Contrition, Forgiveness, and Redemption: An Alternative (and Better) Ending to The Man in the High Castle

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If you watched the fourth and final season of Amazon’s The Man in the High Castle and you found yourself saying “Huh?!” at the end of the last episode, you’ll enjoy this.

WARNING: If you haven’t watched the entire fourth season, this article contains spoilers.

Let’s recap a couple of important plot points in the fourth season. These will come into play as we twist to a more satisfying conclusion.

The season opened with Juliana in the “real” timeline. (By “real,” we mean the timeline where the United States won World War II.) In this version of history, John Smith lives the quiet like as an insurance salesman in a small non-descript town. He’s married to Helen, but in this timeline they only have their son (Thomas) and no daughters.

Why are the daughters missing? Possibly because they weren’t born until after the Nazis nuked Washington D.C. In the real timeline, John Smith is just another returning vet (having seen action in the Pacific apparently). “Real” John is just another no-name guy named Smith. He couldn’t afford to have any more kids. Nazi John, on the other hand, could.

How do you explain the difference?

The Real John does it for us. But first, a Back to the Future digression.

When Juliana enters the real timeline, who does she run into? The Real John Smith, of all people. Literally. He nearly runs her over with his car.

The Smith family informally adopts the time traveling Juliana. Juliana spends a year with the Smiths and learns to talk confidentially with them.

She learns why Thomas wants to join the army to serve in Vietnam. But what she learns from Real John is critical to our alternative ending.

Sitting in a café, Juliana asks Real John about his past. He explains his father was a ruthless businessman. Real John was afraid that ambition might have gotten the better of him, so he settled on this quiet life he’s in. He just wants what’s best for Helen and Thomas. But he’s worried. He’s worried because he can’t convince Thomas to not join the army.

Juliana asks Real John why he doesn’t want Thomas to follow in his father’s footsteps. Real John tells Juliana it’s because he’s seen what war was like. He did things that were ugly, things that he wished he’d never have done, things that he had to do to survive.

He’s never told his family about this, but he’s totally comfortable telling Juliana. Juliana suggests he tell Thomas. Real John never gets a chance to because…

Nazi John Smith sends assassins into the real timeline to kill Juliana. She escapes only because Real John Smith saves her. In the process, Real John Smith is killed.

In the meantime, in the Nazi timeline, Nazi John Smith is monitoring the real timeline. He doesn’t want Real Thomas to go to Vietnam because he knows Thomas will come back in a body bag. There’s a suggestion that the Nazis are sending saboteurs to the real timeline to thwart America. This includes getting America bogged down in Vietnam.

Upon learning Real John is dead, Nazi John travels to the real timeline. He meets Helen and romance is rekindled. Nazi John appears comfortable in the real timeline. He’s more relaxed. He feels genuinely sorry that Real Helen has lost her John. Perhaps that’s because, in a way, Nazi John has lost his Helen (figuratively). He returns, maybe with some reluctance, to his history.

In the Nazi timeline, things begin to unravel for Nazi John. He can almost detect this internal conflict within him, as though Real John is somewhere inside him, yearning to come out.

During this turmoil, Nazi Helen realizes she must support Nazi John. It’s a loveless marriage and more of a dispassionate business alliance. Nazi John doesn’t audibly sigh, but you can easily imagine him thinking back for a moment his tryst with Real Helen.

In the penultimate episode, Nazi John agrees to go to Berlin, where he is to be arrested, tried, and convicted.

Picture the scene in The Godfather where Tessio tells Michael that he’s set up a meeting with Barzini and Philip Tattaglia. Then picture what Michael does.

Nazi John does the same thing. Nazi John Smith is baptized in the blood of dozens of top echelon Nazis. He splits the winnings with his co-conspirator, effective splitting the Nazi world between Eurasia and North America. He heads back to America.

This is where the alternative ending to this alternative history begins.

Nazi John has just told the Luftwaffe to hold until he reaches the portal. He’ll give his order to attack San Francisco at that time. It will be via a live, national address.

Nazi John and Nazi Helen are in their private car on the train speeding to the Poconos. Nazi Helen knows Nazi John is Nazi evil, but she’s made her bed and she’s going to sleep in it.

But Nazi John has a surprise for her: Thomas is alive!

Nazi Helen can’t believe it. But Nazi John doesn’t stop. He explains they’re both going to see him. She embraces him. We’re left to wonder if the old love is returning, but the scene shifts to the advancing rebels.

This picks up pretty much like it played in the actual episode. The rebels plant bombs. They explode. The train crashes. Nazi Helen dies in the arms of Nazi John. The rebels, led by Juliana, chase Nazi John. Juliana tracks him down to the precipice upon which he sits. He’s holding a gun, albeit not pointed a Juliana. He’s contemplating something.

Now we return to our alternative ending and the better conclusion to The Man in the High Castle.

Juliana, her gun fixed on her compliant prey, self-righteous declares, “Reichsführer, you must answer for what you’ve done.”

The man with the German gun casually shifts his eyes from the firearm he’s fondling to the huntress. He smiles at her and calmly says, “Please, Juliana, call me ‘John.’”

This momentarily startles Juliana. Then her anger returns with a fury. “You’re no ‘John!’” She growls. “You’re a vile Nazi murder.”

“Yes, you’re right,” says John, still in his serene state. “I have murdered Nazis. In fact, I’m willing to bet I’ve murdered many more Nazis that you and all your rebel friends have. And now, you have allowed the Nazis to not only survive, but to thrive.”

This addles Juliana. She lowers he gun, curious. “What do you mean?” she says.

“Follow me to the portal and find out,” says John Smith.

Juliana agrees.

John Smith pauses for a moment, peers into the abyss behind him, looks at his gun, the tosses it into the ravine.

The two head for the portal.

Inside the portal, the Nazis salute John Smith, but are confused when they find him leading dozens of peaceful rebels behind him.

“That’s all right,” he assures them. “They’re with me. Are we ready for the broad cast?”

“Yes, sir,” says a technician.

“Fine,” says Smith, “let’s go on the air.”

The camera lights go on, and we see the grainy television image of John Smith, replete in his Reichsführer regalia.

“My fellow Americans,” he begins. “Today will be a day that your children and your children’s children will long remember and celebrate.” His hand reaches for his lapel and he rips off his uniform. “Today, America finishes what it started nearly two centuries ago. I have spoken to the new leaders of the Western American States and the Neutral Zone. We have agreed to unify our nation again. The Nazis are history.”

American John Smith then leads the nationwide audience in a tear jerker version of “The Pledge of Allegiance.” One by one, all join in.

Amid the cheers for their new leader, John Smith informs everyone, “No, I will not have the honor of leading you back to the Promised Land. I am destined for another place. An alternative place. I will be rejoining my wife and my son. I will be going through the portal, the last traveler to do so, as my final order will be that the portal be destroyed and never rebuilt. We each have our own domain, and it is there where we must become masters. This is yours. Mine is elsewhere.”

And with that, John Smith walks alone through the portal and disappears.

But that’s not the end. He reappears in the real timeline to the waiting Helen. “I told you I’d be back.”

“And everything will be all right from now on…”

Indeed, it was, without the Nazi saboteurs interfering, America quickly eliminated the Vietcong well before Thomas finished boot camp. He served his tour of duty in West Germany. He returned stateside never having to endure the reality of war, the reality through which his father served.

He eventually made John and Helen proud grandparents. In fact, his son, Thomas J. (as in John) Smith, Jr., applied for and obtained a number of patents. No lie. Look it up. If you can find it, you’ll know what timeline you’re living in.

 

 

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