Out of Moves: The Man in the High Castle Finale Rooks Fans

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I don’t often do critical reviews of movies, but I have done them. I can’t, however, remember ever doing a review of contemporary episodic television.

Well, there’s always a first time. And this is it.

I’ve been a fan of Philip K. Dick ever since Ridley Scott transformed the author’s novel Do Androids Dream an Electric Sleep? into the cinematic classic Blade Runner. The movie combined stunning visuals with a deeply compelling drama. The sights, the score, the screenplay; they all melded together into an irresistible film.

So, when Scott decided to take on Dick’s The Man in the High Castle as an Amazon series, I simply couldn’t pass it up.

The Man in the High Castle falls under the “alternative history” genre. The concept revolves around what America would be like if it had lost World War II. The Germans controlled the eastern half of the country, the Japanese occupied the west coast, with a lawless neutral zone along the Rocky Mountain corridor separating the two world powers.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I never expect a derivative work (like a movie or TV series adaptation of a book) to create an exact copy of the original. I do expect it to capture the spirit and underlying philosophy of the original.

Amazon’s The Man in the High Castle accomplished this in the first season.

But I’m not here to talk about that. This review addresses season four, which was just released in its entirety on Friday, November 15, 2019.

True to my binge-watching form, by early Sunday morning I had watched all ten hour-long episodes.

Needless to say, I was disappointed.

Let’s start with the easy stuff.

This was announced as the final season of the series soon after the end of season three. Still, it felt rushed, especially the last few episodes. It was as though the screenwriters had abruptly decided to tie (almost) all the loose ends quickly without any consideration for the deliciously subtle nuance viewers had enjoyed. They did a wonderful job creating a rich multi-layered story with deep and robust characters for three-and-a-half seasons. They threw it all away at the end.

Many have complained about the introduction of new characters in season 4. This does hurt the continuity of the story arc, but, by itself, it’s not a killer. What’s critical, though, is how those characters were developed. In the end, they remained flat. Again, the screenwriters began on the right note. These new roles were introduced in a way they could easily have led to three dimensions. Unfortunately, the writing and the story line never followed through.

This wasn’t the worst of it.

One of the minor new characters usurps what should have been the role of a prominent main character. This role reversal leaves the audience unsatisfied, as confirmed by fan reaction on the internet.

OK, so now we get into the nitty-gritty of the problem. Of the three main characters, only one has a transformation at the end. Any good drama requires the protagonist to change. Sometimes they realize their long-held beliefs can no longer be sustained. Sometimes they turn from good to evil. Sometimes they turn from evil to good. These can be internal (within a single character) or external (between characters).

The Man in the High Castle had three chances to achieve this. In fact, the first three seasons set this up quite well. More important, the first half of season four featured a scene which perfectly positioned two of the characters for a powerful ending.

Needless to say, this didn’t happen. If anything, both characters learned nothing at the end. They merely lamented the situation they were in. They expressed no new-found revelation; therefore, giving the audience nothing to consider, nothing to chew on, nothing to please them with.

And this was more than disappointing. It seemed like a betrayal. Here we were, loyally following the story line as we stayed up into the wee small hours of the morning, expecting a memorable finale.

Indeed, the penultimate episode began with the necessary cliff hanger. Then it resolved that cliff hanger is an unexpected way. That makes the audience feel good.

But not quite.

This is where the lack of moving to that final act of character development hurt. Quite frankly, without that development, the final episode (episode 10) could have been omitted. The resolution it offered could have occurred in episode 9, if done right. Instead, we got an hour of angst that goes nowhere expect to a predictably hallow conclusion.

Again, but not quite.

The actual final scene had nothing to do with the story arc. And if it did, it was so trivial that it left the viewers scratching their collective heads. As in “what was that?”

An action-adventure can get away with just “moving the story.” It achieves this by connecting the dots of explosions with car chases. The Man in the High Castle was a drama, not an action-adventure. It could ill afford to suffer from a cookie-cutter script. And yet, that’s exactly what it did at the end.

If you feel cheated after watching the final season of The Man in the High Castle, you’re not alone.

But you need not concede so quickly. There is an alternative – an alternative ending to an alternative history. You only need to suspend your disbelief for a moment and click here:

The Man in the High Castle: An Alternative (and Better) Ending .

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