I recognize I’m late on The Man in the High Castle, but I’ve just watched Season 1 and I can tell you I regret every minute of it.
The premise of the show is great: even back in 2015, exploring the interpenetrating cultures of Nazi Germany and a 21st-century USA was imminently relevant. Upon watching the series, however, the execution suffers from a poverty of imagination and abysmal politics. The writers weigh down the characters with stupid, inconsistent decisions and moral sensibilities that make no sense under fascist occupation. The only characters with any depth at all are the goddamn Nazis, leaving us to wonder just what in the hell are showrunners’ politics.
Ninja Girl: Juliana
So, let’s start at the top: Ninja Girl inexplicably loves Nazi Boy and loses her ability to defend herself — despite being apparently highly trained, as we learn in the first episode — until Nazi Boy gives her phallic inspiration in the bridge scene. Later, she feels absolutely terrible about chucking the Old Nazi Bounty Hunter over the bridge; why is anyone’s guess, but probably the liberal writers just had to sneak in their sickening non-violent dogma into an alternate history in which people live under literal fascist occupation. Indeed, the only things consistent about this show are the gorgeous cinematography and the writers’ glaringly obvious political alignment — in the case of the dead bounty hunter, the “Batman Complex,” i.e. when someone feels bad about killing someone who absolutely fucking deserves it. Ninja Girl should have hiked up her skirts and pissed on that old man’s face, but instead she spends the rest of the season crying about it.
Ninja Girl goes on to make incredibly stupid decisions, like rescuing Nazi Boy first from the Japanese and then from the Resistance, even though he’s Nazi Boy and she knows it. For some reason, she just melts when he’s around. Tears right the fuck up. She even goes back home after meeting up with the Resistance; following that track likely would have gone too far afield of the writers’ limited imaginations. (Unaccountably, she is then allowed to live a more or less normal life, even working directly for the Japanese Energy Minister, despite being fingered by the authorities as a known dissident.)
Big scare-quotes on this one. Why do these dolts keep working with Ninja Girl even though she keeps screwing things up? How have they managed to survive under 15 years of occupation when they operate this badly? They apparently have this network, this discipline, this code that they keep alluding to, and yet they abandon it every time it’s convenient for Ninja Girl. Why?
Jewish Boyfriend: Frank
Jewish Boyfriend leaves 46,000 yen — enough money to “start a new life” — just sitting on a desk for no reason after Nazi Boy kills a pair of yakuza thugs and knocks their boss unconscious, thereby eliminating any reason at all for leaving Nazi Boy’s ransom money just sitting there. The writers are stupid and clearly have too much money — the repugnant silver spoons — or else they’d know that any believable working-class character would’ve snatched up that hard-earned money in a heartbeat, gunshots or no. But then that would have made Jewish Boyfriend’s subsequent moneyless situation more difficult to create, despite that fact that moments later Jewish Boyfriend complains about having paid the ransom money that he could have just picked up on his way out. I mean, Jesus H. Christ.
Nazi Boy: Joe
Why does Nazi Boy love Ninja Girl? Why does ass he’s never had turn him into a freedom-loving American by the end of the show? He’s Nazi Boy, after all, and Ninja Girl is fucking Jewish Boyfriend. This plot device is totally cheap and unbelievable (like the 30-second interludes with his plastic family); but then, how else do they infuse all of Nazi Boy’s decisions with tension, or force Ninja Girl to make predicably awful decisions every episode?
Orientalist Stereotype: Energy Minister
The Energy Minister likes to play with oracle sticks and meditate. He and other Japanese talk about “woo,” magical auras of suffering. Fascinating Orientalist garbage. What’s next, they all know karate? Sushi and dogs are their favorite foods? They all sleep on tatami mats and quote baffling old parables when you ask them questions? These are rhetorical questions, of course, because I really don’t want to know what’s next.
Characters with actual depth: the Nazis
Last but not least, let’s return to the only interesting people in the show — the Nazis. You never know exactly what they’re going to do, they never run out of intrigue, Old Man Moustache is mysterious and sharp as a tack, Regretful Nazi Spy shows deep remorse, Nazi Daddy hits the bottle to drown the trauma of his violent work, Ambitious Nazi stages a coup, there are turncoats everywhere. These are some fascinating damn Nazis.
I repeat: why are the Nazis the only believable and interesting characters in the show, while everyone else is two-dimensionally stupid? Why is the Resistance so pitifully bad at what they do, but the Nazis are just the bee’s knees? Why do we get so many beautiful cinematic shots of swastikas and Nazi get-up? Why does Nazi Boy single-handedly defeat Jewish Boyfriend with a bitch-slap to the face, while Ninja Girl just does absolutely nothing but cry on the sidelines because she has a hard-on for Nazi Boy? Why does a whole squad of Resistance fighters wielding tommy guns — all of them veterans apparently — fail to kill Nazi Daddy even though all he’s got is his little pee shooter?
Because the showmakers are lazy, stupid, sexist, and out of touch. They couldn’t create believable, interesting, or empowered characters unless they were Nazis, because deep down inside, the showmakers have something to tell us, or maybe something they need to hear from their therapists.
No wonder that schmuck Spotniz quit the show right after leaving us with this tepid pile of steaming shit.