Things I Watch When I Am Ironing #5: The Man In The High Castle, series 1

My husband describes The Man in the High Castle as a ‘morbid soap’, and he’s not wrong. Laugh a minute it ain’t.
After the action of the first couple of episodes, not much actually happens in the rest of the series. No-one ever has a proper conversation – they all just look meaningfully at each other and then look away, also meaningfully. However, this creates an impressively oppressive atmosphere – we have no idea what is going on but we know it isn’t anything nice.
Most impressive is the setting – a grubby, run-down America, with pompous Nazi symbolism and mystical Japanese culture pasted over the top.
There are too many coincidences and mumbled misery to take it all too seriously; the chances of Juliana running into Joe the amount of times she does is ludicrous, for a start, and why does Frank’s friend Ed take the gun back to work to dispose of? I mean, the place is full of suspicious eyes and the Japanese have been crawling all over it. Drop it down a drain, for gawd’s sake!
But in most parts, the storyline is solid and the acting is excellent. Top US Nazi John Smith discovering his son has an incurable disease was cleverly handled without histrionics, and the relationship between gentle Mr Tagomi and nervous Juliana was touchingly portrayed.
The closing scene (with the i-ching consulting Mr Tagomi opening his eyes to an alternative 1962 America) was so beautiful and compelling I watched it three times. Man in the high castle posters
After a few episodes of running around and hard stares, the ending of the final two episodes was masterful. It turned the whole premise of the series from ‘what would have happened if?’ to pure sci-fi. Do these films show the future, or a scenario of different futures? Or are they not the future at all, are they different realities? Are we in a time-travelling situation here? Hitler had racks and racks of films – did they help him win the war? Do the films change depending on the things he does? Is he the man in the high castle?? Bring on season two.

Things I think about when I trek to the airing cupboard:

  • Who was the second man in the film Juliana and Frank saw being shot?
  • Is Joe Blake John Smith’s son? Has that actually been said, out loud, by anyone?
  • Why does the nasty Nazi want to kill John Smith? I know it all has to do with the plot to kill Hitler, but that’s as far as I can go.
  • What conditioner does Juliana use? Is it some sort of Japanese concoction? Because, despite all her troubles, her hair is unfailingly divine.
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Things I Watch When I Am Ironing #4: The Man In The High Castle, eps 1 & 2

Why aren’t there more ‘what if’ programmes out there? The scope to be clever and deep is endless when you are weaving an alternative world. Maybe that is why – are they just too intricate to do properly?

The Man In The High Castle builds a world where the allies lost World War II and the Germans and the Japanese divided the United States between them.
Set in 1962, it is based on a Philip K Dick novel I have never read, centred around a banned book describing how the allies actually won the war. In the programme, the book has become a reel of film, a necessary morph using a more visual medium for the screen.

When building a different world, it is the tiny things that make it real. In Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials, which has two Oxfords, one character is confused by the small round marks all over the pavement. It is discarded chewing gum, something we never notice but which did not exist in her world.
In TMITHC it is the friendly highway patrol cop who is actually an autobahn cop, and the endless ballads on the radio – because rock ‘n’ roll never happened.

But cripes, it’s bloody dark. The ice-cream coloured, big-refrigerated America of the 50s never happened, so everyone lives in poky, dirty apartments and everything is falling apart and frayed. Jobs are precious, especially for the native population, and everyone has to keep their heads down and keep quiet.

The main characters are, naturally, frowning and anxious and not particularly engaging.
There are also aspects of the plot that left me – even after two watch-throughs – frowning and anxious myself. The origami man on the bridge – how did he get there and know so much? The thief who stole Juliana’s bag from the bus – how did that save Frank from the firing squad? And the diplomat pretending to be from Sweden who came to visit the Japanese fella and talk about Hitler and I Ching? I mean – why?

Confusing? You betcha. But the cinematography and direction is utterly impressive, and the whole premise is so damned intriguing there is no question that I’ll be clicking onto Amazon Prime and binge-watching as soon as the whole series is released.