Making sense of ‘The Man in the High Castle’

Tuesday, December 3, 2019 - 5:33pm

NOSELL

Amazon Prime Video

The world that the final season of “The Man in the High Castle” is being released into is a very different place than when first commissioned by Amazon Prime Studios back in 2015. Now, in 2019, the show has lost some of its early praise and is no longer Amazon’s most-watched original series. Most simply put, the series is based on Philip K. Dick’s 1962 novel by the same name, set in a parallel universe where the Axis powers have won World War II. Western North America is a part of the Japanese Pacific States while the Germans rule the East Coast, both separated by a neutral zone in the Rocky Mountains. 

Complexly, this show is as much about the Axis powers winning as it is about the Allies. For in this dark, Axis-ruled world, there is an American resistance that suspect the Allies won the war. These characters come into contact with newsreels and home movies belonging to a figure known as “The Man in the High Castle” that show Germany and Japan losing the war. How could this be possible? In this story about alternate history, there lies another alternate history where the Allies did in fact defeat the Axis powers. Every film has been brought over to the show’s primary world by people who are able to travel between them. Much of the third and fourth seasons explored a portal that the Nazis built so they could travel to alternate universes, with the ambitious goal of taking over the entire multiverse.

On the surface, how could this depiction of alternate history not get attention? The appeal was always the science fiction of it, which was also a constant source of criticism. The up-and-down reception over the remaining three seasons culminated in a final scene that was over four years in the making, and it kind of felt like the creative figures behind the series didn’t quite know the purpose of the story they were telling. 

Concluding a show is difficult. Concluding a show that plays with the idea that there are an infinite number of parallel realities is an even more difficult one. In this final episode, the Japanese have abandoned North America, the East Coast is being run by a guy who wants the Nazis gone and high-ranking Nazi official, John Smith (Rufus Sewell, “Victoria”) is dead. These were all necessary to tie up loose ends. The show could have ended there. However, inexplicably, there was one more scene that takes us to the Nazi multi-verse portal. The American resistance has taken the facility where the portal is located from the Nazis and the portal fires up itself. Once it stabilizes, people start strolling through into the room, not acknowledging the people who are already present in the room. This was clearly meant to be a “moving” scene in which people were coming from literally everywhere but there was absolutely no setup for this turn of events, making it meaningless. It feels like a victory, but what that victory was is unclear. The final scene poses many more questions than it answers. As the show progressed, the show became less about the characters and more about the theory of the multi-verse. Regardless of how the series ending is perceived, the show will always be remembered for establishing Amazon as a premiere streaming service.