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Friday, June 09, 2023

"The Man in the High Castle" perfects dystopia for Amazon's streaming service

For the average college student, there are few elements of daily life that take priority over everything else. There is one glorious activity that many may underplay in casual conversation, or say that they don’t have time for it or are too devoted to their studies. The simple answer is that they are lying. Binge-watching television keeps college students afloat and happy. Without the comforting glow of Netflix, college students in this day and age would probably panic and die of withdrawal. In this column, I will attempt to provide you readers with samples of my type of fix; my insights on what I find to be the most fascinating, addicting, engaging and, most importantly, binge-worthy television that is available today. Because without online streaming, what is college?

There’s a new series ripe for the picking and ready to be discovered and recreationally abused by all: “The Man in the High Castle.” The pilot was released in January, and is available for free on Amazon’s streaming service. This means you do not need Prime to access the pilot, but afterwards you will be hooked and will be ready to hand Amazon your money to continue watching the series—Damn you, Amazon, why do you have to offer such a great series and provide just a tease? The episode broke Amazon streaming records, being the most-watched episode since their streaming service began, and the rest of the series is expected to be released in November. 

Based on a 1962 novel that explores a frightening dystopian world, the show imagines the United States in the ’60s if the Allies lost the Second World War and Nazi Germany and the Japanese took over.

The opening itself is very provocative; a theater featuring a propaganda film that is reminiscent of the Holocaust, however the narrator is American and features scenes of 1960’s United States. It then ends with a shot of the American flag, and instead of stars, the swastika is featured in the middle. The style of the episode remains in this Nazi propaganda art style, as if we are watching one of Hitler’s films come to life in America. It is unsettling, yet visually beautiful, with the computer-generated effects not aiming to be realistic, but echoing the art direction from World War II propaganda.

When Joe Blake, the main character, walks through a bustling Time Square with neon swastikas and Hitler’s face plastered on buildings, it is apparent that this series is going in a narrative direction that has yet to be explored. Joe is introduced as a young man trying to earn his way into an underground network of resisters that are attempting to overthrow Nazi rule. Other than Joe, there is a second central character on the other end of the country. Juliana Krane lives in the Japanese Pacific States: more specifically, San Francisco. Once her sister gives her a newsreel film, telling her that there is “a way out,” Juliana is naturally curious. The newsreel depicts that the U.S. did win the war, suggesting a massive cover-up. The “man in the high castle” is an unknown figure that distributes these films to fuel the resistance—whether they are fabricated or real remains to be seen. When her sister dies by Nazi hands, Juliana takes it upon herself to continue her sister’s resistance work. The cause is even more time-sensitive because there are rumors that Hitler is terminally ill, which will lead to the ultimate destruction of the country once his predecessor takes over. When both Joe and Juliana finally cross paths towards the end of the episode, a shocking twist seals the deal that this is one show you will want to continue watching.

Almost every aspect of this show is perfectly executed and visually stunning. A couple scenes in particular, including one with the ashes of dead men falling from the sky like snow, leave their mark and are a haunting reminder that this is how life could have been.  The fictional and historical elements intermingle with beautiful results, and the attention to detail is electrifying. The series really cares about telling this story and the stunning visual elements are proof.

I encourage you to look into this show if it sounds like something you are interested in. If not, you can always study it and shock your history professor with how many disturbing and incorrect facts you know about the ’60s. As a binge enthusiast, I admire that this series in particular has succeeded in blending multiple genres into something that can be easily enjoyed by anyone. Whether you like historical period pieces, science fiction, fantasy or even horror, this show serves it up on a heaping platter just waiting to be binged.

Have you seen the pilot for “Man in the High Castle?” What other shows do you binge-watch? Let Ben know at

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