Amazon’s The Man in the High Castle returns on October 5th, providing in its third season some certainty: there’s change in the air. This season is brimming with doom, as knives come out from every corner for these characters we have gotten to know so well. It’s a darker year than those previous, where more is at stake and the rise and fall of some characters bring devastating impact to the overall story. But with that doom and darkness come the rays of hope, as the revolution and the resistance take on new challenges and new images.
The first season suffered from stretching some arcs far beyond their means, while the second course-corrected and fixed some of those mistakes, taking the series on a more intense journey. The new season is better told and more personal, as the trauma of previous years have eaten away at Juliana Crain (Alexa Davalos), Joe Blake (Luke Kleintank), John Smith (Rufus Sewell), Chief Inspector Kido (Joel de la Fuente), and Trade Minister Tagomi (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa). A trade embargo between the Reich and the Japanese have left an unsettled tone between both parties as spies and assassins appear, Smith and Tagomi facing a cold war brewing from outside just as much as within. Juliana is on a path of understanding the films and their power, while Joe Blake suffers for the crimes of his father.
This season takes on the idea of propaganda, the power of an image in a series about the moving picture taking on a whole new meaning. The Reich propaganda bastardizes the Smith family’s tragedy while the Japanese face the propaganda of the rising sun, a resistance image which adds a level of intrigue to how the hearts and minds of the people are the true weapon against the enemy.
The show manages to start offering moments long in the coming without making them feel like fan service, or lesser, for it. It can feel a little slow getting there, but the character work is top notch and well above previous seasons. It manages to stay surprising, doing some rather sudden story moves I had not been expecting so soon. But this provides some power and some impact as questions are answered and what feels like a potential endgame is laid bare.
While Davalos and Kleintank felt a little wooden at times with their performances in previous seasons, they do have a jump in their acting this time. Kleintank in particular has a brokenness to his character that he pulls off very well; Joe Blake looks ready to snap at a moment’s notice. Jason O’Mara joins the cast as Wyatt, a man who plays both sides and can get people whatever they want. His Irish accent and devilish tone help sell him as the answers to some dicey problems; O’Mara is a solid addition to the season. But the major standouts, as with previous seasons, are Sewell as John Smith and Tagawa as Tagomi. Both are riveting to watch in their own way: Sewell’s snake-like charm and political maneuvering, Tagawa’s utmost kindness and a simple look telling a hundred different things at once. Both are fantastic, and help elevate some minor speed bumps along the way.
Those speed bumps are, as with other seasons, some things not always working. The season takes its time for the main plot to start up, as was the case in other seasons. But the good news is that even with that, the show does not falter in its earlier hours despite it. Some character’s stories don’t add up to the larger narrative; they are more there as a side story than pushing toward a larger goal. But some of the side story has Brennan Brown as Robert Childan, so it’s not all so bad.
But with a new focus, it’s hard to consider these larger faults when The Man in the High Castle is doing so much right this time. This third season surprised me, elevating itself into a forceful drama whose stakes are higher and characters are so much more defined. The production values have been upped, as well, giving way to some gorgeous photography and some really great set design for some bars and dives and elegant, extravagant halls. This third season is a major step forward, marking this as a great genre series, selling the idea of desperation and the rise of hope. It’s going to be fascinating to see what a fourth season has in store, as the third season is a wonderful addition to this series.
Author’s note: All ten episodes were provided for review. The show premieres on Amazon’s Prime Video on October 5th. It is already renewed for a fourth season.