The Man in the High Castle has saved its big event, the Jahr Null kick off celebration with an ostentatious toppling of Lady Liberty, for the final episode of the season. As befits such a grand attention-getter, this episode is full of other surprises as well. It’s one of the most exciting episodes in the series’ history, with exits and rearrangements of characters worthy of Shakespeare. All that’s missing is a bear.
Liam’s friend Richie, a raunchy filmmaker who appears from nowhere mid episode in order to help change the course of history, will have to substitute for the bear. Deus Ex Richie and Jeremy is still a pretty satisfying plot device.
Jahr Null begins with Hawthorne returning to the ranch, where Caroline is waiting on the porch. It’s a trap, of course. As soon as he’s out of the car, a swarm of Nazis appear from the bushes and buildings. Hawthorne pulls out his gun and threatens to shoot himself in the head unless they let Caroline go.
John Smith steps forward. “Your brain, Mr Abendsen, is of great value to us. Your wife is not. Put the gun down. I’ll see to it she gets the medical attention she very badly needs. You shoot yourself, you’re gonna force my hand.”
Caroline signals for Hawthorne not to surrender, but he won’t risk her life. He throws the gun to the ground. Hawthorne says, “Oh John, I always wondered if I’d see you again.” The SD agents cuff him and Caroline.
An agent hands John a sat phone with Himmler on the line. John informs him that they’ve captured High Castle. Himmler exclaims that it’s a wonderful surprise. He tells John that a transport is arriving to bring him to the Poconos immediately. A huge plane appears overhead, and seems to stop in mid-air.
Is the transport more new Nazi technology that we haven’t seen before? Was Himmler’s quip about capturing High Castle a bit backhanded?
It’s always chilling to see how effectively John can pull his cloak of Nazi Obergruppenführer Smith around himself, no matter how he feels inside. It almost seems more automatic than his actual self.
Juliana wakes up to the sound of a gun being loaded. She startles. And she realizes that she knows that Frank is dead, just like she predicted she would. Liam is loading the gun, and it’s time to do recon in Mine #2. As they prepare to enter the mine, the old miner tells them that when their compass gets screwy, they’ll know they’re close to the anomaly.
Smith arrives in the Poconos and debriefs Himmler on his meeting with Tagomi. When Smith says that the Japanese made no direct threats the Die Nebenvelt project, Himmler reminds him that they also made no direct threats before Pearl Harbor.
Himmler and Smith are taken to a cavernous chamber where Mengele excitedly awaits them. One end of the chamber has been carved into a huge oval-shaped tunnel. The rest of the chamber is filled with technology, especially screens and scopes. The tunnel has a large conveyor track that runs deep inside, disappearing into the darkness. A platform is set up to ride the conveyor.
Smith goes right up to the entrance of the tunnel, with a serious look on his face. This might be his Holy Grail, the way for him to see Thomas again. If it works.
Mengele: “Mein Führer, Reichsmarschall. Welcome. The gateway to the multiverse… This tunnel leads directly to the center of the anomaly. Our machine operates symbiotically with it. Allow me to demonstrate.”
Mengele collects weapons and anything else made of iron or steel because of the electromagnetic forces at play during the experiment. The platform is brought to the chamber end of the track.
Juliana, Liam and friends make their way through the mine, overcoming various obstacles. They reach a vent opening that overlooks the chamber just as the test subjects are entering.
The four subjects all have electrodes on their heads and are cuffed to the platform. These aren’t willing volunteers. Technicians call out their vitals signs and the state of the technology. The platform is moved to the center of the anomaly, 50 meters down the track, as the machine is slowly fired up to 100%. The machine and the anomaly create a flash of light too bright to look at, then the room goes dark.
When the lights come back on a moment later, the subjects are reduced to a gruesome pile of bones and smoldering ashes. Mengele puts on a rubber glove, and tells his men to recover the tags. The 3 tags are looped over his glove.
Mengele makes a show of presenting the three sets of dog tags, and explaining that the fourth subject, a young woman, got through to the other reality. Himmler is thrilled. He calls it a breakthrough, and wants Mengele to pour everything they’ve got into expanding the experiments, until the success rate is close enough to 100% to march troops through.
He orders John to reopen the Texas oil pipelines and restore normal relations with Japan. He doesn’t want to give them a motivation to interfere with his plans.
Juliana and Liam are appalled. They begin discussing how they can destroy the anomaly. Then a piece of metal from the vent loudly shifts, alerting the Nazis to their presence. They are soon trapped, with Smith’s men firing at them. In the end, everyone but Juliana escapes. She’s knocked unconscious in an explosion and captured. Chuck may have been killed or injured, too, but that wasn’t clear.
Kido visits Gina in her tiny, run down apartment, unannounced, leaving her flustered. He tells her that he’s arranged with Okami to release her from her servitude as hostess at the club. Gina misunderstands, and says, “I belong to you now, Kido-san.”
Kido tells her, “Gina, you are free. Free to live the life you wish.” He gives her an envelope full of cash to help her start her new life. Kido gives her a moment to look in the envelope, then asks what she thinks she’ll do. Gina’s overwhelmed. She says that she’ll probably leave San Francisco and go back to her family’s farm. She invites him to visit her there someday. He says that maybe he will, and they kiss goodbye. Then he leaves.
Smith watches Juliana and Hawthorne through the surveillance cameras in their NYC cells. Then he asks his assistant to search the US Army Signal Corps personnel records from 1942-1944 for anyone involved in the Pacific campaign who had a name similar to Hawthorne Abendsen, or any variation of it, including anagrams.
Juliana is cuffed to a table and has electrodes placed on her head. Smith interrogates her first. After the small talk, he shows her a photo of Joe’s body, and suggests that it must have been hard for her to kill him, since she was fond of Joe. Juliana responds that, “Once your Fuhrer was through with him, there was nothing left of the Joe I was fond of, was there?”
Smith tells her that she’s been useful in helping him find Abendsen, but he doesn’t have much more use for her now. He claims that they tracked her movements to find Hawthorne, but that’s a lie.
Next Smith brings up the machine, asking what Juliana thinks she saw. Juliana says that she saw failure, then taunts him a little further about how little they understand what they’re toying with. Finally, Smith tries to get Juliana to give up Wyatt and the rest of her team. She doesn’t answer. He implies that she’ll do it later under torture.
As Smith is leaving the room, Juliana pulls out her own verbal weapon. “You know, the night Thomas came to see me, it was heartbreaking how ashamed he was. Believing he’d let you down by being less than perfect. Telling him how much you loved him just wasn’t enough to save him from the way he was raised. I can only imagine how that must weigh on you.”
The beauty of it is that she spoke the truth, with no embellishments, and he knows it. He has no response to that much reality.
After he leaves, guards are sent in to torture her using electric shock. Then she’s taken back to her cell.
Liam contemplates Frank’s painting and formulates a plan. His old friend Richie finds Liam waiting for him in his back alley NYC office, where he creates raunchy illegal films and magazines. The Resistance no longer exists in NYC, so Liam figures organized crime/illegal entrepreneurs are his next best bet. He has a pile of cash and a laundry list of needs.
Let’s face it, organized crime was always going to be a better choice than the Resistance, if Liam wants to actually get sh-t done.
Hawthorne, who is not restrained within his cell, is amusing himself and confusing his captors by continuously singsonging his way through familiar lines of songs, rhymes, poems, and whatever else he can think of, all jumbled together, connected through word association. The Nazis are putting a lot of energy into figuring out if it’s actually a code. He slips in a jab or two at John Smith.
Smith interrogates Hawthorne once he has Hawthorne’s real name: Abe Hawkes. Smith thinks he’s made an important discovery, and mentions that Abe worked in the film division in the army. But that doesn’t really matter. What matters more is that it gives credibility to the insinuations Hawthorne makes about John’s record during the war, and reminds John that he’s a traitor to his people, who switched sides out of expedience.
Capturing Juliana and Hawthorne might not be worth the headaches they’re causing.
John finally arrives home for the first time after leaving for the Neutral Zone and discovers that Helen and the girls haven’t been home since the day before. He must not be checking in much, since he hears the news that the nurse came early from the maid. John drives straight to the beach house to join his family, but they’re gone.
As they take their places at the Jahr Null ceremony, Himmler asks Smith where his family is. Smith tells Himmler that his wife was tired, so he sent them away for a few days. Himmler says, “It sends the wrong message when a Reichsmarschall appears at a public ceremony without his family.”
I wish I could read Himmler better. At moments like this, I can never tell if he’s sincere, mocking, or if he’s about to have someone secretly assassinated. Kudos to Kenneth Tigar for making Himmler so horrible, and the writers for making him so evil that you believe he’s capable of anything. He would totally say that to John while he was having John’s wife and children hunted down and killed.
Himmler tells John that he’s sad the girls are missing the important Jahr Null ceremony. “You will get your house in order.” Maybe he hasn’t given the order to kill both girls yet.
Himmler faces a large group of children to give his speech.
Himmler: “Today is for you, the generation born since the end of the war. A pure generation, free from the decrepit ideologies of the past. You are the future. You are the Reich! But you must be vigilant. The enemies of the Reich are everywhere. Those who would anchor you to the past must be eliminated to make room for the new. Today, we tear down the old. Here is your Führer’s gift to you…a new beginning! Jahr Null!”
Nicole stands nearby, filming the ceremony. She looks like she’s lost weight, and has dark circles under her eyes.
Smith gives the order to bomb the statue. She’s surrounded by fireworks as fighter jets fly over her, targeting the base of the statue. Liberty topples into the water, breaking apart on impact. Smith looks a little sickened at what he’s done.
Himmler: “At long last, her light goes out.”
Nicole looks satisfied that her event is successful.
Wyatt watches from a tall building in the city. He’s angry and disgusted. Behind him, a TV announcer can be heard reporting that Nazi youths are pouring into the streets to celebrate. The youths are carrying burning torches and chanting “Blood and Soil”. They shove the older people who pass by them.
Himmler informs Nicole that even though the evening has been a success, she’s being recalled back to Berlin for reeducation. He’s had enough of her high-handed behavior and the flaunting of her perversion. He was also the one who ordered the raid on the Double D Club. She’s taken away by two guards.
Smith tells Himmler that the marches in the streets are turning into violent riots, with the schools and museums particularly under attack. Himmler says to leave the kids alone to express their passions. “Sometimes a purge is essential.”
When Himmler and Smith’s motorcade arrives at their next destination, Smith’s assistant tells him that the public library is burning. Smith says to call the fire department, but Himmler wants to let it burn, so that everyone will be reminded of who to fear. The riots are so widespread that the edge has reached just a few yards from where Himmler and Smith stand.
Himmler begins to reminisce about Kristallnacht, when he’s suddenly shot from behind and above in the left side of his chest. He drops to the ground and Smith covers him. The shot was fired by Liam’s friend Jeremy in a tall nearby building. Jeremy takes two more shots, but both miss. After that, he and Liam escape from the building, with the rifle disguised in a briefcase and themselves dressed as Nazi businessmen.
Smith orders the Nazi guards to find the shooter. On the opposite side of the street from the direction the bullets came from, they notice a room with the lights on and an open window. Smith sends them in to search the building.
Himmler is loaded into an ambulance, in critical condition. The crowd continues celebrating, barely noticing the emergency.
Childan lies in his room, drinking and listening to old songs about liberty and freedom in America. He’s heard the news about the Statue of Liberty. Ed and Jack show up at the door with the news of Frank’s death. First, Ed has a hissy fit at Robert, then he tells him about Frank, then he asks Robert to join their cause, at least for one night. Robert just got his comfortable life back, and doesn’t want to risk it, but then decides he’ll go along, to honor Frank.
Helen calls John at home. He’s relieved to hear from her. She tells him that she and the girls are safe. He says that he’s not mad, but she shouldn’t have run away from the nurse, and asks her to come home. Helen tells him that she wasn’t running away from the nurse. She was running away from him. And she hangs up.
John is left alone, realizing that his wife has left him and taken the children with her, because she doesn’t trust him to keep them safe or even make them a priority anymore.
In the middle of the night, Jack, Ed and Robert hang a huge canvas banner of the Fascist Threat from a lighted tower that can be seen all over the city. Then they run, so they don’t get caught.
Smith watches Juliana and Hawthorne in their cells. Himmler is still in surgery. Juliana seems to have a concussion. She sits cross-legged on her cot and begins to meditate.
Smith questions Hawthorne. He tells Hawthorne that he won’t get any information on Caroline unless he gives Smith the right information.
Hawthorne: “My wife in trade for “the secret”? If I knew the first thing about traveling, do you think I’d still be sitting here? In a jumpsuit?”
Smith: “I assume you know about the machine they’re now testing? Four people were sent into a portal.”
Hawthorne: “Volunteers, I suppose.”
Smith: “Only one went through.”
Hawthorne: “And the one was…?”
Smith: “Just an average girl, as far as I could see, couldn’t have been more than 18.”
Hawthorne: “Average. Hmm. I wonder if her mother and father felt the same way? No, I think you’ll find this girl was quite unique. If she was able to enter a parallel world, it’s because she didn’t exist in it.”
Smith: “No. No. You’re lying to me. Some people exist in both worlds. Different versions, but the same. And they can travel, too. I’ve seen it.”
Hawthorne: “You mean if one of them dies, and leaves a space? Yes, that’s true. But it all amounts to the same thing, John. Whatever plans you people have, they won’t work.”
Juliana begins to have an effect on the environment. Everything shakes, the air moves, and the light flickers. John realizes that she’s trying to travel and runs to her cell. He pulls out his gun and shoots her in the left shoulder, just as she disappears. A blood stain is left behind, but Juliana is in an alternate reality, hopefully one with good medical care.
Liam and Richie have made cratefuls of copies of The Grasshopper Lies Heavy, so they can put it in mass distribution. Liam used Juliana’s copy of the Fascist Threat to make a label for the film. They load the crates of film copies into a delivery van for Liam to take on the road.
Richie: “In my line of work, I thought I’d seen everything.”
Liam: “Is that why you squirreled away a copy for yourself?”
Richie: “Liam, pal, I never did that.”
Liam: “Just promise me you’ll make copies of your copy. Keep the faith. And spread the word.”
He drives the van away.
Next season, Liam can continue his import/export business with a little side twist of leading the newly reconstituted Resistance. And he’ll for sure run into Helen eventually. She’s on the run, so she’ll be needing some black market supplies. And maybe a new man. He’s totally her type, and she’s been meant to help lead the Resistance since Thomas’ test came back positive, so that’s a relationship that’s just waiting to happen.
Helen needs to go into hiding in the Neutral Zone, or seek asylum in the JPS. The JPS would offer a more settled life for the girls, but they probably wouldn’t offer official asylum just as their relationship with the Reich is returning to normal. Even if they were given asylum secretly and kept in hiding, she could never trust the Japanese not to turn her and the Reichsmarschall’s daughters back over to the Reich for their own political purposes.
After watching Himmler dance with glee over the bodies of the test subjects who died such horrific deaths, and watching him be so despicable to Nicole, it was extra satisfying to see him get shot. I don’t know if I want him to die yet, or not, because he’s a great villain who could do so much more, and he has no clear successor, other than John. Watching the Reich fall into pieces and have an even bigger power struggle than the last 2 seasons could be interesting, but they have also done that storyline 2 seasons in a row now. It makes more sense to have Himmler live and be even more angry, oppressive and murderous.
As Kido walks down the hall to Gina’s rooms, for a moment he’s framed by an arched window, as if Frank’s painting has come to life. Then he steps out of the painting, goes to Gina and sets her free from oppression, at least as much as is possible in their world. It almost feels like he’s making reparations for the deaths of Frank’s sister, niece and nephew. He’s going to have to free a lot more women to make up for everything he’s done, but this is a start.
Was Frank a bit prescient? Did he intuit this moment of change in Kido?
Kido and Gina seem to have real feelings for each other, but Kido can never be sure, as long as she feels like she owes him. Maybe if some time goes by with no contact and then she approaches him, rather than letting their relationship end, that would be proof that her feelings are real and not coerced. But he doesn’t even know the real Gina, either. All he knows is the submissive version who has to walk on eggshells around him, so they’d have to start all over as if they’d just met.
I have absolutely no doubt that Billy Turner was the one who turned Nicole in to Himmler. The “high-handed behavior” idea had to come straight from Billy, who hated the way she waltzed in and took over the Ministry of Propaganda from him. And he was so happy again at the last staff meeting. Hopefully Thelma won’t get much more punishment than she’s already had, since Billy seems to be protecting her. She’s been compliant and worked for him for a long time, so maybe he’ll convince everyone that Nicole was a bad influence on her.
Himmler was happy to have an excuse to arrest Nicole, since she’s Lebensborn and his assassins keep getting killed. The next time we see her, she’ll either be in the torture and spy training program, or she’ll have been through it and be a different person. I’ve wondered for a while if Himmler will replace Helen with Nicole, who will be a good little spy and keep John in line. Himmler can have her secretly get pregnant by another Lebensborn instead of John, so they have pure Aryan babies to raise.
Over the course of the season, we’ve learned two important conditions for traveling- the traveler has to be dead or never have existed in the alternate world, and they have to be able to detach themselves from the world that they’re leaving. Hawthorne doesn’t travel because he won’t leave Caroline. Tagomi is a traveler because his family is gone. Will his relationship with Tamiko affect his ability to travel?
Juliana became able to travel once she’d lost all of the people closest to her- Frank, Joe and Trudy. She’s still attached to Ed, Tagomi, Hawthorne and Caroline, but her presence in the world puts them in danger, and by the end, being in this world put her, and anyone she cared about, in extreme danger. That likely boosted her ability to detach. Then her current situation gave her the fear based adrenaline rush Mengele mentioned. Plus, we don’t know if exposure to the anomaly has any lingering effect.
If what Hawthorne said earlier in the season is right, and the people who show up the most in the films are the ones who are the most important, then based on what we’ve been shown, taking all three seasons worth of films into account, that would be Juliana, Joe, Frank, Hawthorne, Caroline, Helen, Mengele, John Smith and Thomas Smith. Remember season 1, when it was Frank that Joe executed over and over? Joe was always destined to be a Nazi killer. Joe and Frank may be dead in this world, but their alternate selves can still be important to the fate of this reality. Certain travelers seem important, too, like Tagomi and Trudy.
Will we finally spend a significant amount of time in the alternate realities next season? Juliana had to go to a different reality from the one that Tagomi went to, probably the one that Trudy came from. If Smith is in charge for a little while, he could have Mengele start some experiments on personal traveling, without the machine. Or maybe Smith and Tagomi will become pen pals and Tagomi will mentor him. With everyone he’s lost, Smith might be able to travel now, if he can learn to quiet his mind. This show won’t have reached its full potential until it’s explored a few alternate realities.
It’s not clear if Smith thinks Hawthorne’s revelations through to their logical conclusions. In the Nazi Prime world, there are a lot of dead people and people who will never exist, because the Nazis and Japanese killed their parents. There are not many open spaces in the other realities. The Nazis will never be able to send armies through, but the other realities will be able to send armies to Nazi Prime world, comprised of the populations that the Reich has committed genocides against and formed eugenics programs to wipe out.
Hawthorne seemed intensely interested in getting through to John. The last 2 episodes, in particular, put the focus on John Smith, everyman and former American GI, as the lynchpin that connects everything. He’s been in the right place, at the right time, to take advantage of history for his own benefit. Now he’s at the right place and time to turn global oppression around. He’s under pressure from all sides, from Hawthorne to Helen to Himmler to Tagomi. He’s met both of the other two Men in the High Castle now, and they’ve shared some wisdom with him. Which direction will he choose? The expedience he’s always chosen, or something new?
Season 4 is set up to follow Helen’s escape, Juliana in the alternate reality, and Kido as he learns the art of persuasion and tones down the use of force. Tagomi will need to navigate the changes in the Reich and learn what they mean for the Empire. Liam will spread the film and work to rebuild the Resistance’s network. Childan will rebuild his business while working behind the scenes to help Ed and Jack spread Frank’s message. Hawthorne and Caroline’s fates are dependent on Himmler and John Smith. Sabra appears to be safe for the moment, and could continue to act as a hideout for the Resistance, if Holt and Earle don’t have friends who come looking for Mark.
I’m going to hold out hope for a while that someone got Rockwell to a hospital in time, or that we at least have a good reason to return to Cuba next season. Let’s go on a big, homosexual, historically accurate vacation with Hoover, where he hooks up with his old pal Georgie again!!
We’ll see alternate versions of Joe and Frank in Juliana’s new reality. We’ve seen both in films, so we know they exist, or they did, until Joe shot Frank and/or himself in some of the realities. Seriously, Joe is just a hopelessly tragic figure. No matter what reality it is, he kills the people closest to himself and Juliana. That’s why she had to kill him. She could see that there was no way to change his fate. But she and Frank seem to always end up dead, too. Can that be changed?
Metamaiden and I didn’t do too badly with our Speculation for Season Three and beyond. Some of it has already happened, and some of it looks like it will happen eventually, in some form. I was happy to see Lucy Collins return toward the end of the season. I’d like to see more of the dropped minor characters from the first two seasons return, especially the women, who disappear especially easily on this show.
Overall, I thought this was a good season. It was faster paced than the previous two seasons, and more consistent than season two. The addition of the Grand Palace and Sabra gave the Neutral Zone scenes two places to focus and build minor characters around. I liked the way the season as a whole opened up more of the High Castle universe for exploration, both culturally and physically.
But I missed the focus on mystery and suspense that characterized the first two seasons. The show could have leaned further into its alternate history and science fiction sides while still keeping the suspense. The main goal of the season seemed to be rearranging the characters and world to put the new showrunner’s stamp on the show. This made for some very straightforward, at times even shallow, writing.
The secondary emphasis of broadening the world also meant that the show went off on unnecessary tangents. Cuba was interesting, but Rockwell could have been killed in NY, leaving more time and budget for the main plot and characters. Maybe next season the elements that are meant to diversify and broaden the universe can be included more organically, leaving room for the writing to focus more on twists and turns that keep the audience guessing and the characters complex.
I loved the addition of Thelma and the increased time for Nicole, but I’d like to know more about them than their jobs and their sexualities. And they came at the expense of already established characters like Lucy Collins and Sarah, whose compelling storylines were dropped this season. Asian women have been almost completely ignored by this show, so to lose Sarah, who had her own story as a concentration camp survivor and Resistance fighter, rather than just being brought in as a love interest, like Tamiko, was hard.
Jack is little more than a cowboy hat who follows Ed around. Wyatt/Liam has been set up to become a new lead, but I feel like most of what he says is part of his black market sales act. I’m not sure we’ve met the real Liam at all. Following Ed because he’s adorable and Juliana because she has grit isn’t enough to flesh out these two characters. Especially since the show killed two original series leads, Frank and Joe, to make room for Liam.
Hopefully The Man in the High Castle will find a way to merge its former ability to keep the audience wondering all season long, with renewed consistency and depth to the storytelling. This season brought some welcome changes. The show just needs a few more tweaks.
Grade for the Season: A
Images courtesy of Amazon Prime.