DISCLAIMER: The following (naturally) contains spoilers for Season 3 of The Man in the High Castle. If you wish to remain in the dark, I suggest you mosey on over to Amazon Prime and binge away.
Chapter 3 of Amazon’s The Man in the High Castle continues its streak of bleakness as pictured in a very much battered and broken America. Despite the Greater Nazi Reich and The Pacific States’ collective efforts to the contrary, another war is brewing on the horizon. The seeds of discord have been sown courtesy of The Man in the High Castle’s (Hawthorne Abendsen) controversial films depicting a Word War ll as won by the Allies. You know, the war as it really happened. As protagonist Juliana Crain (Alexa Davalos) uncovers her connection to said films, we see more eyes are being pried open with the truth. Even newly appointed Reichsmarschall John Smith (Rufus Sewell) has a few films under his belt.
So, therein lies the question: are these films idealist fabrications or the truth? Do parallel universes exist? Can one travel between them? The Resistance gets a greater foothold this season thanks to its inadvertent leader Juliana. Clearly, the writers of The Man in the High Castle have been greatly influenced by today’s political climate.
Now, the show continues to display shot after shot almost entirely bereft of color. Admittedly, at times it’s hard to see the characters on screen due to the darkness pervading them. But it works – you get the sense that these people exist in a bleak and hopeless world. The first half of the season takes its time in building up the main story arc. However, that anticipation dissipates as the series wiles away too much time attempting to woo audiences with its dark, film noir-esque aspects.
Of course, that’s not to say I didn’t enjoy the payoff once it arrived. Episode 5, “The New Colossus,” came in roaring like a lion. No holds barred. No stone left unturned. Honestly, Juliana killing off Joe Blake (Luke Kleintank) is just what the doctor ordered. As much as I loved their initial interactions, their entanglement quickly grows stale once it’s clear Joe is brainwashed by his Nazi brethren. He is a lost cause. Not to mention, their relationship was holding Juliana back from her true mission – to share the films nationwide. To prevent the Nazis from infiltrating and conquering other universes. Juliana serves a bigger purpose than merely being attached at the hip to a pretty boy. Plus, who’s to say a parallel universe Joe won’t return in Season 4, one who’s not entirely corrupted by fascism?
Once again, Sewell shines as the multifaceted John Smith, a character you love to hate. Yes, he’s essentially a villain, but you feel for him. If you’ll recall, he fought alongside the Allies during World War ll. With John’s introduction to the films and his growing discontent with the Reich, perhaps he can change. Not to mention, Sewell perfectly encapsulates the plight of a grieving father existing in a time where it was taboo to wear one’s heart on one’s sleeve. He can tell you so much with one look. Not many performers are capable of that.
Now, Chelah Horsdal, who portrays John’s wife Helen, also steals the show this season. She too struggles with juggling her hefty emotions whilst living in the Reich. Horsdal deftly handles the workload with aplomb, injecting nuance into the troubled Helen Smith. She’s completely relatable, and that relatability is what bridges the gap between 1960s Nazi America and 2018 America.
The parallels between The Man in the High Castle Season 3 and today’s political/societal climate are staggering. As a society, we’ve always been obsessed with physical perfection, despite it being unattainable. The Greater Nazi Reich, while non-Aryans are allowed to live within its borders, focuses on just that. Families are forced to submit their children for testing to make sure they’re physically healthy for future contributions to the Reich. The Resistance in The Man in the High Castle is eerily similar to today’s growing discontent against the current presidential administration. They’re fighting fascism as we’re currently coming to terms with the fact that Nazis are still a thing. History repeating itself, right?
While this season picks up speed in the back half and simplifies its arcs, I found it difficult to follow character storylines in the first part. Firstly, too many characters are given the spotlight. Secondly, the drastic jump cuts from scene to scene are enough to give one whiplash. You know how most scenes end with a prolonged pause, or a “button?” There weren’t any cues to signify a definitive end – just a surprise cut to the next scene. I found it jarring, to say the least. In terms of the overflow of characters, I felt that Brennan Brown‘s Robert Childan served as a plot device in Season 3. He was essentially the catalyst for Frank Frink’s (Rupert Evans) execution. Which is a shame, because Brown is a fantastic character actor.
Of course, I love every character, but if you give them all screen time then someone is bound to get the short end of the stick. Always remember the K.I.S.S. method, folks. Keep it simple, stupid. The Man in the High Castle adopted the Game of Thrones problem this season. Too many characters all receiving screen time simultaneously. Convoluted story arcs that seldom intertwine. For me, I want to see characters that help move the plot forward. Sometimes that involves making sacrifices for the greater good of the story. So, there were a few B and C plots this season that we probably could’ve done without. Thankfully, in the back half of Season 3 this issue is resolved as character stories are simplified and said characters begin to interact with one another.
Speaking of Evans – he was a welcome surprise for me. His chemistry with Davalos is off the charts, and I missed seeing Frank and Juliana together. His final scene with Joel de la Fuente‘s Inspector Kido (who is also spectacular this season, by the by) is heartbreaking and profoundly simple. Just bare bones acting. Simple, yet overflowing with nuance. The imagery of the setting sun framing Frank’s head and shoulders really struck a chord with me. Said imagery mimicked Frank’s artwork that is plastered all over San Francisco and the Neutral Zone. A symbol of the surging Resistance. Hats off to the cinematographers for a beautifully poignant image.
Now, The Man in the High Castle also delves into the science fiction side of things this season. I enjoyed the sci-fi elements more than anything (aside from the historical intricacies, of course). When The Man in the High Castle succumbs to its science fiction leanings, that’s when it truly shines. Whether it’s the Nazis constructing a machine for traveling to different dimensions or Juliana fleeing to a parallel world by merely concentrating a whole bunch, this show is capable of sci-fi greatness. But, only if it gives in to it. Give in to the sci-fi, Man in the High Castle!
While Season 3 had its flaws, I did enjoy it overall. Despite the pacing issues in the first half and the convoluted character involvements, The Man in the High Castle is still pretty darn entertaining. I’m intrigued to see where Season 4 takes us. My hope is that we’ll be blessed with a Frank from a parallel universe. I’ll even take a multiverse Joe Blake. The possibilities are endless where that’s concerned. My fingers are also crossed that we’ll get to explore more parallel universes, either through Tagomi (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa) or Juliana. Speaking of Tagomi, he’s one of my favorite characters and I thought he was dealt a rough hand toward the end of Season 3. He just sort of…wandered off. Did he go back to San Francisco after his covert meeting with John? Or did he travel to another parallel world?
In short: Season 3 is still watchable TV and most certainly enough to keep me coming back for more. Be sure to binge all episodes of The Man in the High Castle Season 3, only on Amazon Prime.
Final Grade: A-
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