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The Final Season of 'The Man in the High Castle' Returns to Amazon
November 15, 2019  | By David Hinckley

The competition for the most disturbing show on television turned brutal some time ago, and no discussion about that designation should be held without Amazon Prime's The Man in the High Castle.

The Man in the High Castle returns on Amazon Friday for its fourth and final season, and the fact that the fate of the universe hangs in the balance is not the most disturbing part.

The really disturbing part is that even as the show has spun a sci-fi web of alternate universes, it has sounded ever-louder warnings about our modern-day, real-life world.

The complex story largely revolves around Juliana Crane (Alexa Davalos, top), a young woman we first met in 1962. She lives in what used to be the United States and for the past seventeen or so years has been the Greater Nazi Reich, ever since the Axis developed an atomic bomb and won World War II.

The former United States has now been divided into three zones, with the Germans controlling the Eastern half, the Japanese Pacific States established in the Western third, and the middle band loosely called the Neutral Zone.

The Neutral Zone is where the ragged people go, with few resources and fewer rules. It primarily keeps the Germans and Japanese, former partners and now wary rivals, from having too much close contact with each other.

Juliana, like most of her fellow Americans, was reluctantly keeping her head down and staying alive under the austere and menacing new regimes.

Juliana lived in San Francisco, where things were marginally less dire than under the Reich, whose rules were set by Adolf Hitler in Germany and enforced on the North American continent by a combination of Germans and converted Americans like John Smith (Rufus Sewell). Smith fought for America in World War II, but the Reich wanted at least one American convert in a prominent governing position, and Smith showed a level of cold-bloodedness that convinced the Germans he was their guy.

A series of intolerable events, which had become everyday occurrences in this new world, convinced Juliana she had to join the resistance, and that's where she has spent most of the show's first three seasons. Many of her colleagues have not survived those seasons, and viewers can be pretty sure the mortality rate will increase in the episodes ahead.

Neither the Germans nor the Japanese is much into "beyond a reasonable doubt" or "due process" when it comes to eliminating anyone considered a potential problem.

The resistance has a wild card, however, which is a scattered collection of what seem to be newsreel and documentary films showing that the Germans and Japanese didn't really win the war, that it was the Allies.

These films are collected and distributed by, yes, the man in the high castle. They confirm there are alternate realities – which is, as you might guess, the sci-fi part of Man in the High Castle. At this point, it's not a spoiler to report that the show's world includes multiple universes, often including the same people in different situations with different personalities and roles.

That gives hope to the resistance. It's inconvenient for the Germans and Japanese, who have made it a priority to confiscate and destroy all those films. If there is no awareness of history or other realities, only the present, the Axis powers could dominate all worlds.

As we enter the final season, Juliana and a ragged, dwindling band of fellow resisters are the last line of defense against murderous rulers who seek to "purify" the world, sparing only those of like image and mind.

That is to say, it's a world divided into "us" and "them," with the more powerful "us" feeling no responsibility to accommodate or even tolerate "them." You don't need to watch Man in the High Castle to see the seeds of that attitude sprouting these days.

Want to get more depressed? The show is based on a book written by Phillip Dick in 1962, meaning that much of what troubles us today was troubling people back then and has not been fixed.

It should be noted that it would be almost impossible to start watching The Man in the High Castle in its fourth season. Viewers should return to the beginning, which happily is easy with a service like Amazon, or much of what goes on will either not make sense or lack meaningful context.

That said, it's worth the effort. While the show plunges into the sci-fi weeds at times – and trying to explain all its twists would leave viewers and readers planted right in the middle of those weeds – it also has taken the time to give characters like Juliana, John Smith, and seeming Everyman American Joe Blake (Luke Kleintank) a continuing stream of moral choices, some of which they handle better than others.

Humor isn't a priority here, probably due to the seriousness of the story, but the writers have found ways to incorporate music. In the locked-down Reich, Resistance Radio spins Woody Guthrie's "This Land Is Your Land," while radios in one of the other universes play "Surfin' USA" and "A Wonderful Dream" by the Majors.

Not subtle, but appropriate.

Where the final season will take us remains ominously but fittingly unclear. The Nazis seem to have everyone, including the Japanese, outmanned and outgunned. The resistance, always fragmented, has shrunk, and as the Reich finds and burns more films, fewer and fewer people, especially young people, understand why it's so important not to let things derail our move toward the way things could be.

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