‘The Man in the High Castle’ Season 3 Review: Strong Characters Battle With Newfound Science Fiction Plot

The new science fiction aspect of this Prime original still doesn’t beat the dynamic character built over two seasons.
By  · Published on October 2nd, 2018

Amazon’s original series The Man in the High Castle comes back for a third season on Friday, October 5th and it’s been a long time waiting. You’ve likely forgotten everything that’s happened in the past two seasons of this multi-layered drama, but Amazon has put together a recap for you to watch below!

Season three builds upon where season two left off, but where it’s newfound focus lies is in the possibility of other dimensions that have been hinted at in the notorious films. The hope of a different history and a different outcome is now not just in movies, it’s shown in the abilities of characters themselves, including Trade Minister Tagomi (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa)and Juliana Crane’s (Alexa Davalos) sister Trudy (Conor Leslie). Both have been able to sidestep the rules of time and season three tries to answer some questions surrounding their ability.

While the show’s premise revolves around entertaining the idea of what if history was different, this season uses that possibility more than just to create a horrible world to set some drama. The films we focus on in this season show specific characters living out lives they may have dreamed of or wonder about. The fact that John Smith (Rufus Sewell)  is watching a movie where he and his dead son Thomas (Quinn Lord) are drinking a coke and watching Martin Luther King Jr. speak is much more compelling than an overhead shot of a victory parade showing the Allies winning World War II. This season capitalizes on the personal aspect of alternate histories and shows how just seeing a different world in a film can drastically change how someone views the reality they thought they understood.

In John Smith’s story specifically, his films showing his son Thomas go along with the utter disaster his family has become since they had to give up their son to die. In the nuclear family of the Reich, they must keep it together on the outside and still be the impossible perfect family their society expects, especially of a man of power like John Smith. In repressing their feelings, they grow distant, act out, and make many mistakes. Not to mention their dead son has become quite a symbol for the Reich’s new propaganda campaign. In reality, he’s become a sensationalized version that symbolizes everything Nazis stand for, but in the films he just the fun, loving son that John and his wife Hellen (Chelah Horsdal) loved all his life. In seeing their grief actualized in pictures, the films from an alternate world make John and Hellen Smith see their reality with more dissatisfaction than they are allowed in Nazi society and unravel in the most entertaining way. 

Man In The High Castle S Two

As mentioned before, these films are no longer the only proof that history could have been different. Trudy showed up in the end of season two, shocking us all, but now she shows Juliana what is possible as a “traveler” of dimensions. She can bring knowledge of different worlds in hopes of changing the one that the show inhabits (for now anyway). This fuels Juliana’s passion to continue her work in the Resistance, that has taken on a different meaning than it had in the past seasons. It’s no longer just a band of people connected all over Northern America, it’s the workings of different groups of people working for various causes, but always trying to defeat fascism. In her faction of resistance workers, Juliana becomes “the chosen one” of sorts since she is in all the films and seems to have more of a connection to the films than anyone else. She starts having some visions that make it impossible to leave the cause behind and live a normal life in the Neutral Zone as if she could ever be dormant for that long.

Season three really amps up the science fiction aspect of the show, which as only really existed in the fringe and remained a mystery that we were mostly okay not knowing all the details. Soon everyone wants to know how Trudy was able to still be alive and if there are other worlds out there that are better than one controlled by the Japanese and Nazis. Traveling worlds has a big part in the plot of this season, which is not nearly as interesting as the stories of individual characters that have been built over two seasons. Juliana’s stunning morality in the face of a hopeless world is much more interesting than the Nazi science behind trying to control “travelers.” Joe Blake’s (Luke Kleintank) awful beginning to the season, being tortured in a cell after his father was accused of treason is much more heartbreaking than trying to understand how Trudy is still alive. While it brings up more obstacles for our characters, the science fiction aspect of the show wasn’t really the one that needed more time exploring.

What the traveling aspect does open up is the feeling of changing history and the idea that something better will happen. This offers more hope than just films of an alternate history and it creates the feeling that no matter how bad things are, they may just move toward what is right. Despite the absence of historical events that fuel music trends in our world, the music of post-war 1950s seems to pop up on various scenes of the show. There’s a folklore in hearing songs not sung by the famous musicians of our time but in an alternate history still. Perhaps the ideas and emotions behind those songs don’t need our history to invoke them. They might be in us even when the world is entirely different. No matter how much you can try to erase aspects of humanity, you cannot push them out of people. That is evident throughout this new season that shows how minorities like Jews, gay men, and lesbians are still thriving in even the most strict of societies. Their lives are far from good, but they are represented well in the show, which makes it clear to the audience that these people like Ed McCarthy (DJ Qualls) still live on.

Man In The High Castle S Three

This idea makes all the awful tragedies and unwarranted death of High Castle‘s world a little less encompassing. Key characters of the show believe in something better and this new science fiction element is bringing them closer to that possibility, but not without a cost. The fascists are still in power after all. This underlying theme of a better history is even more poignant when up against the Nazi’s new passion project of rewriting American history, erasing monuments and anything symbolizing the past. They can rewrite history, demolish the Statue of Liberty, but it’ll still be alive not just in the other universes, but in the people of the Zone as well.

This season tends to turn its cheek on the Japanese, only ever giving scenes to Tagomi and Cheif Inspector Kido (Joel de la Fuente). They’re actions and plots aren’t nearly as important as they once were, perhaps because a lot of our players are out of their occupied cities. Much of season three happens in the Zone, which is an interesting setting that deserved more attention. There are characters we thought were gone but who come back to surprise us. Characters make mistakes, sometimes causing the shocking death of other characters we love. If you’ve seen the past two seasons, you’ll know nothing good lasts for long in The Man in the High Castle. Science fiction plot aside, this new season will keep you on your toes with surprising twists and detrimental turns, but it’s a lot to handle. I would suggest letting some time pass between episodes rather than binging it.

You can stream The Man in the High Castle season three on Amazon Prime October 5th.

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Emily Kubincanek is a Senior Contributor for Film School Rejects and resident classic Hollywood fan. When she's not writing about old films, she works as a librarian and film archivist. You can find her tweeting about Cary Grant and hockey here: @emilykub_