The Man in the High Castle postmortem: Episode 2, ‘Sunrise’

20 Nov 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Adaptation of 1962’s ‘Man in the High Castle’ provides timely view of freedom’s cost.

Hasn’t everything the man wrote been adapted already? The Man in the High Castle arrived on Amazon on Nov. 20, and if you’re binge-watching the series, EW has you covered with postmortems for each episode.Frank Spotnitz found fame and fortune straight out of film school with The X Files, helping it grow into one of most successful shows of the late 20th century and making stars of David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson. While she hasn’t found Trudy’s contact just yet, she is enjoying her life in Canon City, even watching the sunrise with Joe and landing a waitressing job at the Sunrise Diner.

Decades of political, cultural and economic change here and abroad, decades in which enemies have become friends and a new threat, a different type of warfare, has emerged. Based on Chicagoan sci-fi legend Philip K Dick’s 1962 book, the show’s executive producer is Ridley Scott (who turned another of Dick’s stories into the seminal Blade Runner in 1982) and it’s written by The X-Files don Frank Spotnitz. Read on for his thoughts on episode 2, “Sunrise.” Because of Juliana’s (Alexa Davalos) mysterious departure with the film reel, Frank (Rupert Evans) gets arrested by the Japanese military police.

Set in occupied USA in 1962, it stars Alexa Davalos as Juliana Crain, a woman scooped up into the resistance fight, and Brit actor Rupert Evans as her boyfriend Frank Frink. Dick’s 1962 virtual-history novel of the same name, is just as strange and horrifying as the dystopian classic, vividly realizing the what-if world Dick created.

But it wasn’t until Amazon asked him in 2013 if he had any spare scripts for its budding production arm Amazon Studios that the project finally got off the ground. Or rather, Germany and Japan have won World War II — Italy does not appear to have a presence in the new nation formerly known as the United States of America, which is now divided into the Greater Nazi Reich and the Japanese Pacific States. (The territories are separated by a “Neutral Zone” that runs through the western states including Colorado and Wyoming.) The story revolves around a disparate group of characters brought together by a set of banned film reels that depict (in actual historic footage) images of an Allied victory.

Back in New York, specifically Long Island, we see a traditional American breakfast unfolding, with a family gathering around the table for some bacon and eggs. Why did the broadcasters back off? “It is a massively expensive show,” says Spotnitz, who is in London, where his company is based, for a press screening of the show. Set in the 1960s, this is a world with swastika marquees in Times Square and a discomfiting (though obliquely remarked-upon) amount of racial harmony. The premiere splits its time between Japanese-controlled San Francisco and German-controlled New York in 1962, and suggests that with an ailing Hitler, there’s war on the horizon as successors to the Führer scramble to gain power.

When a young woman in San Francisco, Juliana Crane (Alexa Davalos), winds up with an illegal film that depicts the allied powers winning the war, she goes on a quest to figure out what to do with it. He wasn’t trying to make trouble, he was just trying to do his job, working in a gun factory, and he wants to get married and have children and just live, which I think is what 99.9 percent of us would do. [Laughs.] I thought it was such a heartbreaking situation, because he’s done nothing wrong, and the price of his liberty is betraying the person he loves. In the case of Amazon, they are looking to stand out in a crowded market.” His adaptation includes injecting an action storyline and adding more characters including a Nazi officer, played by Rufus Sewell, who is depicted “as a loving husband and wonderful father”, despite his horrific actions and ideals. “It was critical it looked real and believable, I talked about it to the entire cast.

This is science fiction but it had to look very natural, with no grand moral mission, you see how the characters respond to an inhuman world.” Amazon’s way of working is to make a pilot, (released last January), and then analyse audience data. The show’s hero is Juliana Crain (Alexa Davalos), a San Franciscan who gets sucked by her sister into a larger rebellion against the Axis occupiers. I strongly identify with that character, because my father is Jewish and my mother is Protestant, and as a consequence, I wasn’t raised with any religion whatsoever, but it struck me in contemplating this world that, you know, that wouldn’t save me in a Nazi world. On the run from police, she ends up in the neutral zone with Joe Blake (Luke Kleintank), another rebel with secrets of his own (revealed at the end of the pilot episode, which Amazon first aired last January before picking up the series). Juliana knows Aikido and is introduced as a smart action heroine—an impression that’s undercut by her looking constantly confused as she’s swept up by events she doesn’t understand in the early episodes.

It is a system and distribution model new to Spotnitz, he says later over the phone from his home in Paris. “My entire career has been in episodic television. The philosophy in the show goes that showing people an alternative history will open up their minds to what the world could be like and they’ll want to shake off their oppressors and fight for freedom. Millions of American Jews and political dissidents have been slaughtered, the old and infirm are regularly incinerated, the press has become a mouthpiece, the populace is controlled by fear and identity papers, and yet life continues.

Doesn’t that mean that by showing a world in which the Nazis won the war, we’re supposed to imagine a world where fascism is possible and want to fight for that? It doesn’t matter what you think, people are going to judge you and perhaps hate you or hurt you, and they won’t see you as an individual, they’ll see you as a member of a group they’ve decided to hate.

Hitler, we learn, is ailing, and though there is much discussion over who will succeed him and what that will mean, the chief villain of the Reich is not German. Sewell in particular is terrifying as Smith—an American raised in a world of tyranny, the only thing distinguishing him from the countless Nazi villains of pop culture is his accent. Obergruppenführer John Smith (Rufus Sewell) may have the hooded eyes, frozen mien and casual sadism of a Hollywood Nazi, but he is as American as “Mad Men’s” Don Draper, with a similar compartmentalized life.

He’s stalking her at the bookstore and asking the owner about her purchase — he feigns ignorance —and watching her in the diner while Nina Simone’s “Strange Fruit” plays on his turntable. Spotnitz seizes the opportunity to pick apart the mundane pragmatism of supposedly evil men, drawing fascinating parallels with real-life 20th-century history in his funhouse-mirror universe. As such, Tagomi finds himself caught up in covert efforts to stop Japan and Germany from going to nuclear war with each other over the occupied Americas.

But then he is radicalised by the very actions of the regime he’s trying to toe the line with.” “It was mostly because of the journey that she’s on, and Philip K. There’s paranoia in the one that sees Juliana trying to find out who her contact is, with the added factor of Joe trying to determine who Juliana — or Trudy, to him — is and if she’s his target. But she’s an incredible character, very different from me, emotionally, which I was quite intrigued by, being that she has to keep everything contained and controlled, which is not really my instinct.

But outside of Sewell there are no dynamic performers here, and the hour-long episodes afforded by streaming television lead to some dull scenes that may leave viewers feeling antsy. The formidable Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa plays a Japanese trade minister attempting to keep Germany from breaking its agreement with Japan, and while he and his character are two of the series’ strongest elements, his story too is often difficult to follow.

The whole ambush reminded me of (43-year-old spoiler ahead!) Sonny’s death at the toll bridge in The Godfather, with the hail of bullets and the helpless feel of it. There are moments where Amazon’s budget limitations show through—John strolls past a couple of CGI cityscapes that look like obvious green-screen inserts—but the overall attention to detail is admirable, and would have been unthinkable for a television series just a few years ago. It doesn’t move like a hero tale — this isn’t “Hogan’s Heroes” or a serialization of “Independence Day” — because heroism is not the default setting of its characters, or, indeed, of the country in which it is set. Dick has many, many characters, but the female characters, this is one of his strongest, most fleshed out, I suppose.” “Science fiction is something that’s been in and out of my life, definitely. When trying to navigate a strange land, some assistance in differentiating one agency from the next and providing some information about how the political structure works might benefit the plot a little.

Also, since agents keep changing sides, it’s hard to keep track of who works for whom or where any given character’s allegiance lies at any given time. And what’s perverse to me about that scene is that because it’s in the point of view of John Smith, and because Erich Raeder, his aide, is being heroic and trying to hand him the gun when he runs out of bullets, you’re rooting for John Smith and Erich Raeder. The future depicted is simultaneously banal and outlandish—a repressive police state, but one where men in Nazi uniforms appear on cheerful game shows. The Germans come to the embassy to meet with Tagomi, a Japanese official, and basically imply that if that involves bringing Nazis to Japanese soil to find Juliana and the film, so be it. With words that should resonate deeply with viewers at this time, America’s surrender to fascism is repeatedly explained as a necessity to end war, to preserve peace.

When he arrives at the Nazi headquarters, though, he makes it clear that this attack was coordinated, like many others, and meant to hurt the ranks of the Nazis. It can often be a paint-by numbers thing with network shows.” “The sets and the costumes, everything down to the tiniest prop, it was all so beautifully done, and so detailed. While Juliana is sure this man is the contact she’s meant to find, Joe has the Obergruppenführer look into who he is, thinking he may be part of his mission.

But you don’t know the limits of that attachment or that attraction to Juliana, or how far that will really push him toward her or away from the Nazi cause. While Frank pleads with her to turn the film over to the police and plead ignorance about what it is and where it came from, Juliana doesn’t want her sister’s death to be in vain. One of the mysteries of these first two episodes is the man with the lined face, whom Juliana believes is her Resistance contact, until he gets tossed into the river. Will we be finding out more of his faction of Nazis and what’s going on there, and was it a decision made early on to have him die in the second hour?

Inside he reads about the “film that will change the world” that depicts a better state of living than they have now, removed from Nazi and Japanese occupation. I always knew he was going to die… The Nazis were very clique-ish and there were various groups, and yes, you’ll see more of that as the show progresses. But even though he’s not a part of John Smith’s chain of command, he’s serving the Führer in that he’s taking out subversives and hunting down the film. It looks as though Joe has dedicated himself to the Nazis without really knowing the truth of the matter, and this film calls his loyalty into question. As ash falls from the sky, the result of a local hospital burning the “crippled and mentally ill,” Joe seems to contemplate just what he’s gotten himself into.

The two strike up a conversation, with Juliana introducing herself as Trudy. “You weren’t looking for anyone named Trudy, were you?” she says, to which Joe says no. Just before he’s about to be killed, though, the Japanese receive information that they were looking for the film in the wrong place, that Juliana couldn’t have had it. Thus, they determine that Juliana didn’t take the film after all and that Trudy and her satchel were just a bit if misdirection on the part of the Resistance. That bit of coincidence saves Frank’s life, but sadly, his sister and her children are still killed. “We found out too late,” says Kido before telling Frank that he can still go free because, and I quote, “I’m not a monster.” We know he is, though.

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