Amazon Prime has premiered its pilot of The Man In the High Castle. And good lord, we hope they make more, because it's great. Here's everything you need to know about the new series along with how it's different from Philip K. Dick's novel.
Briefly and spoiler-free, I can honestly say I loved this pilot. It's an impressive, streamlined undertaking of a fairly complicated and very beloved novel. And, so far, all the changes seem to be swinging in High Castle's favor. For those of you unaware, the series takes place in 1962 in an alternate universe where Germany and Japan won WWII. The two winners have now divided up the US (and the rest of the world, but that's not touched upon in the pilot just yet). Japan has the West Coast to the Rocky Mountains, there's a neutral zone, and the Nazis own everything else to the Atlantic Ocean. In the series we meet two characters on opposite ends of the country both blindly heading towards Colorado in order to pass along a newsreel for the secret underground rebellion. That's all just the surface stuff. Now let's dive deeper into what we really thought (spoilers ahead).
Hey all other new TV series coming out in 2015, The Man In the High Castle's opening title sequence is officially the one to beat. Seriously, just watch this thing. It gave me chills. Spectacular stuff.
The use of "Edelweiss" is absolutely creeptastic and the video imagery also does a pretty good job of setting up the scenario for the series.
Gorgeous World Building!
Before we start breaking down the differences and spoiling things, I just want to say that this series is stunning. Everything, top to bottom, is gorgeous. Meticulous care was spent making props and costumes. There's a scene where character Nobusuke Tagomi (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa) is looking over the Nazi embassy in the Japanese territory and someone built an absolutely gorgeous little model of the building so all the characters could hover over it and furrow their brows.
And the larger moments are really something. Look at downtown San Francisco:
And New York's Time Square:
My favorite part of this novel is the world building, and it's very reassuring to see the amount of work production, FX, props and costumes put in to creating this alternate universe. Everything is done in a pretty exciting way. Even the entry zone into the neutral territory is great. This is a fully realized world.
The Book Vs. The Pilot:
Please bear with me. I haven't read this book in forever, so apologies if I confuse things.
The characters most people connected with and enjoyed the most from the book are all there. However, many have been streamlined or combined together for the pilot. Juliana Frink is now Juliana Crain (played by Alexa Davalos), and her journey into the rebellion takes center stage. Crain is not married to Frank Frink (Rupert Evans), but they are dating and both living together in San Francisco. Frank still makes jewelry, but they don't start off estranged. Juliana actually leaves Frank to go to Canon City and pursue the path her half-sister was on after she was brutally murdered by the Japanese government. Frank is arrested not for attempting to sabotage his workplace, but for covering up for Juliana's sudden absence.
Joe Blake (Luke Kleintank) appears to be the second protagonist in this pilot. We meet Joe in Nazi-run New York City where he meets up with the rebellion and also takes a mission to Canon City driving a truck full of "coffee makers." This is no doubt the character Juliana meets in the diner from the book, Joe Cinnadella. And it seems like the relationship between Joe and Juliana will be one of the main themes of the series, should it move forward. And yeah, he's still a double agent. It's the last beat of the pilot, and it plays out really well.
Mr. Tagomi is still a large part of the pilot, as is his secret plans with character Rudolf Wegener (Carsten Norgaard). Tagomi still consults his yarrow stalks and appears to be gleaning information from Wegener not for the purpose of attack, but for defense. The first meeting between Wegener and Tagomi reveals the ailing Hitler is almost kaput and war will rage as his predecessors fight for control of the whole country (no longer content with their half).
Robert Childan the pre-war Americana antique shopkeep character is totally missing. As is the whole "fake Americana" peddling storyline. I'm slightly concerned about this being missing, only because I enjoyed the vast post-war world building PKD set up. However, there was plenty of additional world building happening in the pilot, so I'm not losing sleep over it.
But perhaps the BIGGEST change is that the anti-fascist novel that brings all the rebels together. The Grasshopper Lies Heavy is now a newsreel, which is the weirdest thing ever, but sure, OK. Juliana has a copy of the reel and so does Joe. And together they are both heading to Canon City with these mysterious reels seemingly totally unaware of Hawthorne Abendesen (the author of the novel in the book). But that doesn't mean Abendesen won't show up; there's still lots and lots of digging to do and by the end of the pilot the audience really has no idea what's going on with these odd reels. However ,when Frank sees the reel Juliana got from her now dead sister, he does say "this is by The Man in the High Castle." So there's at least some sort of reputation behind its creation.
But overall, the pilot does not suffer from any of these changes. If anything, the edits have condensed the plot into something much more manageable. Instead of eight main characters there are three. There could certainly be more, but for the pilot's sake, this felt right. I really, truly hope Amazon makes additional episodes because this was an absolute joy to watch. And again it's just gorgeous, and that's exactly the kind of crazy world building we wanted from this series adaptation.
My problems? I didn't quite connect with the actor who plays Joe Blake not yet at least. That troubles me. Also I'm going to need to see a lot of Tagomi because he is an amazing character and really we did not get nearly enough of him in the pilot (but that's OK I can be patient if it's worth the wait). Juliana I connected to right away. And thankfully the pilot killed off all the character who running around like caricatures in the beginning, so that's good.
As far as the future goes, there is PLENTY of meat from the novel to dig into, and I'm interested to see how they will play the the theme of illusion vs. reality that pops up in Dick's work. And the public need to fit into society that they will do (or ignore) almost anything. That was massive in the novel and I worry we may have missed this with the rapid pace the pilot is chugging along at. However there was that scene with the cop in Nazi territory, "What's this ash in the air?" "Oh the hospital they burn crips and the terminally ill on Tuesdays." This exchange is said with such nonchalant abandon, it's chilling. This is pretty good proof that the creators know how to assimilate the horror into the new everyday life of the once American people. I really hope there is more of that.
At its heart the pilot really only strove to do one thing in this hour, sell the public on an alternate universe. And I think they accomplished that, now all they have to do is sell the cast and plot. And we're ready to see that.