Creator Frank Spotnitz on why 'you can't help but like' John Smith.
The Man in the High Castle arrived on Amazon on Nov. 20, and if you’re binge-watching the series, EW has you covered with postmortems for each episode. Creator Frank Spotnitz, who adapted Philip K. Dick’s original novel for the small screen, answers burning questions and talks in-depth about the major story beats. Read on for his thoughts on episode 2, “Sunrise.”
Because of Juliana’s (Alexa Davalos) mysterious departure with the film reel, Frank (Rupert Evans) gets arrested by the Japanese military police. Joe’s (Luke Kleintank) loyalties are tested when he watches the film himself. And Juliana, on her own, thinks she’s found the contact Trudy was sent to meet — only to realize she’s in more danger than she thought.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Frank’s story frames this episode. Why was it important to focus so much on poor Frank in this hour?
FRANK SPOTNITZ: Frank was a guy who in episode 1 was just trying to get along. He wasn’t trying to make trouble, he was just trying to do his job, working in a gun factory, and he wants to get married and have children and just live, which I think is what 99.9 percent of us would do. [Laughs.] I thought it was such a heartbreaking situation, because he’s done nothing wrong, and the price of his liberty is betraying the person he loves. It’s an inhuman dilemma to put a character in. I had big debates with people about whether he should name Juliana, and it was really clear in my mind that no, he wouldn’t, because he couldn’t live with himself if he had done that.
I strongly identify with that character, because my father is Jewish and my mother is Protestant, and as a consequence, I wasn’t raised with any religion whatsoever, but it struck me in contemplating this world that, you know, that wouldn’t save me in a Nazi world. The Nazis were still going to consider me a Jew. And I thought it was such a horrifying, dehumanizing thing that you have no control over the identity of who you are, and that applies to so many people. It’s an idea that resonates today as well, right? It doesn’t matter what you think, people are going to judge you and perhaps hate you or hurt you, and they won’t see you as an individual, they’ll see you as a member of a group they’ve decided to hate. And that’s a particular kind of horror that I thought was interesting and moving.
And that horror comes across at the end of the episode with the deaths of Frank’s sister and her children. This may be morbid to ask, but why did you decide not to show their bodies in this episode?
In this platform, Amazon, there’s no restriction on what I can show. If I wanted to, I could show the gory, you know, whatever I want. I still believe it’s more powerful in your head than it is on screen.
Let’s talk about that shootout with John Smith. The whole ambush reminded me of (43-year-old spoiler ahead!) Sonny’s death at the toll bridge in The Godfather, with the hail of bullets and the helpless feel of it. Tell me about putting this dramatic, action-filled sequence together.
That’s absolutely right, it is a bit like the ambitious Sonny at the toll bridge. It originally was not written quite as spectacularly, but the director, Daniel Percival, really wanted to go for it. And what’s perverse to me about that scene is that because it’s in the point of view of John Smith, and because Erich Raeder, his aide, is being heroic and trying to hand him the gun when he runs out of bullets, you’re rooting for John Smith and Erich Raeder. But… they’re Nazis! They’re Nazis! And those guys with the guns are the Resistance, and the guy he shoots at the end is a Jewish guy, so it’s all backwards! That’s what really makes you think. It’s flipping things on its head.
You can’t help but like John, because he has a code, and he’s more than competent, he’s excellent at what he does. He’s a great soldier, he’s a great father, he’s a wonderful husband. He just happens to have an evil ideology.
Joe is someone who’s clearly thinking about the conflicting ideologies in his world. We see him absorbed by the film. So what’s changed for him?
In episode 2, I think you clearly get the sense that he is attracted to Juliana and that he’s torn about what to do when he learns that she’s going to meet her death. But you don’t know the limits of that attachment or that attraction to Juliana, or how far that will really push him toward her or away from the Nazi cause. It pushed him that far, so you know that much.
One of the mysteries of these first two episodes is the man with the lined face, whom Juliana believes is her Resistance contact, until he gets tossed into the river. Will we be finding out more of his faction of Nazis and what’s going on there, and was it a decision made early on to have him die in the second hour?
It was. I always knew he was going to die… The Nazis were very clique-ish and there were various groups, and yes, you’ll see more of that as the show progresses. But even though he’s not a part of John Smith’s chain of command, he’s serving the Führer in that he’s taking out subversives and hunting down the film. You’ll learn a little bit more about what he was up to in episodes 3 and 4.
The Man in the High Castle is available for streaming on Amazon.