The theme of this final season of The Man in the High Castle is clear after only three episodes: the impact our environment has on us. Take John Smith. In one timeline, he becomes a traitor to his own people, joining the Nazi Party and leading the Third Reich as they annex part of the United States after winning World War II. In our reality, the one in which the Allies won, he leaves war far behind and becomes Salesman of the Year in the heartland of America. Are these the same person? Do we all have the potential to go down very different paths if the world around us changes? This theme is embedded in the subplot about Kido’s son as well, as what the young man saw in Manchuria while in combat has forever changed him. If he had never gone, Kido’s fate in this very episode would be different.
While the thematic underpinnings of “The Box” are engaging, it takes way too long to get where it’s going. The violence at Childan’s auction that seemed like it would take off at the end of last episode is delayed until the end of this one. And that’s not the only subplot that feels dragged out — we get some wheel-spinning as to what will happen with Helen Smith and Juliana Crain, too. There’s a fine line between building tension and that feeling you get when a show is meeting a ten-episode order but has about eight episodes of plot. There are always a couple episodes of The Man in the High Castle every season that fall into the latter category.
Before the good stuff, Helen leaves her brother Hank in Montana and returns to New York, disappointing her eldest daughter. Jennifer Smith doesn’t want mom to come back to the Nazis. She wants to go back to Uncle Hank, but mom knows that even talking about that is dangerous. “Someday I’ll help you,” she says. Meanwhile, in the other reality, Helen’s son Thomas is talking about enlisting. The theme of feeling like you don’t belong and need something to believe in resonates in both timelines, and there’s a nice cut here to the BCR planning their assault on the auction. They definitely have something to fight for.
Before that, Juliana gets a gun from a buddy. She knows that the Nazis who tried to kill her have a Nazi Stargate and could be coming through to finish the job any day now. Meanwhile, Kido discovers that the BCR member on whom they’re trying to pin the assassination of Tagomi is most likely innocent, but he’s been ordered to let it go. He probably won’t. But he has something bigger to worry about first, after his son brutally murders someone at a gentlemen’s club. The poor boy has serious PTSD, but he comes at dad hard, calling him a puppet. That’s not going to work with a sociopath who values loyalty above all else. He kicks him out and says he’s not his son. This will not end well.
Finally, the auction assault gets underway. Wyatt Price and his buddy, posing as chefs, turn on the guards watching them, snapping their necks. They give the BCR the signal, but the key here is that Kido, distracted by the drama with his son, isn’t at the auction yet. So he’s home when everything is about to go down. One of his underlings brings Kido information that Resistance leader Lem Washington was spotted in San Francisco recently, and just happens to have a sketch of the man Washington was speaking to: the unmistakable visage of Wyatt Price. Kido figures out that’s the surly guy in the chef costume and calls in a red alert just as it’s about to go down. The support from BCR gets scattered, but Price and his guy take the stage and start shooting anyway. Their main target is only wounded, but Bell gets out and finishes the job herself.
Back at the BCR headquarters, some squabbling about what went down ensues. Three of the Resistance men are dead, but they got most of their targets. And then they discover Childan hiding out in the back of one of their cars and learn about the fruitlessness of their mission. You know those Japanese generals they hate? Some of them have been encouraging their people to pull out of the Japanese Pacific States entirely. Childan offers to be a messenger to the Crown Princess from the Resistance; maybe they can work together to bring peace. No one knows how to work both sides like Childan, although it seems unlikely that the Japanese will just walk away now that they’ve been massacred. The idea that the Resistance and BCR may have done more harm than good with their plan is an interesting one. Violence in any timeline often just begets more violence.
Speaking of violence, we end with the death of John Smith … sorta. In the other timeline, Smith comes to comfort Juliana Crain after she asks to talk to him at a bar. He tells us a little more about himself, highlighting the way each Smith was shaped by circumstance, and offers to protect her. The same man who killed her in one time will be her savior in another. And then he’s forced into action. Juliana is attacked in her car, a bag put around her head to suffocate her by a man who sends regards from “Reichmarshall Smith.” They struggle and she falls out of the car. The other John Smith comes to the rescue, but he’s stabbed in the melee. And John Smith dies … so the other John Smith can live?
Join the Resistance
• Never forget the Doppelgänger Rule. As we’ve been suspecting, the path is being cleared for John Smith to exist in the “good” reality with his son again. With John “Salesman of the Year” Smith dead, John “Nazi of the Year” Smith can just walk through the Nazi Stargate and take his place, right? And with there being only one Smith kid left in each timeline, only Helen Smith remains in both. Anyone want to bet this changes too?
• One thing I’ve always liked about The Man in the High Castle is how they dig a little deeper than expected for their Americana. It’s not just John Wayne. For example, Childan has a hat this episode that Gene Autry wore in Melody Ranch, a 1940 Western musical. It would probably go for a fortune today.
• Another nice reference to real history comes in the speech given by Bell Turner before the assault, in which she quotes Claude McKay’s “If We Must Die,” which ends, “What though before us lies the open grave? Like men we’ll face the murderous, cowardly pack, pressed to the wall, dying, but fighting back!”
• Getting to the death of one John Smith was nice, but does anyone else feel like the stakes are slightly low for where we’re at in the entire arc of the show? We are near the endgame here, with only a handful of episodes to go. The first half of this one didn’t feel like it had the kind of tension that every episode needs from here on out. Maybe that changes with chapter four.