(Warning: Some mild spoilers for Season 3 of Amazon’s “Man in the High Castle”)
Eric Overmyer swears the third season of Amazon’s “Man in the High Castle” isn’t a response to Donald Trump.
“I banned the ‘T’ word in the writers room,” Overmyer, who took over as showrunner this year, told TheWrap. “I wanted to let the current situation resonate with the show by itself. I didn’t want it to dictate our narrative.”
But the real-world parallels of a show that not only imagines Nazi Germany’s victory in World War II — subjugating much of America in the process — but the spread of its fascist worldview, are hard to ignore. Put it his way: The tagline for this season is #ResistanceRises.
“I’m not saying our current administration is fascist,” Isa Dick Hackett, an executive producer on the series, clarifies for TheWrap. “But I will say that there are certain tendencies that we’ve seen that gives you pause.” Hackett is also the daughter of Philip K. Dick, whose 1962 seminal novel of the same name is what the series is based on.
“There’s a fair amount of resonance, just because it’s a story about fascism, in part, and a resistance to fascism,” argues Overmyer.
Amazon first debuted the alternate-history series in 2015, well before Trump’s electoral victory and the addition of “Fake News” to the global lexicon. But after nearly two years off — Season 2 aired in December 2016, before he took office — “Man in the High Castle” returns to a world that the author himself finds troubling.
“My dad was always preoccupied and fearful of fascism in particular,” said Hackett. “I think we’re seeing certain fascist tendencies that we should be concerned [about]… If they are not ultimately quashed, if they are allowed to manifest, we know where that’s going — to some hideous places.”
That real-world relevance was front and center when the show began shooting the current season just a few days after the riots in Charlottesville over the white supremacist “Unite the Right” rally. Hackett said that when everyone went to work that first day, especially for those who had to wear Nazi costumes, “it really kind of took on a different meaning.”
“It was hard,” she continued. “The iconography is so vicious and represents such horror and hate, it does get rough sometimes, but I do think it’s important to remind people.” Though the show’s narrative this season may be explicitly tied to what is currently happening in this reality now, Hackett is mindful of the increased significance the series has taken on.
“I think it’s an important show to make right now,” said Hackett. “We’re very aware of the opportunity we have.”
And that opportunity extends to how the show portrays the Nazis, shying away from portraying them as the sterotypical “mustache-twirling” villains.
The show wades into a tricky waters in its portrayal of Obergruppenführer John Smith, an American-born Nazi who becomes a high-ranking member of the American Reich (which, essentially, is what’s left of eastern and central America that is under Nazi control). Smith is undoubtedly a villain in the show, and he ends up seeing up close and personal how destructive the Nazi ideology can be.
In earlier seasons, he finds out his son, Thomas (Quinn Lord), has Facioscapulohumeral muscular dystrophy, a congenital disease which will slowly weaken and paralyze him. That’s a no-go in Nazism, who believed in racial “purity” and this extended to those who had chronic diseases. When Smith finds out of Thomas’ condition, he goes to great lengths to cover it up, even killing doctors who know of Thomas’ diagnosis.
In one of the most chilling moments in the series, Thomas ends up self-reporting himself to the Reich and willingly leaves to have himself euthanized for being “defective” at the end of the second season. But this left the show with a moral quandary: How do you wring drama out of a father trying to save a loved one, but that father just so happens to be an evil Nazi?
“This isn’t about redemption for him or making him some sort of hero,” said Hackett. “Clearly he is not.”
In the third season, the family, especially Helen Smith (Chelah Horsdal), is grieving over the loss of Thomas. That grief and how it causes a rift between Helen and John was another way for the writers to illustrate just how awful and destructive the Nazi ideology is.
Hackett argues that it plays on this aspect of choices. John Smith made a choice to join the Nazi party, and now that decision is coming back to bite him. “I don’t think you have the same opportunity to do something on an emotional level, to actually demonstrate why those sorts of choices are so painful and ultimately destructive.”
Overmyer argued this made Smith a more compelling villain, because it adds something that viewers can relate to, even if it made them uncomfortable.
“The trap is writing [Nazis] as cartoon villains,” explains Overmyer. “They’re more terrifying if they’re human beings and you find yourself liking them and then thinking, ‘Oh no, wait. I have to remind myself of what they’ve done and who they are and what they represent.'”
Not only do we see the effect on even those who agree with that ideology, but Thomas’ decision shows the chilling mental gymnastics they take to excuse it. “They had, from an objective point of view, crazy justifications. But in their mind, they were not villains, as hard as that is to fathom,” said Overmyer.
However, even though it includes a subplot about the literal destruction of American landmarks, the series isn’t all doom and gloom. It also shows the strong will of those fighting to resist fascism.
“We dig in a little more into the resistance and what forms it can take,” said Hackett.
Amazon’s third season of “Man in the High Castle” was released on Friday, Oct. 5.