Review: The Man in the High Castle, season 3

Alexa Davalos in The Man in the High Castle

Season 3 of Amazon’s original The Man in the High Castle is a grim look at an alternate world where the Nazi Reich grows ever stronger. Juliana Crain (Alexa Davalos) continues to be the brightest light in a divided America.

Inspired by the science fiction novel of the same name by Philip K. Dick, The Man in the High Castle is mostly set in an alternate reality where Germany and Japan shared the victory in WWII, and now share the former USA, with a small neutral zone in the area around the Rocky Mountains.

Other realities are out there, and people can travel between them under certain conditions. In season 3, such people are recognized and called Travelers. The heroine Juliana Crain is one of them. She knows the resistance can defeat the Nazis for two reasons. One, she’s traveled to the world where it was that way. Two, she’s seen a series of films from other realities in which the Nazis are defeated. She’s one of the few people in season 3 who won’t give up on the fight to defeat the Nazis in the reality we mostly stay in during the series.

Hawthorne Abendsen (Stephen Root), a man with the huge collection of mysterious films, was revealed as the man in the high castle in previous seasons. Although he burned a whole barn full of films, the films are still out there and Juliana shows them to people to encourage them to join the fight.

When the season begins, Juliana is with her sister Trudy (Conor Leslie), a traveler from another reality. In the reality we know, she died.

Luke Kleintank and Alexa Davalos in The Man in the High Castle

Trudy isn’t the only character from past seasons who return in season 3. Joe Black (Luke Kleintank), who was tortured and “corrected” back to loyal Nazism shows up. It takes Juliana a minute to figure out he’s not trustworthy now.

Juliana’s former live-in fella Frank Frink (Rupert Evans) is found living in the neutral zone. He’s badly scarred by burns. He makes resistance art which appears all over the continent, including the Japanese and German ruled zones. The reunion between Juliana and Frank was a lovely bright moment.

Rufus Sewell and Chelah Horsdal in The Man in the High Castle

Rufus Sewell and Chelah Horsdal return as John and Helen Smith. I thought far too much time was spent with this couple making the Nazi characters sympathetic. They gave up their “defective” son for execution by the Nazis in season 2, and spend most of season 3 grieving for him.

By the end of the season, Smith is the highest ranking officer in North America except for Fuhrer Himmler (a terrifying Kenneth Tigar). He acts obediently in accordance with the Nazi laws. Helen, however, rebels against her role as a Stepford wife. She does something that will have huge consequences in season 4. When I realized where Helen was headed, I understood why the slow burn of grief occupied so much of season 3 in the Smith family.

Brennan Brown and DJ Qualls in The Man in the High Castle

Robert Childan (Brennan Brown) and Ed McCarthy (DJ Qualls) are in the neutral zone buying American artifacts when the season begins. Robert continues to be a greedy opportunist. Ed meets a handsome cowboy named Jack (James Neate) and falls in love. He decides to stay in Denver with Jack – except when he’s chasing about the countryside with Juliana and Frank fighting for the resistance.

The same sex affair between the German filmmaker Nicole Dörmer (Bella Heathcote) and Journalist Thelma Harris (Laura Mennell) showed us a bright underworld of “defective” women who risked great danger to be together.

Nicole was the mind behind a series of propaganda films created in season 3. Most of them dealt with the notion among the Nazis of resetting the clock on American history. A new era was declared, starting with Year Zero. As part of the drive toward Year Zero, American landmarks and treasured monuments were destroyed. Nicole filmed the destruction. We had to watch as Mount Rushmore, The Alamo, The Liberty Bell, The Statue of Liberty were melted down or blown up. That was one of the many unpleasant parts of a very unpleasant situation in The Man in the High Castle.

I keep using the word bright to describe the hopeful parts of season 3. There was very little color in season 3. It was almost black and white, but not quite. The colors were so desaturated there was no color except sometimes washed out hues. The lighting was dark. The darkness of the lighting and the oppression of the color palette really bothered me and made me appreciate any little hint of color, even something so small as a glowing tail light.

Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa in The Man in the High Castle

Trade Minister Tagomi (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa) remained Juliana’s friend and helper in season 3. In the struggle for rule between the Japanese and the Reich, Tagomi was a voice for peace. The Japanese developed the bomb in season 3, which they used to threaten the Germans. The Germans controlled the Japanese with an oil embargo.

Japanese Chief Inspector Kido (Joel de la Fuente) continued murdering dissenters and bragging about it to surviving relatives of the people he slaughtered. Joel de la Fuente developed an ugly sneer that he used to good effect as his character grew harder and scarier.

German scientist Josef Mengele (John Hans Tester) gleefully destroyed “volunteer” subjects in a huge machine he built to attempt to travel between realities. It was Himmler’s desire to send Nazi troops through this machine portal to conquer all the other realities as well. Joanna, of course, was bent on destroying the thing.

That’s the basic outline of the plot and some of the characters in season 3. It was a slow moving behemoth. The ten episodes could have been honed down to 7 or 8 with no loss to the action. However the slow accumulation of insults to the America we know and love was a powerful statement about Nazis and the loss of democracy.

There were some women directors in season 3. I noticed Deborah Chow, Jennifer Getzinger, Steph Green, and Meera Menon among the names this season.

I hope season 4 sees Juliana Crain and the resistance on the winning side, because this dystopia is terribly depressing. It’s especially so when held up against current world events that mirror this almost 70 year old story.

The original novel The Man in the High Castle was published in 1962 and set in 1962. Philip K. Dick was an imaginative man, but he probably couldn’t have guessed that the early 21st Century would give rise to a worldwide wave of Nazism and white supremacy.

The current battle lines to maintain freedom and democracy in many countries, not just the U.S., are sharp and contentious. I want to see Juliana Crain and the other resistance fighters in The Man in the High Castle win for the same reasons I want to see the current wave of white supremacy and Fascism deviling so many nations defeated. We don’t have other realities to slip into – we just have the world we are creating right now. The fight is on.

Have you watched season 3? What were your thoughts about it?

2 thoughts on “Review: The Man in the High Castle, season 3”

  1. Agree with almost everything you say here, including the alarm you feel about current events. It’s clear the creators or the show were thinking about our current climate when they included scenes of torch-bearing Nazi marchers in NYC chanting “blood and soil.”
    To me, the strength of the show rests not in the plot lines and plot twists, but in 1) the astounding high quality world-creation of an occupied America; and 2) the dilemmas that dystopian situation creates for both occupiers and the oppressed locals (i.e., us!). The creators have done an excellent job on both counts. I could watch a whole episode that didn’t advance the plot one bit, but revealed the every day quandaries of living in such a world. One example: the San Francisco club where Japanese men enjoyed the attention of pretty, white American hostesses was a great lesson on power, race, sex and privilege. It was jarring. We as Americans are absolutely not used to having the tables turned on us like that! Powerful stuff.

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