Sympathy for the devil

I’m not sure what I should call it. It’s not merely an interest, I would say. Nor an obsession – seems a little heavy. A passion also feels wrong somehow. But it’s definitely something that’s been on my mind: the world wars.

Of late, I think of the wars, the impact they’ve had, the people involved, the decisions made, the ramifications that still reverberate to this very day. And the possibility of it happening again. Maybe it’s Trump. Maybe it’s Brexit. But to me, I feel a stirring in the world. Something’s changed. Something’s different. It’s like we’re on the brink of something and it’s put me on edge.

Whatever it is, it’s made me look into both real accounts and fictionalised stories, detailing these wars. My latest venture into the foray of European and American misery has been The Man in the High Castle, which just had season 2 drop in its entirety on Amazon Prime. I’d seen the first season last year, thought it was “nice”, figured I’d go for season 2 when it came out, but kind of left it at that.

This weekend, I re-viewed the first season, to get myself back into this horror world where the Nazis and the Japanese agressors won instead of the Allied forces. Season 1 is… Scary, sure, but mostly very far removed from our own reality. The evil guys very much feel like the evil guys. And the resistance are easy to sympathise with, imagining they are “us”, the viewers. Which is exactly why I used to think this was a “nice” show in the past. It was all very clear cut and dry. No excessive thinking required.

But now… Season 2 has changed things. The agressors have been humanised. There’s a bigger picture. I don’t know when it happened, but gradually throughout these past 48 hours I have started to root for the man who gassed a woman and her two kids early on in season 1 without a real cause. And the man at the head of the SS in the American Reich has become someone I look up to, someone I admire for his strength and even his values. Naturally, it’s partly the actors delivering on outstanding material that makes it easy to sympathise with the devils. But it’s also the humanisation of monsters. In a way, you could say, every monster has a soul. Somewhere. Hidden deep inside, underneath layers and layers of filth, struggling to survive. But survive it always does. And that’s a scary thought: because are monsters still monsters when we know they have souls?

And that raises another interesting question: is it right of us to easily vilify anyone we feel acts as a monster? Do they not also have a soul? A good side? A side worthy of a chance, no matter how slim it is, at a better life? At the end of season 1, one of the characters makes a decision based on that very belief: thinking that no matter what someone else has done, they deserve a shot. She bets on hope. She bets on people. She bets on a better future, no matter how unlikely it is. And for argument’s sake, the show has proved her right to do so. Her actions reverberate into season 2 and, in the end, help save millions of lives.

I remember thinking, a year ago, that The Man in the High Castle was a piece of dystopian fiction. Most people might still view it as such, even after the realisation that some of the shows’ worst nightmares are human beings with people they love and who they want to protect. But I, for one, will definitely no longer see it as dystopian. Because no matter how bad it gets in the Pacific States or the American Reich, no matter the hatred and fear some of the characters have to endure, there’s at least one woman who continues to believe in her fellow men. I fail to see anything dystopian in that. I find that belief of hers to be very utopian indeed. And we could use some of that in our own lives, I’d say.

Wouldn’t you agree?

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