Created by Frank Spotnitz
Starring Alexa Davalos, Rufus Sewell, Joel de la Fuente
Network: Amazon Prime Video
For four seasons The Man in the High Castle has quietly told its tale of an alternative universe where the Axis forces won World War II. In those years it has expanded beyond the Phillip K. Dick novel that inspired it, creating a larger world. As the final season begins we see the first cracks in that hold on occupied America, as Japan finds itself struggling to hold onto its territory, with a political faction seeking a peaceful solution to the turmoil in the Japanese Pacific States.
During its run, this show has built up a complex mythology and storyline of resistance struggle against a fascist America, and the personal lives of those engaged in it. It has woven in high concept science fiction, such as alternative universes, and travellers between the realms, but it has also taken time to explore the cultural impact on individuals, as the Americana of the past, is the symbol of a failed society. It may be bewildering for new viewers, but it has created a depth and texture to the world that consistently rewards long term viewers.
Season three ended on a cliffhanger. Juliana Crane (Alexa Davalos) led a resistance force in a failed attempt to stop the Reich from building a portal to alternate Earth, only to use her own ability as a “traveller” to escape capture. A year on from those events and Reichsmarshall John Smith (Rufus Sewell) continues with plans for the world bridge, launching a secret war against the other world, while trying to repair the fractured relationship with his family, and survive the power plays of the new Fuhrer. Whereas Juliana finds herself in another world, but surrounded by familiar faces.
One of the most interesting aspects to Man in the High Castle is how it has taken to exploring historical social phenomenons through the prism of that alternative history, consequently making us re-examine our own history. Last season it saw the rise of advertising, and the birth of 60s counter-culture twisted into something darker in the Reich.
This season we see civil rights come under the spotlight with a new Resistance faction, the Black Communist Rebellion, causing trouble in the Japanese controlled West Coast, giving us a shocking insight into the treatment of Black Americans in this alternative history. With civil rights lunch counter sit-ins showing up in the “real-world” where Juliana is hiding, it reminds us of the insidiousness of racism, and how far was left to go to achieve equality (and how much we still need to do).
However, in its last season, The Man in the High Castle is emphasising its series arc, and pushing forward with events. Hence we see the war spread out through the dimensional bridge, as the Nazis start an espionage campaign against other worlds. We also get to see Juliana trying to come to terms with her abilities, and what that could mean in the fight going forward.
Woven into its original concept The Man in the High Castle has seen two diametrically opposed forces of history pitted against each other, symbolised by Juliana Crane and John Smith. Both of the characters have undergone immense change, and whereas Juliana has often undergone rebirth and renewal, John has time and again rejected aspects of redemption in an attempt to consolidate power. We continue to see the personal cost of this, as he grows more alienated from his remaining family, but it is a testimony to Sewell that he’s been able to breathe such life and nuance into such a deplorable character.
Here we once again see him tempted by the reflection of the normal family life he has in the other world (one where his son still lives), but given past experience, we’re unsure if this will be enough to sway John.
As we move to its final year The Man in the High Castle continues to produce quality science fiction, and terrify viewers with it in an unsettling alternative reality. With D-day approaching, it’ll be curious to see how this magnificent series draws to an end.