This weekend, A.V. Club contributor Shelby Fero is watching all of the first season ofThe 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.
After ten episodes, let’s recap:
- Inspector Kido kills the Nazi assassin, but is saved from committing seppuku when Ed is found with Frank’s gun
- Juliana allows Joe to escape with the newest film
- Togami self-actualizes himself into our reality, or a vision of our reality
- OberHüskerDübenfurher Smith reconfirms his loyalty to Hitler
- Hitler is the “man in the high castle” (?)
- Hitler loves big castles
It’s impossible to think about this show in the traditional sense. From the first episode, it set out to build an entire world based around Philip K. Dick’s original “…what if?” question. That means that characters come and go fluidly, plots begin without a timely end, and there’s no instant gratification afforded to the viewers. It should be “bad” TV, but it’s not. It’s different. If successful, the show could theoretically last forever, continually showcasing different locations and people without ever tying itself down to only one or two–like a history textbook of this imagined Earth come to life.
The show takes a huge risk in this approach. One slip up, or “false” feeling, and suddenly the reality it tries so hard to construct will pop. But because each character is treated with respect and attention, never a one-dimensional caricature, they’re allowed to walk in and walk out of each other’s lives. That’s realistic. And as long as a death doesn’t feel cheap or contrived, anyone might be killed at any point, based on other characters motives or mistakes–again, that’s life.
The danger, though, also lies in holding our attention. But here, too, TMITHC has proven itself adept once more. For example, by answering who the man in the high castle is, without ever making much of a big deal about it, the finale walks a line between eliciting gasps and shrugging it off so that we won’t dust off our hands in satisfaction and exit out of our browsers. It’s clever: making the assumed “big question” almost an afterthought leaves room for the tensions of Smith, Juliana and Wegener’s respective decisions to mount. The finale returns to its characters, and the choices they make, to provide the action. Then, when we see Togami open his eyes in a new reality, our curiosity is piqued on the science fiction side of the equation.
The Man In The High Castle turns out to be not so much a juggling act but an entire carnival ground, hoping to entice and absorb in a variety of ways. But in today’s tv climate, let’s see if they can keep us entertained.
Questions: Is Togami really in an alternate universe–and are the films that show an alternate timeline real in any way–or is this Togami’s imagination and the films really only propaganda, to just serve as driving forces for both sides? Is Ed the greatest guy in the world or the greatest guy in the world? Is Hitler the true man in the high castle? Is he offering tidbits of Nazi info so that he can collect these films? Or does he just collect the films separately? Both? Did Hitler have a castle at the end of our own war? Would he have gone for one, or a clearly more tasteful Prussian-style palace eg. Versailles?
Fears: The rules of the universe will be continually undefined when it comes to the more fantastical elements of the plot. It’s still unclear whether the films are propaganda or ”real” somehow, and that’s an important rule governing this universe as a whole. Worried they’ll now end every season by going out on a shot of a newspaper headline.
Last thing: I know y’all are gonna hate me for this A, but I’m duly impressed by what the creators attempt here. So many times dramas become wearisome and boring because the three or four main characters are forced into increasingly silly or dramatic situations to hold our interest. TMITHC tries to keep us watching without pandering or jingling keys in front of our faces. But I did hear a radio ad for this show yesterday–the first of any advertising I’ve seen or heard for the show–and it was mind-blowingly offputting and cheesy, and set the show as a fast-paced thriller about One Woman Who Can Save The World. I see why there may be some confusion.