San Diego Comic Con 2018 has come and gone, and the anticipated return of Amazon’s award winning adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s classic The Man in the High Castle for its third season grows tantalizingly closer with the announcement of its October 5th debut. As one of the most well written and portrayed series available, fans are clamoring to find out where the show is heading after the amazing conclusion of Season 2 in December 2016. To be sure viewers can expect more of the show’s signature multidimensional construction, meticulous attention to detail, character development, and its depiction of the sheer humanity of evil. Therefore let’s take a blow-by-blow character review of what we know so far and what we expect to see when Season 3 debuts on October 5th, 2018.
Oberst-Gruppenführer John Smith
Newly promoted Oberst-Gruppenführer John Smith (Rufus Sewell) is perhaps the most complicated and deeply conflicted antagonist on the show. So much so that many viewers are not even sure he is in fact a villain as he is seen to possess many contradictory stripes. More to the point, Rufus Sewell has truly stolen the show thus far, which is no small statement given his fellow headliners. So, who is this friend/enemy/criminal-against-humanity/loving father and husband?
John Smith is, in many regards, an every man type that emerges during a foreign totalitarian occupation and subjugation similar to those which occurred in Europe during the Second World War. He, like the vast majority of those who came before him – as well as those he shares the screen with – has made some level of accommodation to the brutal foreign rule of a satanic enemy.
Yet Smith’s personal level of accommodation is clearly greater than most every other in The Man in the High Castle universe: he is a collaborator. As a former US Army Signals officer (See: Sigint), Smith made the leap to collaborate with the Nazi occupiers at some unknown juncture following their invasion. Both to fulfill his own ends – namely the protection of his family – and to be used as an agent to achieve the darkest ends of the Nazi regime. His feelings about his previous allegiance to the US haunt him deeply and influenced his current choices.
When one looks back to season one, recall the conversation Helen Smith has with Joe Blake during V-A Day, revealing for the first time part of the Smith’s backstory. John in particular was raised in a family of considerable means, prior to the onset of the Great Depression. After the economic collapse, Helen describes their life with the words, “We had nothing, we had less than nothing.” Smith is clearly a man who remembers the economic inequity of the Depression in the defunct United States, and his fallen position within it.
Additionally Smith’s US Army experience, to the extent that we know of it, was a near crippling experience. As shown in the Season 2 episode, “Duck and Cover,” Chief Inspector Takeshi Kido asks why he displays a medal from his US military service during the Solomon Islands campaign. Smith remarks that it is a reminder of “the consequences of the failure of command.” A clear indication that the US military of their timeline was not nearly as effective and successful as our own, and fatally so.
Hardly the least of Oberst-Gruppenführer Smith’s soul crushing experiences was viewing, with Helen at a considerable distance, the atomic bombing of Washington D.C. on December 11th, 1945 by Nazi Germany (Note: This is the four year anniversary historically of Nazi Germany’s declaration of war on the United States).
When looking into the nature of Smith’s collaboration with the Reich, upon deeper inspection, Smith is a man who has no shortage of blood on his hands in his personal complicity. In addition to being an SS Oberst-Gruppenführer in his everyday work to keep enemies of the Reich at bay, he has also been involved in mass-murder, ethnic cleansing, and genocide.
The multiple, however subtle, references to a Cincinnati concentration camp critically allude to this fact. From the Neutral Zone escapee book store owner found and killed in Season 1 by the Marshal (Burn Gorman). As well as Rudolph Wegener (Carsten Norgaard) speaking about their deeds together in Cincinnati “spilling blood,” and Wegeners observation that afterward Smith no longer entertains his passion for sailing – alluding to an intense personal guilt harbored by Smith. In total, John Smith has blood up to his elbows.
If viewed within the scope of historic post-World War II indictments and prosecution, a man fitting the profile of John Smith most certainly would have stood in the dock alongside figures such as Göering or Ribbontrop at Nuremberg, facing charges for crimes against humanity, waging wars of abject aggression, and genocide for their respective roles in perpetrating the Holocaust. There is no doubt Smith would have also shared their ultimate fate, death by hanging following a guilty verdict.
Or perhaps just as likely is seeing an end similar to that of Italian fascist dictator Benito Mussolini. “Il Duce” was the recipient of mob justice, resulting in a summary execution by firing squad from local Italian partisans in April 1945. Events that culminated with Mussolini and his mistress Clara Petacci’s corpses being spat upon at a petrol station in Milan.
They took his soul, and now they have taken his only son
Through Season 1 and 2, we also see Smith subverting the state to hide his sons diagnosis of muscular dystrophy. So aggressive to protect his own family, Smith murders their family doctor and longtime friend who diagnosed Thomas so that the secret remains as such.
John Smith’s older brother, whom he apparently worshiped, also suffered from the same disease as does John’s son, Thomas. Clearly Smith is unable to reconcile his personal compassion and understanding with the malformed draconian racial policies of the Third Reich. Smith has been both complicit with its heinous crimes, and also seeks to undermine it for his own son’s benefit. Smith’s plan ultimately fails however, as Thomas in his very honest nature submits himself to the authorities to be euthanized.
With a newly released trailer by Amazon, we see a recently promoted Oberst-Gruppenführer Smith – an SS rank historically only held by Reinhard Heydrich (Ray Proscia) – and subordinate only to Heinrich Himmler (Kenneth Tigar), with a presumable alternate version of the dreaded Nazi criminal doctor, Josef Mengele (John Hans Tester). In the scene, it is made clear that Nazi research and development knows of certain individuals’ ability to travel between universes. It is hardly a giant leap of a prediction to know what Smith is thinking during this presentation, as it could be a way to have his son back – at least a version of his son that is healthy and originates from a very similar time line.
John Smith Protecting His Country and People?
When last we left the occupied United States, the continent was in chaos due to uprisings triggered by the news of Hitler’s death. John Smith as the highest ranking official in the American Reich was tasked to manage it. When reinforcements arrive from Berlin to help aid the invasion of the Pacific States and put down the various civil rebellions, Smith clearly eschews the SD Gruppenfurher’s idea to raze Savannah, Georgia to make an example for the populace as to the consequences of further civil unrest.
When Smith and his lieutenant walk out the door, Smith says, “We won’t destroy one of our own cities.” This line, however quick, is crucial. He clearly sees himself in a caretaker role within a brutal system. Helping ease a situation that he believes would have been far worse without his involvement. A common and often inaccurate claim made by most collaborators in Smith’s situation, better known by some as “Petainism.” In short, a very clear and eloquent line of self-justifying bull shit.
Yet to this point his loyalty to Empire is a matter of great consternation. At the end of Season 2, he is the apparent hero who foiled the major assassination and coup attempt, whilst halting a world war with Japan.
The reward for his act of exceptional gallantry? The sacrifice of his only beloved son, to the demands of the state he so diligently serves.
Yet what is more agonizing, is having to experience this very tragedy because of raising his son to hold Nazi values so dear that Thomas comes forward of his own accord, voluntarily giving his life to the demands of the collective, as if enacting a divine mandate. No doubt the cost of his penance, should any truly be possible following Smith’s actions, are staggering. Yet given where the audience last see’s Smith, he appears on the verge of considerable revelations regarding his knowledge of The Man in the High Castle universe.
What we do know of Smith, when last we saw him, was his being ushered into the vault of films collected by Hitler – and presumably being granted carte blanche to watch them as he sees fit. With a man as perceptive as Smith, undoubtedly he will learn a great deal about their role and value. How this information will change him personally is genuinely unpredictable.
To put Smith and his beloved family into their rightful context, one need only to remember the words of Juliana Crain when reporting back to George Dixon, “You can almost forget they’re Nazi’s.” The viewers fall into the same trap, yet must never allow themselves to remain within it. The Smiths have as much blood and complicity as any other characters in the series. Though most damning is that they’re the greatest collaborators with the Nazi occupiers, and no deed may ever redeem them of all the destruction they have directly wrought against their own people.
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The death of Filmstruck is the latest symptom of our rapidly devolving film culture: This is a look at what we’ve lost, and what lies ahead.
The demise of Filmstruck is a major loss to the world of cinema. If you were to log on to film Twittertm – that specialist ghetto of cinephiles (“or what you’d call film buffs” as Matthew remarks early in the late Bernardo Bertolucci’s The Dreamers) you would realize that many of us are in mourning for a rapidly depleting film culture.
Across the country, most Americans do not have access to an art house theater, and it’s even less likely that they would have access to a repertory theater. Those in New York City can pick their poison between the Metrograph and Film Forum and Village Quad Cinema. Heck they’ve even got the NiteHawk in Williamsburg. Those in LA have the New Beverly. Most of us, however, are just plain out of luck.
Two years ago Filmstruck seemed like the solution. A collaboration between Warner Brothers and the Criterion Collection, Filmstruck was a hand-curated outfit that seemed like film school on a Roku. From Rohmer to Ozu, Sembene to Akerman – world cinema was at your fingertips. You want to spend 83 minutes with Alma from Persona? Sure can. You could check in with Guido Anselmi or Sam Spade or Mabel Longhetti or any of several versions of Orpheus by just pressing a button…and now it’s gone.
A Half Remembered Dream Factory
Every day we seem to forget more of our history. Hollywood is no exception. Often they seem to be leading the way. Hollywood has always been America’s dream factory, and there are some real talented and nice people out there – people who care desperately about movies.
Yet, because of the vagaries of corporate America, and the rush to the all-mighty dollar that capitalism surely compels, Hollywood has become a system that is ruled by puffed-up Harvard MBA’s in slick two-button suits looking for ten percent profit on the next remake.
Now, I don’t really have anything against these people, it’s just that many of them don’t really know or give a lick about the classic days of the industry, the history of world cinema, or even current world cinema beyond their own distribution pacts. They only worry whether their new one hundred million dollar piece of content is going to be allowed to play in China, and whether it will allay some its substantial budget with international pre-sales.
In turn, we have the creation of these monster conglomerates through very big mergers such as Disney buying Fox, or in our case AT&T buying Time Warner, which has led directly to AT&T shutting down Filmstruck.
See, they want to invest only in core businesses that will generate substantial return. This makes complete sense from a business perspective. Except, in the olden days of Hollywood the guys that ran the place, like Louis B. Mayer and Irving Thalberg, saw the picture business as more than just a profit machine. They understood they were creating a product that was intangible – a motion picture, not a widget.
Sure, they were interested in making money, they damn well weren’t commies, but at the same time they were making something near Art and they were passionate about it.
There was a time when it felt like cinema could change the world. In his review of The Dreamers (to circle back), Roger Ebert reminisces that back in ’68, Chicagoans were lined up on the sidewalk in the rain to see Godard’s Weekend. Imagine that now? Wouldn’t happen.
AT&T closed Filmstruck because they believed it was niche. Great cinema like Casablanca and King Kong, The Seven Samurai and Weekend, which all those people lined up for all those years ago, is now just niche content.
What’s the use of going to a movie theater if movies are just content no different from a YouTube video? Hollywood has forgotten its heroes. Cinema seems to have forgotten what cinema is all about – stories that move us or elucidate the world around us – or even sometimes elucidate feelings or emotions so deep-seated they would never stir without that silver-screen mirror.
The last three movies I watched on Filmstruck were the creepy Japanese ghost story Tokaido Yotsuya Kaidan (1959), the vibrantly alive magical realist bossa nova-driven romance Black Orpheus (1959), and Mikio Naruse’s masterful Floating Clouds (1955). Maybe my feeling towards Filmstruck and cinema itself is like Naruse’s lovers’ warmer brighter past in French Indochina – a deeply romantic paradise to which we can never return.
I certainly hope that’s not the case. I hope the future of cinema and the future of repertory streaming services spreads out before us like a mighty bounty.
To ensure this, we all have do our part. Watch movies. Buy movies. All movies. Become cine-literate in everything. Especially the classics.
(Article Continues Below...)
Preservation in the Post-Filmstruck Era
What’s next? The terrific physical media company The Criterion Collection is starting their own streaming channel. Will it succeed? Only if enough of us are interested in preserving our globe’s sometimes shared, sometimes divergent cultural heritage.
Films are doorways into past and future worlds. These stories have shaped us, and allowed a plethora of fascinating cultures to share their preoccupations, hopes, and fears with other, sometimes very different people, in every far-flung nook and cranny of this astonishing world. These dreams, stories, and feelings are too important to be allowed to just fade away.
Please preserve them.
Write to David B. Sporn at firstname.lastname@example.org
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The Man in the High Castle Universe: How the Axis Won WW2
Exactly what the hell went so wrong to create the High Castle dystopia? Second World War historian Paul K. DiCostanzo examines the possibilities.
With the interminable wait for season three of Amazon Prime’s portrayal of Philip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle concluding on October 5th, we pose the singular question underlying the series thus far: How could the Axis powers have defeated the United States and its Allies in The Man in the High Castle Universe? The following interpretation is one possible “universe” of Man in the High Castle. One in which we explore the biggest question for most viewers: How the Axis won WW2, or more specifically, “How did the US lose World War II?”
As the show straddles the genres of Alternate History and Science Fiction, the world of High Castle is based on counter-factual history. That being said, the scenario below is projected from historical events that could explain the tragic collapse of the Allies and ultimate rise of the Axis powers.
The Man in the High Castle Universe: What went wrong?
(A stark contrast in the two above maps that mark the conclusion of the historical and fictional WW2)
For an American living in the 21st Century, the victory in the Second World War is even more fundamental to their worldview than even the American Revolution of 1776. It is, after all, the founding story of the modern United States and the rest of the world as we know it.
The concept of the Allies losing to the satanic enemy of Nazi Germany and its Axis collaborators hits home in primordial fashion. It is a concept so deeply disturbing that the dystopia such a defeat would create is generally unthinkable. Yet in the High Castle universe, that is exactly what happened. So, what exactly went wrong in the High Castle timeline?
How the Axis won WW2: The Man in the High Castle Universe Historical Contradiction
In the High Castle universe, many well known events of the Second World War have outcomes clearly contrary to the viewer’s universe. In both the series and the classic novel, details are scarce as to exactly how the Axis managed victory over the Allies.
Putting aside the little information divulged by the show so far – including Nazi Germany’s clear development of the first strategic nuclear weapon – what happened to the Allied nations that allowed this disaster to occur? While there are several distinct possibilities, one must start with the life of one Sir Winston Spencer Churchill.
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10 Things Star Trek: Discovery Season 2 Must Do to Avoid Epic Failure
Season 2 of Star Trek: Discovery is the swing season for the series. These are several directives to ensure this newest season gets it just right.
Over the past two months new information about the greater Star Trek franchise have hit fans at warp speed. Between the announcement of a new series featuring Patrick Stewart and the contractual standstill leading perhaps to the fourth film in the Kelvin timeline’s demise – there has been no lack of blockbluster headlines. However, the project which will shortly eclipse all the rest is the upcoming sophomore season of Star Trek: Discovery with viewers paying particular attention to where the showrunners wish to take the series. Not to be left out, the following are ten guidelines – directives as it were – to ensure Star Trek: Discovery season 2 will not fall on its face. We begin with the introduction of a new-familiar face: Mr. Spock.
1. A Tale of Two Spock’s: The Delicate Introduction of Ethan Peck in Discovery Season 2
I fully concede the pragmatic reality of the entertainment industry, and that Zachery Quinto was very unlikely to assume the role of the prime universe Spock in Star Trek: Discovery season 2 – but I cannot help stopping and thinking, “What the crap?”
With the announcement that Ethan Peck will play Spock in Star Trek: Discovery season 2, there are now two actors, in the prime of their career, portraying effectively the same character at the same time: Quinto on the big screen and Peck on my iPhone. Lets all be honest with ourselves, that’s really friggin’ weird.
Though Alex Kurtzman and the current Star Trek braintrust were nothing less than effusive in praise for the talented Peck, there are greater factors at play by having more than one Spock.
“We searched for months for an actor who would, like them, bring his own interpretation to the role. An actor who would, like them, effortlessly embody Spock’s greatest qualities, beyond obvious logic: empathy, intuition, compassion, confusion and yearning. Ethan Peck walked into the room inhabiting all of these qualities, aware of his daunting responsibility to Leonard, Zack and the fans, and ready to confront the challenge in the service of protecting and expanding on Spock’s legacy. In that spirit, we’re thrilled to welcome him to the family.” – Alex Kurtzman, Star Trek: Discovery Executive Producer
The Reality of Dueling Spock’s
To be fair there has been a Spock duo before, however those were very different circumstances. It was clear for those who have eyes to see that it was a passing of the torch. The beloved Leonard Nimoy, in the best of Star Trek tradition, played the role of a venerated character sanctifying the newest Trek foray with his saintly presence. What Trek fans are dealing with now, whether they yet realize it or not, is a competition that is at best irksome.
Depending on their performance, as well as their dictated place in the narratives they inherit, one of them will ultimately be accepted as THE Spock while the other will be relegated to “Other Spock,” a second class citizen in Trek canon. Not only will this be unfair to the actors who portray him, it is a profound disservice to the character himself to assume this baggage.
The best one can hope for under these circumstances is that Peck will knock this role in Star Trek: Discovery season 2 out of the park. In the end that is always what will matter most and that each “Spock” can be appreciated in there respective spheres.
Speaking of troublesome duplicates…
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