Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Reviewing Season Four of The Man in the High Castle

Well, it’s over.

I’ve just finished binge-watching the fourth and final season of Amazon’s The Man in the High Castle. I will say (and there are spoilers ahead) that while it was a far from perfect season, the series’ show runners have managed to present us an ending, that while not entirely satisfying, at least manages to bring the series to a conclusion. 

John Smith in the multiverse.
The twined character arcs of antagonist Reichsmarschall John Smith and protagonist Juliana Crain – and it is important to think of them as that – move in different and telling directions.  When we last saw them at the close of Season Three, Juliana had just winked herself out of her own universe, nanoseconds after being shot by Smith.

Juliana lands smack-dab in what is later revealed to be our universe, narrowly missing being hit by a car driven by none other than Smith – who in our timeline, seems to be a rather nice guy. Juliana views her new surroundings with a mixture of relief and incredulity. The alternate version of Smith gives actor Rufus Sewell a chance to stretch even more so a character who has already proven to be very complex, engaging, and ultimately, damned. 

Meanwhile, in the Pacific States, we see that Trade Minister Tagomi has been assassinated even before the season began. How they handled this was very problematic for me. The alleged assassins were a black communist guerilla movement that did not exist before the start of this season, so the writers spend a lot of time and effort retconning them into the series in the first few episodes of the new season.  It would’ve been much better had they been introduced someplace in Season Three. That the Japanese Empire is also fighting for its life against communist forces in China is also a surprise, and likewise should have also been introduced, or even just hinted at, much earlier.

Part of the problem with The Man in the High Castle, while an ambitious and largely successful work, is that although it stuck fairly closely to its source material, the novel of the same name by Phillip K. Dick, for the first season, it lost its sense of direction after that.  In Season Two, the show’s writers began to search for new material and stories to tell.  Going into Season Three, the series brought in elements such as the Nebenwelt from Dick’s unpublished sequel. However, for a large part of Seasons Three and Four, this sense of rootlessness unfortunately, showed to the series’ determent. However, with even these criticisms, the series remains very worthwhile watching.

With that aside, probably the best part of the series has been the journey of John Smith and his rise and fall. We see in this season the original sin of John Smith, born out of simple expediency to save his young family. We see him gazing across the multiverse in envy of life he could’ve lived but at the same time, couldn’t have.

What's Next?

Currently I’m reading the second book in S.M. Stirling’s alternate First World War series, Theater of Spies, which continues the adventures  of American super-spy Luz O’Malley Arostegui, and her companion, technical wizard Ciara Whelan. I hope to have a review for you next month.  After that, I’ll be reviewing The British Lion, a novel of Britain under Nazi occupation, by Tony Schumacher. 

In the meantime, you can help out a poor unemployed writer by purchasing Elvis Saves JFK! for just 99 cents and War Plan Crimson, A Novel of Alternate History, for $2.99 and now The Key to My Heart, also $2.99 (all are free to preview). All books -- which are already on Smashword's premium distribution list -- are also available through such fine on-line retailers such as Sony, Chapters Indigo, Barnes & Noble and Apple's iTunes Store.  Thanks.