The Man in the High Castle: General Discussion, including the book   Books Included 
November 23, 2015 1:48 PM - Season 1 (Full Season) - Subscribe

A glimpse into an alternate history of North America. What life after WWII may have been like if the Nazis had won the war. This thread can include spoilers from the Phillip K. Dick novel that inspired the series.
posted by Happy Dave (36 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I'm only two episodes (so I may go away from this thread for a while) but I'm really interested to see where they go with this.

One thing that I liked about the book was that it avoided some of the Hitler issues by having him already gone. This show is definitely not shying away from that and is full of Nazi imagery, including a few short videos of Hitler.

Beyond that the streamlining of the plot thus far seems to be fair. Dick is a digressive writer, and while I would like to see more time spent at Frank's work on manufacturing fakes, and the desire/demand for specific distillations or versions of the past to play up some of the themes involved the show has been doing well with what it has.

I think transforming The Grasshopper Lies Heavy from a book to newsreel footage is brilliant. I'm bristling at reading the thread on the first episode, seeing people wonder how the show will explain the existence of the footage. If they follow the lead of the book, we'll learn it is because the newsreel footage is real, and the occupation of the United States is an illusion.
posted by mountmccabe at 2:22 PM on November 23, 2015 [1 favorite]

The book and the series diverge, a lot. The book was a hard read for me when I was younger since PDK plays with unreliable narration. I agree that switching the book to a film is brilliant. The series has combined and pared down characters so that you have tighter narration.

The visuals are amazing. It is the mundane and the extraordinary juxtaposed that creates an almost feeling, of some sort. I am not sure if anyone noticed this, but did you think that the lead actors looked like other well known actors? I thought Frank looked like Brad Pitt while the female was Jean Tripplehorn. I was trying to decide if this was purposeful or if my facial recognition software was a bit off.
posted by jadepearl at 4:45 PM on November 23, 2015 [2 favorites]

Yes the two questions PKD loved most were "what is human" and "what is real" and TMITHK definitely falls into the "what is real" camp. PKD's unreliable narration trick will be less useful in a film since filmic images seem definite. The series will have to somehow make film itself, including the series iteself seem unreliable in order to pull the trick PKD was aiming for in the story.

I love the world-building in the series. The monuments and swastikas everywhere are entirely in character with what the Nazis really did. The series Japanese are kind of following in kind but not as spectacularly, because that really isn't so much their nosh.

It would be absolute perfection to learn that the showrunners are consulting the I Ching to determine how best to adapt the story. If they're doing that I wonder if the oracle will deny them a fated ending as it did to PKD.
posted by Bringer Tom at 4:51 PM on November 23, 2015 [3 favorites]

I've only seen the pilot episode and read the book a good while ago, but none of that's important right now. What I really want to know is: is anyone else irresistibly compelled to refer to it as The Man In The Hi'c'sle?
posted by comealongpole at 7:41 AM on November 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

If they follow the lead of the book, we'll learn it is because the newsreel footage is real, and the occupation of the United States is an illusion.
Not sure I'd describe the book that way. They figure out that the Grasshopper story is based on another reality (which isn't the same as ours) and Tagomi also has the moment where he perceives a third reality (which is probably our world.) But I don't think you're supposed to come away from it thinking the High Castle universe is any less real than ours. If anything, they're all illusory.
posted by cnelson at 10:53 AM on November 24, 2015 [3 favorites]

cnelson: "They figure out that the Grasshopper story is based on another reality"

I think this is stated way too strongly. The characters have the vaguest, vaguest of senses that these films might be something more than just clever works of fiction, but that sentiment seems purely borne out of hope and desperation. Until Tagomi's earthly time-slip, there is nothing in evidence for the viewers to believe otherwise.
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell at 8:32 AM on November 25, 2015 [2 favorites]

Wait, did PKD also consult the I Ching for his plot switches? I thought that was just the gimmick for the Man In The High Castle. Now I wonder what the other options would have been.
posted by corb at 3:24 AM on November 26, 2015 [1 favorite]

Not sure what you're asking, corb. PKD often recounted that he let the I Ching plot The Man in the High Castle, presumably by casting a reading whenever a character makes a plot-influencing decision. And he always ended the story by complaining bitterly that the oracle refused to give him an ending; it made him make the final choices. This is, of course, fully in character for both the I Ching and the Tarot if you've ever worked with them.

After that he never tried it again.
posted by Bringer Tom at 11:06 AM on November 26, 2015 [3 favorites]

Uuuuugh I am having Issues with this adaptation. (Episode five so far)

There's a through line of making Our White Heros totally and completely relatable and utterly in the right so they keep saying "Nazi" in places where they would just say the government, or the state and they keep ...setting up things that could lead to little jabs on how maybe fascism and all American spirit go hand in hand, but it's too afraid to make anyone but most "I am literally a skull with skin" Nazi officer evil or complicated in any way.

Which ties into the bigger problem that everyone acts like the Axis took over last week not over 30 years ago. It brings up big themes but handles them clunkily and has a complete tin ear for cultural references or baggage. And stuff like the Bible being banned (so gross! Don't do this people, the Nazis where not anti Christian sheesh) and the Japanese wearing western business suits (WHY) or this open and pourous border situation .....

Like, this needs to be much, much weirder. The kind of person who goes "I want to watch an alt history series" is the kind of person who wants weirdness, difference, an unrecongizable alternate 1962. It loses so much source richness by going generic, we don't see how much more hands off and livable the Pacifuc states are compared to the factory robot dystopian east coast -- and like half the book are meditations on internalized cultural imperialism and racial self-hatred and the inability to determine the real from the fake.

That's not a rah rah Le Resistance story. That's a Horror thriller with spyish undertones. Imagine Vertigo set in this universe.

They do manage to get in the best character from the book, the antiques dealer, and he's perfectly cast, but so far has only one scene. ( no one else really stands out but the scene chewing Nazi Marshall gets points for being like, imported from another, more interesting movie)

Visually it's full of bloom and flat, flat flat. This should be 60% Noir-ier! Id kill for a halfway decent in shadow shot.

So far the only change I really like is changing it to a newsreel, which makes it much more Fringe-y woo and TV accessible. Also they manage to make the necklace changing hands more coherent then I remember book wise .

Gonna finish it today out of completionism zeal and to see if it bothers to go strange ....
posted by The Whelk at 10:10 AM on November 27, 2015 [9 favorites]

I agree with the idea that the three realities of the book were all illusory, including our own reality. In real PKD reality, the Roman empire never fell.
posted by rhamphorhynchus at 1:58 PM on November 27, 2015 [3 favorites]

Whelk: "There's a through line of making Our White Heros totally and completely relatable and utterly in the right so they keep saying "Nazi" in places where they would just say the government, or the state"

I think you have this exactly backwards. These are people living in an occupied country, who do not recognize the legitimacy of the occupiers. They are not like you or me. Calling the ruling regime "the government" or "the state" would confer credibility on those rulers.
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell at 4:06 PM on November 27, 2015 [4 favorites]

In real PKD reality, the Roman empire never fell.

PKD did not realize this, though, untl 1974 when he got the PInk Beam. He wrote The Man in the HIgh Castle in 1962, when his views on the big questions of human and real were still in flux. I suspect 1962 PKD would have said that all the realities are equally and not quite adequately real, all being flawed and inadequate taken individually. The idea that it's Acts of the Apostles all the way down did not really occur to him until 1974 though.
posted by Bringer Tom at 6:28 PM on November 27, 2015 [4 favorites]

One of the questions I really want some answers to and the series so far has not directly addressed but has hinted at is, what's happened to all the Asian Americans in California? For the first few episodes, I assumed all the Asians were originally from Japan since they either spoke only Japanese, had Japanese names, and/or spoke slightly accented English. And I was totally giving up thinking the series was only about Nazi's and White Americans.

But, a couple of small characters have started making me think the creators did at least think about this question. Christine Tanaka who works in the Nippon Government HQ has an American first name and speaks American English leads me hints at this, as does Sergeant Yoshida (Kido's assistant) who speaks completely unaccented English. I really want to find out more about these characters and how they navigate their everyday life and how their parents (who might have even fought against the Axis in WW2!) feel about their kids working with the Imperial Japanese government?
posted by FJT at 3:17 PM on November 28, 2015 [2 favorites]

Hmm okay that last episode should've been like, the 3rd episode.

That about sums up me feelings.
posted by The Whelk at 6:57 PM on November 28, 2015 [1 favorite]

A really interesting question, FJT. A related thought: Perhaps the Japanese conquerors liberated the internment camps (if we went that route in the MHC timeline).

That actually raises another, much bigger matter: What is the "point of divergence" between their timeline and ours? In the book, I believe that FDR is assassinated early in his first term, leading to a string of weaker/more isolationist presidents who fail to prepare the country adequately for war and leave American vulernable after Germany and Japan conquer their nearer foes.

But it's not clear what the POD is in the show. We are told (by the antiques dealer) that FDR was in fact assassinated, though we don't know when. Other than that, I cannot think of any hints we're given as to why the US lost. Any ideas out there?

Also, this tremendous catch really intrigued me:
So, the Trade Ministers assistant. Does anyone think he came from "our" timeline?

He has severe burn scarring on his arms, as glimpsed by Juliana, and he comes from Nagasaki. He appears very troubled when the Trade minister discusses this with him as well.
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell at 9:32 PM on November 28, 2015 [6 favorites]

There is already a Man in the High Castle wiki, which could use some love.
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell at 10:46 PM on November 28, 2015

I am still wrapping my head around certain things. Here is what has stuck out to me: that the minor characters are more interesting than the main two. Wegener seemed such a minor character, but he ends up with the best conversation about sins of the past and with Hitler, no less! Also, trying to get around that Hitler is the better option and one hopes that he will survive an assassination attempt. Really, I can't believe I am "rooting" for Hitler to make it alive. This gets weird when I got viable political candidates saying that they would kill baby Hitler if they could time travel. Damn it, this is the 21st century!
posted by jadepearl at 2:10 PM on November 29, 2015 [6 favorites]

That final twist is truly amazing—to get us rooting for Hitler is just a remarkable feat. It does raise a question, though: Why doesn't Hitler want war with Japan? He wanted war with everyone else (including the U.S.), and the Nazis obviously view Asians as inferior, even if they've managed to make common cause with them. But why, in his old age, has Hitler become a relative pacifist?

I suppose the answer might lie in the filmstrips. As Hitler says (god that is a weird phrase to type), he learns something every time he views one of them. Perhaps he has learned just how unlikely his success was, and how fragile it might be, even if he thinks he has a military advantage over Japan.
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell at 2:44 PM on November 29, 2015 [2 favorites]

I was honestly expecting him to say something like he saw a documentary about TV and had the first Riechset off the factory line in six months ...which would've taken it to a niceMerchant Princes place ...if it had come much earlier.
posted by The Whelk at 3:33 PM on November 29, 2015

I am just going to post this comment without reading the other comments because [sticks fingers in ears and says FALALALALALA] we have watched only the first three episodes. I read the book after seeing the pilot and I had initial mixed feelings turning into negative reaction to the massive changes made. As we watch, I say to the BF, yeah that's not in the book, um that's not in the book. You get the idea. Let it be noted that I am not necessarily opposed to changes in the spirit of a great adaptation, but I am not seeing it right now. Maybe I'll be wrong.
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 7:10 PM on November 29, 2015 [2 favorites]

If we want to take Hitler's nemesis' words on the matter, Hitler struck a deal with the Japanese and feels honor bound (a weak trait) to uphold the original post-war agreement. I do think the suggestion that Hitler has learned something from the films (and he's amassed quite the collection of them) is also valid. The films "change people" and we aren't really told how, given that the Resistance never actually watch them, themselves. At least our pair operating in the Pacific States.

the Japanese wearing western business suits (WHY)

Perhaps because they were wearing them in Japan prior to the war? Japanese society following the Meiji Restoration began a wholesale adoption of many Western practices in the name of modernization, including wearing Western-style business clothes. There was a sense by many of the reformers that Japan had become mired in old ways and traditions, so they needed to adopt the habits of the more successful (modern) nations. One reformer, and I apologize for not remembering his name, even advocated ditching the Japanese language completely, in exchange for English (more as a nod to the British Empire versus the U.S.). This also involved the abolishing of the feudal system, along with the samurai - it became illegal to carry katanas, for example. Here's a brief overview of the time period.

Spoilers concerning the entirety of the season below.

But...we do have the unique opportunity where three of the protagonist have seen them, Joe, Juliana, and Frank. Joe has maybe seen himself in the film, but it's unclear if he saw the scenes in the strip featuring his role in executing Frank. All three of them have been affected, though it really waits to be seen if Joe has truly changed or if he just finished a masterful playing of Juliana. He obviously hasn't followed through on Smith's orders to kill her, though.

I really enjoyed this series, if only from the world building perspective. As we progressed toward the end, it was kind of giddy-inducing to see the care taken to create all the architectural monuments and buildings that the Nazis and Hitler had dreamed of creating in a post-war period. I would have appreciated some characters who weren't Caucasian, but I can appreciate how that might have narrowed storytelling opportunities given the environment and atmosphere that existed in the occupied portions of the country.

I found myself really liking all the main characters, even the 'bad guys.' Rufus Sewell put on the best expression in the world, a satisfied cat having caught its prey, when he tricked Joe into exposing himself in his study. I adored that look he wore. His Smith started off as your creepy alternative Ozzie Nelson version of 1950/60 America, who just happens to be a high ranking SS officer, complete with all the horrible inclinations attached to that job. That he has so far apparently resisted the law and code he lives by, refusing so far to euthanize his son, helped to dramatically color in his character with more than the black and white shades that had previously existed.

I loved the tragic idealistic Trade Minister presented by Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa. He was adept at the mixture of stoic acceptance and a tragic realization that his efforts to keep war from happening might have well backfired. His assistant's emotional outbreak, at the end, was a nice touch, and I love the possibility that he might have slipped over from our timeline. Perhaps to prevent San Francisco undergoing what Nagasaki did?

The Chief Inspector, who began as something of a one note character, essentially a minor version of Smith, also grew on me at the end. I appreciated his dedication to his nation, and his own efforts to avoid a war with the Nazis (if for slightly different reasons). The final scene where he extends his sword to his assistant, only to be offered the pistol was a lovely one.

Incidentally, I don't find myself wanting to write all that much about our main three, Frank, Juliana, and Joe. They all undergo terrible trials or find themselves placed in impossible situations, but they are much more being swept with the current than being of it. Juliana as a character didn't change a lot from who she was at the start of the season, except perhaps in potentially leaving Frank for Joe (doubtful?). Joe's character, we want to believe has changed, and we know he isn't the die hard follower of Smith he might have once been, but we don't know how deep that change is until we see him essentially cut his ties to his boss. He didn't kill Juliana, yet, but even near the end, he was still trying to be an agent. Frank may have undergone the most change, from an apathetic, somewhat self-centered artist forced to work in a factory making forgeries, to a guy who is allowed to rediscover his Jewish roots, is forced to suffer the anguish of losing his sister and her children, and moves from someone who was fine, if not happy, with the current situation to one living to escape it. Perhaps I'm unfairly harsh on the characters, I cared about them when stakes were high, but I don't think they enjoyed a lot of characterization.

There were inconsistencies about the show which bugged me, such as the ban on Bibles, at least in the German controlled territories. Religion is such a thick part of the American fabric, such a move would have incited even greater unrest for occupiers. I would have expected something closer to a co-opting of faith, not it's banning. In the Pacific States, I can grasp it as a decision to enforce State Shinto, but I don't recall Christianity being banned in Imperial Japan in the 20s-40s (given it had such a small footprint). If you draw upon the Shogunate Era, then I suppose it works. The premise of an occupied America really relies upon a suspension of disbelief. The storyteller has constructed a fiction by which to make a point, and so we have to accept it.

Ultimately, I loved the ending with Minister Tagomi, and I find myself wanting to watch the next few minutes with him, more so than any other storyline. The manner in which the scene abruptly cut to black, right as the song was about to hit the chorus, almost slaps you with a sense of "This story isn't done yet!" There's so much that can be discussed about the show, episode by episode, but it generally holds up well. I can't wait for season two.
posted by Atreides at 9:28 AM on December 1, 2015 [5 favorites]

I may comment in more detail in threads specific to particular episodes, but as someone who has read the book several times over the years, my big problem with the series, despite its lavish and meticulous production, was with the characters of Frank, Juliana, and Joe, none of whom I found consistent, compelling, or particularly interesting. It might be worth observing that they were the most radically different from how they were described in the novel, especially Frank, who is a completely different character. (I find myself cynically assuming that making Frank so much younger and a kind of Brooklyn-hip trendy/angsty guy was a marketing decision.)

The characters of Tagomi, Childan, and Wegener were much better done (or perhaps simply had more skilled actors portraying them). And Obergruppenfuhrer Smith can't be compared to the book since he was new to the series, though Sewell is an established actor who did a good job with the role.
posted by aught at 1:14 PM on December 1, 2015 [2 favorites]

I'm actually pathetically grateful they changed Juliana's character, who I can only describe in PKD's book as "Let Me Show You How Much I Really Hate Women."
posted by corb at 4:30 PM on December 1, 2015 [1 favorite]

A more faithful adaptation of the book would have been an absolutely terrible 10-episode tv show. This show was damn fun with its very liberal adaptation of the source material, despite leaning too much on the main three characters. By the end I was much more interested in what was happening with Tagomi, the Chief Inspector and Smith than the three leads. But now the show is free to pivot away from those guys and follow up more interesting storylines for season 2.
posted by skewed at 5:41 PM on December 7, 2015 [1 favorite]

Episode 4 up here.
posted by Happy Dave at 12:39 AM on December 8, 2015 [1 favorite]

I'm only up to Episode 3 and haven't read the book. I also watched the first two episodes on my little TV so I'm sure I missed a lot of critical visual detail, will have to rewatch on the big screen.

Are we to assume that the Axis Powers won the war, say, around 1943? If Joe is 27 and "never knew freedom," that would put us at 1970.

So all the fifties fashion and car styling seems a bit off to me... unless we're to assume that under the Axis, things stayed culturally backward while technology advanced apace. But time standing still in the fifties just seems weird.

Can anyone splain without a lot of spoilers? Or am I being Emily Litella here?
posted by Sheydem-tants at 5:30 AM on December 9, 2015

It's my understanding that it all takes place in the 1960s (particularly based on the fashion trends in San Francisco). It wouldn't be surprising if America under Nazi rule was more conservative and so, did not advance into the "1960s" as much as America under Japanese occupation. The Japanese don't seem to have demanded as much cultural adherence on their Americans as the Germans. Also, Joe never knowing freedom doesn't mean he was born under occupation, but simply was too young at the time of the defeat to remember what a free America was like.
posted by Atreides at 7:27 AM on December 9, 2015 [1 favorite]

I believe later in the show it is indicated that the war was not finally resolved until 1947.
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell at 10:42 AM on December 9, 2015 [1 favorite]

Episode 5 up here. Includes an explanation of what Tagomi and Wegener are up to, if you haven't seen it yet/figured it out.
posted by Happy Dave at 1:08 PM on December 14, 2015

This is mildly interesting at best, but the picture of the building used in the assassination attempt report read by Tagomi in EP #6 is actually of front entrance of the Apple Campus at 1 Infinite Loop.
posted by sideshow at 9:00 PM on January 4, 2016 [1 favorite]

I finished last night. I'd never heard of this book before. I didn't know anything about the series before I started watching last week but seeing the title on Fanfare intrigued me. I just really loved the imagery: The Man in the High Castle. It reminded me of Zane Grey somehow. I really enjoyed the series, the world building, the minor [sic] characters, not so much the bland main threesome. After the pilot, a few blah episodes but the latter half of the series was well worth watching but oh man, now that I know who The Man is, I need a shower.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 7:03 PM on January 12, 2016 [1 favorite]

I'm a bit late to the party here, but I finished the first season last night and needed somewhere to vent my ideas.

So, at the end of this, the situation is rather ambiguous. The plot to assassinate Hitler fails, which seems like a win for the secret peace faction. But, giving the nuclear bomb plans to the Japanese government seems to have stirred them to a new level of belligerence, rather than establishing a MAD-style peaceful standoff. Joe escapes from the 'resistance' (who have secretly been working for Hitler all along? Maybe without even knowing it?). Frank Frink arrives just in time to let Ed take the fall for his crime but probably not late enough that the Kempeitai won't still be interested in him.

So with all this happening, Trade Minister Tagomi goes to the park, sits down, closes his eyes, thinks really hard, and wakes up in the Cuban Missile Crisis. I wonder if this is really much of an improvement. Instead of nuclear armed Reich vs nuclear-aspiring Japan, we have two fully developed nuclear powers teetering on the edge of armageddon. Maybe no one is suffering under the Reich or the Empire of Japan, but it's not like the world is free of suffering either under the USSR, the USA's colonial territories (Okinawa? West Berlin?), or in the proxy wars between rival superpowers. So what is the point? Tagomi can only imagine a world that is suffering in a different way.
posted by rustcrumb at 10:45 AM on February 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

I think the timeline, presumably our timeline, that Tagomi finds himself in is intended to be seen as the better timeline if only because the super powers at play, the United States and the USSR are better alternatives to the Japanese Empire and the Third Reich. In his original timeline, the eradication of the Jewish people continued unabated, extending to the United States, not to mention the other policies, such as executing individuals with disabilities. While the USSR is indeed a police state, the freedom is a bit more plentiful in the United States (unless you're a possible Communist).

In short, the former Axies faction is much more likely to destroy each other and the world than the USA and USSR.

The Ed last minute arrest was heavily advertised for a number of the episodes, which I found kind of annoying. Though, I agree, it's hard to think the Kempeitai won't continue to keep an eye on Frank. They killed his sister and her children, incarcerated him and threatened him over his Jewish roots. There's no reason to believe he's going to be free and clear of their eyes in the future.
posted by Atreides at 11:15 AM on February 8, 2016

I think the timeline, presumably our timeline, that Tagomi finds himself in is intended to be seen as the better timeline if only because the super powers at play, the United States and the USSR are better alternatives to the Japanese Empire and the Third Reich.

Thinking of the Philip K. Dick source material (which is different from the TV series in several important plot points, but does have this particular scene), I'm more inclined to agree with rustcrumb on this question. I had issues with a lot of the tv series (esp. when contrasted with the original novel) but I this scene was actually better in the series than the novel in drawing out the contrast. In the novel, I mainly recall Tagomi being upset the occupied-American passers-by in his vision of "our" timeline aren't bowing and scraping to him enough, which feels more petty and arrogant than the bigger-picture political contrast we get in the tv series.
posted by aught at 9:05 AM on February 12, 2016

Watching this very belatedly.

the characters of Frank, Juliana, and Joe, none of whom I found consistent, compelling, or particularly interesting

They're pretty but so, so dumb. Like, a lot of their stupidity is totally character-driven and not plot-induced, but how are they all still alive?

I also found it very hard to care about any of the Nazis other than maybe Wegener, who was after all trying to stop a world war. I don't care if Papa Nazi is trying to be a good father! And Joe is so boring- and such a Nazi- that just fucking shooting him seems like such a good idea. I don't care if you met a nice woman who made you feel things, you're still a Nazi, you haven't done anything to be redeemed.
posted by BungaDunga at 11:40 AM on July 28, 2018

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