This weekend, A.V. Club contributor Shelby Fero is watching all of the first season of The Man In The High Castle on Amazon Prime. After she’s finished with an episode, she’ll post a quick response. Though she’s working straight through the season, she’ll be taking some breaks, too, posting two reviews on Friday, four reviews on Saturday, and four reviews on Sunday. Weigh in on this episode in the comments below or discuss the whole season on our binge-watching hub page.
Huckleberry Finn has been brought up so clearly in this show that it can’t be a mistake for an episode to open on a tall black man in overalls teaching a small white boy to fish, right? Yet another mystery to solve…
A lengthy break between the eighth and ninth episodes occurred over here as my friend (who, full disclosure, watched only the eighth episode) and I accidentally argued for an hour or so on the differences between, and purpose of, this “alternate history” versus any other dystopian fiction. The conclusion we came to is that unlike most dystopian novels, this is a period piece, and can therefore more accurately showcase the effects of a “dystopian” regime since we have a clear, lived-in history to compare. Interesting, too, is how the show serves as a comparison between a fascist regime hinged on ideology, and one that’s pragmatically enjoying the spoils of war.
On the ideological side of the totalitarian state, the Ubergruberfurhber must grapple with the task of killing his son, who has what I assume t0 be Lou Gehrig’s disease, but pronounced with a German accent. A Nazi being told to kill a loved one due to Naziism is a plot line that could easily illicit eye rolls in clumsier hands; TMITHC once again proves its skill and precision. Instead of showcasing Smith’s love for his son by allowing him to study at the breakfast table in the same episode as his diagnosis–which could render the point shallow or cheap–they took care of way back in the second or third episode. And that’s important: A colder or crueler Nazi should have no problem dispensing of a terminally ill cripple; it’s an ideological staple. But there’s no doubt in our minds that this particular man can not take his own son’s life lightly. Even the timeframe of the illness adds another facet to our uncertainty over what Smith will do. A year isn’t so short as to make the decision one that couldn‘t be reasonably empathized with—like a “mercy killing,” to a Nazi—but it’s not the same as simply being confined to a chair for an otherwise long and healthy life. These are the stakes that TMITHC proves adept at quietly establishing, unnoticed, before suddenly raising.
Two new external villains present themselves: The leader of the Yakuza, and (whom I believe to be the “real”) Reichsführer Heinrich (Himmler).
[Edit: It’s actually “Heydrich,” not Himmler, so I rescind my shade thrown towards the wardrobe dept.]
Oppression aside, it’s endlessly fascinating to see, and imagine, a San Francisco assimilated into Japanese culture—the dresses worn by the waitresses at the Yakuza club add a nice touch. Introducing two new bad guys at this late stage would usually jar or annoy, but TMITHC folds them into the mix so organically that it seems ludicrous to not introduce new characters nearly every episode. Your show only has one villain… for the whole season? You’re insane!
After taking a back burner for a majority of the last few episodes, the films return as an integral point of plot for our heroes. And once again, I’m thankful to the slow pacing and diligent groundwork that has created such a complex world. It’s the ebb and flow of all these various personal and political dramas that serve to keep the question of the eponymous Man and his films from growing overly tiresome. Instead of one or two questions endlessly battering the audience (“Who is the man?” “What are these films?”), there’s an endless series of question and answering that engages and validates our efforts in watching. It’s a calculated Skinner’s Box, designed to preserve our interest in The Man In The High Castle by preserving our interest in the man in the high castle.
Questions: Are the names “John Smith” and “Joe Blake” supposed to represent German attempts at assimilation in their new home? Is this or is this not a time travel based sci-fi, wherein these films show history as it should have been (and that’s why they move people so much) or, once again, do I have no appreciation for how important a fake movie showing freedom would mean to the oppressed?
Fears: Whatever choice Oppamgangnamfurher makes (to either kill or try to hide his son) will be lame. I also hope the Yakuza’s inclusion continues to be substantial and not one-note.
Last thing: Sort of a side note, but the boy’s illness also casts over-investment in never making mistakes in front of his father in new light: When he dropped that ball in catch, it wasn’t nerves but a tremor. How long have similar “accidents” been happening, and how has this affected the boy’s view of himself? He doesn’t know it’s not his fault, not really.