This review is spoiler-free for The Man in the High Castle season 3.
With the last few episodes of the previous season going a bit off the rails, some fans might worry that The Man in the High Castle season 3 will feature more crazy conspiracies with many characters not always acting like themselves. Fortunately, that is not the case with Amazon’s newest batch of ten episodes, all of which will be released on October 5, 2018. Viewers may have had to wait a bit longer for this new season, but with new explorations into the meaning behind the mysterious films and deeply felt emotional arcs for many of the characters, it will have been worth the wait.
One of the more interesting storylines from last season surrounded Trade Minister Tagomi (Cary-Hiroyuke Tagawa) and his discovery of the ability to cross between worlds and visit with a daughter-in-law version of Juliana Crain (Alexa Davalos), but there was little connection between his story and what was going on back in his own version of history. This season of The Man in the High Castle does an admirable job of jumping into the idea of alternate realities almost immediately. Obviously, a huge part of that has to do with Juliana’s sister Trudy (Conor Leslie) appearing at the end of the season two finale, but even previews for season three feature John Smith (Rufus Sewell) discussing the existence of other worlds with a German doctor. This sci-fi element is by far the most exciting development for the new central plot.
Setting also gets some much-needed elaboration as the Neutral Zone culture is explored in further detail, setting up a great contrast with the totalitarian regimes in the Pacific Stats and the American Reich. Jason O’Mara’s new black marketeer character, Wyatt Price, helps remind us that the freedom of the Wild West-like zone comes with a price that includes impoverished conditions and lawlessness, but a secondary storyline involving Americana dealer Robert Childan (Brennan Brown) and his trusty assistant Ed McCarthy (DJ Qualls) adds — as is usual with these two characters — a welcome, light-hearted note.
Real historical characters like erstwhile FBI director J. Edgar Hoover and American Nazi party founder George Lincoln Rockwell (with different but appropriate positions in this reality) add an authenticity to the American Reich storyline and John Smith’s role in the changing hierarchy. Sprinkled throughout the opening episodes are brief mentions of cultural notables like designer Coco Chanel, baseball legend Joe DiMaggio, and actor John Wayne, as well as musical interpretations of what jazz would be like in this version of history. It’s these details that make The Man in the High Castle season 3 feel more carefully and thoughtfully constructed than its immediate predecessor.
The emotional tension for those who were dealt the roughest hands last season is the one powerful carryover from those more harried storylines. Specifically, the fallout for Helen Smith (Chelah Horsdal) after the sacrifice that her son Thomas made carries both immediate consequences and long-term, cascading troubles for her and her family that are both disturbing and compelling to watch. Likewise, a darker path for Joe Blake (Luke Kleintank) as he returns to San Francisco this season makes so much more sense for his character than his Berlin storyline last year, and viewers will spend much time trying to figure out where his loyalties lie and how his devotion to Juliana (a neglected relationship last season) will be treated.
Despite these improvements, The Man in the High Castle season 3 isn’t perfect. Even though world politics are necessarily downplayed to concentrate on more immediate stories, the Pacific States as an occupying regime continues to be less defined, with its fairly anonymous rotating leadership outside of Tagomi and Inspector Kido (Joel de la Fuente), than the American Reich. The strategies of the resistance seem to shift gears either too rapidly or with too much obfuscation, at least at first. However, the changing showrunners across seasons could be partly to blame for this inconsistency, and on the whole, the new direction is encouraging, especially as it returns the series to what made its first season so good.
As a binge, The Man in the High Castle may be a bit heavy, but for those who enjoy emotionally anchored dramas or stories involving parallel worlds and alternate histories, season 3 is a welcome boost for a show that needed to find its way after a chaotic ending last year. There are some welcome surprises in the first half of this new installment, and the members of the principal cast are really on their game thanks to tighter writing and believable character developments. Those who are behind in their viewing of this unique show should definitely get caught up; it’s worth the investment.