Tag Archives: The Man in the High Castle

A review of Season 4 of “The Man in the High Castle” (2019)

The fourth and final season of “The Man in the High Castle” (2019) ended the show pretty strongly — I’d rate it an 8 out of 10 for concluding the dystopian science fiction epic just when its ambitious storytelling started getting too unwieldy.

I won’t lie to you … I loved the show, and was the sort of fan that exhorted all of my friends to watch it — but even I have to admit that there were some general narrative failures.  This show tackled nothing less than multiple, detailed parallel universes — each with its own history and analogous characters.  (It is an Axis Powers’ World War II victory that sets the stage for the story’s initial, “prime” universe.)  That’s a lot to tackle, and “The Man in the High Castle” didn’t always follow through.  (It didn’t help that there was a seeming myriad of subplots and character arcs fleshing out its prime universe alone — and that some of Season 4’s story setups seemed redundant with those of prior seasons.)

By the show’s end, there were major plot threads that were left dangling — including key questions about the show’s basic plot elements.  I wouldn’t blame many longtime fans for feeling frustrated at the overall story’s insufficient exposition — and this last season’s deliberately vague, befuddling final moments.

But “The Man in the High Castle” was still simply too good to dislike.  What the show does well, it tends to do very well — especially its grand, sweeping, Wagnerian science fiction world-building.  I’ll bet you’ll never see another what-if-the-Nazis-won story as good as this one.  With everything from its panoramic backdrops to its costuming to its incidental dialogue, “The Man in the High Castle” tackles its sprawling milieu with zeal, style and impressive detail.  You can tell that it was a labor of love for the screenwriters to bring Philip K. Dick’s dangerous multiverse to the screen.

Its cast includes performers that absolutely shine — most notably Rufus Sewell as the premier American Nazi, John Smith, but also Alexa Davalos, Chelah Hordal, Joel de la Fuente and Rick Worthy.   For me, Sewell often made the show; his role here seems like one he was born for.

Despite its admittedly significant flaws, Season 4 was still a great watch.

 

man-in-the-high-castle-season-4-poster

A review of “The Purge” Season 1 (2018)

“The Purge” franchise continues to defy expectations after its move to television.  It still isn’t high art, and it probably can never fully transcend the high-camp trappings of its premise.  (I suppose it’s hard to script a truly grounded horror property about people in Halloween costumes murdering one another with impunity on a designated “holiday.”)  But, like the movies preceding it, the USA Network’s new dystopian horror show is still a bit smarter and more interesting you’d expect from its bizarre central plot conceit.

The 10-episode first season, which aired with seemingly little fanfare last fall, generally succeeds — I’d rate it an 8 out of 10, and I’ve spoken with a couple of other horror fan who were as happy with it as I was.  The people who recommended it to me are also big fans of AMC’s “The Walking Dead” (which has radically improved this season), and that makes sense.  Although “The Purge” has an entirely different feel than “The Walking Dead,” it also has a lot of common elements — both shows are milieu-type horror stories with a large, diverse group of characters negotiating a sprawling setting with innumerable deadly antagonists.

A surprising amount of thought went into this show.  There’s a nice degree of world-building and detail, with various characters embracing, rejecting or remaining ambivalent about the titular “Purge.”  The screenwriter here tries hard to round out the twisted America in which The Purge annually takes place, with a lot of creative and blackly cynical story elements.  (I’m not clear if the writer here is James DeMonaco, who wrote and directed the first three of the four “Purge” movies.)  We see, for example, a cult whose brainwashed members offer themselves up as willing murder victims, as well as anti-Purge revolutionaries who exploit the night to target the fascist oligarchical government which created the brutal holiday.  There are a lot of surprises in terms of plot, character and setting that I will not spoil here.

The gore and violence were surprisingly high for network television.  (Again, this show may be taking its cues from “The Walking Dead,” which always pushes the boundaries.)

Some of the acting is quite good — William Baldwin is absolutely superb, Lee Tergesen is always fun to watch, and the beautiful Hannah Emily Anderson is another talented standout.  I swore I recognized Fiona Dourif’s distinctive looks and mannerisms.  (She portrays the cunning cult leader who entices young people to sacrifice themselves, and I’ll be damned if she doesn’t totally look and sound the part.)  But, upon Googling her, I realized I’d never seen her before — she just reminds me of her father, who also plays a lot of bad guys — the amazing Brad Dourif.

Some of my enthusiasm for “The Purge” waned just a little as the season wound down toward its conclusion.  After Season 1’s unsettling ideas were left fully explored, the show did start to feel more like conventional television — right down to a standard good-guys-vs.-bad-guys shoot-em-up at its climax.  (If the show had fully sustained its tension until the end, I would have rated it a 9 out of 10.)  And the final minutes of Season 1 consist of a coda among three characters that is forced and preposterous … I’m surprised it made it past the editing stage.  But this still wasn’t enough to spoil the fun.

I should also note here that not everyone enjoyed “The Purge” as I and my friends did.  Critical and popular reaction to it is definitely mixed.  (As of this writing, the show has only a 42% rating from critics on Rotten Tomatoes, with just 63% of audiences liking it.)

Postscript — I could almost swear that the auditorium we see towards the end is the very same shooting location used for Thomas Smith’s school in “The Man in the High Castle.”  You can tell by the establishing shots.  It’s even lit the same way.

 

Purge_TV

A review of “The Man in the High Castle” Season 2

[This review contains spoilers for Season 1 of “The Man in the High Castle.”]  Despite my love for its first season, I was surprised to find my interest waning for Season 2 of “The Man in the High Castle.”  But while the earlier episodes felt a little slow, the second season gained a lot of momentum as it progressed, and then went out with a satisfying bang.  Overall, I’d rate it an 8 out of 10.

By the time Season 2 began, some of the novelty of the show’s premise had worn off.  Its unique milieu — a post-World War II, occupied America in which Germany and Japan are triumphant — was already explored in depth.  The show also felt scattered for much of this season … we follow disparate protagonists trying to negotiate or survive the alternate-history dystopia.  Their individual stories felt like subplots, while the central plot line — the nature and purpose of the mysterious newsreels — was left in the periphery.

Compounding this problem is the fact that the characters themselves weren’t always interesting or terribly likable.  Juliana Crain is always engaging to follow, given the strength and vulnerability brought to the role by actress Alexa Davalos.  Far less so, however, was Joe Blake, a character as flat and boring as his generic name.  (And this isn’t helped by actor Luke Kleintank’s wooden performance.)

There may be a few things that I am missing, as well.  For one,  various characters view the newsreels, which depict separate events in parallel universes.  They then try to prevent those terrible futures from coming to pass in their own timeline.  But why are they so certain those events will come to pass?  They know they are viewing events in an entirely different universe, and not their own.

Also, it becomes clear that certain characters can actually travel back and forth between parallel universes, but there is virtually no exposition about this.  Why do some people have this gift, but not others?  How rare is it?  What would happen if a character met their own double in a parallel universe?  Why don’t people in power recruit these talented “travelers” themselves, instead of relying on the newsreels they bring back?  Or are they doing that already?

Despite my misgivings above, however, “The Man in the High Castle” is a terrifically smart TV thriller, full of frightening ideas and detailed world-building.  Its depiction of a mid-twentieth century America conquered by the Axis powers is unflinching.  There are some really good performances by Rufus Sewell, Brennan Brown, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa and the awesome, scenery-chewing Callum Keith Rennie.

The show is inspired enough to challenge the viewer with a lot of moral ambiguity, as well.  American resistance fighters act as ruthlessly as the Nazis, while the worst secret police from both the German and Japanese sides cooperate to try to prevent a nuclear war.

“The Man in the High Castle” is still pretty intricately plotted, too — the last two episodes surprisingly do reveal how some of its scattered subplots tie together in the context of the larger story.  And those final two episodes are damn dramatic and thrilling.  I’m glad I stayed with the show.

 

man-in-the-high-castle

A few quick words on the Season 2 premiere of “The Man in the High Castle”

“The Man in the High Castle” is still one of the best shows on television in recent years.  It’s ambitious as hell, and frightening in its story device.  It’s smartly, tightly and deliberately plotted, yet still moves at a nice, brisk pace.  We meet, for example, the titular “Man” right in the second season’s first episode; I don’t think that’s much of a spoiler, as it’s been shown in the season’s trailer.

I’d give it a 9 out of 10.  I won’t say much more than that, this is a mystery-thriller with plot points that are too easy to spoil, and I am still trying to persuade certain friends of mine to watch Season 1.  (Why isn’t this fantastic show more popular?)

I will say that maybe the show’s only failing is its scarcity of likable lead characters.  The duplicitous Joe (Luke Kleintank) is mostly flat.  Frank is inexplicably irritating to me, despite being portrayed by the talented Rupert Evans … though he does seem to shine as a mutual foil for the equally talented Brennan Crown’s callow art dealer, Robert.  And the Man in the High Castle is somewhat … disappointing, despite being portrayed by another wonderful actor.  I hope this character’s peculiarities are explained later.  (No. I haven’t read Philip K. Dick’s source material.)

Only Juliana (the terrific Alexa Davos) comes across as a heroine that I like and root for.  And her character too often feels like a damsel in distress — she’s frequently affected by the plot and the actions of others, and seldom vice versa.

Still, this show is superb.  Watch it.

 

maninhighcastledsffsdv-1

A very short review of the pilot for “The Man in the High Castle” (2015)

My reaction to the pilot episode of “The Man in the High Castle” (2015) here will be brief.  I am inclined only to praise it, and that would just be redundant with the accolades already heaped upon it by better reviewers than me.  (Yes, I still have only seen the first ep.)

It’s wonderfully well written, directed and performed, with some layered world-building and unexpectedly interesting character interaction (particularly among the bad guys).  I’d give it a 9 out of 10.

I might not be quite as confident as other viewers, however, that this show can continue to sustain my interest at this level.  The espionage subplots are well executed, but seem by the numbers.  The world has seen a hell of a lot of spy fiction and cinema since Philip K. Dick wrote this source material in 1962.  It might be tough to keep those elements fresh.  And this might be an even greater challenge for a story somewhat constricted by 1960’s-era technology, as opposed to a modern technothriller.

 

hqdefault

Trump’s candidacy — I finally get it!!

It’s all just a guerrilla marketing stunt for Amazon’s “The Man in the High Castle.”  You know … that TV show based on a book about the Nazis overtaking America.

You … you kind of took this thing pretty far, Amazon.

Also: the real reason Donald Trump wants to “close up” the Internet is because he is jealous that Democrat Al Gore invented it.  Right?

The-Man-in-the-High-Castle_poster_goldposter_com_3-400x595