NOV / DEC 2017: BY CHARITY BISHOP
Amazon’s series The Man in the High Castle is many things… a sci-fi adventure with an alternate timeline, a mind-bending glimpse into a different history, a philosophical exploration of abstract concepts and themes, and… a heart-wrenching story of love, loss, and struggle within different households. The series’ inability to choose sides, its devotion to creating villains and heroes in every faction, and its emotional moments make it unique.
It’s so complex, such a ‘thinking man’s series,’ it’s hard to choose where to focus. In The Man in the High Castle, America lost the war with Germany and Japan. The ‘allies’ divided the United States into territories, the east coast occupied by the Germans, the west coast by the Japanese, and the middle section ‘neutral territory.’ The mysterious ‘Man in the High Castle’ sends out and smuggles tapes of Hitler’s defeat in an alternate historical timeline to rouse the resistance, and the Germans and Japanese are desperate to stop him. The Nazis have terminated hundreds of thousands of Jews and anyone sick or deformed while the Japanese now displace the Americans into ‘second class citizens.’ Good and bad people exist on all sides of the conflict, from the ruthless bounty hunter / murderer in the neutral zone, to ruthless the Nazi commanders, and the rigid Japanese officers… but two men stand out, in particular.
One is Mr. Tagomi, whose meditative practices transport him into a second dimension (our reality)… a world of freedom in America, devoid of Nazism or Japanese occupation. Tagomi becomes so curious about this world, and so desperate to experience it, he continues to shift in and out of time, vanishing from his timeline and appearing in… ours. While “here,” he rediscovers his wife and family. His gradual understanding of how the Americans defeated the Japanese in the war (through the Adam Bomb) encourages him to bring a film reel to his timeline from ours, showing the bomb detonation, to fool the Germans into believing the Japanese have a nuclear bomb after Hitler’s death threatens the already-unstable Japanese/German alliance.
Tagomi is a moral, compassionate, dignified man, abhorrent of war, an idealist who longs for a more innocent, peaceful time caught up as a cog in a machine he cannot stop. He is as much a victim of circumstance as a perpetrator of evil; he cannot back down or argue against his government’s policies or he will die. His circumstances leave him no choice but to take part in greater evils if he wants to protect himself and those he loves. He does not share his views of the Japanese occupation with the audience, but he does not accept or embrace its brutalities while being patriotic in his desire to protect his people from German threats.
His adversary is John Smith, a Nazi officer for the American Reich. While Tagomi does not embrace his nation’s ideologies, Smith believes in Nazi principles, in eradicating ‘worthless’ people, domination, creating the ‘ideal family,’ racial superiority, and adherence to Hitler’s belief system. He raises his family in it, his wife shares his convictions, and he even turns in old family friends who prove unable or unwilling to commit to the Nazi mentality. These attitudes should make him loathsome, and do ignite a sense of horrified repugnance in the viewer… but, he is also a father who would do anything to protect his children. His parental concerns make us able to relate to him as he faces every German father’s worst nightmare: he discovers his son has an incurable disease that renders him ‘useless’ in the eyes of the State.
Faced with a lethal injection (or, the Doctor says, the State will come get him)… Smith realizes he does not believe in Nazi values after all, when it comes to his own son. The beliefs he espoused, they way he looked aside as others lost their lives, does not stand when it comes to his family, his eldest boy. Smith decides to save the child’s life. He murders the doctor who knows the truth, presides over his funeral and ensures a cremation so no one can find out the truth. He arranges for his son to take an extended trip to South America, and for others to meet him and keep him safe. He lies to his wife and son at first, but will not let this horrific injustice happen to his flesh and blood.
Then comes the dramatic power punch of season two; where season one shocked us as Tagomi opened his eyes in “our” New York Central Square, season two concludes with Smith’s son turning himself in to the German authorities as a “defective.” Smith has been such a “perfect” Nazi, he raised the perfect Nazi, a boy so brainwashed with Hitler’s ideologies, he has the strength to do what even Smith cannot—die for the greater cause, for the Third Reich.
Humans do not want to admit the potential for evil in all of us; we want to believe the best of ourselves and that we would make different decisions from the majority in a different time and place. We would never stand aside and do nothing or commit atrocities! The Man in the High Castle humanizes its villains enough to make us realize… it could be any one of us, we could be any one of them, for all it takes for an evil ideology to grip a nation is for people to stand aside, to believe it, embrace it, and share views not true in their heart… or that are true. It shows us Tagomi, a man who cannot act more than he does, because his death would be useless for the greater good; Inspector Kido, a man whose ‘honor’ is so great, he would die if he failed Japan (the true believer); John Smith, a man who thought he believed in Nazism until it impacted his family; Frank Frink, who becomes a terrorist… or is he a freedom fighter? It depends on if you see it from an American perspective or through Tagomi’s eyes when Frank almost kills him. It shows us Joe Blake, a Nazi who sees things in a different light, and Julianna Crane, an innocent, honorable girl caught up in the middle who does not want to do evil.
This series has an important message for its modern audience: our biased perspectives skew the nature of good and evil, and we should judge no one until we can better understand them. Everyone bleeds, feels pain, and loves their country. And somehow, the audience wants none of them, even though most are on opposite sides, to die.