Roush Review: The Historical Nightmares of 'High Castle'
Here's a helpful hint: Before diving in to the deep, murky waters of the third season of The Man in the High Castle, watch the 30-minute recap special provided by Amazon. After all, almost two years have passed since the second season dropped in December 2016, and what was baffling then is almost impenetrable now, even with the refresher course.
A fascinating show — or is that shows? — lurks within this sprawling and provocative hybrid of science fiction and alternative history, depicting a world (one of several) in which the Allies lost World War II, with the Nazis ruling the formerly United States in the East and the Japanese overseeing the West, both powers mistrusting the other in what threatens to become a nuclear standoff.
Set in a nightmare version of the 1960s, where American rebels plot in exile from a lawless Neutral Zone, High Castle is often absorbing as it juggles multiple storylines and characters both fictional and historical on a very large canvas. But suffering from the bloat and plodding pacing typically associated with Netflix, the series mostly slogs through a 10-episode third season without successfully fusing its best parts into a compelling whole.
The most chilling moments occur as the Nazis, led in America by the blandly efficient and emotionally conflicted John Smith (Rufus Sewell), orchestrate a propaganda campaign to erase American history, targeting its most precious and prominent symbols. More secretly, their quest for world domination has more of a mad scientist feel, as the notorious Dr. Mengele conducts grisly experiments intended to facilitate an aggressive push into other dimensions.
The resistance movement is still largely underground, but exiled rebel Juliana Crain (Alexa Davalos) is determined to expose the public to shocking films — property of the elusive title character (Stephen Root) — which depict alternate and more hopeful realities. Her sister is a “traveler” between these worlds, a tantalizing plot thread too slowly and murkily developed.
Anyone hoping for a mashup of Fringe, Stargate SG-1 and Timeless should look elsewhere — for now. The ingredients are all there, and a final twist demands resolution in a fourth season that seriously needs to quicken its pulse.
The Man in the High Castle, Season 3 Premiere, Friday, Oct. 5, Amazon Prime Video
This article also appeared in the Oct 1 - 14 issue of TV Guide Magazine.