In a relatably infuriating scene from the third season of Philip K. Dick adaptation The Man In The High Castle, Rufus Sewell’s John Smith desperately attempts to binge-watch a stack of parallel-universe home movies, only to find his viewing session repeatedly interrupted. That this scene comes seven episodes into Season 3, several viewing-hours since the high-ranking Nazi first obtained the reels at the end of Season 2, serves as a perfect metaphor for the Amazon series’ frustratingly sluggish pacing.
While the show has long-established that the parallel universe in which the Axis Powers won WWII is one of many realities (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa’s Nobusuke Tagomi travelled to a familiar universe in Season 1, while the shock return of Conor Leslie’s Trudy in Season 2 hinted at more dimension-hopping to come), these ten new hours stick almost exclusively to familiar trappings, save for occasional flashes.
The plot plods rather than sizzles – the biggest casualty being the Reich-resisting Juliana Crane (Alexa Davalos), touted as a universe-saving chosen one yet stuck in a holding pattern. She rotates through a triumvirate of love interests, repeatedly runs from faceless pursuers, and is lumbered with whispering incessant exposition. With huge chunks of the budget saved for the final two episodes, the main bulk of the season trudges through hushed exchanges, with figures from every faction quietly catching up on matters they’ll need to know about later. A lusciously detailed, luxurious new apartment for the Smith family is the only notable exception to the drab, chat-hosting locations that dominate the season.
While the main narrative spins its wheels, thankfully there are thoughtful stories on the fringes.
While the main narrative spins its wheels, thankfully there are thoughtful stories on the fringes: clandestine new relationships are forged, the purpose of propaganda is probed, the realities of receiving therapy in a crooked regime are explored, and one stunning sequence intercuts a joyous secret Bar-Mitzvah with a pompous Nazi ceremony. New showrunner Eric Overmyer makes admirable attempts to steer the series toward an exciting future, but it’s a task requiring reams of leaden dialogue and considerable dumping of dead weight.
The saviour of the series is Sewell, who musters a masterclass in micro-expressions to silently convey Smith’s diminishing faith, cementing his position as the show’s undisputed MVP. Tagawa is given less urgent material as the Japanese Trade Minister, but when his pacifism rubs against the rising tensions of America’s overlords, he too delivers captivating conflict.
Just as John Smith finds when he finally finishes that binge-watch, slogging through The Man In The High Castle’s third season earns some sizeable rewards. A thrilling conclusion serves up shocks and promises tantalising developments, much like the previous two finales, but impatient viewers may have already switched off.