Amazon could have their next big drama with Frank Spotnitz’s adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle. The pilot plays with our history in a way that will draw in both history buffs and science fiction fans.
The Man in the High Castle is set in a world where the Axis Powers won World War II and the US is just a territory split by Nazi Germany and Imperialist Japan. We meet two people on different ends of the country: Juliana Crane (Alexa Davalos), who lives in the half occupied by Japan and has fully assimilated into the culture. and Joe Blake (Luke Kleintank), who works in secret for the Resistance. Joe’s first task is to transport secret cargo to a city in “The Neutral Zone.” When Juliana’s sister Trudy (Conor Leslie) secretly returns, it shakes up her world. Trudy gives her sister a package and is then gunned down by police. Juliana learns her sister was also in the Resistance and decides to take her identity and her mission. Joe and Juliana meet and are unaware about the journey they will share, which will get complicated since Joe is really a Nazi soldier sent to infiltrate the Resistance.
Amazon made a good choice in picking this book adaptation. The Man in the High Castle has great characters, a world that stems from a serious historical event and it excels by just throwing viewers into the action.
There are several moving parts in the pilot so throwing viewers into the story right away paid off. Exposition reigns supreme in mythology or set-up sequences but opening with Joe’s assignment shows faith in television viewers and makes a great start for a potential series. By the time Juliana and Joe meet, you understand where the players fit into the world; Joe brings the political component with him to the West, while you understand how everyday life is impacted through Juliana.
Davalos and Kleintank are great choices to lead the charge as Juliana and Joe, respectively, as both of them attempt to keep their secrets from being discovered. In a time where everyone is cautious and suspicious, any secret is a terrible burden.
The biggest asset to The Man in the High Castle is the world the pilot is set in. I am no fan of the “city is a character” thing but what this pilot taps into has made franchises great. Film series like Harry Potter and The Hunger Games boast a visually interesting world that draws us in, which is also present in The Man in the High Castle pilot. While that brings in the science fiction crowd, history buffs can also dive into the alternate history tale.
Obviously, The Man in the High Castle is not a runaway hit like Amazon’s Transparent pilot, but it’s the all-star of the current crop. The basics are there: fascinating tale, great characters and compelling source material. I’d vote for this one.