“Man In the High Castle” – Season Three (AmazonPrime)
Created by Frank Spotnitz
Well, well, well…a show that I almost gave up on due to the jambalaya that was its initial season, and in which I had to dig deep for the golden moments in the meandering dross of its second season, has, at last, rewarded me with an intriguing, occasionally thrilling, and beautifully acted third!
Now, to be sure, there are problems galore with the plot. The story isn’t the issue (“What if the Axis countries had won WWII?”), nor is the underlying science fiction (the theory of multiple timelines/multi-verses). Both of those are crazy, absurd and/or silly, but certainly well within the boundaries of what we accept and expect within historical fantasy (and birthed by Philip K. Dick, no less). But the plot…oy vey. I won’t go in to it other than to say that over the course of three seasons, how many times can our leads slowly traverse the country in a beat up pickup before we begin to wonder if it’s just a delay tactic to get to a season’s payoff. And the most interesting, unique and best told bits of dramatic storytelling are relegated to secondary status. The primary thread revolves around the least accomplished actors in the show, which means the show overall feels like a broadcast network show, not a prestige on-demand production. Although, to be clear, in the third season, that thread becomes more focused – more clear. This specificity allows the weaker leads to relax and not try so hard…not push…which, of course, allows us to care more.
But the show leaves its mark via its secondary characters, mostly played by some of the best actors in television. Chief among them are the brilliant Asian-American character actors Joel de la Fuente and Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa. If the entire show merely revolved around their stories, I would gleefully watch hour upon hour. The way they take their time, imbuing each word with years of emotion, is a master-class and well worth pushing through the less successful elements. The “ya vol!” to their yang is anchored by the somehow-getting-better-and-better Rufus Sewell (his cameo in season two of “Mrs. Maizel” – OH MY GOD!), and Chelah Horsdal, who easily gives the strongest female performance in the show. Their story is, in many ways, borderline soap opera, but, again, when they speak, you care.
Within the framework of the main plot are a bunch of performers who just can’t keep up with a couple of exceptions. Brennan Brown is terrific. His ability to straddle two civilizations, be empathetic, and give the show its ONLY humorous moments, is a tremendous feat. And DJ Qualls is his usual solid self. Finally, the third season gives us Jason O’Mara, who I’ve always liked and who, in this show, actually gets to use his real accent. Oh, and…blink and you’ll miss him…Stephen Root! ‘Nuff said.
But, as stated earlier, the show is getting better and better as it finds its way (and its production budget grows). Those secondary story lines are becoming more dense…beginning to finally blur in to the main. The imagery and behavior of American occupation is considerably more detailed, frightening and hypnotic thanks mostly to production designer Drew Boughton and third season art direction supervisor, Dean A. O’Dell. And aside from the terrible performance by Kenneth Tigar as an aging Himmler, the historical characters are becoming more present, not nearly as hallucinatory as they were in the initial seasons (…I mean, what was that interpretation of Hitler in season one?!).
This is not must-see TV, by any stretch. But if you are intrigued by historical fantasy, political suspense, theoretical SciFi and some terrific acting (a LOT of ifs), you could do much worse . You’ll just have to push through a couple seasons to get to the center of this Tootsie Pop.
Written on 12/5/2018