The Man in the High Castle was all right

I decided to watch Amazon’s The Man in the High Castle because it sounded like a cool gimmick and my dad said it was great. Only the former of those statements are true. This show is a cool gimmick and it devotes a whole lot of time to that. So much so it forgets to develop most of its characters.

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And the lack of character development is really the reason why I think this show is just all right.

Alexa Davalos, a French actress, is doing the normal foreign chick faking an American/Canadian accent voice. Your average Rachael Taylor in Jessica Jones, Jodi Balfour in Bomb Girls, Lena Heady in T:SCC and insert your probably better impression example here.

I guess what I’m saying is Alexa Davalos’ performance is OK. The accents don’t bother me with those other characters, because those characters are great. Alexa Davalos does pretty well with what she is given, which isn’t much. Her only characteristics outside of being from the Japanese occupied Pacific States city of San Francisco is that she is a dojo master (though that is barely used), she was hit by a bus before the show’s timeline (which is never explained as being more than the meet-cute for her and her boyfriend) and her sister Trudy gets killed by the Japanese government because she is part of the resistance.

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Though those details provide the opportunity for depth they are all very surface level and I don’t feel like I actually care about Juliana, oh Alexa Davalos’ name is Juliana but she goes by Trudy a lot so prepare for confusion, until about episode four, when she gets back to San Fran.

Her gimmick adventure in the neutral zone city of Cannon City/Kansas City is clearly supposed to be an adventure but it feels more like us actually getting to know her for the first time. She talks her way into a job and getting involved in the resistance. I have many problems with Juliana’s character but one is her wanna-be Katniss Everdeen-ness.

She is usually quiet and scarred and closed off until the plot needs her to say something inspiring to convince the other characters to do what she wants. But she never actually reaches that on a believable level. Sure she seems inspired by the films, which show an alternate/the real historic future, but she never even gets close to a “if we burn, you burn with us” level speech.

Also she has to go through all of that, while in a struggling relationship with rather nice guy boyfriend archetype number one, Frank, who is a renegade secret Jew who tries to assassinate the Japanese crown prince after his sister, niece and nephew are killed in a horrific Holocaust parallel.

But while off in Cannon City, Juliana meets and falls in love I guess — it all felt rather forced — with Joe Blake, a Nazi agent posing as a resistance fighter who might actually be a resistance fighter.

Once Joe leaves Cannon City and gets back to New York, the HQ for the Nazi occupied part of the U.S., which is the Rockies to the east coast. The Nazi blow up D.C. with an atom bomb. I was hoping we would see it at some point but we never did.

From about episode four on, Joe is mostly used to humanize the Nazis and American Nazi leader Oberguppenfuerher John Smith. I guess his name is supposed to be a commentary on how even the most American of dudes can be Nazis in this reality, but it still felt a little on the nose.

 

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Also the head American Nazi has a sick son, who he is hiding from his Nazi colleagues, which is also a plot line in the Canadian show X-Company and probably a bunch of other shows and movies with Nazis. It is a good way to make your Nazis question their principles but not a new one.

So I have ragged on this a lot, let’s get to the good parts. There are three well developed side characters, who are more charismatic and likable than our three leads. The first is Ed, the ever loyal friend of Frank and Juliana’s who takes the fall when the Japanese government of the west thinks Frank assassinated the prince.

The other two are resistance fighters Lem Washington, who is first introduced as a diner owner in Canon City, and Helen, I think. Literally she is one of the most charismatic characters in the show and I just call her Randall’s friend in my head. And that might sum up all my problems with this show. I only remember resistance fighter Randall’s name because Frank yells it about a million times in one episode.

It almost feels unfair to say the final episode saves the series because it is so gimmick heavy. The reformed Nazi character Rudi goes to see an aging Hitler, in a modified Neuschwanstein/the Disney castle with the intent of killing him. And I’ll admit the castle made me flip out and geek out because of my knowledge of German history. And Hitler being “The Man in the High Castle” and possibly having supernatural charisma powers made him incredibly scary.

I did like that almost nothing science fiction-y happened until like episode 8, when Juliana saw another tape of the alternate future. And the series seemed to reached a whole new level with its universe. By making it literally an alternate universe.

Though the lack of character development bothers me, the world building gimmick is super interesting and is what got me to watch the entire first season. At one point, a small town Nazi cop tells Joe ash covers the town on Tuesdays because that is when the hospital burns cripples and the terminally ill. There is a game show called “What’s Your Game?” that pops up multiple times with very little explanation. The visuals are fantastic and seeing a Japanese occupied version of San Francisco and Nazi versions of New York and Berlin was awesome.

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And I will probably return to see season two because I am interested in seeing more of the world and if Juliana, Joe and Frank are there then that’s cool too.

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