The Man in the High Castle (Pilot Preview)

The Man in the High Castle is an alternative history television series produced by Amazon Studios and based on the 1962 sci-fi novel of the same name by Philip K. Dick. After the pilot, debuting in January 2015, received very good reviews and ended up as Amazon’s “most-watched production since the original series development program began”, it was announced that the show has been picked up for a full season.

After the Allies lost the World War II, United States are divided into ‘Greater Nazi Reich’ controlled by Nazi Germany in the east, and ‘Japanese Pacific States’ administered by Imperial Japan in the west.

The series is set in an alternative history where Giuseppe Zangara’s assassination of future U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1933 led to the two consecutive weak governments of John Nance Garner (Franklin D. Roosevelt’s vice president), and subsequently of Republican John W. Bricker in 1941. Both these politicians failed to lead the country to recovery from the Great Depression and also maintained the inward-looking policy of isolationism deciding against participating in the Second World War. Consequently, the U.S. had insufficient military capabilities to assist the United Kingdom and the Soviet Union against the following aggression of Nazi Germany, and to defend itself against Imperial Japan’s expansion in the Pacific.

After the superior Japanese military destroyed the entire U.S. Navy fleet in a devastating attack on Pearl Harbor and, at the same time, Nazi Germany invaded the U.S. east coast, United States and other remaining Allied forces had all surrendered to the Axis. In the aftermath of this decisive defeat, the United States were divided between the victors, with Nazi Germany establishing the ‘Greater Nazi Reich’, made up of eastern U.S. states, with the central administration in New York and Imperial Japan founding the ‘Japanese Pacific States’ in the west, with the capital in San Francisco. In the middle remained the buffer Neutral Zone, or ‘Rocky Mountain States’, with the capital in Canon City. Having defeated the Allies, the Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan became the world’s only two superpowers and consequently embarked upon a Cold War. (It should be noted that the choice of the name ‘Greater Nazi Reich’ by Germans for their U.S. acquisition is highly unlikely as the word ‘Nazi’ has a rather derogatory connotation; ‘Great German Reich’ or simply ‘Third Reich’ would be more likely choices.)

While the more brave joined the resistance, most of the ordinary citizens, such as this county sheriff, quickly learned to accept their new rulers.

The Man in the High Castle television series opens, similarly to the novel, in 1962, fifteen years after the end of a fictional longer World War II (1939–1947), that was won by Imperial Japan and Nazi Germany, and concerns intrigues between these victorious Axis powers as they rule over the conquered United States, as well as daily lives of ordinary Americans living under the resulting totalitarian Fascist and Imperialistic rule.

The storyline of the pilot episode starts in New York City, Greater Nazi Reich, in 1962. Juliana Crain (Alexa Davalos) is a young woman living in San Francisco who is openly content with living under Japanese rule. She is friendly with Japanese people who settled in San Francisco and has even become an expert in Aikido. All this despite her mother harbouring hatred of the Japanese, who killed her husband and Juliana’s father during the war. Juliana’s perfect world comes crashing down on her though, when her half-sister Trudy is killed by Japanese security forces after resisting arrest. Just before Trudy dies, she hands Juliana a film spool containing an eerily realistic newsreel depicting an alternate outcome of World War II, one in which the Allies won and Germany and Japan were defeated.

The short film, titled ‘The Grasshopper Lies Heavy’, is part of a whole series of similar documentaries said to have been created by someone referred to as ‘The Man in the High Castle’. Juliana is intrigued, and after she learns that Trudy was carrying the newsreel to Canon City, capital of the Rocky Mountain States, she decides to travel to the Neutral Zone in Trudy’s place, to find out the truth behind the films and their enigmatic creator.

When Japanese secret service comes to investigate Juliana, to find out if she had any knowledge of her half-sister’s activities, and they find her missing, they take into custody Frank Frink (Rupert Evans), Juliana’s boyfriend, which gets him in a particularly precarious situation since he is secretly of Jewish ancestry, which, in this totalitarian regime, is a ‘crime’ punishable by extradition and death at the hands of the Nazis.

In the meantime in New York, a young man Joe Blake (Luke Kleintank) sets out to join the Resistance, purportedly to continue his patriotic father’s legacy. He is however a double agent secretly working for the SS under Obergruppenführer John Smith (Rufus Sewell), a ruthless SS officer investigating the subversive activities of the Resistance in New York. At the instigation of the Resistance, Blake agrees to drive a truck full of coffee-makers to Canon City, where he is supposed to make contact with another member of the Resistance.

Third Reich’s and Imperial Japan’s officials are discussing the last minute details of Japanese state visit at a monumental fascistic edifice that is the new German embassy in San Francisco, Japanese Pacific States.

Just as he is leaving the New York garage, the Nazis raid the premises, round up the remaining members of the resistance group, take them into custody and subject them to brutal interrogation on instructions of Obergruppenführer John Smith. Though the tortured resistance members do not talk, the Nazis already know that the truck dispatched by the Resistance is going to Canon City.

Later, when Blake makes a stopover and examines the undercarriage of the truck, he discovers a concealed box containing a copy of ‘The Grasshopper Lies Heavy’ newsreel. After Blake arrives in Canon City, he visits a diner where he meets and befriends Juliana, who has been waiting there in hopes of meeting with the person set to make contact with her half-sister Trudy.

At the same time, Nobusuke Tagomi (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa), a minor Japanese trade envoy in San Francisco, meets in secret with Nazi

official Rudolf Wegener (Carsten Norgaard), who is travelling incognito as Swedish businessman Victore Baynes. Wegener, a Captain in Reich’s Naval Counter-Intelligence, hopes that Tagomi will be able to arrange a meeting between him and an important Japanese representative. The two discuss the anticipated power vacuum that will open up at the post of Führer when Adolf Hitler, who is now old and frail, dies or is forced to step down due to his worsening Parkinson’s disease, and their concern that the cold war between the Third Reich and Imperial Japan may escalate into an open conflict, as the Reich will try to wrestle control of the rest of the former United States from the Japanese.

The Man in the High Castle television series will premiere on Amazon in November 2015.