Amazon released the pilot for Man in the High Castle for anyone to watch back in January, and now, they’ve released the second episode, Sunrise for the same treatment for this weekend only.
Some spoilers below.
Based on the Philip K. Dick novel, Man in the High Castle depicts an alternate timeline in which the Axis Powers defeated the Allies during the Second World War. The United States is invaded and divided up: Germany gets the east coast up to the Rockies, while the Japanese get the western coast. In the pilot, we watched as Juliana Crain received a mysterious film reel that sent her into the Neutral Zone. On the other side of the country, Joe Blake began to drive across the country on a mission for the tattered resistance movement.
Episode 2, ‘Sunrise’, picks up right after the revelation that Joe is really a Nazi agent, and after Juliana’s boyfriend, Frank, was captured by Japanese agents trying to track down the missing film reel. Carried on from the first episode, the show continues to be outstanding: it’s beautifully shot, with outstanding set design and effects.
Juliana finds herself in the Neutral Zone, where she’s to meet her contact, while Joe is there to do the same thing. Things get complicated when Joe’s informed by his father that they’re looking for someone who brought the films to Colorado, and he’s caught in a bit of a quandary. Meanwhile, Germany and Japan alike are trying to figure out how to deal with one another, especially as Hitler’s time in charge seems to be limited.
Where the pilot really set up the world and set the story running, it’s clear that we’re in for a show with a bit of a slower burn. Sunrise picks up the action and shows us something else: Hitler’s desperation to track down these film reels, which show off a world in which the Axis Powers didn’t win. In doing so, the show does something profound: it shows the value of science fiction and how one piece of art can change the world.
The piece of art that we see here isn’t actually fiction: it’s footage from our world, where the Allies won the war. Several characters mention that Hitler doesn’t have idle obsessions, and he considers the existence of the reels to be an upmost threat to his Empire.
The resistance knows it too. As Frank is held prisoner, he speaks with a fellow prisoner who tells him that there’s more at stake here, and that there are things worth dying for. It’s a theme that’s particularly easy to do within a dystopian context like this, and the filmmakers here know how to drive home the point hard: the episode is tense and keeps you at the edge of your seat as it slowly builds and builds.
There’s other threats to the Reich as well: Hitler’s sick, and people are jockeying for power, which is putting Japan on edge: if the wrong people come to power in Germany, the two empires will potentially go to war with one another. This episode deepens that story as well, and it looks like it’ll be something that will play into the rest of the season.
There’s the really interesting little differences that pop up in alternate history: there’s an alternate, Nazi version of Dragnet on the television, while Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn are largely forgotten. The filmmakers here have done an excellent job building their alternative America, and the aesthetics mesh well with the larger themes.
I’d recommend catching this episode while it’s available this weekend - the pilot was excellent, and this followup doesn’t make us think any differently.