This review contains spoilers for The Man in the High Castle.
The Man in the High Castle Season 3 Episode 1
We may have had to wait almost an extra year for The Man in the High Castle season 3, but it appears to have been worth the wait. Similarly, the passage of time within the story helped the principal characters shift into roles that are both new and familiar to viewers who enjoyed season one. Juliana Crane and Joe Blake in particular feel much more true to their original selves than they did last year, and the addition of a Neutral Zone storyline gives us hope that we’ll see more of that third culture in the coming season. A fortuitous start!
Even Abendsen makes more sense now! The fact that his role as the curator of so many mysterious films began with a fake that he made on a lark, prompting travelers from other realities to bring him evidence that worlds where the Nazis didn’t win did indeed exist, puts everything into perspective. The brilliant side effect of demystifying Abendsen is that it puts Juliana squarely in the center of the metaphysical mystery: why is she in every film, including the fake? This question alone piques interest in the new season tremendously.
Trudy’s presence also brings home the idea that Tagomi’s journey to our reality was not an isolated occurrence. The younger Crane sister’s growing discomfort and eventual seizure add an interesting twist to the “traveler” idea by raising the question of whether they are physically compelled to return to their own universe. Trudy and Juliana certainly yearn to reunite with the sister they each lost, but it’s clear that their lack of shared history will keep them from ever truly being family again. Even Juliana confessing that she killed Trudy’s father is met with detached understanding; the George Dixon who died wasn’t really this Trudy’s dad anyway. This disconnectedness is communicated with admirable subtlety in this opening episode.
At the same time, the premiere wastes no time getting the sisters together with Tagomi so that speculation can begin about the nature of the multiverse. Fortunately, the insanity of last season’s near nuclear holocaust has cooled to a cold war allowing the Trade Minister to worry about the financial problems of an arms race and Inspector Kido to concentrate on apprehending the violent ex-priest, Hagan. The film that Tagomi shows Juliana in which Joe Blake escorts her and others in jumpsuits through a tunnel with a flashing light will almost certainly be a focus in the coming season, and The Man in the High Castle should be applauded for getting straight to the heart of the new story arc.
The use of actual historical characters like J. Edgar Hoover and founder of the American Nazi party, George Rockwell, was a nice touch as well. Associating the intrigue of John Smith’s rise to power as the new Oberst-Gruppenführer with propagandists and self-interested politicians will no doubt weave a complicated web around Smith and his family, not only because of what they did to hide Thomas’ illness but also due to the trauma Helen clearly still feels in the wake of her son’s sacrifice. Although it’s still a bit odd to sympathize with a Nazi like John Smith, his story remains as compelling as ever.
The same can’t be said of Joe Blake, whose story wasn’t as interesting last season, but his character is off to an intriguing start in season 3. After undergoing the torture of re-education and having to kill his own father, it may take some time to figure out how embedded Joe’s indoctrination really is, but the fact that Smith shows him such remarkable sympathy only to have Joe kill Raeder with a shovel was shocking to say the least. But no one can say it didn’t re-invest the audience in the duplicity that made the young operative some much more interesting in season one!
Nicole Dormer likewise is repurposed nicely in this opening episode. As a modern thinker of the Lebensborn, the filmmaker’s talents are put to better use here in New York just as Joe’s were. Placing her among the Mad Men-like propagandists to update their campaigns for fascism feels just right as does her sympathy sex with Joe. Her instincts for getting the emotional reactions during the ceremony honoring Thomas are obviously spot on, and the young Smith daughters saluting the memory of their brother with a “sieg heil” provided the perfect unsettling moment for John and Helen as well as the viewers who know what really happened.
This premiere is a promising beginning for The Man in the High Castle season 3, and although the show is heavy enough to discourage most bingewatchers, viewers could be forgiven for moving right on to episode two with a start like this. As Jason O’Mara’s new character Wyatt says of the neutral zone, “It’s a bit of a mess, but it’s our mess.” In a sense the stellar actors of this series have similarly taken the chaos of the final episodes of season two and totally owned it by simply reframing the situation on both coasts and in Denver. The new setup is definitely encouraging for the story to come.