A New Trailer for ‘The Man in the High Castle’ and Episode Two Preview

7-13-15 Man in the High Castle
Alexa Davalos as Juliana Crain and Luke Kleintank as Joe Blake drink sodas outside a diner in the neutral zone's Canon City, Colorado, in the pilot episode of Amazon's "The Man in the High Castle." David Berg/Amazon Studios

In mid-January, Amazon released a baker’s dozen pilot episodes to audiences in the United States, U.K. and Germany, who were invited to view and give feedback in hopes of seeing their favorites made into full seasons. Among them was The Man in the High Castle, based on Philip K. Dick’s 1962 novel of the same name. Just over a month later, Amazon gave the green light to five new Amazon Original Series, including Man in the High Castle. Roy Price, vice president of Amazon Studios said then that the alternate history drama had become the most-watched Amazon pilot to date.

A full season isn’t due to be released until the fall, but Amazon screened the pilot along with the series’ second episode at a special Comic Con event on Friday evening. For those who didn’t make it to the convention this year, both episodes were livestreamed via Entertainment Weekly.

The Man in the High Castle asks what would have happened if the Allies had lost World War II and the U.S. had been divided between the Nazi and Japanese regimes. As the series’ title sequence indicates, the U.S. is composed of the Greater Reich on the East Coast, the Pacific States in the West and the neutral zone of Rocky Mountains between them.

The novel is “a classic; it’s one of the greatest science fiction books of all time,” executive producer Frank Spotnitz, known for his work on The X-Files, said at a brief Q-and-A before the screening. The story “raises all kinds of questions about reality and what it means to be human in an inhuman world,” added Spotnitz, who also wrote the script for the pilot episode. “The chance to dramatize it was just irresistible.”

In planning for the television adaptation, the producers had to build a credible visual world, making decisions about details from what buildings should look like to what cars are being driven to what hairstyles and fashions the characters sport. “All of that we had to figure out in the pilot episode because we knew we’d have to live with those decisions as long as the series went on,” Spotnitz explained.

Just before the episodes began playing, Spotnitz instructed the audience: “Forget you’re in San Diego, forget you’re in Comic Con, forget this is 2015. The lights are going to go down and imagine you’re in a 1962 that never was.”

The America that never came to be is obviously starkly different from the one that did, but in more striking moments, it’s eerily similar. One scene in the second episode shows a family sitting down to breakfast at their home on Long Island, amidst the green lawns and quiet streets of middle-class suburbia. A man chastises his son for studying at the table, as a father on a classic sitcom might. But unlike the idealized American family we’re used to seeing on-screen, they just both happen to be wearing swastika armbands. A subsequent scene shows the father heading into New York City with a colleague when their car is suddenly attacked by members of the resistance.

Jewish ancestry, mentioned once in hushed tones in the pilot, becomes the basis for one of the main plotlines in episode two. The Japanese authorities use records of Jewish relatives to try to extract information about banned film reels that made their way into the hands of one of the protagonists in the pilot.

That protagonist, Juliana, had gotten on a bus from San Francisco to Canon City, Colorado, located in the neutral zone, after her sister was shot dead on the street in the first episode. In Canon City, she interacts with two men who could be resistance members or bona fide Nazi spies. Only one of their identities is thoroughly revealed by the close of episode two.

The second episode, which draws viewers deeper into the nuanced postwar world, culminates in death and near-death. There’s an execution block and a firing squad aiming at a man with a sack over his head. There’s Zyklon gas, but not in a concentration camp. Instead, there’s just a “comfortable waiting room” for a mother and her two children, where a television plays cartoons, the couches are covered in plastic, and the ceiling contains small circular “air” vents. As the hours pass, the mother becomes increasingly anxious, glancing with a growing realization at the vents, banging on the locked door only to be met by echoes in an empty hallway and holding her children close.

Friday’s event appears to have been a onetime screening (the EW video is marked as "currently unavailable"), so anyone who missed it may have to wait for the fall to see the second episode. In the meantime, however, the pilot is still available for streaming via Amazon Prime, and Amazon has released a new trailer for the series: