The Man in the High Castle
The Man in the High Castle is a 10-episode Amazon Prime original series adapted from the Phillip K. Dick novel of the same name. It presents a world in which the Axis won World War II and America has been divided into three pieces. The eastern half of the country up to the Rockies is the Greater Nazi Reich and the western part is The Pacific States, part of the Japanese empire. The Rockies are considered "neutral territory" but are subject (though loosely enforced) to the laws of the Reich. On this backdrop plays out a tale of resistance, character drama, betrayal, and international diplomatic intrigue.
I just spent the last two evenings watching the first season of ten episodes. The show is what I would call "challenging". There are no light-hearted moments. There is no comic relief. There are episodes that are so tense that they made me physically uncomfortable. There was an episode that required me to take a break of about an hour afterwards so I could decompress and process it. It was stressful and emotional to watch this series.
The world-building of this series is incredible. At no point did this feel like a "show". The world is immersive and absolutely, without question, believable and fully fleshed out. There is no suspension of disbelief; it is very easy to accept the world presented here as fact. The production values are stellar. The details are tremendous, down to the textures of clothing, the jewelry, decor, street markets, languages heard from passersby, vehicles, signs on the walls, business names, bureaucracy, and behavior. A great deal of effort was expended to make this world believable and it works.
All of that can be ruined by bad acting, and there is no bad acting in this presentation. I was quite surprised by the caliber of acting, expecting a freshman cast with no resume behind them. I have to admit I am only vaguely familiar with two of the actors and have never heard of or seen the others, but they all did an absolutely tremendous job building extraordinarily real characters. Honestly, the least compelling character in the whole drama is what most would consider the "main" character, Juliana, though she also has agency, depth, and gravitas.
The plot is complex, with multiple intertwining storylines that don't really cohere completely at the end of the season. No secret is made that this is a science fiction show based on a science fiction novel, and without spoiling anything, it's plain to see that there is some definte sci-fi stuff going on very early into the saga.
There are a lot of breathtaking moments, like seeing what Adolf Hitler would have looked like in his 70s, seeing Nazi regalia all over New York, seeing what Berlin, the capital of the world, would look like in 1962, seeing San Francisco as a Japanese society. German technology has advanced greatly, and people fly Concorde-like "rockets" from NYC to Berlin in a couple of hours. There is no obfuscating what a Nazi society would be like, either: Jews have been all but eradicated, people are summarily executed if deemed enemies of the state, the medically "imperfect" are killed for the betterment of the gene pool, and so on. It pulls absolutely no punches. It is an authoritarian police state built on blood and everybody lives in fear. The Pacific States are not much better; whites are seen as backwards yokels who are inferior to the Japanese and while they're not as strict at the Nazis (black people are allowed to live in the Pacfic States as well as the disabled), non-Japanese are all clearly second-class citizens.
I highly recommend the show to anyone who wants a serious, thought-provoking drama with excellent characters and incredible world-building. If you have Amazon Prime, you really need to see this show.