Thoughts on Man in the High Castle

One of the upsides to the way that many shows are released these days is that you are able to consume an entire season/series of a show without having to wait for a new episode to be released every week. One of the downsides to this method is that it is as lot easier to not pick up a show after you have consumed it. For me, this has happened with a few shows.

  • Lilyhammer – stopped after season 1
  • Newsroom – stopped after season 2.
  • The Walking Dead – stopped after season 5.
  • Fear the Walking Dead – stopped after season 1.
  • House of Cards – stopped after season 3, episode 10.
  • Game of Thrones – stopped after season 3.
  • Orange is the New Black – stopped after episode 3.
  • House
  • Grey’s Anatomy
  • Lost
  • Sopranos

Contrast the list above with the list of TV shows that I have seen in their entirety more than once:

  • West Wing
  • M*A*S*H
  • Life
  • Alcatraz
  • Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip
  • Planet Earth

There are likely more shows, but I cannot think of any more at the moment. Given the popularity of the shows above, you would think that I would finish them. However, this has not been the case. So it may be surprising to learn that I have completely finished Season 1 and Season 2 of Amazon’s Man in the High Castle. I have some thoughts and questions about the show.

NOTE: There will be spoilers. Consider yourself warned.

The Background

The series is based on the novel Man in the High Castle by Phillip K. Dick.

Man in the High Castle is an alternate reality story. One that is based on the United States losing World War II. The country was divided up between Germany in the East, with the “Greater Reich” and Japan in the West with the “Pacific States”. There is a neutral zone that stretches between the two regions. This is where a portion of the story takes place, in particular Canon City.

No, Seriously, beyond this is spoiler territory. This is your last chance to turn back

Frank Frink

The story arc of Frank is an interesting one. In the first episode, he insists on bringing Juliana to the Police Station to turn in the film that Trudy had given her, and that she needs to tell them that she’s a loyal citizen. However, by the end of the second season Frank is right in the thick of the resistance, planning and offering to go cause major destruction to the Pacific States headquarters.

Trudy

One of the plots throughout the series is how Juliana is carrying forth what her half-sister Trudy started. Early in the series, Trudy is killed by the Japanese for trying to evade the Kempeitai and for trafficking the films. The last shocker of Season 2 is that Trudy is not actually dead. This bombshell leads to so many questions.

  1. When Juliana’s Mom says that Trudy is not dead, because she can feel that she is not. Was she right?
  2. From the ending of Season 2, it is presume that she is correct that Trudy is not dead.

  3. Did Juliana actually see Trudy in the market?
  4. Again, from the end of the Second Season, it may be that she actually did see Trudy in the market.

Joe Blake

One of the primary characters is Joe Blake. Joe is also one of the first characters introduced. The character of Joe Blake is an interesting one. Joe’s allegiances vary throughout the show. At first he is working for Obergruppenführer John Smith. His first assignment was to bring a shipment of coffee makers to the neutral zone, from New York City. During this long haul, Joe get suspicious and begins looking at the truck and realizes that something does not seem right. So, right from the start, Joe questions his loyalty.

In Episode One, Joe states “I want my country back”, when he getting the job from Mr. Warren, and insists he is not a spy. However, as the series progresses, it turns out that he is indeed working for the Greater Reich. He is a spy for the Greater Reich. It is not entirely clear where his actually allegiances lies.

A fact that comes in Season 2, is that Joe is actually leibensborn, or part of a German program to create a superior race of germans.

The Films

The biggest thread through the series is the films. These films, as one can surmise, show a different world. Some of these films are ones that depict what actually occurred in World War II. Within the Pacific States of America and the Greater Reich, owing a film is considered treasonous and punishable by instant death, as Frank tries to tell Juliana in episode one.

The entire story behind the films is not fully flushed out. The theory is that the Man in the High Castle is the one manufacturing these films, but very little is know about the Man in the High Castle.

The Man in the High Castle indicated that all of the films end up with San Francisco being annihilated by a bomb, except for the one that Julianna gave to Joe Blake, that was subsequently given to Adolf Hitler. It can be presumed that this is the most important film of them all since it may show the only way to not have the entire world destroyed.

Obviously Hitler wants the films destroyed, as is stated in episode one. However, obviously there is a huge cache of them as discovered by Obergruppenfuhrer Smith at the end of Season 2.

The Trade Minister

One of the main Japanese characters is Trade Minister Nobusuke Tagomi. One of the ways that the Japanese divine answers to things, and anticipate what will occur, is through a 5,000 year old book, called the “Oracle”.

You may not understand this. I live by a 5,000 year old book. I ask it questions as if it were alive. It is alive. It tells me you have a purpose. It says superior person in an inferior position, accepting a task graciously brings good fortune to all.

One aspect to Tagomi’s story is that he goes back to the house that he and his deceased wife owned, or would have owned that part is unclear. When he returns his wife is on her way out, and he finds that she has filed for divorce; or one presumes that. As I do not read Japanese I cannot say for sure.

At this point, Tagomi’s story takes us into an alternate reality. Tagomi’s alternate history takes place in the timeline where the United States wins the War. During these sequences he sees his son. In this version, his son marries Juliana, and they have a child. It is presumed that in this timeline that there is a strain within his family. He is still on decent speaking terms with his son, and Juliana, but less so with his wife. With this timeline, I am presuming that he is an alcoholic because his son mentions his father’s “benders”. It is presumed that in this alternate timeline, Tagomi is an alcoholic.

Upon the second viewing, when Tagomi is repairing the broken cup, it symbolizes his attempt to repair his relationship with his family; at least in the alternate timeline. It may seem like a small gesture, but Nori does put it in the baby’s room and allow Tagomi to enter the room and hold his grandchild, so it is a powerful gesture. This, I believe, allows Tagomi to do what comes next.

In this timeline, Juliana is having a get together at Tagomi’s house where they are creating “Ban the Bomb” signs to protest the Nuclear bomb. During this time, she shows a video of a Hydrogen Bomb test that was conducted on the Pacific Atoll. After showing this film, Tagomi tells his wife: “There is something that I must do.” Her reply, “Safe Journey.” Right after this, Tagomi asks Juliana for the film. The following dialog takes place amongst some Cherry Blossoms.

Juliana: “Why do you want this?”
Tagomi: “Proof, that something like this should never happen again.”
Juliana: “I don’t understand.”
Tagomi: “You have all made me happy. Happier than nI have been in a very long time. There are somethings that are more important than happiness. I have duties elsewhere tat I can no longer neglect.”
Juliana: “Are you leaving?”
Tagomi: “We will see each other again. Of that, I am sure.”
Juliana: “Ok, don’t go, I’ll be right back.”

Here is where Juliana begins to leave, she pauses, and when she turns around Tagomi is gone. In the next scene we see Tagomi back at his desk. This is the location where my questions begin.

  1. Was that whole sub-plot just wishful thinking on Tagomi’s part?
  2. We can presume that he thinks of Juliana as a daughter figure, first by providing her a job when she refuses to “perform special tasks” for the general, but through this sub-plot. In particular, when Tagomi tells his son that he is proud to call her his daughter.

  3. Did Tagomi actually travel to the alternative timeline?
  4. It is easy for one to infer that this may be the case, since we see Tagomi back at his desk with the film in hand. Maybe I missed it, but I do not recall him getting this by any other means. At least not that film.

    I have some theories about it all.

The Smiths

Of the entire Smith family, the one character that we are exposed to most is Obergruppenführer John Smith. The Smiths are based in New York City. With the Reich taking over the Eastern United States, it appears that John Smith is the most powerful person in the Reich

The plot with Thomas, which includes Obergruppenfuhrer John Smith, is an intriguing one. In Episode 6 of Season 1, Thomas reveals that he wants to make his country proud, and that there are many places that he would like to go. The statement of wanting to make his country proud. In his eyes, this is exactly what he does at the end of Season 2 in one of the last scenes of the season. In this scene Thomas turns himself into the Greater Reich Hospital because he is a “degenerate” due to his neurological condition.

It should be no surprise that Smith would take the doctor out of the equation, given that there are only three people who actually know of Thomas’ condition. The doctor, Smith, and his wife Helen. The means of which he kills the doctor was one that some could predict. It does show two different sides to Smith. The first being a father that would do anything for his family. Yet, Smith is willing to do what it takes to protect the Reich, and has no problem using people for his own personal reasons, like Joe Blake.

In order to save Thomas, or so they think, John decides to make a ruse and had a letter sent to Thomas indicating that he was picked to go on an expedition. At first Helen is reluctant, since she knows about his condition. She confronts John, at work, and John informs Helen of the entire plan. Ultimately, she decides it is for the best and informs Thomas that he will be going to South America.

Thomas: So you’re letting me go?
Helen: We’re letting you go.

This double meaning has so many implications for the Smiths, and Helen in particular. The way that Helen states it, most would pick up on; but Thomas, both being excited, and only a teenager, does not pick up on the subtly and double-meaning of the sentence.

Even though John Smith is a loyal Senior Officer for the Reich, he disobeys a direct order by acting Chancellor Heusmann and leaves New York to unveil a conspiracy that killed the Crown Prince of Japan a well as Adolf Hitler. Also, he hides all evidence of Thomas’ illness. This includes killing Dr. Adler, as well as confiscating the tapes that implicate that his son has a defect.

It is clear that when John is at the Reich Headquarter in Berlin, and is being praised within the volkshalle for his heroism in saving the Reich, that he is quite uncomfortable. Short of Himmler, John is probably the second most powerful person in the Reich, after Heusmann and his co-conspirtors are removed. This is likely due to his betrayal with his son and hiding his defect.

The Bombing

One of the main plot points is that there is a resistance that is trying to actively work against the Japanese in the Pacific States of America. The bombing happened late in Season 2, and was intended to cause confusion. One question I have is whether Sara and Frank made it out, just like the Inspector Kido managed to. My gut is no, but it would not be surprising if they did, given the unveiling at the end of Season 2. More on this a little later.

Theories

This is my theory on the whole story; thus far anyway. It involves the ability for certain individuals; Those who study the 5000 year old book, and follow what it says, have the ability to enter into, and bring items back with them, from the alternate reality. This theory fits quite well with how the Reich was obsessed with the occult. This would also mean that the Man in the High Castle follows what the 5,000 year old book says as well; hence how he is able to bring Trudy back from the dead. This is similar to how Tagomi can bring the film back with him when he leaves the alternate 1962.

The ability for certain individuals to travel between the timelines is why Hitler wants the films. Given that there are so few individuals who can do this traveling, it is imperative that Hitler gets the films.

This is reaffirmed when Tagomi is talking to Kotomichi, and realizes that Kotomichi is not of the 1962 that exists within the story, but from the alternate 1962. Kotomichi has burns from the bomb dropped on Hiroshima or Nagasaki.

Furthermore, It is possible that Abendsen is able to travel between the two worlds, at will. This is how he is able to get the films, destroy them whenever he wants, and yet can always end up having more films, even after they are burned.

The films complicate any rational idea behind the storyline. The best theory that I have is that there are multiple simultaneous timelines. The evidence for this is that how the Trade Minister obtains the film with the bomb testing on the atoll. In particular, since he disappeared when Juliana turned around, after giving him the film.

This is further evidenced by the fact that the Trade Minister has the visions of his deceased wife as well as his son. We know that his wife is deceased since Juliana brought it up during one of her meetings with Tagomi.

The idea of being able to bring the films back, may also extend to being able to bring individuals between the two timelines as well. This may be how Abendsen was able to bring show Juliana that Trudy was not in-fact dead. This is how Juliana’s mother felt that Trudy was not dead and why Juliana saw Trudy in the market; because while the “true” 1962 Trudy was indeed dead, the alternate timeline Trudy was brought back.

Season 3 Plot Ideas

I do not think that both Frank and Sara are dead, even though they appear to be so. It is possible that one of them was killed in the blast. If I had to put money on it, it would be that Sarah is dead. However, a more unforeseen option would be to have Sara survive and Frank not.

If Frank is indeed dead, it would not be surprising if Ed and Juliana ended up getting together. This theory is based upon Season 2, Episode 9, where there is the flashback to when Ed first meets Juliana. It is clear that she is flirting, at least to some extent, with Ed while Frank is off getting the glasses.

I think in Season 3, Juliana will learn that she also has the power to travel between the timelines, or at least the existence of the ability to travel between the timelines.

Other Thoughts

  • I love the little touches that show the alternate reality, like “Ranger Reich” instead of Ranger Rick. Along this, the signs like “U-Bahn” for Subway, while within the Greater Reich.
  • While Stephen Root (Milton from Office Space) does a really good job as the Man in the High Castle. If he were still alive I think Phillip Seymour Hoffman would have made an even better Man in the High Castle.
  • Given that the year is 1962, the Concorde is still flying and super fast travel is still attainable. Having the capability of fast travel like that would be nice to have, even today, but only if it were financially practical for people.
  • I do like the quasi refrigerator that the Smiths have. I honestly would not mind having one similar myself.
  • Can I have a few of the cars that are shown in the show?

Final Thoughts

It is not often that I end up watching an entire series of a show. I have now watched the entire series twice and enjoyed it even more the second time around. You may miss things the first time you watch it, but that is typically how things happen when you watch any sort of media.

There are a breadth of characters, both primary characters and secondary characters. It is easy to get lost within the story, which is why it is best to really pay attention to everything. It is too bad that Season 3 will not premiere until the end of 2017. It would be nice to have it sooner, but I like the quality thus far.

If you enjoy alternative-reality stories, then Man in the High Castle would be right up your alley. It may start off slow, but it will be well worth seeing it in the end.