A great series with a lacklustre ending
If it's not already obvious, this post contains massive spoilers, so if you haven't seen season 4 yet, go and watch it.
To date, and probably forever, my favourite TV show is Lost. I still feel the same emotion when I watch some episodes now as I did when I first saw them. I doubt there will ever be another show I love as much as Lost, its finale massively divided opinion. None of the mysteries got answered, and it turned out the island basically had a massive plug in the middle of it that kept all the magic inside. A lot of people hated it, but the whole point of Lost was never about the island or the mysteries, it was about the characters, the story was just a way of telling their stories. Lost also had a very convoluted plot built up over several years, with lots of weird stuff made up along the way that the writers, unsurprisingly, has trouble tying up. But despite the finale not being as amazing as it perhaps could have been, for me it was a satisfying end to what the show was actually all about.
Unfortunately, I can't say the same about The Man in the High Castle.
From the moment I saw the first adverts for the show in 2015, I knew that it'd be a show I would be interested in. I thought it was a fascinating concept, and the visuals looked very impressive, and for all 40 episodes these opinions remained unchanged. I think it was a very, very good show.
Don't get me wrong, I had some gripes about season 4. I was surprised and sad they killed off Trade Minister Tagomi (although apparently he was written out due to other commitments). I also felt the BCR, while obviously telling a very important story, was introduced quite suddenly as a very influential group, who had somehow been completely absent the first 3 seasons. And, Jesus, what did Robert Childan do to piss the universe off? I was expecting the next episode to include him finding out he had an inoperable brain tumour or something. Give the poor bloke a break.
But the main thing that I still can't get over several hours after finishing the series, is the ending of John Smith's character arc.
Unlike Lost, TMITHC has a fairly simple overall plot, and an obvious potential conclusion. The Allies lost the war, the Nazis (and the Japanese) took over, and in the end the US says fuck you to the Nazis and restores order.
For a while, I had felt like the main character on the show, was not Juliana, but John Smith. No other characters had much in the way of character development, but John Smith was ripe for it. He had obviously taken the death of his son Thomas badly, and there was always a sense a part of him was never fully aligned with the Nazi regime.
Episode 4x05 was one of the best episodes of the whole series. We start by seeing John, Helen, and two fellow soldiers, Bill and Danny, shortly after the US surrendered to the Nazis, where they are given Nazi armbands, and offered the choice of joining the Nazi ranks, or risk death. Bill accepts, saying it is "just a piece of cloth", and doesn't mean they have to agree with it, but Danny, a Jew, leaves. In the present, Smith travels to the other universe, where his son is alive, but wants to enlist in the Marines, something Smith is against, fearing he would lose his son again. He also has a shock when Danny turns up at the house, before he gives him a very emotional and sincere apology. In a flashback, we see Danny locked in a truck, begging for Smith to unlock the door, which he refuses to do, and listens to his friend cry out for help as he's driven away.
I thought this might be the turning point for Smith. With the immense guilt he felt after letting his best friend be taken away to his death, the knowledge of what his life could have been like, and his wife and daughter Jennifer's growing discontent with their Nazi lives, I could see the character development of all character developments being set up. Smith was going to "do a Snape" and be the bad guy who turned out to be the good guy all along.
Episode 4x09 was another great episode, where after having his loyalty to the Reich questioned, Smith mercilessly killed Himmler in his quarters, which turned out to be part of a plan to stage a coup with the support of Goertzmann, leading them to both be declared Reichsführer of their respective territories.
In the previous episode, Bill had suggested to Smith that they use their nuclear weapons against Berlin, and with the events of 4x09, this is what I thought would happen. Smith would realise that power had turned him evil, and would redeem himself for the sake of his family, by throwing his Iron Cross to the floor, pulling the paintings of Hitler and Himmler down from his wall, and sending the nukes over to Berlin.
But it was not to be. Smith takes Helen on the train to the portal, where confesses he doesn't like what he's doing but doesn't know how to stop, before ordering an air strike on San Francisco. The train rail is destroyed and the train crashes, killing Helen, and Smith walks off into the woods, where he ends up shooting himself in the head before Juliana has the chance. Maybe he finally felt a degree of guilt over the death of his wife after she had asked him to stop, or maybe he just didn't want to give Juliana the satisfaction. We then see Bill, now acting Reichsführer, calling off the air strike on San Francisco, and throwing his Iron Cross to the table, seemingly disassociating himself from the Nazis, and giving the suggestion that he would reject Nazism and rid America of the Reich.
As much as some people may have thought this was a fitting ending and that Smith got what was coming to him, I couldn't believe what I had just seen, and shouted "what? what have you done?!" at my TV. Now, I know a show about Nazis probably isn't going to end with "and they all lived happily ever after", but this felt like such a waste, and so much lost potential in seeing Smith atone for his rise through the Nazi ranks by seeing the light and using his new position of power to put an end to the Reich (he'd even taken off his Nazi armband before killing himself!), instead of it being Bill, a character we barely knew. But maybe that was the whole point; Smith really was the cold-hearted, deeply committed Nazi he was portrayed to be after all, and fully embraced the Reich instead of ever wanting to destroy it, but Bill, who as we saw, never actually believed in Nazism, would be the one to put an end to it, and at least there was the suggestion that that's what would happen. Maybe, unlike Lost, this show was never supposed to be about character development, and Smith was just a Nazi who deserved to die for what he had done, and that's that.
After Smith had died and the attack on San Francisco had been averted, the final scene showed masses of people walking through the portal towards the resistance fighters, and honestly, I just felt like this was a bit strange. Who were these people? Had they all been lining up at the other end of the portal in their universe? Why were they all so happy to be going to a universe that was, for all intents and purposes, run by Nazis? Who knows.
Overall, I still loved the series, and would recommend giving it a watch, as long as you can get over seeing Swastikas in every other scene.