The United States of America are the occupied states of America in Amazon’s newest drama The Man in the High Castle, which uses Philip K. Dick’s 1962 novel as a jumping-off point as it asks: What if the Allied Forces hadn’t won World War II?
In a moment, we’ll want to hear what you think of the series’ premiere. But first, a brief recap:
The series opens in 1962, 17 years after America and its allies were bested by Germany and Japan in the Second World War. In New York City — part of the “Greater Nazi Reich” — we’re brought into the story by Joe Blake (Luke Kleintank, Bones), a young man who arrives at a New York City shipping company with an offer: He wants to join the resistance movement.
The shipping company boss, Warren (Michael Rispoli, Magic City), who’s also a leader in the underground fight, hesitantly assigns Joe to drive a truck from Manhattan to the neutral zone between Germany and Japan’s areas of influence. Just as Joe is about to leave, Nazi officers raid the facility; young Blake makes it out in time, but others are killed and the leader is taken into custody.
Meanwhile, in the Japanese Pacific States, we meet Juliana (Alexa Davalos, Mob City), who lives with her boyfriend, Frank (Rupert Evans, The BBC’s The Village) in California. Juliana’s half-sister Trudy (Conor Leslie, Revenge) runs into her one day, saying she’s “found the reason… for everything” but declines to offer details; the next time we see her, she forces Juliana to take a purse she’s carrying, then is shot in the street by the Japanese police who have been pursuing her.
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Inside the bag? A film reel marked “The Grasshopper Lies Heavy,” containing World War II news footage that looks familiar to us: victories at Normandy, Iwo Jima and the like. A shell-shocked Juliana watches in tears; when Frank comes home, he says he’s heard of the filmmaker — known as The Man in the High Castle — who makes anti-fascist movies.
“Just having them is treason,” he says, scared, and demands that she turn the film in to police and distance herself from all things Trudy as soon as possible. Juliana says she will… but the next morning, working off instructions from one of her sister’s contacts, boards a bus to Cannon City in Trudy’s place.
During their respective trips, Joe and Juliana encounter threats and revelations. Someone chats Juliana up just to steal her luggage; good thing she has the reel close by, eh? And Joe is shocked to learn, via a kindly state trooper (pardon me, autobahn patrol officer) in Missouri, that the local hospitals burn the elderly and terminally ill once a week — hence the ash, falling like snow as Joe stops to change a busted tire. (He later realizes he’s carrying contraband materials, too.)
Meanwhile, there’s some big drama paying out on the world stage, as well. Hitler is said to be ill, and the power struggle going on among his possible successors has everyone a little on edge. Plus, the German and Japanese trade ministers are in secret talks, which would get either of them in very hot water if it were discovered.
But back to Joe and Juliana: When the two very attractive travelers meet in Cannon City (he offers to pay for her breakfast when she can’t), they chat for a few minutes before he steps away to make a phone call. And that’s when we learn that Joe is actually a Nazi spy who has infiltrated the resistance (!).
Coming from executive producer Frank Spotnitz (The X-Files) and with the imprimatur of Dick’s own daughter, Isa Dick Hackett (who’s also an EP), it’s no surprise that the hour is a suspenseful, well-written, lavishly produced What If? Bottom line: We’re along for the ride.
Now we want to hear what you think. Grade the episode via the poll below, then hit the comments to back up your thoughts!