By Dave B.
After the interesting, but ultimately disappointing first season and the mesmerizingly epic second season, I’ve been cautiously excited for season three of The Man in the High Castle (Amazon Prime), especially because season two was released nearly two years ago. For those who aren’t familiar with the series, it’s set in an alternate reality where the Axis powers won WWII. Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan occupy the United States, with the Rocky Mountains and the communities there serving as a neutral zone between the two powers. The story centers around Juliana Crain (Alexa Davalos), who learns that there exist realities where the Axis powers were defeated in the war, as she sets out to restore freedom to her world. In the third season, Crain attempt to prevent the Nazis from accessing other realities and further spreading their vile ideology of conquest, eugenics, and genocide.
Season three builds upon the strongest aspect of season two: the ability to combine an interesting strategic situation in a disgusting universe, with an unflinching look at the humans who participate and live in two of the most oppressive societies in human history. There are few truly heroic characters in this show. Everyone has blood on their hands to some degree because that’s what it takes to survive and the central question addressed this season is “How do we live with our own survival?”. As in real life the answer is complex, often harsh, and always dependent upon one's point of view.
The Man in the High Castle is FILLED with stunning (if sometimes disturbing) imagery, from beautiful desert vistas to the destruction of iconic American monuments. The acting is also excellent. Although the stars of the show generally perform excellently, the performances of some of the secondary characters are particularly strong and I’m going to call out two smaller roles for specific praise: It never occurred to me that William Forsythe could pull off playing J. Edgar Hoover, but he turns in a very solid performance as the “knower of every secret”. And Kaniehtiio Horn who plays Gina, an escort in San Francisco, is mesmerizing. She conveys as much with a single look as most actors can with a 20 minute monologue.
This season has more of a science fiction focus than the previous two and that surprisingly presents some problems. The show’s new focus on the Nazis being able to access alternate dimensions feels…not ridiculous, but a bit forced. While I can see the appeal of wanting to visit another reality, I personally can’t see the appeal or feasibility of conquering one when you haven’t been able to completely subdue your own. More problematically, the stakes of the death of major characters changes when alternate realities become readily accessible in a show or movie. Killing off characters becomes easier because you can just bring them back into the story in another dimension. This isn’t necessarily a problem if those deaths advance the plot in a thoughtful way, but at times, The Man in the High Castle clearly toes the line between advancing the plot and going raw shock value when it comes to killing major characters. This season it isn't much of an annoyance, but in future seasons, I can see it diminishing the narrative quality of the show if the writers aren’t extremely careful.
That said, I enjoyed the third season of The Man in the High Castle. It takes a step back from the pure entertainment value of the second season, but remains lively (if an bit unfocused and far-fetched at times) throughout, and that’s pretty impressive considering that all 10 episodes clock in at just short of an hour runtime. So in conclusion, I definitely recommend this show for fans of previous seasons. For those who have never seen season one or season two, the show does a decent job of naturally explaining previous events, so if you don’t mind being in the dark about some fairly minor plot details, you should enjoy Season Three of The Man in the High Castle, as well.
I have no clue what I'm doing, but I'll keep doing whatever it is to the best of my ability.