The last time fans streamed new episodes of The Man in the High Castle, the world was a much different place. The political climate of the country has changed a lot in the last two years. Despite the thematic elements of the series, fans couldn’t wait for their dystopian drama to return. But was it worth the wait? For some, maybe. For others, probably not. And considering the state of the world we are currently living in, is this series now more than ever a cautionary tale so many Americans fear?
Despite behind the scenes drama where they lost their show runner during the production of Season 2 and rumors that Amazon was considering the show was too expensive to produce, Season 3 finally premiered on October 5, 2018.
Now that we know this season picks up six months after the events that unraveled in the Season 2 finale, let’s dive right in!
Who is the real villain of this story?
One of the best things about the series has always been the gray areas in which these characters are currently living. In the real world, we know Nazis are bad. We’d never actively root for Nazis. But the Kempeitai aren’t any better, are they? Still, we find ourselves rooting for characters despite the uniforms that they put on.
We love Tagomi because we know that he is genuinely a good man who happens to be Japanese and therefore stuck with having to side with the Japanese Empire. It’s obvious he doesn’t agree with their methods and his beliefs are not aligned with theirs. Not even a little bit. Yet, he still chooses to work for them and this season is no different.
But what about the character of John Smith? He’s a high ranking official in the Third Reich, but is he really the evil bastard we expect him to be? Or is he just a man who loves his family and is willing to do whatever it takes to protect them?
That’s what has always been really great about the show. Fans were torn between who to root for because both sides were equally evil but there were characters on both sides we loved.
This season seemingly threw all of that out the window, unfortunately.
For Tagomi, it is still fairly obvious that he is good. Even if he’s still working alongside the Japanese Empire. And don’t get me wrong – the Kempeitai are evil bastards. But this is the world they live in and these characters are going to do whatever it takes to survive. Even if it means aligning oneself with evil despite the fact that you don’t believe in their cause like Tagomi has done.
Unfortunately for John Smith, however, that line is no longer as clearly defined. Not to say that this character hasn’t committed some heinous crimes in the past. He has. He’s done some pretty evil stuff to move up the ranks so he can protect his family. But at what cost? And can we really fault him for wanting to keep his family safe in this dangerous world? Two years ago, I would’ve said no. This season, I’m not so sure anymore and I hate that feeling. I was rooting for you John Smith! But the moment your own wife takes your children and runs away from you, there’s a problem. That is the tragedy of John Smith though. No matter what he’s done to protect his family, he still lost them in the end.
So I ask again, who is the real villain of this story?
Perhaps the answer to that question is easier than we thought. The series has seemingly taken on a more traditional black and white approach this season. And one can’t help but wonder if the new show runner chose this direction because of our current political climate.
A Resistance that never truly rises, and new characters I don’t really care about
When it was announced that Jason O’Mara was joining the cast of The Man in the High Castle right after his stint on Agents of SHIELD, I was excited. I’ve been a longtime fan of O’Mara and I was hoping his character would add something new to the show. Then it became obvious that he was just there to play a discounted version of Joe Blake, making his character, Wyatt Price, nothing more than a nuisance. It doesn’t help that he lacks the kind of chemistry Luke Kleintank (Joe Blake) has had with Alexa Davalos (Juliana Crain) from the beginning. Juliana meets Wyatt in the neutral zone, same way she met Joe back in Season 1, and the two share a kiss. But they’re so boring together that they just look like they’re putting each other to sleep.
This season is very reminiscent of their first. Sometimes that’s a good thing, because Season 1 is still their best season. Other times, it’s not because they’re just rehashing Season 1 with new characters I can’t bring myself to care about.
The show’s marketing spent this last year making sure fans knew the Resistance was going to rise. Except it never truly does.
It isn’t until the last couple of episodes that Juliana decides to rejoin the Resistance and start showing others the first film from Season one depicting the allies winning the war. By the time people start to believe her, it’s too late and the season is over. Where is this Resistance that was supposed to rise this season? And why is it rising with new characters instead of the original characters we grew to love during the first two seasons?
This just felt like one long opening act for their fourth (and reportedly final) season. Usually, that’s not a bad thing. But this feels like a bait and switch marketing tactic. This season took too long to get to the point and by the time it got there, I’d already lost interest.
O’Mara’s Wyatt Price isn’t the only new character we met this season. We also met an entirely new community of people hiding in the mountains of the neutral zone. It’s obvious that this is the Resistance the marketing teased. It’s just sad that most of them are pretty forgettable. I find myself not caring about the Resistance anymore when we keep having to meet new members every season.
The only new character I do care about is Ed’s friend, whom he meets in Denver while he’s hiding from the Kempeitai with Childan. A sexy cowboy that is able to get Ed out of his shell? Yes, please! I want more of him in season 4. He was probably the only new addition to the show that didn’t make me want to claw my eyes out.
Women on this show deserve a better world
Last season introduced us to Nicole Dormer, the daughter of a high ranking official within the Reich, that Joe met in Berlin. Her arc this season started relatively promising since she made her way to New York. But then it quickly derailed when they decided to make her character’s entire arc be defined by her sexuality.
It’s such a stark difference from Ed’s arc where he came to terms with his own sexuality.
Nicole was a master manipulator last season when she was living in Berlin. Seeing her get manipulated in New York wasn’t a bad thing. But all she did this season was direct some propaganda for Nazis and start a sexual relationship with a female reporter in her downtime. They could have used her newfound relationship as a means to have her start to see past her own upbringing within the Reich. Maybe they still will. Nicole is on her way to Berlin at the end of the season for re-education. We’ll see what re-education does to her in comparison to Joe Blake next season.
Another character not given much to work with this season is Helen Smith. Helen suffered a devastating blow last season when her son turned himself into the Reich to be euthanized after finding out he had had a congenital disease. She spent most of the season in therapy talking about losing her eldest child. And its through that therapy that she is able to work out her issues with the Reich. That wasn’t the problem. That was actually the most interesting thing about her character this season.
I could have gone without her randomly shoehorned attraction to her therapist, but watching her and her husband not seeing eye to eye was intriguing. I wish they’d shown more of that instead of having Helen’s grief make her seem so weak throughout the season. When she finally leaves John, it hurts because the Smiths were such a united front in earlier seasons. But it makes sense. I’d like to see Helen find the Resistance next season and maybe even join them after what she’s been through.
Science fiction takes center stage this season
The Season 1 finale teased the possibility of another world, when Tagomi traveled to what looked like our world where the allies won the war. And Season 2 revealed the possibility of a multiverse when the new films emerged. This season, we learned that the Nazis are aware of this multiverse and they’re building a machine that will take them to those other worlds. That’s their evil master plan. To conquer every world that exists, including this one.
Remember what I said about a clear distinction about who the real villains are in this world? It’s the Nazis. Even if we know the Kempeitai aren’t any better. I think I would have enjoyed it more if we found out that the Kempeitai and the Reich were working on this project together. Because at this point, it just doesn’t make any sense for the Kempeitai to not join the Resistance.
The power struggle between the two regimes is still going strong this season with everyone else caught in the middle, and that just seems like a pointless fight after Tagomi finds out what the Nazis are planning. It feels like the Kempeitai are just an extra unnecessary villainous empire at this point.
Kido should have also joined the Resistance after finally learning the Nazis’ plan. Everything he saw should have been enough to make him turn or at least start to turn. And I really thought his scene with Frank would reflect this. But it didn’t and now I’m pretty sure that he too is marked for death next season. So basically every fan favorite is going to die eventually and nobody is safe.
The Nazis’ machine, however, is definitely going to be a big plot point next season. That much is obvious. And with Juliana traveling to another world the same way Tagomi and her sister could, I wonder if she’s going to lead a Resistance from the other side. Or is she also marked for death since she was shot by John Smith in the midst of traveling?
Reunited and it feels so good…. Until it doesn’t!
The heart of this series has always been the yin and yang between Juliana Crain and Joe Blake. Two characters from completely different worlds symbolically found each other in the Neutral Zone and fell in love. At least that’s the story that this show seemingly wanted to tell in the beginning.
The two of them spent all of Season 2 separated from one another, but fans of the pair were hopeful they’d reunite in Season 3. And they did. But the reunion that was everything we could have wanted turned dark fast.
Joe spent the six months between the Season 2 finale and Season 3 premiere in captivity, undergoing the Reich’s re-education. Tortured and brainwashed, a new Joe emerged with a deadly mission.
It wasn’t a bad arc at first and actor Luke Kleintank was knocking it out of the park. Sadly, this arc that had so much potential ended abruptly halfway through the season.
For the first time since they met, they find each other on opposing sides. Joe is obviously all in working for the Reich as their assassin, while Juliana is working for Tagomi’s benefit. In his final episode, Joe tries to recruit Juliana for the Reich, proving that his re-education killed whatever good he had in him. When she finally realizes this and she learns that Joe’s mission is to kill Tagomi on behalf of the Reich, Juliana does something she will have to live with for the rest of her life. RIP Joe Blake. You deserved better.
Here’s the thing about that scene: It was beautifully acted by both Kleintank and Alexa Davalos. Their chemistry has always been one of the best aspects of the series. And I know that Joe dies in the book, at Juliana’s hand. Still, that doesn’t mean the scene made any sense in terms of the show’s progression. One of the theories I’ve read in the last couple days is that this wasn’t the Joe Blake we know. The alias he was using this season, Joe Cinnadella, is his name from the book. Some fans believed that this might have been the alternate reality Joe from the films we’ve watched. It’s a plausible theory, since this Joe seemed so out of character throughout the season, but highly unlikely given that it doesn’t look like Luke might be returning to the show in Season 4.
Still, the show had gone out of its way in earlier seasons to separate itself from the book. Seeing them rip this death straight from the pages just felt lazy. It also robs fans of their favorite character’s development over the course of two seasons. Whatever happened to “I believe in loyalty to a person, not a cause”? I miss that Joe Blake. What’s sad is that Joe and Juliana getting information out of one another was one of the most interesting storylines this season. With him gone, the show just seemed to limp its way toward a lackluster finale.
Our favorites may be dead but is anyone truly ever gone on this show?
Joe Blake is not the only one that we lost this season.
We also lost Frank Frink.
Last season, Frank’s arc with the Resistance really did add depth to the character. As a Jewish man living in a world where Nazis and Kempeitai ruled, Frank spent most of Season 1 hiding who he was. In Season 2, he took on a more leadership role with the Resistance, but he seemingly went too far with the bombing of Kempeitai headquarters. We all thought he’d died there but that wasn’t the case.
Frank survived the bombing and had finally found his purpose. That doesn’t mean he’d survive long enough to see that purpose fulfilled. Executed at hands of Kido, Frank’s death is another one that feels lazy this season. Watching these characters die isn’t the problem, since both of them seemed like they were marked for death from the start. It just feels like both of these deaths should have been saved for the final season instead, especially after watching Joe’s role in the film from the tunnel we saw earlier in the season. I would have much preferred to have seen a reverse of that take place at some point next season.
It’s as if the writers went out of their way to kill off both of Juliana’s love interests, so she can focus on leading the resistance in the fourth season. That’s not even the worst part. I’d actually accept that if they weren’t trying so hard to sell us on a new love interest for her. O’Mara’s Wyatt (AKA Discount “Joe Blake”) is very clearly in love with her. Or at least with what she represents to him. But it’s hard to root for Wyatt because we’ve spent so long rooting for either Joe or Frank.
There is a silver lining in the fact that this is a sci-fi show with a multiverse built in, so is anyone ever truly gone on this show? Probably not.
It’s very easy to bring back Luke Kleintank and Rupert Evans through their alternate reality versions. I even believe that might have been their intention after watching Season 2. I no longer believe that, though. And that is really sad because it would have been a great plot twist, now that Juliana is able to travel to an alternate reality herself.
Unfortunately, it seems that both actors are officially done with High Castle after this season, based on their current working status. Evans has recently joined the cast of The CW’s Charmed reboot and Kleintank is off filming his new movie, Midway.
The series is currently filming their fourth season so it is doubtful either character will be a part of it.
There’s also Kleintank’s farewell post on Instagram that he just posted last night:
Evans hasn’t spoken about his own fate on the series yet, but this is a devastating blow to longtime fans who were hoping to see the alternate reality versions of both characters in the show’s fourth and reportedly final season.
The way this season ended may have set up a final season showdown well enough. Still, despite those final jaw dropping moments, it doesn’t change the fact that this season feels like a complete letdown overall. Perhaps there’s a better version of season 3 led by the original show runner somewhere in another dimension. Sadly, this wasn’t it.
The Man in the High Castle seasons 1-3 is available for streaming on Amazon Prime. Filming for the fourth season is currently underway but there is no premiere date available yet.