The Man in the High Castle: That's Oberst-Gruppenführer Smith To You   Show Only 
December 20, 2018 8:22 AM - Season 3 (Full Season) - Subscribe

Based on the discussions here of the first and second seasons, let's just dispense with the notion the third season of the series has anything to do with the book, shall we? Season two ended with some surprises and some things that were sort of inevitable with the arc of the story …

There's a 30 minute recap of seasons 1 and 2 on YouTube, if you need the refresher. This post inevitably contains spoilers for the first two seasons.

Season 3 starts with John Smith newly promoted to Oberstgruppenführer after exposing a plot to kill Hitler by war hawks within the Nazi party. After Hitler's death the plot's leader, Reichsminister Heusmann, had become Führer, with his Lebensborn son Joe Blake at his side. After exposing the plot, Smith is hailed as a hero by new Führer Himmler. Now Smith has moved up in the world in other ways, relocating his family to a Manhattan high rise as a way to distance themselves from events both murderous and tragic in their recent past.

As season 3 begins, Joe Blake is first seen in prison, but his motivations are (as always) completely missing as he eventually turns on the father he first didn't know was alive, then was his best pal and mentor, then his potential downfall. Will Joe learn to think for himself, or will he continue to be someone things just … happen … to? And what will happen to his Lebensborn sort-of-girlfriend, filmmaker Nicole Dörmer? Which one of them is using the other? At least her ambitions are obvious, unlike Joe's.

In the finale of season 2 Juliana Crane was reunited with her (dead?) sister Trudy (or was she?). The truth is quickly exposed in season 3: this Trudy is a traveler from a world where Juliana was the sister to be killed. But how long can Trudy stay in this world? For that matter, how long can Juliana stay in the Neutral Zone?

Elsewhere in the Neutral Zone, Robert and Ed are finding artifacts (mostly Robert) and themselves (mostly Ed). Will Robert ever get used to people calling him Bob? Or worse, Bobby? (Spoiler: no. No, he will not.) Will he ever find somebody else who likes Campari? Will Robert and Ed ever make it back to San Francisco? Will Ed even want to leave Denver?

And in San Francisco, Trade Minister Tagomi faces increasing peril both overt (in the form of an oil embargo that threatens Japanese interests on both sides of the Pacific) and secret (with Himmler himself sending an assassin after him). His always-uneasy relationship with Chief Inspector Kido also seems to be under increasing strain, as Kido suspects that Tagomi is hiding even greater secrets than Kido has previously detected. Kido, meanwhile, isn't convinced that Frank Frink really died in the bomb blast at the end of season 2. What will he discover?
posted by fedward (7 comments total)
In an early draft of this post I referred to Joe Blake as Joe Blank, because I've hated both the character and the actor playing him. Thus I was particularly happy to get to …
episode 4where he finally got the killing he so richly deserved. I think the writers may have intended his character as some sort of stand-in for the idea of "what if Nazis, but not all bad?" but I never once believed he had any motivations at all. He never seemed noble; he never seemed like he was making any decisions other than as a momentary response to an immediate stimulus.

My joy at seeing him killed off, however, was tempered by the fear that they'd just pop another one out of another world and keep him in the series. Lucky for me he was really gone for the rest of the season, but season 4 is already in production. I'm not safe yet!

Since I've picked on one actor, though, I should praise another. I've always loved Tagomi but I was completely surprised in
episode 8when he swiftly disarmed the second Lebensborn assassin sent after him and dispatched him with a single stroke. For a man who always chose "the peaceful way" that scene was a shock.

Smith's arc in the series has been pretty great, but the game they're playing, teasing the idea that his loyalty to the Reich could crack without actually letting it happen, is wearing a bit thin.
That said, his increasing obsession with the films parallels Hitler's obsession before him, and the connection to Abendsen (that he didn't know he had) tightens the loop around the central characters of the show (and in the films).

Also I half expected Helen to find the films. Maybe in season 4 we'll find out she did, and they're part of why she ran.

Also, not really episode-specific, but man, Mengele is creepy.

And in the finaleI loved how they basically turned Abendsen into Hamlet, spouting non sequiturs to keep himself sane, but dropping bits of wisdom enough to let Smith know the plans for the Nebenwelt couldn't possibly work. But will Smith pass that along to Himmler?

I saw comments elsewhere that Joe's "trust me" in Juliana's memory of him killing her in Lackawanna (in whichever world that was) potentially sets up a redemption arc for him, but I'm not sure how they'd pull that off. If she traveled to that specific world, where he killed her before killing himself, he'd still be dead there too. But I don't know if the writers are concerned with tying together all of the worlds into one, more unified arc, or if they're just going to keep spinning new worlds up every time they need a character back.

Overall I felt like this was easily the strongest season. I'd like to see them resolve Smith's ambiguity a bit more, but the pacing was excellent, episodes 6 and 8 in particular were riveting, and the last scene with Smith and Abendsen in the finale did a nice job setting ground rules for season 4.
posted by fedward at 9:54 AM on December 20, 2018

Thanks for posting. I have not yet started season 3, it's a show that I enjoyed but haven't quite gotten around to starting up again.

Any word from Amazon on whether there will be a 4th season? I haven't heard any buzz and barely a mention of this shown after season 1 was somewhat popular.
posted by skewed at 2:09 PM on December 20, 2018

It was announced at San Diego Comic-Con. There are a few casting notices for new characters on sites like Deadline.
posted by fedward at 4:17 PM on December 20, 2018

Yeah, this season started out pretty confusing, but I liked the place it ended. They're walking a fine line between gung-ho sci-fi alt history and a character piece, but I think they're making it work out?

And yeah, same with Joe. I kept waiting for something to turn up with him, and nothing ever did. Even if it was the other nazi youth chickaboo convincing him that he should relax to the inevitable and enjoy the benefits that rank offered, it would've been _something_.
posted by Kyol at 8:27 AM on December 21, 2018

Thanks for picking up this baton. I feel like this season addressed some of the weird art direction issues, where the West Coast stuff was lovingly visualized and the East Coast stuff just kept missing the mark. I think they are trying to grope forward to a goofy place where they can use the material to directly comment on a certain orange leader, but it's just gonna be beyond their grasp due to time and the speed of events.

Other random thoughts:

This is the universe which eventually produces Big Hero 6. At this point I feel pretty confident that the show runners are aware of this, which I suspect was a production-personell inside gag, and so far, it seems plausible to imagine them aiming Tagomi at the Empire in just such a manner. As a Left Coast person, I find this very appealing.

This season, they took care to also show the Imperial cruelties and extremities that were historically associated with with the Empire and how the specific set of values associated with extreme Japanese nationalism were used by the Empire from about 1900 through the end of the war. One of the interesting aspects of casting on the show to me has been that many of the Japanese characters are played by non-Japanese-descent actors. I feel pretty sure that any given one of those actors has some fascinating stuff to talk about with regard to the way that Japan and Japanese people are perceived in other Asian countries.

So, in sum, yes, best season yet. Still floundering, unfortunately. I feel that I am clear in my head about what's good about it and what's not.

I'm currently working for a Nisei-led startup in Seattle. My SF-interested twenty-something coworkers, majority non-European but majority first-generation children of global immigrants, are super interested in PKD but this show is not reaching them in any way, and the PKD stuff they really want to know more about is Electric Sheep and Valis. In general, I think they have been puzzled and disappointed by this show.
posted by mwhybark at 6:34 PM on December 23, 2018

Everyone in this show needs to delegate more.
Why is the inspector or the head nazis observing prisoners?
posted by k8t at 11:51 PM on December 27, 2018 [1 favorite]

Why is the inspector or the head nazis observing prisoners?

Because they can't trust anybody. Smith has to assume his secrets aren't safe and he needs to stay ahead of the people who are plotting against him. That includes the ones he knows about and the ones he has to suspect exist simply because that's how the Reich works* (the latter problem presumably even greater after Hitler's death and the exposure of Heusmann's plot). Kido knows that if too much goes wrong in the Pacific States, he'll be held responsible for it. He has also discovered Yakuza spies in his organization (one that we've seen, and we have to assume there were more), so his ability to delegate is limited by the very small circle of trust that surrounds him.

* FWIW the actual Reich is full of historical precedent for that. The farther from Berlin people were stationed, the less they adhered to the rules and the more willing they seemed to be to get caught up in plots. There were two different spy organizations that hated each other and the infighting allowed allied double agents to survive and thrive much longer than they would have in functional organizations. Histories of WWII espionage are filled with "so-and-so was called back to Berlin and subsequently disappeared."
posted by fedward at 11:05 AM on December 30, 2018 [1 favorite]

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