Maybe I’m behind the times but when I heard they were doing a ‘web series’ about an alternate history version of the outcome of WW2, my first instinct was that it was going to look cheap as hell. If it was not syndicated television, where would they get the money from? Especially for all of those sets, cars etc. Of course I was wrong, because this is Amazon we’re talking about, which funded and produced this series and The Man in the High Castle looks a million dollars. It also has a very interesting premise, like this one, also based on a book of the same name. Were you a fan of Fatherland, a TV movie (also) adapted from a book, covering life under German rule after they actually won? If so you should check this one out.
The series is set in the 1960s. The Axis Powers have long since won the war, met their strategical aspirations in the Middle East, Europe and the Pacific and now Japan and Germany have met in conquering the United States. The Japanese have conquered the western states and the Germans have conquered the eastern states, with a neutral zone running up the centre of the continent. While they were friends in the war, there is now a Cold War between them, smiles on their faces but knives behind their backs. For the Americans, they have a growing resistance network with moles working their way into the machinations of the systems both east and west of the neutral zones, but also having problems with moles in their own ranks.
The central characters are played by Rufus Sewell, an American counter terrorist SS Obergruppenführer serving in New York, Luke Kleintank, a covert operative working with the resistance, but actually a double agent for the SS, Alexa Davalos, another resistance operative and Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, a Japanese Trade Minister station in San Francisco, with doubts about his own allegiances and destiny.
All involved are looking for a set of mythical film reels that could prove pivotal to everyone, even the Yakuza, which could strengthen, weaken or overthrow the positions of a given side.
The show is guilty of meandering though. It can become quite pedestrian, dragging its feet and not really getting on with pertinent plot points. Unless you’re really into this type of thing, I could see a few people straying at the mid point. For instance the series revolves around the aforementioned film clips, but really they only give us information about them in the first and final episodes. And the reference to them in the first makes things confusing, especially if you haven’t read the book (I have not)… why is there footage of an Allied victory playing on a projector? I understand that this is the point, somewhat, but give us something to chew on with those interim eight episodes.
I also have a problem with the lack of back story in general. At which point did the war turn? How did the Axis Powers win, exactly? There is reference to America having never entered the war, but that still does not tell us how we arrive in North America. The ‘neutral zone’ is also lacking in explanation. Why is it there? I understand the concept of a demilitarized zone and ‘buffer’ areas between two sides not exactly on the same page, but this one is huge and if I’m not mistaken, encompasses quite a bit of American agricultural land. Are they just ignoring it?
The series for the most part looks impressive, we see a re-imagined United States under two shades of Axis rule, where cultural alterations have taken place, brought to life by what looks like painstaking production efforts. It looks real and wide in scope, as in if something wasn’t actually built for the series then it was realized through CGI, but only when necessary. The CGI is also impressive, so often you can’t tell what is real and what isn’t. The end result is a living and breathing alternate universe. There’s also a dream like veneer that hangs over this series, adding a nod of suggestion, is it real? That’s a nice touch.
The final episode elevates things. It ties up loose ends that were developing, which I thought they’d ignore. I was almost about to consider the show ‘mediocre’ until this satisfactory finale develops. Things get interesting, almost pushing the boundary but narrowly avoiding jumping the shark. You expect certain people to die and certain things to happen, but being unpredictable is good. This is the kind of ending you want, raising questions for a new season without being left with a feeling of being ripped off. I’m intrigued by this series and will take another series.
I’m going to give this a seven and avoid the temptation of an eight, but you have to judge a product by the sum of its parts. But damn is it cool to see the Wehrmacht armed with MP5s.