The season 3 finale of The Man in the High Castle may not have wrapped up the way we anticipated, but the loose ends it left behind provide enticing speculation leading into season 4. It seems odd that the major conflicts were left unresolved while minor character arcs, such as the redemption of Childan or the comeuppance for Nicole, were the only stories that truly came to a finale-like conclusion, but the real revelation came with the understanding that travelers can only cross into worlds where they don’t already exist, giving Juliana a most magnificent cliffhanger ending that manages to explain so much while leaving the door wide open.
In essence, the secret of travel that Abendsen reveals to Smith indicates that the film that Juliana has been following was specifically made to ensure her an escape. The Joe Blake of the film said, “Trust me,” because he was making room for our Juliana and perhaps even a version of himself by turning the gun inward. In another sense, one of the unresolved storylines involving Smith’s obsession with films of Thomas may portend a visit from another version of his son in season 4. Whatever the case may be, it’s amazing that we (or at least this writer) never figured out that travelers were bound to this principle of no duplicate selves.
There are intriguing hints in Abendsen’s discussions with Smith of a deeper flaw in the Reichsmarschall’s character that goes back to his time as an American soldier fighting the Nazis. Abendsen mentions hearing about Lieutenant John Smith in hushed tones, perhaps referring to incredulity that one of their own had gone turncoat out of self-preservation. If that wasn’t enough to make the viewer step back and look at John and the evolution he must have gone through to get here, Helen’s phone call forced that kind of reflection. The fear that Helen must have felt over Jennifer’s test were reinforced by her recent open criticism of the hypocrisy of the Reich, and as a result it should come as no surprise that she’s running from her husband. But it catches us off guard nonetheless; she’s awake, and he’s not… yet.
There are several events in this finale that should have broken Smith out of his complacency. The first was watching the Nebenwelt program in action. He may have been on the other side during the Holocaust, and he may have been able to ignore the purging of the Eastern United States, but this human experimentation is going on right in front of him. We can see his horror upon watching Himmler laugh joyfully as Dr. Mengele calls the one subject who passed through the anomaly “a limited success, but progress nonetheless.” But it isn’t enough.
After all, we’ve seen evidence that Smith, in his constant state of survival, only sees others as tools to ensure the safety of his family and himself. Juliana even has to pointedly remind him, “I’m not like you, John,” when he expresses his supposed understanding about why she killed Joe. She even seems to speak to the audience when she asks Smith why the Nazis want to conquer other worlds: does Himmler think he can just roll in with tanks to worlds he knows nothing about? It does call into question the fervor for this project when the Nazis barely have control of the world they’re already in! But still, John does not waver.
Then he watches as his colleagues cheer at the demolition of the Statue of Liberty, a symbol that clearly still holds sway over John, who has lived more years as an American than as a Reich citizen. He stands by as Himmler encourages the youth, those who he says were born free of American ideologies, to burn museums and schools. And even as the chaos of the riots provides Wyatt the perfect cover to attempt an assassination, proving the hubris of the Fuhrer, Smith stands firm. How much can he take, and will season 4 finally bring an awakening for the Reichsmarschall? Therein lies the promise of such dangling threads in a finale.
Wyatt’s story felt a little convoluted, admittedly, and although the infiltration of the mine and the resulting gun battle felt very realistic, his sudden focus on killing Himmler felt a bit abrupt. That’s not to say it wasn’t an exciting twist; in fact, his recruitment of the adult film director brought us another enticing question mark for next season. “The Grasshopper Lies Heavy” has now been copied and should be able to spread on its own. We may not know where Wyatt or the vanished Juliana will show up next, but they’re bound to be even stronger in their conviction than before.
The same holds true for Ed, Jack, and Childan who have a wonderful scene that shows how well developed and consistent their characters have been. We’ve never expected Childan to engage in the resistance, but when Ed reveals to his friend that Frank has been executed as a direct result of his loose lips, his conversion to the cause makes perfect sense. The exhilaration he must feel in unfurling the golden sunrise banner is enough to make us believe a revolution is coming, and although the antiquities dealer may never be the most gung-ho resistance fighter, the fact that he will no longer stand by is refreshing.
It’s unclear what we were to take from the downfall of Nicole and her impending re-education. No one can say she really deserves her punishment for the supposed crime of being bisexual, but along with Childan’s redemption, it provides the punctuation to a finale that otherwise contained plenty of cliffhangers, which we should be used to by now from previous experience with The Man in the High Castle. The closure may not have come in the places we expected, but season 3 feels like a complete package and one that holds together much more successfully than its immediate predecessor. In the end, it leaves us, as it should, craving the return of the next season so the story can continue.