The makers provide an impressive final flourish, with a plot that centers around the choices made and moral dilemmas faced by its primary characters.
Director: Daniel Percival, John Fawcett, Julie Hebert, Charlotte Brandstrom
Writers: Philip K Dick (novel), Frank Spotnitz, David Scarpa, Jihan Crowther
Cast: Alexa Davalos, Rufus Sewell, Joel de la Fuente, Frances Turner, Stephen Root
Streaming on: Amazon Prime
Not the sci-fi end we were expecting
If the ending of the third season of The Man In The High Castle was any indication, season four was expected to be a full-blown sci-fi thriller. Juliana Crain (Alexa Davalos) had managed to escape from Nazi custody by teleporting herself into another world just as John Smith (Rufus Sewell) shot at her. The Nazis had created a portal that enables travel to alternate dimensions, and Himmler had vociferously declared his ambition of Die Nebenwelt, that is, to send troops to conquer even the alternate worlds. However, the makers spring a surprise this season. Himmler’s ambition takes a backseat, and most of the action takes place in the original world, the one where America is divided between the Nazis and the Japanese. This isn’t to say that travel to alternate dimensions isn’t integral to the plot, but it isn’t the focus of the show.
The season is all about choices
At the centre of it all are the Smiths in the Reich and chief Inspector Kido (Joel de la Fuente, pictured above) in the Japanese Pacific States. Reichsmarschall John Smith and Kido are both, in their own ways, conflicted between between conscience and duty. This essentially is the premise of the season. Smith, who looks noticeably older and weathered now, has lost his son and has seen his family torn apart because of Nazi principles. Yet he holds on to his duty. Time and again through the season, you hope he will finally break and turn his back to the Nazis. Smith’s wife Helen (Chelah Horsdal) was seen leaving home with their two surviving children at the end of last season. She must now choose between supporting her husband and providing her daughters a better future. Meanwhile Kido must face the consequences of his past deeds. These involve his son. The antiques dealer Robert Childan (Brennan Brown) also has a compelling character arc. He has so far been an opportunist and a greedy businessman, but now shows that his priorities can change. The idea of this season seems to be that at the end of the day it is our choices that really make us who we are.
The season begins with a wounded Juliana Crain entering an alternate world and collapsing in front of a car. The people in the car are (surprise surprise!) John Smith and his son Thomas (Quinn Lord), who is alive in this universe. America is free in this world. The alternate John Smith sells insurance and is a nice guy. The Smiths take Juliana home and she lives with them for a year, learning the ways of this new world. Meanwhile, in the other world, Reichsmarschall Smith relentlessly annihilates forces of the Resistance in the neutral zone. Nazis send small teams of soldiers to different worlds through their portal, to assimilate knowledge about these worlds. Helen Smith and her daughters are in the neutral zone with Helen’s brother Hank (Aaron Pearl). Her older daughter Jennifer (Genea Charpentier), having been exposed to new ideas and a different way of life in the neutral zone, starts questioning Nazi ideology. In the Pacific States, the going gets tough for the Japanese, who are weakened by their war with China.
The struggles of black people are highlighted
The most noteworthy addition to the story is the introduction of the Black Communist Rebellion, a group leading a guerrilla movement in the Pacific States. The outfit is helmed by Bell Mallory (a brilliant Frances Turner) and her husband Elijah (Cle Bennett). Their fight is not just for liberation but also for the dignity of life of their people. They’re treated even worse than white Americans at the hands of the Japanese. Robert Childan delivers arguably the most powerful lines of the season summing up the black struggle. “The clan, the Reich, the Japanese. To them you’re just this week’s enemy. They’ve been fighting for 400 years, and they’ll fight for 400 more. I think that’s what scares me the most about them.” A staggering scene from the alternate world shows that even in a free America, black people are still facing prejudice.
Let’s just agree Rufus Sewell is awesome
Sewell is, for the fourth season running, the standout performer on the show, switching between the hardened John Smith in the original world and the nice guy in the alternate world with ease. Equally impressive is Joel de la Fuente as the emotionally complicated Kido. Despite being the bad guys, they elicit sympathy, a testament to the power of their performances.
New developments in the plot mean that Juliana Crain, who was the lead in the first three seasons, takes a backseat. She is still the face of the Resistance and has her share of action, but her screen time is limited. Her partner-in-crime Wyatt Price (Jason O’Mara) also remains underused.
The Man In The High Castle‘s biggest strength has always been the terrific development of its chief characters. The abrupt elimination of important characters indicates haste on the makers’ part to complete the show, but the thought-provoking narrative coupled with strong performances make this a worthy show.