Philip K. Dick's world so that we weren't just seeing the American and Japanese side of things but it also ensconsced us firmly within the Reich and in particular the Reich in America. Yes, this is literally going to be all about the importance of Rufus Sewell. I should say Rufus Sewell as Obergruppenführer John Smith, but seriously, wherever Rufus goes I follow. Season two of Victoria just wasn't the same without him in every single episode. Oh Lord M, you're breaking my heart. THIS is the genius of casting Rufus! Most people have some sort of connection to him as an actor, I mean he's seriously amazing. By casting him as a dyed-in-the-wool Nazi you know he's the bad guy and you aren't rooting for him, because seriously, you NEVER root for Nazis, instead you are drawn into the mindset of the Reich. You get a glimpse into how calculating and cruel their world is where old friends can become enemies that you are to interrogate over a family dinner and your own child's life hangs in the balance because of a hereditary illness. You see the Nazis in all their evil and you understand that evil. To understand your enemy is the first step in destroying them.

One major change that makes total sense in the shift of mediums is that instead of The Grasshopper Lies Heavy being a book within the book it's a series of films that look like newsreels that where shown in cinemas during and right after WWII. In the book it made sense for this alternate outcome of WWII to be disseminated as a book, but for a TV show it makes sense for it to be a film. Like to like in the different media. Because think how boring it would be watching people read long sections out of the book on screen? It's been proven that people have only about a 15-20 minute attention span when being read to, so firstly, everyone would have tuned out, and secondly? Snoozeville. Whereas think how much information can be gleaned in a short film and watching the characters reactions to that film? What's more it's far more visceral for the viewers to see images, many of which the are familiar with. The films, for the most part, show the world that we are familiar with. What's more in the book The Grasshopper Lies Heavy is being read by everyone everywhere in the Japanese territories, whereas having films that have to be secreted around the country, films that even Hitler wants to watch? This just adds to the noir spycraft of the series.

Yet one thing that hasn't been explained yet, though it might in season two, is where the films come from and why The Man in the High Castle wants them. Obviously they are interesting, even Hitler is obsessed with them, but there's a bigger secret here. In the book The Man in the High Castle is the one disseminating the information, yet in this adaptation he's collecting it. Why!?! One theory I have is that perhaps he's collecting the films to eventually write the book in order to achieve the outcome in the book, which is informing the masses through the publication of The Grasshopper Lies Heavy. But then where are the films coming from? Are they slipping through rips in time and space like Tagomi in that cliffhanger seeing him in OUR 1962 San Francisco? Are they actually showing the truth and that everyone is under some kind of mass hypnosis? I have other theories but I don't want to start spoiling everything. Whatever the reason for this reversal it has kept me guessing and to take a book that I've read and loved and make it new and fresh? Well that's truly amazing in my mind. I literally can not wait to start season two (right now!) but I'm also worried that once I binge it what will happen to me while I wait for season three? Seriously, what will happen!?! 


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