Season Synopsis: The Reich experiments with dimensional travel. Enemies of the past haunt the Japanese. Juliana gears up for some kind of Resistance.
I wanted to love The Man in the High Castle. From its premise to its performances, I wanted it be to amazing, to explore stories and history the way historical fiction never had before. The show could have been a mirror to society, or an allegory, or a fable. Or even a warning. It could have been brave. Instead, thanks to plodding pace, uninspired storylines, and a string of uncharismatic performances, The Man in the High Castle succeeds only at being the shell of what could have been.
First of all, it’s hard to ignore the Nazis. Both the ones in the show, and the ones in the real world. In the time between seasons 2 and 3, actual white supremacists marched in the streets in Charlottesville, and many other cities. Heather Heyer, a flesh-and-blood human, was actually mowed down while protesting. The Nazis of High Castle can’t compete with the Nazis of the real world. And it doesn’t even try.
For a show where Nazis won, they’re honestly a disappointment. There’s no teeth to them, nothing scary, or, at least, scarier than any other villain or anti-hero that’s been on television in the past fifteen years. The show never tells the audience how to feel about their Nazis. Are they bad buys? If so, they’re kittens compared to a President who advocates family separation at the border.
Are they the good guys? Rufus Sewell did have the most compelling performance this season. Even though his Reischmarshall had only the slightest waver of an arc. Since the show is now competing with real-time news, one would think there’d be more of a stance on Nazis. One would be wrong. Now is not the time to be ambivalent about Nazis, white supremacists, or white nationalism.
This indifference to the portrayal of Nazis bleeds into the rest of the season. Slow pacing and too many characters causes the plot to plod along. Joe Blake breaking bad isn’t interesting when Joe Blake was bland to begin with. John Smith’s focus on the family story arc and Inspector Kido’s hunt for rebels felt like a recycling of season 2.
There were half-hearted attempts to talk about deeper issues: hidden Jews, therapy after trauma, propaganda, revisionist history and homosexuality. But the attempts were tepid, bogged down by an excess of plots. The back and forth between Helen and her vices, Hoover and his secrets, or Tagomi and the attempts to assassinate him became onerous and tedious by mid-season. “Will Juliana be kidnapped this time?” can only work for so long.
The arc for the season could have been condensed to the first 5 episodes. The Statue of Liberty exploding into New York Harbor felt like a mid-season finale. A stronger choice on who was good or evil, or who is wrestling with their demons, could have wrangled the show out of philosophical obscurity into sharper focus. Instead, the plot meanders and the characters trudge through. Honestly, a whole season of Ed and Jack in the Neutral Zone might be more compelling than anything happening in the Reich or Pacific States.
Amazon Studios has already greenlit a fourth season. With Juliana escaping to another world, and the possibility that John Smith might finally let loose, perhaps it will be a riveting piece of work. But after three seasons, it’s hard to believe season four will be anything new. Showrunner Eric Overmyer has got to get his hands dirty, making stronger choice and wrangling focus. Until then, I guess I’ll keep watching the news.