Given the nearly two-year hiatus between seasons of The Man In The High Castle, and the resolution of the production turmoil that left the series without a showrunner for much of the second season (Eric Overmyer, previously of Bosch, is now on board as executive producer), viewers might be expecting a substantial overhaul as the third season kicks off. That’s not the case, as “Now More Than Ever, We Care About You” is very much the same show we’ve come to know, with a few new faces aboard.
Clocking in at an hour and nine minutes, the super-sized season premiere wastes no time in checking in with nearly all of the major characters, scattered around the globe though they are. A pre-credits sequence in which Juliana and an armed band of resistance fighters pull off an ambush gets us off to a suitably ambiguous start. Is this our Juliana or a version from an alternate Earth? If she is the Juliana we know, when and where is this happening?
The present, we soon learn, is the fall of 1962. In Berlin, a much hairier Joe is being held prisoner, as is his father Martin Heusmann, who awaits execution for his role in assassinating the Fuhrer. In Monument Valley, the leaders of the Japanese occupation conduct a nuclear test as part of their arms race bluff with the Nazis. Tagomi is on hand and extremely skeptical that it will work. In the Denver neutral zone, Juliana gets a postcard reading “Made it to Aunt Judy’s,” and seeks help from newcomer Wyatt Price (Jason O’Mara) in finding an address for Judy Bridger in Santa Fe. Not far away, Juliana’s sister Trudy—or, more accurately, her doppelganger from another reality—is holed up with Abendsen and his wife Caroline (played by actor/musician Ann Magnuson, fondly remembered from the band Bongwater by people of a certain age). John Smith returns to New York from Berlin with a promotion, but now without a son following Thomas’s decision to turn himself in to the Public Health Department.
The way the episode (written by Wesley Strick) skims over these far-flung locales and characters like a stone skipping across a lake is evidence of mid-series bloat, but there’s an effort to streamline things as the hour-plus proceeds. Joe’s time in Berlin doesn’t last much longer as he cooperates with his captors by pulling the trigger on his own father. He returns to New York freshly shorn, but he won’t be staying there much longer either, as he is being sent to San Francisco undercover as a deputy trade attache. He does have time for one awkward conversation with Smith before he goes, but the tension between them over how things played out in Berlin remains on simmer.
As always, the big question with The Man In The High Castle remains: Who do we care about? Joe has never won me over, but the ending of this episode suggests he’s either finally ready to throw in with the Resistance or has bought into Himmler’s plans completely. John Smith can have all the pangs of conscience he wants during his son’s memorial, but I’m no more receptive to sympathetic Nazis now than I was two years ago. He’ll need to do a lot more than occasionally look troubled. Juliana appears to have set aside her woe-is-me act for a more proactive approach, at least in this first episode.
Maybe the new characters will shoulder the load. We met Nicole Dormer last season in Berlin, but she’s given a higher profile here as “the next Leni Riefenstahl.” A highlight this week is her meeting with the alt-universe Don Draper, giving us a glimpse of what the Mad Men life would have been like under a fascist regime. (Although I like to think Don could do better than “Fascism is Freedom.”) O’Mara makes a good first impression as the black market scoundrel Wyatt Price, who should prove to be a more lively love interest for Juliana than Joe. Perhaps the most interesting addition to the cast is William Forsythe as J. Edgar Hoover, who has embraced fascism with gusto—no surprise to anyone familiar with his methods in our reality. It’s too soon to say how big a role he’ll play in this season’s events, but an injection of fresh blood certainly can’t hurt.
- Welcome back to TV Club’s coverage of The Man In The High Castle! We’ll be moving at a more accelerated pace than in previous seasons, whether or not the show itself does. Look for my review of the second episode later today, and two per day going forward.
- Hoover isn’t the only real-life figure to find his way into the premiere. George Lincoln Rockwell, who speaks at Thomas’s memorial, was the founder of the American Nazi Party in our reality.
- How Abendsen became the Man in the High Castle: He created a fake “alternate world” newsreel from odds and ends, and travelers from the actual other worlds started passing along the real things to him. Also, he didn’t destroy all the films—Tagomi has a box of them now.
- Despite the extra length of this episode, there were some choppy transitions. Joe is back in New York in the wink of an eye, and when Juliana and Trudy show up at Tagomi’s house at the end, I again had to wonder which reality we were observing.
- Many of today’s prestige television shows have gone overboard with dark visuals, but there were times during this episode when it looked like events were taking place in an alternate world with a severe light bulb shortage.