The Engadget staff on 'The Man in the High Castle' finale

Amazon

It's been almost five years since The Man in the High Castle pilot premiered on Prime Video. The show, which explores an alternate timeline where the Nazis won World War II, was set up to be the next big Amazon original after Transparent and Mozart in the Jungle. And while the first episode performed well -- it was Amazon's most-watched pilot at the time -- the show never grew into the Game of Thrones-level behemoth that the company clearly wanted. Still, the e-commerce juggernaut backed the alt-history epic to its dramatic fourth-season conclusion earlier this month.

So what did we think of the ending? And has it changed our overall opinion of the show? In this week's video IRL, Engadget editors Nick Summers and Matt Brian discuss the many highs and lows of High Castle and how they will remember the writing, acting and production design of the finale.

(This article contains spoilers for 'The Man in the High Castle' season four)

Nick Summers


Nick Summers
Senior Editor

Let's jump straight into season four. What did you make of the slimmer cast? I was surprised that they killed trade minister Nobusuke Tagomi, a pacifist with a deep understanding of the show's multiverse, in the first episode (apparently he was busy shooting the second season of Netflix's Lost in Space). Overall, though, I think it was a smart move to focus on fewer characters, as they each got more screen time and deeper, more satisfying arcs. Well, most of them did, anyway.


Matt Brian
Managing Editor, UK

I agree. Especially Obergruppenführer John Smith and his wife Helen. Season four offered a retrospective look at how and why the American family joined the Nazi ranks. I appreciated the flashbacks that showed John choosing, for the sake of his family, to accept the food and military position offered by the Reich. If he had rejected this, their entire family would have become the enemy of the then-new state. We know this choice ultimately led to the death of his sickly and Hitler-devoted son, Thomas, in season two. But with the Reich's multiverse-traveling portal, John thought he had a second chance to save Thomas from an untimely death.

John eventually became the Nazi leader of North America. He could have rebelled against the Reich and made the country an independent state, but he doubled down on (now-dead) Himmler's invasion plans and the cleansing of non-Aryan citizens. In the end, he lost control and died because he was an inherently evil human being.


Nick Summers
Senior Editor

John's wife, Helen, was a wonderfully well-written character too. Unlike her husband, she's unable to live with the Reich's awful deeds and flees to the Nazi-free "Neutral Zone" at the start of season four. It causes a massive rift in the Smith family -- one of their daughters, Jennifer, begins to question the Reich too, while the other, Amy, is still a firm believer in the Aryan ways. John drags his family back to New York City, but it's no use -- Helen and Jennifer can't accept their old way of life. The Reich is also suspicious of Helen's time in the Neutral Zone and pressures the family for answers. It's not long before everything falls apart.

Do you think John's alt-world trip justified all of the multiverse shenanigans in the show? I thought it was far more interesting than the Reich's silly "we must control all realities!" master plan. A cross-dimensional invasion would have been a bit much...

Helen (alt-world) and John Smith

Matt Brian
Managing Editor, UK

Watching the final season, I always thought there would be a moment where John realised his alt-world counterpart was a better person -- or at least the man he was before the Nazi occupation -- and essentially steal his life with Helen and the girls. That universe promised a simpler, purer existence -- even if the whole "surprise Thomas, you have two grown up sisters now" question would have been impossible for his parents to explain.

I think we have to remember that even though the portal provided the Reich with essential reconnaissance opportunities, jumping between alternate timelines was something that select people -- most notably Tagomi and Juliana Crain, one of the show's main characters -- could perform without any outside assistance. In my opinion, the portal was meant to align with past ideas of Nazi occultism -- even if such stories weren't true -- but also the Reich's desire to control everything within its grasp, including other worlds.


Nick Summers
Senior Editor

Okay, we've danced around the ending long enough. What did you make of the final sequence? Juliana and the rest of the resistance managed to crush the Nazis at the portal. Then we saw hundreds of innocent people walk through from an unknown universe. According to Juliana, they came from "everywhere." Did you think that was too ambiguous, or a fitting end for a show that was difficult to end neatly?


Matt Brian
Managing Editor, UK

Oh, it was massively ambiguous. The series showrunners have said that was the intention, though. I suspect the people we saw at the end were test subjects that the Nazis had sent through before or possibly special people who were -- like Juliana and Tagomi -- able to travel between worlds unaided.

We've focused a lot on the Reich but haven't really talked about the Japan-controlled West Coast. What did you make of the Black Communist Rebellion (BCR) and Takeshi Kido, another central character that has always fought for the preservation of the Japanese empire?

BCR members Elijah and Bell Mallory

Nick Summers
Senior Editor

The BCR were an intriguing parallel to the Black Power movement that emerged in our world during the late 1960s and 70s. I didn't have a strong attachment to the group's members, though, and felt that their victory over the Japanese empire was a little too easy. They did more in a single season than Frank and the resistance managed in the last three combined!

The liberation was a reflection, though, of Japan's waning military power. Kido was one of my favorite characters in the show (I loved his cold demeanour and always-immaculate workwear) and Tagomi's early departure meant that he was always at the heart of the events in San Francisco during season four. It was appropriate for his character -- one that puts duty above all else -- to arrest the conniving officers who arranged Tagomi's murder and tell the Crown Princess that it was time for Japan to give up the West Coast territory.

Part of me wishes that Kido had died in the gas chamber where Frank Frink -- a pro-resistance fighter that died last season -- lost his family way back in season one. Somehow, that would have felt like a fitting end for a character that, while showing moments of heroism, committed some unforgivable war crimes throughout the show. Now he's working for Yakuza in San Francisco? Kido mentions "atonement" but it's hard to imagine him doing much good for such a seedy organization in the city.

The way I feel about Kido can be applied to the entire show. I loved certain aspects -- the wildly-imaginative production design and the always-fascinating Smith family, for instance -- but thought others fell flat. Juliana was a strong but surprisingly shallow protagonist that I struggled to invest in. The multiverse was poorly utilized until John started travelling in the fourth season. And the final sequence with the portal left me feeling hollow. Despite these flaws, I'm glad I watched the show. It's a brilliant but wildly uneven adaptation that proved Amazon can take creative risks.

What about you? How do you think you'll remember High Castle?

Juliana Crain

Matt Brian
Managing Editor, UK

I echo many of your sentiments. Smith was the lynchpin, a wildly ruthless and conflicted protagonist who always seemed to be one step ahead of his enemies. Until he wasn't. Juliana, in the end, was a symbolic hero that led the rebellion through her own acts of courageousness and, even more so, by subtly influencing everyone around her.

While I appreciate everything that brought us to the show's conclusion, there were large parts that felt inconsequential during the middle two seasons. How important were the scenes with Frank Frink, Joe Blake and Ed McCarthy, Robert Childan's well-meaning but clumsy friend (who actually deserved to find love and live a quieter life)? I'll remember High Castle for painting a vivid picture of what could have been had the Nazis won World War II. You could argue that the cruel dystopia the show created has many parallels in today's highly-charged political climate. I'm also a sucker for stories that involve alternate worlds (looking at you, Netflix's Dark), so I was always going to enjoy it.

"IRL" is a recurring column in which the Engadget staff run down what they're buying, using, playing and streaming.

Images: Amazon

Matt Brian
Nick Summers
The Man in the High Castle
Matt Brian
Nick Summers
Matt Brian
The Man in the High Castle
Nick Summers
The Man in the High Castle
Matt Brian