The Man in the High Castle tells the story of an America that is no longer, in the traditional sense, American. It’s set in a place that emerged from an Axis victory in World War II, with the area run in the east by the Nazi Reich and in the west by Japan. The show in this universe—its many dramas playing out in 1962, after a generation of Axis rule—focuses on the small band of insurgents who rebel against the police state that the former United States has become. It’s an alternate history that does what all good alternate histories will do: It offers lessons about the history the show’s viewers are actually living.
The tone for The Man in the High Castle—the irony of it all, the violence of it all, the sepia-washed eeriness of it all—is set, for each of its 10 episodes, by its title sequence. Which goes like this: A film reel crackles and whirs. Guitar strings strum, plaintively. The words refuse to wait for a proper introduction. “Edelweiss, edelweiss ...”
The Man in the High Castle’s theme song, which is of course a version of another show’s theme song, is haunting both because of and despite its familiarity. Here is the iconic tune from The Sound of Music—a love song to a person, a love song to a country, a love song to all that is swept up in the phrase “way of life”—transformed into an anthem of dystopia. Here is a story about the tyrannies of fascism, set to a song that is known—or, at least, that has been known—for being soft and lush and lullaby-like. Here is a song of freedom, transformed into one of despair.