The Man in the High Castle
“What you can’t conquer, you’ll just destroy.” It’s a line that Juliana Crain says to John Smith, and it rings true for how fascism works in this show and the real world. Thanks in part to writer Wesley Strick, the third-season finale features sharper dialogue than we’ve seen through most of the season, including several extended scenes with its best actor, Rufus Sewell, and some interesting examination of iconography and propaganda. And yet it’s still a little unsatisfying. More than ever, it feels like we just experienced a season that was setting us up for the fourth. Sure, major characters like Joe Blake and Frank Frink shuffled off this mortal coil, but we ended with an incredible number of plot threads left unresolved. It feels like one of those season finales that will surprise people not in its narrative, but that there’s not another episode for them to binge for probably a year or more.
The entire first quarter of “Jahr Null” (which means “Year Zero”) takes place in the infamous tunnel in Lackawanna, where the Nazis have been trying to build what is basically a German Stargate, a portal to another reality. With a lot of sci-fi buildup, we watch four test subjects get strapped to a rail on a conveyor belt and pushed into what Dr. Mengele calls “the anomaly.” As the Resistance, including Juliana, gets close enough to spy on the action through a vent, the grand Nazi experiment begins. The lights blast, then all the power goes out. When it comes back up, the platform is full of steaming body parts and dripping blood … but only three dog tags. One of the test subjects got through. Himmler and Mengele consider this a grand success, although, as Juliana later questions, what could possibly be their plan? Twenty-five percent of their soldiers get through? With no idea of what’s on the other side?
More important, Juliana gets captured, joining Hawthorne (a.k.a. the Man in the High Castle) in adjoining interrogation rooms. A lot of “Jahr Null” consists of John Smith pushing Juliana and Hawthorne for information. First, it’s Juliana. He shows her a picture of a dead Joe and tells her that her “usefulness” is about to run out. He claims he used her to get to Hawthorne. Yes and no. He honestly cared for Juliana at one point — and so did Thomas. Juliana knows this, and she throws it back in his face, suggesting that Thomas was ashamed. He believed he let John down. “How much you loved him wasn’t enough to save him from how he was raised,” she says. It’s a well-written scene, one of the best of the year.
After a scene in which Wyatt appears to be recruiting organized crime to the cause, it’s time for Hawthorne’s interrogation, allowing arguably the two best actors on the show — Rufus Sewell and Stephen Root — a rare scene together. Hawthorne is interestingly mixing nursery rhyme with song with scripture when John drops his real name on him — Abe Hawkes. He was a part of the Army Pictorial Service, and once served on the same side as John Smith.
Abe Hawkes would certainly blanch at where John Smith goes next, the ceremony for the destruction of the Statue of Liberty. First, he finds out that Helen and the girls have left him, which does not make Himmler happy. And then he’s on a boat when missiles are fired at Lady Liberty herself, crashing her into the water. Her torch goes out, and Himmler is very satisfied. Nicole has reached a career apex as well, but it’s her happiness is brief as Himmler orders her recalled to Berlin for “perversion.” She will undergo “mandatory reeducation.” This feel to anyone else like a cheap way to write out Bella Heathcote? We’ll see next year.
The destruction of the Statue of Liberty leads to unrest in the streets of New York. Himmler almost encourages it, saying, “Sometimes a purge is essential.” Does this mean The Man in the High Castle and The Purge franchise take place in the same universe? I’m down with this theory.
Anyway, the violence in the streets comes home for the new Fuhrer. Under the cover of the demonstrations, Wyatt coaches a sniper who takes out Himmler. He may not be dead though, as we see him rushed into medical services. It feels like the writers may be still undecided on where to go with the German power structure for season four and so leave this option open. Personally, it feels like time for Himmler to go.
Back in San Francisco, Robert Childan is listening to Americana when Ed and Jack come to his door. They tell him about the death of Frank and ask for his help. Not long after, we see the trio unfurling a “Sunrise” flag on Coit Tower. Frank’s message lives on.
Before the climax, John Smith gets a call from Helen. She says what no husband wants to hear, “I love you John, but I was running away from you.” And she hangs up. John Smith has lost everything.
And he’s about to lose Juliana. First, he learns an interesting truth about the travelers from Abe/Hawthorne. They can only enter another reality in which they don’t exist. That explains why only one of the four test subjects made it through and why Trudy could come to this world, one in which she’s dead. As John Smith reconciles this fact — and that it means that an alternate-universe Thomas could travel here and replace his son — the lights flash. Juliana is ready to travel. She closes her eyes. John runs into the room. He shoots her in the shoulder just as she disappears, her blood on the wall the only proof that she was ever there.
An epilogue shows us that the Resistance lives on. Wyatt is delivering films with the Sunrise logo stamped on them. The final words are clearly essential to where this show will go next year: “Keep the faith, spread the word.”
Join the Resistance
• We need to talk for a second about the Kido/Gina scene, in which he buys her freedom. Is this meant to soften Kido? It’s an odd move for the writers, one episode after he decapitates a hero. And even stranger given it’s the last time we see Kido this season.
• Where’s everyone else? Juliana has traveled, Ed/Robert/Jack are in San Francisco, Hawthorne is in custody, Nicole is gone, and John is alone.
• Who was your MVP this season other than Rufus Sewell? He’s the runaway winner I would imagine. Evans did a decent job in a few scenes and Tagawa is always good, but this season struggled to find a performer who could match Sewell. Let’s hope they find one next season.
• What do you want/expect from season four?
• Thanks for reading all year if you made it this far! See you next year!