On December 16, Amazon Prime will premiere the second season of The Man in the High Castle, which is based upon the classic novel by Philip K. Dick. And if you haven’t seen it yet, you’re missing out on one of the best TV series from the past few years!
The Man in the High Castle imagines a world in which the Axis powers not only won World War II, they carved up the United States between them. In the west, there are the Japanese Pacific States, while most of the east coast is under the control of the Greater Nazi Reich. A slim neutral zone exists between the two empires, but there were many hints in the first season that a new war between Germany and Japan is inevitable.
This may be the darkest of all possible timelines, but hope has come from the titular Man in the High Castle. Somehow, his underground film reels appear to depict worlds in which the Axis didn’t win the war, and that inspires a young woman named Juliana Crain (Alexa Davalos) to seek out the resistance and attempt to make that world a reality.
In of itself, that would have been an entertaining premise for a series. But The Man in the High Castle pushed its premise even further by humanizing even its most loathsome main character, Obergruppenführer John Smith. As portrayed by Rufus Sewell, Smith is an American Nazi and a true monster. And yet the show made us feel for him when Smith’s choices caught up to him. Under the strict rule of the Nazis, even Smith’s family was vulnerable to their horrific agenda. When that happened, Smith wasn’t just a villain, he was a father facing an unthinkable choice.
Another intriguing character was Japanese trade minister Nobusuke Tagomi (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa), who was portrayed as a genuinely good man in the service of a totalitarian regime. Even when his own honor and standing were on the line, Tagomi proved that he had more dimensions than most of his colleagues. The season finale broadly hinted that Tagomi may have an even bigger part to play as the series continues.
Fortunately, the show didn’t neglect its heroic characters. Juliana’s boyfriend, Frank Frink (Rupert Evans) was also unwillingly thrust into the story because of her actions, and he paid an extremely high price throughout the first season. Frank wasn’t a typical hero, and his darker impulses inadvertently led to even more tragedy. There are no perfect people, especially in this world. And that brings us to Joe Blake (Luke Kleintank), the remaining central character. After the first season, it’s still not entirely clear where Blake’s loyalties lie, even though he has ties to both sides of the conflict. Somehow, we suspect that the series will come down to the choices made by each character, and Blake’s decisions could change the outcome for everyone.
We’ve tried to keep this primer largely spoiler free because The Man in the High Castle deserves to be experienced rather than summarized. The ten episode first season is available to stream now, and fans should have enough time to catch up before the new season debuts on December 16.
For fans who have already seen the series, we’ve picked the best episodes from season 1 of The Man in the High Castle. Fair warning, there are some spoilers below!
“The New World” Season 1 Episode 1
The pilot episode masterfully set up the alternate universe of the show, as Juliana Crain discovers the truth about her half-sister and the existence of an alternate world. The episode also introduced the rest of the major players and set the stage for the first season. It may have been the first installment, but it still holds up as an impressive achievement even when compared to the rest of the season.
“Sunrise” Season 1 Episode 2
The second episode of the series didn’t let up on the intensity, as Frank paid for Juliana’s actions in the most cruel way possible. On many other shows, that tragedy would have been averted at the last second. But this series plays for keeps, much to Frank’s regret.
“Three Monkees” Season 1 Episode 6
Joe had a very tense day at the home of Obergruppenführer John Smith and his family, which Joe correctly realized to be a trap. Expect the trap wasn’t for Joe alone. Meanwhile, Juliana found a job working for Tagomi, who hired her despite the risk of receiving blowback for that decision.
“End of the World” Season 1 Episode 8
This is the episode that brought Obergruppenführer John Smith into focus, as he learned that his own son would have to be euthanized under the Nazi’s strict laws regarding genetic flaws and illnesses. For once, Smith had to seriously question his actions as he struggled to decide his next move.
“A Way Out” Season 1 Episode 10
Frank and Juliana discovered that someone close to them was a traitor, but that paled in comparison to the revelation that not only was the Third Reich aware of the Man in the High Castle, but even Hitler himself was studying his film reels! The closing moments of the season also teased that the alternate worlds may be closer than previously believed.
What was your favorite episode from the first season of The Man in the High Castle? Let us know in the comment section below!