I actually finished Season 3 of The Man in the High Castle, which I had been seriously anticipating for a while. People who were also fans told me it was something of a disappointment, and actually a chore to get through. This proved to be right: I watched the season in shortish binges and the whole time found myself wondering why anything was happening. There was a general lack of overarching narrative/conflict, such as Season 2 had. Now that I’ve watched all 10 episodes, I have nothing but questions, and not the cliffhanger kind, that you want answers to. These are the kind of questions that I suspect all have the same answer.
I should also point out that I have a copy but have not read the novel by Phillip K. Dick. I’m thinking I might read it now. It’s long, but I can do it pretty quickly.
So, before I continue, let me just leave a big old banner that says…
- Why did we bring characters back from the point of death just to kill them off gratuitously? Was Joe Blake’s death supposed to mean something? Was breaking him on the wheel and then having Julianna slit his throat supposed to be a commentary on the Reich? Like how there’s really no room to not be a monster in the Reich? Yeah, I kind of knew that. We kind of all knew that. Finding bad guys in the Reich is not a surprise. The whole point of the John Smith character is that he puts a human face above the jackboots.
But whatever, something had to be done with Joe. But nothing needed to be done with Frank. You could have left Frank dead at the end of last season. For that matter, I don’t know how he was supposed to be alive, hundreds of miles away. And why do that just to kill him off? Was that scene in the desert between him and Kito supposed to underscore Kito’s very Japanese sense of obligation? Again, we already knew that. As for Frank’s narrative this season…
- Am I really supposed to believe that the guerrilla art campaign is going to amount to something? Like, I get it, a symbol of hatred. Make the People Woke or whatever. But there’s been a resistance for 20 years. People know this. Their rulers are hateful. People know this. So like…is that it?
- Is there a point to John Smith’s promotion to Reichsmarshall of America? Dude’s an SS general when we meet him, the American equivalent of Reinhard Heydrich (and may I just say that Smith besting Heydrich last season to get the key data point necessary to prevent nuclear war was a marvelous high point at the end of last season). And yes, the cloak-and-dagger between him and Rockwell and Hoover (cute historical touches both), proved an interesting plot for the first half of the season. But when it’s over and Smith is now Reichsmarshall, he remains essentially the same, a dude taking orders from Berlin. There’s nothing showing how his duties change, how the political aspects of his job elevate him. He’s still chasing the Man in the High Castle and interviewing suspects. He doesn’t even inherit Rockwell’s goofy baton. So why have that happen at all?
- Is Julianna a completely different person now? She is one of those characters who’s all over the map. Last season she was trying to escape, even hobble the Resistance to save Joe Blake; this season she’s killing Blake and leading guerrilla operations to blow up superweapons. Are we planning on having some kind of atonement with the capital-R Resistance? Or are we just going to keep having her do whatever the plot needs her to do so that Surprises can happen?
- Are we ever going to get an explanation of how “Moving Between Worlds” works? We saw Trade Minister Decent Guy do it with some joss sticks. Julianna’s sister did it… somehow. Dr. Mengele has a machine that sort of does it through an anomaly, but not well or reliably (yet). And now Julianna can do it by… magic? Electroshock? Guys, this is the premise of the story. If you’re going to have the titular character understand it, can we just do the exposition dump already?
I think the problem lies in two elements: 1) the economic need of TV to fit Content to More Seasons, and 2) the habit of High-Concept dramas to use Gotchas.
As I discussed here, the economics of TV, requires that storylines get stretched out over longer and longer seasons, because successful TV shows need to keep going so they can make their producers money. This is what happened to How I Met Your Mother: a concept and ending that would have worked well enough had the series closed after 6 seasons became completely unbearable after 9. So probably High Castle is in a busywork/stretching phase, giving characters “something to do”.
The other thing is a habit that Prestige Television likes to do to viewers, which is to say, sucker-punching with a sudden development or death. Just when you think you know what’s going on, boom, here’s an assassin or explosion or tap at the shoulder and NOW EVERYTHING’S DIFFERENT WHOAAAA.
Hence, Joe Blake and Franks’ death. Hence, Helen’s abandonment of John Smith in the last episode. Hence, pretty much everything.
Hopefully Season 4 will be better. For now, I’m gonna read the book.