Since 2015, fans have eagerly anticipated having the sci-fi tinged alternative-history threads of The Man in the High Castle drawn together. These final episodes of the show, based on Phillip K. Dick’s novel, do not disappoint. However, anyone who wanted some straightforward redemption arcs has come to the wrong place.
One year has passed since we last saw this alternative 1960s where America has suffered under 20 years of Nazi and Japanese rule. Juliana Crain (brilliantly carried again by Alexa Davalos) was shot by Reichsmarschall John Smith (Rufus Sewell) just as she teleported to another world much like ours, and she has been recovering with the help of this new world’s non-Nazi Smith family. Juliana’s interactions with alt-John are so fascinating to watch they could have filled a bottle Episode.
Meanwhile, Irish rebel Wyatt Price (Jason O’Mara) has adopted Juliana’s cause and Helen Smith (Chelah Horsdal) is forced to return to the Reich and the role of a Nazi wife after escaping to the neutral zone with her daughters.
In the Japanese Pacific States, the arrival of Inspector Kido’s (Joel de la Fuente) son and new threats to the empire cause him to explore as-yet-unseen depths of his humanity. A welcome addition is the Black Communist Rebellion, a group intent on pushing out the Japanese and establishing a home for the black population who have survived America’s concentration camps. An especially strong performance comes from Frances Taylor as emerging BCR leader Bell Mallory.
Despite the impressive world-building, it was a brilliant choice to keep the characters’ intimate personal battles as the core focus. After Heinrich Himmler’s rantings about plans to march Nazi troops through their portal, the story could have descended into an inter-dimensional ‘World War 3’.
Instead, the alt-world is used sparingly, enough to showcase the nuanced performances of Sewell, Horsdal as both versions of the Smith’s, but not enough so we forget about the world we’ve become so invested in, much like Juliana as she returns to finish the job she started. Despite the disdain audiences may feel for John as he continues to climb through the Reich, there are some touching moments spared for the character.
This fourth season surpasses expectations for a show which has always been engaging, nuanced and surprising. The writers don’t miss a chance to pull the rug out even in the final confrontation. It is a joy to watch these characters face some very hard truths, just as the show asks the same of its audience. As Helen says when finally confronted by the child she raised under a fascist regime: “I didn’t even think about those people… until we were those people”.
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