Stephen Root
Screenshot: The Man In The High Castle (Amazon Prime Video)

One question kept running through my head toward the end of The Man In The High Castle’s season finale, “Jahr Null”: Do these scenes belong in the same show? Early on we’re treated to the most spectacular science fiction sequence of the series as the massive Nazi machine designed to open the portal between worlds is tested. Later on we’re treated to the sickening spectacle of the Statue of Liberty being toppled and the subsequent celebration by young people with torches chanting “Blood and soil!” as they trash the city. What begins as an exhilarating hour curdles into something very difficult to watch.

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The opening act of the episode is a tense nail-biter with a seductive retro sci-fi sheen. (Anyone remember The Time Tunnel?) As Juliana and her cohorts make their way through the mine shaft, Dr. Mengele prepares to demonstrate his massive gateway to the multiverse. The special effects have been excellent as usual this season, but this gigantic Bond villain chamber with its brilliantly illuminated tunnel takes the cake—it’s just cheesy enough to work. Juliana and her crew arrive at an overhead vent just in time to see the four test subjects handcuffed to a conveyor and sent into the light as the sheer magnetic force threatens to blow the whole place apart. 

It holds together, but the results of the experiment are mixed. Three of the test subjects are vaporized, but the fourth has completely vanished. As Abendsen will later explain, this is because there is no duplicate of her in the other world, where she is already dead. This complicates the already highly problematic plan for Die Nebenwelt (Juliana wonders whether they plan to roll tanks down the tunnel, but won’t they have to come up with plastic vehicles given the intense magnetism?), but Himmler is satisfied with the progress.

Juliana and crew are spotted before they can escape, and there’s another shootout, after which Wyatt and Chuck get away and Juliana is captured. She’s in one cell and Abendsen is in another, muttering scrambled nursery rhymes to confuse his captors. Smith isn’t falling for it, especially after Abendsen tells him it’s good to see him again; his research reveals Abendsen’s real name—Abe Hawkes—and that he served in the Pacific theater along with Smith, back when he was with the good guys. Abe fills Smith in on the catch when it comes to traveling, so Smith now knows he can bring the Thomas of another world into his own. But he also realizes that if an alt-Juliana was killed in the tunnel of her own world, the one he has locked up is now free to travel...which she does, but not before he puts a bullet in her chest.

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Where Juliana ended up and how badly she’s injured will have to wait for season four, but some other loose ends are tied up in this finale. Ed and Jack make it to San Francisco and manage to shame Childan into helping them mount a huge Resistance banner from a high tower. Wyatt drops in on another old friend who is now in the pornography business and enlists him to make numerous copies of the film, which Wyatt and Chuck take on the road. Kido releases Gina from any further obligation to him, and she responds with what looks to be a genuinely affectionate kiss. Helen calls Smith to let him know she wasn’t running away from the nurse, she’s running away from him.

The big concluding set-piece is undeniably effective, but a jarring contrast to the sci-fi thrills of the first half. We witness the latest defacement of American iconography, as attack planes open fire on Lady Liberty, sending her crashing down. Her torch hand, broken loose, sinks beneath the ocean. This sparks a celebration deliberately evocative of alt-right rallies, particularly the one that turned deadly in Charlottesville last year. The only bright spot is that Wyatt and Chuck use the rioting as cover to take a shot at Himmler. As with Juliana, we’ll have to wait until next season to see the extent of his injuries.

 Stray observations

  • Season wrap-up thoughts: On the whole, this was my favorite of the three. The storylines had more momentum, the characterizations were improved, and the increasingly prominent science fiction elements were handled well. The problem is that those elements aren’t always congruent with the underlying reality of the show. There’s a risk of turning Nazis into cartoon villains (Himmler was pretty much there all season), so that the occasional reminders of the true evil they represent run the risk of coming off as cheap and exploitative. I don’t know if there’s a solution to this problem, though, as it’s pretty much baked into the premise.
  • One satisfying moment amid the horror of the final act: the haughty Nicole Dormer is exiled to Berlin for re-education. She was all too willing to enable the glorification of the Reich, never considering that its evils would ever touch her own life.
  • “Sometimes a purge is essential.” No, that’s a different show, Fuhrer.

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