HERE BE SPOILERS! Warning! This story contains heavy spoilers for the TV series “The Man in the High Castle” that was aired on Amazon Prime Video. If you are currently watching the series or intend to do so in the future, I strongly advise you to finish it before reading this.
The Man in the High Castle is a four-season, 10 episodes each TV series aired on Amazon Prime. It is a very loose adaptation of the Philip K Dick book of the same name. The story is set in the most intriguing and terrifying universes of alternate history, a world where the Axis powers won World War II. In this dystopian world, Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan divided the world between them, imposing their ideologies of eugenic racism and totalitarian government upon all conquered territories. The USA itself has ceased to exist and was divided into three occupied territories. The ending was not to my taste so I thought it would be fun to dream up an alternate ending to the series. And therefore it is. T
The beautiful Pocono valley, ringed by high peaks and pristine temperate forest lay blanketed under a glittering sheet of fresh white snow on a bright and crisp day under a bright blue sky. The valley and abound with the muted cries of the local wildlife flourishing in the wilderness free of human interference. The centre of the valley, however, was dominated by a not-so-natural structure, a single, elevated beam of steel and concrete spanning the centre of the valley, running parallel of the mountains and disappearing into them on one end and stretching into the wilderness on the other. The beam was supported by 10-metre high concrete pillars placed every 50 meters, emblazoned with the Hackenkreutz, the Reichsadler and the logo of the Reichsbahn, reminding any observer, like any object in the Reich, the inescapable reality of where they where and who ruled the world. The elevated monorail track was part of the very elaborate Reichsbahn system that spanned all of the American Reich. This particular branch connected the network to the top-secret military facilities in the Lackawanna mines of the Pocono mountains.
The calm of the Poconos was abruptly broken by the sounds of dozens of pairs of boots crunching on the snow. A group of sixteen winter-camouflaged and heavily armed figures emerged from the forest and approached the electrified security fence that ran parallel to the length of the track. After disabling and cutting through the fence in no time they set up a perimeter and unpacked their gear which consisted of high explosives and associated paraphernalia which they then silently went about securing to the pillars.
The high-speed monorail was 22 minutes from its destination at the Lackawanna mines. The interior of the blast-and-bullet-proof train was completely insulated from the elements outside that its occupants were saved the acoustic unpleasantness that usually accompanied 300+ kph speeds generated by rocket engines. On board the train, Reichsfuhrer John Smith closed the door to his private cabin and turned to Helen Smith, his wife for 24 years, who stood glowering at him in a corner of the room.
“Listen, Helen,” he said. “I have a plan. I am going to make it all alright.”
Helen shook her head remorsefully.
“I saw your plans, John. The plans for the camps. You are going to do it all over again!? I can’t believe what you are doing, John. We once stood by those horrors of the regime because we sadly agreed that there was nothing we could do unless we wanted our children to suffer the same fate, and promised ourselves “never again”, John. And then, you aren’t just going to be part of it but you are lead it this time?! Is there any bit that is human left in you John? How many more millions will you kill until your lust for power is satisfied? Will it ever be satisfied? How much more do you want to rise standing on the souls of those millions, John? But I am telling you this, John, leave us out of it! Please don’t claim you are doing all this for your family! I do not want whatever you are trying to achieve using our name as an excuse! I refuse to be any part of this!”
“Helen, Thomas is alive.”
“Thomas is alive. I saw him. In another world, another Universe. Only that things are a bit different there.”
“What… What are you talking about?” asked Helen, utterly confused and dazed.
Smith explained about the Nebenwelt program, the portal and “alt-world“, and his experiences there with Helen and Thomas.
“I am going to bring him here, Helen. I have made a plan for that. We will be a family again. None of this will matter anymore then. It will be all like it was before.”
Helen slowly shook her head. “Oh, John. Imagining all that you said can actually happen, do you really think that boy will be happy here? He might look and sound like Thomas, even his genetic makeup might be the same, but he is not our Thomas, John! He is the, the alt-Thomas of the alt-USA, the son of alt-John and alt-Helen! He will never understand this world!”
“Yes, but, we can have him here, we, we can be together and happy!”
“Happy? Do you think he would be happy here? With you? Do you really think that boy who wants to fight for what the United States of America represents – represented – would by any chance even want to have anything to do with you? He will see you as an evil, Lovecraftian monster, John! A devil in a black uniform who has lost all that once made him human! He will be repulsed by you! Your son will see you as all that is wrong with humanity!”
John Smith stared at his wife.
“Oh, and John, you are nowhere that sharp, balanced man I once knew, anymore. Your hunger for power has blinded you. You think your enemies are fools. This “portal” you talk of, and the “travellers” who can jump between Universes without technology, like Juliana, work both ways. They will surely know about our world too, John, and are probably playing us right now before they can charge in and eliminate us. We are on the wrong side of history, John.”
Helen paused for a second and looked at the white landscape whizzing past the train window.
“Listen John, maybe, if you made some kind of amends to set yourself right, maybe you can redeem yourself a bit, John, maybe even ligitimatise yourselves a bit in the eyes of your… “son“. This world of killing and slaughtering is about to come to an end. You need to take sides again. You need to stop this, John!”
“I don’t know how to, anymore.”
“Oh you know, John, you know. You are waiting for Bill to call you. Tell him what you have to tell him. For Thomas. For our girls. For all the millions you have killed, John! For at least our future!”
Right then, a knock sounded on the door. Major Metzger entered and announced that General Bill Watmore was on the line requesting an audience. Smith stared at him for a couple of seconds before dismissing him. He fingered the Ritterkreutz hanging on his collar and looked at Helen, slumped over a large couch, head in her hands.
Smith sat at his desk and turned on the video-phone.
“Reichsfuhrer. The squadron is airborne and will reach San Francisco in five minutes. We are standing by for your permission to drop ordinance.”
John Smith took a deep breath, ran a hand through his thinning grey hair and stared intently at the large Hackenkreutz affixed to the wall opposite him.
“Your orders, sir?” asked Whitmore.
“Bill, remember what we talked about in my office before I left for Berlin to meet Himmler for the last time?” John Smith said quietly as if to himself, his face creasing deeply with every word, his eyes never losing their intensity.
“Then you have your orders.” Smith said, looking into the monitor, the eyes of the two men locking.
Bill drew a deep breath and gave a slow nod before raising his right palm to his eyebrow. “Thank you, John”, he said.
“Good luck, Bill”, said John, and the screen went blank.
The resistance had completed rigging two pillars of the monorail with explosives and were taking shelter away from the bast radius. Redundancy is not just good but a necessity, especially since the “whatever could go wrong, will go wrong” rule exists everywhere no matter the Universe you inhabited. Juliana and Wyatt were doing a final check of the connections when they became aware of a distant roar accompanied with a low rumbling from the track above, quickly increasing in intensity and volume.
“Train approaching!” yelled someone. The crew scrambled for cover along the pillars preceding the rigged ones, just when the four-coach high-speed monorail, powered by four rocket engines mounted on its rear turned a curve and hurtled towards them at nearly 300 kilometres per hour with the bassy roar of the afterburners echoing across the valley. The drivers noticed the activity among the pillars below and opened fire from a swivel machine gun mounted on the roof of the pointed-nose of the train. Resistance fighters returned fire. Juliana huddled low against the platform of the pillar, her hand tersely poised over the switch on the fusebox. Wyatt turned to her and shouted over the din, “Let’s change some history!” Juliana smiled at him and turned the switch.
Helen Smith stared at her husband in disbelief.
“There. I called off the attack on San Francisco. What else do you want me to do?” John asked irritatedly, like a boy who as asked to put his toys aside.
A staccato crack echoed from a window. John instinctively ducked. “It’s the resistance! We’re under attack!” Metzger’s agitated voice shouted over the intercom.
“Return fire! Inform command!” John shouted back.
“It’s too late”. Helen said quietly. “It was me, John. I informed them of our travel plan. I am sorry”, she said, her face solid, tears shining through, like on a rock after the rain. “I’ve made arrangements for the girls.” she added.
John turned to look at his wife in utter shock.
The explosion of that destroyed the two concrete pillars was hardly audible above the roar of the afterburners. A shudder went through the train and John threw himself on top of Helen, knocking them onto the couch. The cushions in the couch suddenly puffed up all around them, burying them in a balloony embrace. The train was briefly airborne as the track beneath it disintegrated, then surged downwards and slammed nose-first into the snow-covered ground at a couple of hundreds of kilometres per hour. The lead car broke free from the rest of the consist on impact and pivoted end over end to violently crash into the next pillar, reducing it to rubble and bringing the track down upon it, crushing it like a tin can. The remaining three coaches continued ploughing onwards on the icy ground for several hundred metres, tossing up plumes of snow and dirt. Pieces of glass, metal and wood flew everywhere and several explosions set many trees on fire. The coaches finally stopped after breaking apart and coming to rest in different directions, reduced to little more than steel tubes open at either end. The silence that returned to the valley was abrupt and sudden.
John and Helen picked their way from the wreckage completely unscathed, thanks to the inflatable impact-absorbing technology the Reich had recently perfected. The crew was another matter. Only five of Smith’s detachment of 18 had survived, and all were badly wounded. They sat on the ground in a daze, surrounded by Resistance fighters. Seeing Smith and Helen, they struggled to their feet.
Wyatt relieved Smith of his weapon. And then hit him across the face with it. A gash opened up on John’s face from near the eyebrow to his chin. Blood dribbled down and created bright red dots in the white snow. He then drew the Luger and shot four of the surviving Nazis in the head. Then turning to Metzger, the only survivor, Wyatt said: “Retrieve the emergency communication radio and relay the following: John Smith is Delta Echo. I repeat, John Smith is dead. Then destroy the radio.” Metzger complied.
In New York, Bill Whitmore read the urgent communique that came in from command. He closed his eyes for a couple of seconds before pulling the Ritterkreutz off his collar and tossing it across the table. His Nazi armband followed it. He then pulled his sidearm and looked questioningly at his subordinates seated around the table.
“Come on, move out!” shouted Wyatt and the party set off through the forest with their three prisoners.
“You know, Juliana, I am actually glad you found me here”, John said as the party trudged on through the silent forest. “We, we have seen things, you and I, across many lives and worlds. Of how things could’ve been and all that we could’ve become. And among all those, we decided to become… this.” He sighed and brushed blood off his chin. Faint gunfire could be heard somewhere in the distance. He continued, “you don’t know what you have become until someone shines a light into your eyes so bright that you can see only yourself. I guess there had to be an utterly despicable version of everyone. Still, I wish I could’ve changed things.” John tugged on his Nazi armband but was stopped by Juliana.
“You would still need this”, she said. “I don’t trust you, John”, Juliana continued. “I would have shot you here and now if I wasn’t instructed not to. I don’t think your wife would mind”. Helen showed no expression.
“Why, who asked you not to kill me?” John asked.
“The same person who told us to bring you as you are.”
No one further spoke as they silently marched towards Lackawanna, which was in the meantime overpowered by Wyatt’s resistance army. The security forces at the facility, in utter disarray at the news of Smith’s death, presented no challenge and summarily surrendered. They reached the facility in good time and were escorted straight to the portal. The resistance fighters in good cheer and spirits, fell into a menacing silence as the team marched by. If looks could kill, the three Nazis would’ve been dead several times over by the time they reached the Nebenwelt control centre.
Something had changed about the portal. The control stations were unmanned but the monitors were still showing data and the portal was glowing, though at an even rate and at a level that didn’t require goggles. It seemed like the entire thing was functioning automatically. There were muted sounds coming from the tunnel as well.
“Hello, John. It’s not really good to see you again.”
John Smith turned around to face Hawthorne Abendsen.
“But I wouldn’t say that about the lovely Helen, though. I envy you, John. All that you did and you still have her by your side.”
Abendsen motioned to uncuff the three prisoners.
“As you can see, much has changed since the last time you were here” he said, gesturing at the bullet-ridden Nazi symbols along the walls. “As much as I want you dead like anyone else, it wouldn’t be fair to let you off without proper closure, don’t you think? Well, I understand that it would be hard to think what “punishment” could be considered apt for a person who has killed a couple of million people, but we could try, right? Don’t you think so, Helen, darling? Ah, here they come.”
The first of the people emerged from the portal, stumbling through the tunnel, dazed and confused. The initial trickle soon turned into a torrent of all kinds of people, well and poorly dressed, tall and short, of all ethnicities, and clearly not of the Nazi world. There were children, some whole families, young and old, men and women. And suddenly, Abendsen exclaimed: “Ah, there he is!” and hurriedly jumped into the crowd, catching a young man by the arm and guiding him to the platform where Juliana and Wyatt were guarding the three Nazis.
“Hello, Thomas”, Juliana said.
Thomas Smith stood there, mouth agape, confusion, relief and fear written all over his face and body, staring at John, in glorious display decked up in his Nazi regalia. “Dad? Mom? Whats going on? Why are you dressed like this? Julie? What is with the guns and all? What is this place? Who are these people? What’s going on?”
Juliana leveled her gaze at Thomas. “Welcome to an alternate world, a world where the Axis won the war. My world. The USA was defeated and broken up between the Nazis and the Japanese Empire as parts of a globe-spanning Nazi totalitarian state. Your “father” here, if you can call him that, heads the Nazi government in America, as you can see, and as we stand now, is directly responsible for the deaths of two Million Americans. This includes his friends, and you. And possibly your sisters.”
Thomas looked at John in absolute, devastating shock. John lowered his face, unable to meet the gaze of the boy he considered his son. “Mom, is this some kind of a joke? Dad would never, never be anything like that! I don’t believe this!”
Helen, tears streaming down her cheeks, stroked his hair and said, “Honey, I wish you had come back from the dead, but know that I am not your mother. But please know that my love for your is real and I would never, ever do anything that would hurt you, in any Universe. But whatever she said is true.”
Thomas looked at John. “I, I… I just wanted to see you, Thomas, I wanted to see my son, I, all I did I did for you, for our family”.
“Don’t you DARE mention that, you bastard!” Helen roared. “There is no way, none at all, that I, Thomas, Amy or Jennifer, in any Universe are going to want to anything with you, John! You are evil, John, evil! You are going to be remembered as among the biggest mass-murderer in human history!”
Abendsen piped up. “And Thomas, there is something else you should know. Your father, the “real” John Smith in your world, is dead. It was agents that this Nazi John Smith here sent that killed him, he paused, your father, in your world. You wouldn’t know, but that’s the truth. It was the day Juliana – Julia Mills – disappeared. He was also the one who originally shot her when she escaped to your world. I am sorry.”
Thomas looked at John, rage replacing shock. “You bloody monster, you…” he said, slowly shaking his head. He then sat down on the ground, face in his hands and cried uncontrollably. Helen bent down and hugged him.
Abendsen continued: “These people you see are all travellers. They left this world at various times during the war and have been the source of the hundreds of Grasshopper films making their rounds of our world. We have been reprogramming the portal to call all those travellers back here. I am amazed you didn’t realise this John, but the “alt-World” as you call it, is fully aware of your world, this technology and the people you’ve been sending through to “collect” data on them. There are plans being made out there. Your time will soon be over.”
“I tried to change things. I ordered the hit on San Francisco to be aborted.”
“Did you now? And what was the motivation for that? Your overarching love for humanity and all that is right, or as a show to put things on hold until you had your hands on Thomas here? Come on, John, do you really believe us that a maniacal, power hungry mass murderer like you would suddenly turn over a new leaf because your wife told you to? Know that Bill Whatmore not just aborted the attack but will soon lead the charge to get what is left of America rid of Nazism. And he will have help, too. Oh, John, imagine that could’ve been you.”
John stared at him. “So you are going to kill me now.”
Abendsen laughed. “Oh no, John. Nobody is going to kill you. You do not deserve to be dispatched off too quickly. It wouldn’t be… fair. But I don’t think you as a Nazi would understand fairness.”
“You see, John, isn’t it ironical that a man is disowned and discarded by the very family he had sworn to protect, for which he had buried his conscience and committed terrible, unspeakable things, in the very name of those atrocities? What will he be, without them? An empty husk, a void, cursed to wander the infinite nothingness for all eternity, tormented by the millions of souls he had killed. He is nothing, like you said, John, you are nothing. I would’ve said I enjoyed watching your soul leave you through your lifeless eyes, but you have no soul. I have to go now. Enjoy whatever history has in store for you. Goodbye.”
Abendsen walked back towards the portal. The stream of people coming in had reduced to a trickle. The portal was glowing blue and from it could be heard a faint strain of mournful music from far away. Anyone familiar with the song, of which not many were left in the world, would have recognised it as the Hatikvah.
Meanwhile in Berlin, the Reich cabinet meeting is in progress with The Fuhrer Goetzmann presiding over discussions on invasion of the Western Pacific States. That was when a machine in a corner springs to life and noisily spits out a sheet of paper which a guard brings to Wehrmachtsreichsfuhrer Adolf Eichmann. He glances at it, gets up and walks straight up to Goetzmann and hands him the message about John Smith’s death and the capture of Lackawanna by the rebels. Eichmann salutes Goetzmann and then shoots him right in the face, closely followed by two of his adjutants. He then turns around to face the rest of the officials present.
They were all on their feet already, feet snapping together, hands outstretched and held high.
“Some changes in the furniture is required around here”, Eichmann chuckled savagely. He turned to his guard and says: “Summon Gruppenfuhrer Hegel. I have some orders for him.” The guard salutes Eichmann and starts towards the doors. Outside those doors, however, are waiting an entire company of soldiers, with more troops standing guard along all corridors and rooms of the Reichsministerium and the Volkshalle. Leading them all, standing outside the doors to the cabinet hall, weapon drawn, is Colonel Rudolph Wegener.
Neither he or the troops are wearing Nazi armbands.
I do still not like TV web series. I believe they are only glorified TV serials that one can ill-afford to indulge in given the time-consuming design of the format. One could binge-watch them, yes, but the effects will be the same as that of binge-drinking: you end up doing it just of the sake of it and as a result don’t enjoy it, lose touch with what is happening very soon and then end up loathing it. You can brag about it, though. Another reason why I dislike TV series is the arbitrary cancellations and lazy writing and directing because broadcasters have no commitment towards their creations.
I decided to take a chance with this one as an alternate history and World War 2 buff, and the lockdown presented ample opportunity (the privilege of not having to get up early to go to work). Needless to say, I was blown away. I found it to so immensely fascinating and horrifying at the same time. The characters are so immensely deep and detailed and the universe so elaborately sketched. How circumstances can so vastly change the world so profoundly and turn people into the unthinkable and making them do unimaginable things. And how close we were to such a universe coming to reality. The scene where the American Stars and Stripes are lowered for the last time and the Nazi flag raised in its place is so surreal and terrifying that it seems to be impossible to forget. I followed up with the Band of Brothers and I don’t think I have seen any war portrayal put to screen so perfectly. Another honorable mention is “Generation War“, a three-part series which tells the World War 2 story from the perspective for five young German friends. I then tried other web series but never got beyond the first episode and am back to watching movies.
The most terrifying part is that John Smith’s universe exists somewhere in the multiverse, populated (or not) by versions of our own selves with alternate senses of justice and humanity.
P.S.: Rufus Sewell is an amazing actor. He would make a fantastic James Bond, I believe. What would you say?