Tuesday, 24 November 2015

The Man In The High Castle: Season 1: Episodes 2 to 5 Review

The Man In The High Castle
Episodes 2 to 5
Rating: 8 out of 10 (Great)

In A Nutshell

Having watched the pilot episode several months ago, I was quietly awaiting the start of the series to be streamed on Amazon. I wasn't OTT with salivating eagerless, but the pilot was undoubtedly very good and well put together. Seeing where this show would go, and if it could possibly keep up the standard, was going to be worth my time I hoped.

So, has it maintained standards?


Episode 2 was right up there with the opening one, as Frank Frink (try saying that ten times quickly) was tortured by the Japanese and his sister's family gassed, in order to get information out of him about his girlfriend Juliana's disappearance. This was a tense and horrific episode on emotional levels, what with Frank's sister knowing exactly what was "going down" and reassuring the kids anyway. Frank's emotions in the jail were about as award winning as things get, not least the aborted firing squad that was stopped at the last moment. With a new show, you don't know who is important and have no concept of who could and couldn't possibly be killed off, so this episode, along with Juliana's struggles in the neutral zone town, were naturally tense and dramatic. For me, episode 2 trumped the pilot episode. Juliana's meeting with her "contact" who turned out to be a Nazi Spy at the very last moment, was a shock reversal for me, although her rescue much less unpredictable. The attack on our senior Nazi official character, John Smith (not very umm, german name?) was also dramatic and quite breathtaking.

Sadly, Episode 3 didn't quite continue on in the same vain. Sure, it can't be action and intense drama every week but there were some flat sections this episode for me, not least that the Japanese segments came across as dull, emotionless and somewhat feeling like it was keeping us from all the interesting parts of the show. The tension and concern that they felt regarding the Nazis was clearly evident. Gathering people's true intentions is not easy in this show, and almost feels impossible with the Japanese who maintain great poker like expressions in every scene. However, as things progress over next couple episodes, we do get further emotional and expressionate sentiments from them, not least when the Crown Prince is taken out at the end of episode 4. The drama and fallout from immediately after that shooting is outstanding filming, along with the tension of the Trade Minister and maintaining his secret operative's disguise, actually genuinely making me feel slightly nervous for both their lives. The only slight disappointment perhaps from their whole segments is that the prince isn't at this point in time anything more than severally injured. You'd think two clear shots would have been enough for any assassin to finish someone off!

The emotion at times in this show is unbearable, and at others times always very good. Frank's interactions with his brother-in-law initially tense as hell, although somewhat strangely "friendly" at the latter funeral. It's poor Frank who really gets the most serious of emotional rollercoasters during the opening episodes. Julianna's, notwithstanding her altercations, seems less affected by what she's been through, continuing in episode 5 to search for the answers to behind the tapes, by strolling into her sister's boyfriend's house nochartely. The conversation she has with the lady there, who one assumes is resistance, was rather straightforward, given the whole cloak and dagger stuff we've had her go through previously. Her return home in episode 4 has presented her with probably the most plot convenient transition, with that house visit at Randell's home, and job at Japanese HQ being creamed with her bumping into the Trade Minister in that building. All rather too convenient for me, and certainly very out of place with the twist, turns and rather non-processional like storylines the show has consistently turned out.

What I liked

There's no sweeping things under the carpet in this show. Episodes starting immediately where they ended in previous episode, which makes for probably the most dramatic beginnings of episodes since I saw episode one of LOST. Episode 3 began with gunshots from the bounty hunter chasing Julianna, and Episode 5 with the ghastly fallout from the crown prince's shooting. Your attention is wrenched from your eyes, and you're truly immersed in what's happened from the word go.

The costumes, backdrops and CGI is outstanding thus far. The world this show creates is absolutely intoxicatingly intriguing and appealing.

Top marks for a long atmospheric opening credits, even though I've never liked the song.

Mystery is everywhere in this show, not least with trying to work out the society and world these people live in, and exactly what history and motivations any of the characters have. The dynamics and connections between everyone is really compelling.

Some absolutely top quality segments throughout the first five episodes, not least with the interrogation of Frank, the Crown Prince shooting, Julianna's Dam squabble and the nasty bounty hunter pursuit. After that, there's numerous great stuff, and really only sprinklings of predictability and dullness. On the whole, the show gets it right.

The bounty hunter is rather full of classic headhunter quirks and character, but there's no doubting he kicks ass, and is as menacing as they come.

What I Didn't Like

I'm no fan of Edelweiss, and never have been. Even after hearing it numerous times watching this show, it's not growing on me. Not sure it's quite the best tune for the show but it has the right atmosphere and the titles are very decent and welcomed.

Japanese character stories are not the easiest and quickest to identify with and understand. I found them quite dry and uninteresting for first few episodes, although things did rise up a few notches with the Trade Minister's storyline in episode's 4 and 5 that made me actually care and attach to him for once.

Although full of quality, there have been several cheese and "bleh" moments, what with the drugged interrogation by the Nazi's feeling as pointless to sit through as the Nazi Commander felt, and the implicated Nazi Official by the captive carrying little weight as we hardly knew him or the captive. The passing of information to the Science Officer by the Trade Minister's operative also felt a little odd that there was only one opportunity apparently. I know things are tight and tense, but it did seem that the emphasis of why that exchange could only happen that way was not really clear. Lastly, the bounty hunter's "setup" by Joe and Juliana was well planed but far too cheese you'd think to really fool him.

And Finally

As close to perfection as any show has managed for me in recent times, but sadly let down by an increase in convenient storytelling for Juliana's character and the longer time it's taken to identify with the Japanese characters. Nevertheless, there have been some award winning drama and tension in this first half of series one. The backdrops and atmosphere of this alternative timeline, is absolutely gorgeous and so hard not to enjoy visually. One fears that with a rather limited number of main characters, that it might become slightly more predictable with regards to outcomes, but I'm hoping it continues to shake things up, and pack that powerful emotional blow that it's used to awesome effect thus far.

Rating: 8 out of 10

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