In an America where the Japanese and Germans have won WWII, a film and a resistance movement threaten to bring down the government.
Credit: Liane Hentscher/Amazon

The series premiere of Amazon’s The Man In The High Castle, an adaptation of the Philip K. Dick novel, doesn’t take long to settle into its alternate history and start churning out the twists and turns. The episode opens with Joe Blake, a young American man, sitting in a theater watching what seems to be Nazi propaganda. That is until the film changes scenes and reveals the American flag, but instead of the 50 stars, there’s a giant swastika.

In this alternate history, Germany and Japan have won WWII and split occupation of American territory. There’s the East Coast, now occupied under the name of the Greater Nazi Reich, and the West Coast, which belongs to the Japanese and goes by the name of the Japanese Pacific States. The premiere splits its time between Japanese-controlled San Francisco and German-controlled New York in 1962, and suggests that with an ailing Hitler, there’s war on the horizon as successors to the Führer scramble to gain power.

In New York, Joe Blake is looking for a job in a factory. He meets with a man named Mr. Warren and tells him he’s ready to join the workforce, but Warren isn’t so sure. He says Joe is too young, that if he gets caught doing this job, his life will be over. So what is it that Joe is getting himself into?

Mr. Warren is an American working against the ruling Nazi regime. He’s part of a movement called the Resistance that, as far as we can tell, is looking to overthrow the government. Despite his initial hesitation, Warren hires Joe as a driver, sending him to Canon City, Colo, located in the neutral zone, with a truck full of “coffeemakers” because the less Joe knows the better. Just as Joe sets out for his delivery the Nazis storm the place. While Joe gets away, Mr. Warren is taken captive.

Over in San Francisco we’re introduced to Juliana, another American who we first meet as she’s learning aikido, a form of Japanese martial arts. While the practice seems to bring her peace and joy, her mother is less than happy about her chosen hobby. She tells her that she should be ashamed for getting so close to the Japanese considering that they killed her father during the war.

Such a reaction seems to be par for the course for Juliana, who clearly has a strained relationship with her mother. That’s not the only family member to make a brief appearance, though, as we’re soon introduced to Trudy, Juliana’s sister. Meeting her in a hurried state, she tells Juliana that she’s found “the reason for everything” and that she’ll show her soon.

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Later that day, Juliana sees her again, but this time Trudy is panicked. She hands Juliana a package of some sort and tells her that “it’s a way out.” As Trudy turns the corner, she’s chased by the Japanese police and shot dead in the street; Juliana’s hiding around the corner but witnesses the whole thing.

Back at the apartment that she shares with her boyfriend, Frank, Juliana takes a look at the package that the Japanese police seemed to want so badly. It’s a film labeled The Grasshopper Lies Heavy. When she hooks it up to a projector, it shows quite the sight: It’s newsreel footage of America winning the war, complete with celebrating American soldiers in Times Square. Juliana watches it over and over again, tears in her eyes.

When Frank comes home and sees what she’s watching, he flips out. He says it’s an anti-war film created by someone called The Man in the High Castle. Juliana doesn’t believe it’s fiction, though. She believes the images are real. When Frank insists the images are fake, she replies, “that’s what they told us.” Thus, The Man in the High Castle begins to build its conspiracy theory thriller narrative.

NEXT: A chance meeting and a double agent

Along with the film, Juliana finds a bus ticket to Canon City, with the name of a diner and time written on the back. While Frank pleads with her to turn the film over to the police and plead ignorance about what it is and where it came from, Juliana doesn’t want her sister’s death to be in vain. Without Frank knowing, she slips away, hopping on the bus to Canon City with the film tucked away under her jacket.

Meanwhile, the Nazis have taken Mr. Warren to Rikers Island, where they’re torturing him for information. He refuses to give up where Joe was headed, but for the Obergruppenführer, his resistance hardly matters. In fact, he already knows where the truck is headed and what the cargo is but is torturing Warren to mislead the Resistance. If they find his battered body, they’ll assume the Nazis know nothing about the cargo, that Warren never gave up any information.

That cargo turns out to be another copy of The Grasshopper Lies Heavy. Joe finds it stashed underneath the truck just before he heads into the neutral zone. Along the way he blows a tire, but a friendly American but German-controlled cop stops to help him replace it. As ash falls from the sky, the result of a local hospital burning the “crippled and mentally ill,” Joe seems to contemplate just what he’s gotten himself into.

Juliana is having similar feelings, arriving in Canon City with no money after a woman — and a rather racist one at that — steals her bag on the bus. Juliana still has the film, though, but when she arrives at the Sunrise Diner where the bus ticket told her to meet, she doesn’t find anyone looking for her and can’t pay for her meal.

The waiter seems ready to do something horrible to Juliana before Joe shows up and pays for her. The two strike up a conversation, with Juliana introducing herself as Trudy. “You weren’t looking for anyone named Trudy, were you?” she says, to which Joe says no.

What does Joe want, though? And how much can Juliana trust him? In the final scene, it’s unclear just whose side Joe is on. He looks at his watch and realizes he has to make a phone call. On the other end is the Obergruppenführer, and Joe informs him that he has the cargo and is in Canon City. Is Joe part of the Resistance and looking to infiltrate the Nazis? Or is he a Nazi trying to bring down the Resistance from the inside, and that’s how the Obergruppenführer knew about the cargo already?

As the episode comes to a close, Joe’s status as a double agent is revealed, Mr. Warren’s body has been dumped, a man connected with the Resistance is seen being arrested, and Frank is being beaten and detained by the Japanese police. Whatever The Grasshopper Lies Heavy really is, it’s certainly causing a lot of chaos for those closest to it.

Episode Recaps

The Man in the High Castle

Amazon adapts Philip K. Dick's 1962 novel about an alternate universe where the Axis powers won World War II.

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