We're at a transitional phase in American history, and The Man in the High Castle is following suit.
Just as it has recently been difficult to watch programs such as the recently departed, award-winning The Americans, the science-fiction alternate reality of Colony, and the world we never want to become on Emmy-winning The Handmaid's Tale. The Man in the High Castle forces viewers to think.
In the alternate aftermath of World War II in which the Axis won dividing the United States into the Japanese Pacific States, the Neutral Zone, and Nazi America, it's not easy living for those now living in the territories. Even those fully converted with their oppressors struggle to accept what was with what is.
The Man in the High Castle Season 3 continues the exploration of that conflict as the series also moved head-first into more standard science fiction fare. It's unclear how fully immersed in the genre new showrunner Eric Overmeyer plans to get, but it's deep enough to drive the plot of Season 3.
A lot of the upcoming season works, but the cast had grown during The Man in the High Castle Season 2 to proportions a little too large to sufficiently manage, even taking into the consideration the loss of Frank (Rupert Evans) and Thomas (Quinn Lord).
Because while they may have been lost, they are not forgotten. Their presence is felt just as dearly on during the new season as it was before, and if anything, it's more dear to the Smith family, who probably would have fared better in their plan to have Thomas kidnapped in the jungles of South America.
In a slight spoiler, the Nazi regime uses the memory of Thomas in their latest propaganda campaign of Nazi American heroes forcing the issue of his former secret and all the family suffered to keep it to weigh on them constantly.
In wake of a promotion for always morally-challenged but impossible to despise John (Rufus Sewell), he discovers himself further away from his remaining family and tumbling, along with his wife, into an emotional abyss of grief.
While John uses his new power and a secret stash of High Castle films to get through his troubled times, Helen (Chelah Horsdal) dives into therapy. Their attempts to reconnect are both frustrating and heartbreaking as they navigate the Nazi waters in which they wallow.
Helen's story was a favorite last season, so I was a little disappointed with the writing for her this go around. It's one of pacing and too many characters on canvas. As compelling as Helen is in her journey, the time between her appearances on screen can feel like a lifetime breaking the story's momentum.
John's mission to find The Man in the High Castle fires up during the season and runs parallel to many other characters as they all drive toward the sci-fi transition.
If you recall, the end of Season 2 also saw Joe (Luke Kleintank) in a fairly precarious place, and his story is equally as dark to begin. The Man in the High Castle is not afraid to raise the stakes and prove this isn't a world in which to trifle lightly.
Joe should have taken his father's advice to run while he could. Not doing so also feels directly related to the drive toward sci-fi since he and Juliana (Alexa Davalos) spend a great deal of time in a cat and mouse situation.
Juliana's arc is a surprising one, and she's all over the map, literally. From the Pacific States to the Neutral Zone and back again before heading to New York and back to the Neutral Zone, you'd think they had this transportation thing all wrapped up.
But Juliana IS the show, and secrets about her will continue to unravel well into The Man in the High Castle Season 3 as she meets more people and brings on characters such as Wyatt (Jason O'Mara), an Irishman who fled with his family to America during the war and is still fighting to try to get her back.
Because Wyatt is tied so well to Juliana, his is a character welcome on the already overcrowded landscape. There are some whose stories could have been left behind except for the need to try to up the ante on some underrepresentation.
As much as I enjoyed the introduction of Nicole (Bella Heathcote) when Joe first ran into her in Berlin, the continuation of her story is completely unnecessary.
She comes to Nazi America to make a propaganda film for the Reich following an out with the old/in with the new approach to what the Reich is calling Year Zero. They're erasing the history left of their part of the United States (the Statue of Liberty, for example) and replacing it with their own, a piece of which will affect the Smiths.
Anyone could have made the movie, though, and Nicole's prevailing storyline is an affair with a reporter named Thelma (Laura Mennell). They wear a lot of pretty dresses and go to gorgeous places, but Ed (DJ Qualls) already has the oppressed homosexual storyline from the Japanese Pacific States and the Neutral Zone.
The better stories for the women would be to entrench them with the characters already in play because bedroom and dancing scenes merely eat away at precious time to move the plot forward.
Their stories always felt on the cusp of something interesting but fell short of anything but titillation, a shame for two such talented performers.
Too much time is spent with Ed and Bob (Brennan Brown), the latter for whom time should have run out a while ago. Their trips through the Neutral Zone running scams gets old quick, but they are imperative to an interesting thread of art that is popping up all over the land.
The resistance rises with a simple symbol of hope, and it's through that beauty that many come together and keep the will to fight against oppression no matter what it means to their health and safety.
The Japanese and the Nazis are both in a race to get to the same place, and that place holds a secret only very few know let alone understand.
Heinrich Himmler and Josef Mengele are integral to the operation on behalf of the Nazis, and Tagomi is working magic to keep Juliana free from skeptical Japanese hands who want her in custody so she can race to stop momentum thrusting the Nazis into another world.
Despite the overwhelming number of characters who don't necessarily fit the narrative switch from straight drama to science fiction (a move tied indirectly to the films) and pacing issues as a result, there is still so much to chew on while watching The Man in the High Castle.
There are times when the similarities of this fictional world and our own hit too close to home.
During a night of heightened political awareness and rioters "celebrating" in the streets by targeting schools and libraries with rocks and stoners, Himmler says: "This is their night to express their passions. Sometimes a purge is essential," and, "Library? Let it burn ... people need to be reminded who to fear."
Nazism represents the worst of both of our political parties. From ethnic cleansing and lack of insurance to book burning and destruction of history, it's like a political wrecking ball.
Religion becomes special and sacred. Family is both coveted and outlawed. Friendships and honesty are craved and destroyed in equal measure for seemingly the same purpose.
John and Helen Smith are the most torn as a result of their decisions since the war, and John because he lets his feelings drive him to places he never imagined and once he started, he can't seem to get a handle on it.
When something is as deeply personal as what some of the High Castle characters have suffered, it's not easy to know how far you'd be willing to go for answers. The Man in the High Castle is still posing fundamental questions about humanity and more.
If you are aching to fight back with the resistance or suffer in tandem with your oppressors, then you can't go wrong watching this one. The promise of what's to come on The Man in the High Castle Season 4 should make this transitional season totally worth your time.
The Man in the High Castle Season 3 will be available on Amazon Prime Video beginning October 5.
Carissa Pavlica is the managing editor and a staff writer and critic for TV Fanatic. She's a member of the Critic's Choice Association, enjoys mentoring writers, conversing with cats, and passionately discussing the nuances of television and film with anyone who will listen. Follow her on Twitter and email her here at TV Fanatic.