Amazon.com’s hit and binge-worthy series The Man in the High Castle is back for its second season. It premiered December 16, and takes viewers deeper into the nexus between realities. on Philip K. Dick’s dark alternative history in which the Axis Powers won World War II, the story picks up in the aftermath of the assassination of the Japanese Crown Prince, and the revelation of a film that may or may not hold the truth about the outcome of war.
And now we meet the actual man in the high castle. What does he want? What power (if any) does he hold? And with Juliana (and others, whom I won’t disclose) get hold of a film (or films) or images that depict a different to history, what will that mean for the Japanese, the Nazis and the American pawns who simply wish to survive?
Over the summer, I had a chance to speak to Daniel Percival, executive producer of Man in the High Castle at San Diego Comic Con. We spoke to about the series and its relevance right here in the turbulent world of 2016.
I asked him how he approached the source material of the Dick’s original novel. “Well,” he started, “when you take anything from Philip K. Dick, you take it with reverence. Philip K. Dick was one of the greatest minds in America. The universes that he created were so profusely impressive and so many years before it’s time. And I don’t think it’s any surprise that now, 30 years after his death, we are still producing his work and finding new ways to look at it.” The creative team, he noted, has honored the original setting of the novel, which 1962, 17 years after the end of the second World War, when Dick wrote the novel.
“What is extraordinary,” he continued, “is how the message is of that time still has resonance and relevance today. Even more so because the further we get away from the second World War. And it serves to remind us, all of us, how easily and how quickly the ideals of Fascism appeal.”
As a European, Percival and all Europeans are more aware of history, and the immense damage done during that time by the rise of fascism. “I come from Europe and Europe is much more alert and alive to the potential dangers through our own history. In America, things were easy for two or three generations past and people think “oh, that would never happen.“
But, “all it takes is a slip in the economic system, a war, a fear of enemies who may or may not be as real as so much imagined. And very quickly people get into power who would have you believe that.” And the U.S. is far from immune, as we learned during this year’s presidential election–or more recent events in North Carolina. “Philip K. Dick,” Percival explained, “wanted to remind us is that all it takes is the world to turn the other way and the ideals of bigotry and xenophobia and totalitarianism will take hold again.”
The Man in the High Castle is a cautionary tale for our times, using speculative fiction to make us aware our democratic society’s fragility. Percival noted, “Even in a democracy you can be vulnerable. Hitler rose in a great democracy. He rose by convincing his nation he would lead them to greatness in a time of great economic stride. And they believed him and they followed him.” It is indeed the song of demagogues and dictators-to-be throughout history.
“Let us not forget,” Percival continued, “Philip K. Dick wanted us to remember that actually all of us are capable of sliding into supporting something that can overwhelm us and overtake us.”
In bringing Dick’s original vision of The Man in the High Castle to the small screen, the producers have been fortunate to have the author’s daughter Isa as an associate and executive producer.
One of the interesting challenges of the series is in portraying the popular cultures of San Francisco, New York, and the no-man’s-land of the neutral zone. Of course with the repressive Nazi-driven culture of the post-war, what we think of pop culture never happened. No rock and roll, for one. Music, the movie industry would look vastly different, as would literature. And rock and roll never happens. “Under the Nazis,” said Percival, “there was the oppression of Jewish artists, of black artists so a lot of the influences on pop culture in [what know of] the post-war era are missing.” They never happened. Full stop.
But in the neutral zone, a place to which many undesirables have fled, and in the Pacific states, because the Japanese weren’t so strict in their cultural repression, some of it survives. Explains Percival, “So every piece of music we feature, we think very carefully about the symbolism of it, or the potential existence of it; whether it’s an empowering piece of music. But, music is very still in breaking into it in the front of the series. If we look at Eastern Europe in the ’60s and the late ’50s under communist law, there were all these underground clubs, and you’ll see some of those beginning to happen in the second season.”
One of the main dimensions of Dick’s original novel was the setting of an alternative universe in parallel with the world in which the characters reside. “Phillip didn’t just take an amazing story and turn it into a world,” Percival said, “he also took you into a new dimension. And that’s where the sci-fi and the alternate history coincide: a way of looking and reflecting on our world by imagining there are other worlds that could be mirror images of all the choices that we make.”
As the Man in the High Castle explains in the episode one of the new season, the people in those alternate reality films may be quite different than in “reality” or even a different “alternate reality.” A good person in one, may, in another be (at least perceived as) evil. What is real? What is not? How do circumstances affect the way we act towards other we love and those we do not?
Percival noted, “What was interesting was that, your circumstance in your live is determined by the environment that you’re in. Your moral choices, your social choices, your work choices, your personal life is totally dictated by the environment that you live in. Change that environment by a little bit and your choices will change. And in some worlds, maybe we will make consistent or the same choices, but perhaps in others, not. Maybe some people are completely consistent and some people are completely inconsistent.”
Percival added, “I couldn’t have predicted that the United Kingdom would’ve voted to leave Europe in a state of insane xenophobia. In fact, even the voters who voted to leave didn’t seem to quite believe it. And it shows to me, a shift into extreme xenophobia, and that becomes the determining factor that weakens the democratic choices. And I could’ve have predicted that.”
The entire season of The Man in the High Castle can be viewed at Amazon.com, and is free to Amazon Prime members.
You can follow me on Twitter at @B_Barnett.