A year has passed, and the Nazis control the portal to another world. The fourth season of “The Man in the High Castle” wastes no time in getting started, eager to bring all of its loose threads that have been percolating in the background to conclusion. For the most part, the show has been defined by a slow burn, the writers apparently willing to tease the existence and narrative potential of a multiverse for seasons on end. Not anymore. The final season of “The Man in the High Castle” is an action-packed and satisfying as anyone could hope for, with each subplot building up an unstoppable momentum as the season progresses.
The concept of a multiverse is no longer an abstract hypothetical, but an exploitable weapon as the Nazis seek to extend their dominion to other worlds. Nazi spies pass through the portal on a regular basis, sabotaging alternate America’s efforts at developing a space program and generally making themselves a nuisance. Juliana Crain (Alexa Davalos) is recuperating from being shot by John Smith during the last season’s finale, having learned to harness the power of meditation to jump between worlds. She finds temporary security in the alternate version of America where the Allied forces won the war, even befriending this universe’s Smith family. But it’s merely a brief reprieve, and the dangers of her homeworld press ever closer.
Meanwhile, John Smith’s world has been shaken and faces threats from every corner. This season gives Rufus Sewell plenty of great material for him to play with, and the show continually adds depth to Smith and other characters who in lesser hands could run the risk of becoming stagnant.
His wife Helen flees to the Neutral Zone, fearing for the safety of their daughters, who may possess the same genetic predisposition to motor neuron disease that resulted in their son’s state-sponsored euthanasia. There, they get some much-needed breathing room away from the oppressive presence of the Reich. When they return, things are…different, somehow. The occupying forces still have a stranglehold on society, but there’s an air of fatigue and decomposition to both the German and Japanese territories in the former United States.
Political figures in Japan seem suddenly willing to negotiate with resistance leaders over the potential viability of a tactical withdrawal, perhaps aware that they have stretched themselves too thin. And in Nazi-controlled territory, there seems to be a shrinking supply of true believers. What does it say about a regime when their highest-ranking American officer is only going along with their actions because he sees himself as too far in at this point? How vital and energetic can a dictatorship be when its highly visible leader is a sickly, weak old man with a hacking cough that echoes in every room he walks through?
The Nazi regime’s bones are creaking. When even the teenage Jennifer Smith returns from her experiences in the Neutral Zone profoundly disillusioned with the Reich, it feels as though the writing is on the wall. Whatever this is, it isn’t sustainable. It was not built to last.
Most intriguing, however, is the role of the Black Communist Rebellion, a resistance group operating out of San Francisco and dedicated to bringing down the Japanese regime. This is the first time there’s any significant screen time devoted to the black experience in this alternate version of America, and it’s remarkably well-utilized.
The occupation of the United States was a major upheaval for its white citizens, but for black Americans experiencing the Jim Crow era South, the transition was somewhat less drastic. Their resistance movement seems more legitimate and emotionally resonant than those we’ve seen on the show in the past because they’re not just fighting for a return to the pre-occupation status quo.
In earlier seasons of “The Man in the High Castle,” it felt as though the entire narrative was focused on building up to something. While it was rewarding to watch the journey, it didn’t always thrill. There was a tendency to get bogged down in certain plot points that needed to be executed for the sake of the end game. But as it nears its conclusion, “The Man in the High Castle” is truly hitting its stride, giving us its most genuinely exciting, well-paced storytelling yet.