The Man in the High castle finale postmortem: EP Frank Spotniz on 'A Way Out'
Creator Frank Spotnitz breaks down the final scene, and where the series stands
Trade minister Nobusuke Tagomi (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa) holds Juliana’s (Alexa Davalos) necklace, closes his eyes, and … opens them to see a whole new world. And that’s how the first season of The Man in the High Castle ends.
What does it mean? And how can the show possibly open the floodgates to alternate worlds like this one and continue to tell a story? For creator Frank Spotnitz, who helpfully dove into each of the episodes for EW (you can read all of his episode discussions here), getting the slow-burning story to this epic sci-fi conclusion meant carefully crafting each step. The series concluded with a finale that combined gut-wrenching character drama — Ed (DJ Qualls) takes the fall for Frank (Rupert Evans), and Juliana lets Joe (Luke Kleintank) escape — with bold, high-concept strokes of what the alternate world means. And, of course, it finally showed us Adolf Hitler (Wolf Muser), curiously sitting in a castle atop a mountain, continuing to make viewers question what’s right and wrong in this upside-down space.
Spotnitz spoke to EW about the finale, that final scene, and the show’s potential for a second season:
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: We have to begin with that final shot of the finale, with Tagomi sitting and opening his eyes to … well, what? Is the scene what you had envisioned when you wrote it? Is it accurate to what you wanted to present?
FRANK SPOTNITZ: So this is the biggest sci-fi leap of all [in the show], which is another world. And I did see a handful of people among the thousands of comments on Amazon who mistakenly thought that that scene was meant to suggest everything had been a dream up to that point.
I really felt like, if you watch that scene, it’s clear you’re not meant to think the whole show’s been a dream. There were a handful of people who read it that way, but no, it does not mean it’s all been a dream. That is not what the show is saying. What it’s saying is he went into some kind of deep meditation, and when he opened his eyes, he at least seemed to have a vision of another world. I’m not going to actually say what it is at this point. We knew where we were going, that’s from the novel. But I didn’t want to get there too fast.
Okay, so what can we definitively conclude from this scene? Tagomi definitely went somewhere else … in some way?
I don’t think you can definitively conclude anything. I, you know, not to be coy, but we sort of deliberately didn’t give you all that, because you’re in Tagomi’s head. It’s completely subjective, the point of view there. You don’t know enough yet to make sense of what that means or doesn’t mean.
So when we first started talking about the show, you explained how you made the book in the novel — The Grasshopper Lies Heavy — a film reel instead, because it would make more sense visually to the viewer. With this final scene, was it more challenging to get what you wanted to say across because the visuals couldn’t leave anything open-ended, the way a book can?
No, it doesn’t, actually. In a weird way, it makes it easier in ways that I can’t explain to you right now, because the show hasn’t explained it. As we said, the scene of Tagomi in the alternate world is from the novel, and in the book, there’s a book about another world, but I’ve got films that literally show other worlds. So, I think in the series, there’s a kind of simplicity, because we’re not talking about a book that imagines another world or somebody imagining themselves in another world.
Have there been any theories about the scene that have come close to what you’re planning to do?
[Pauses] No. But I don’t care if they do. It’s like, this show cannot become a show about, “What are the films?” and “I’m going to tell you what the films are, you’re going to find out sooner than you think!” That’s not the point, and I don’t want it to become about the sci-fi plot.
You’d rather focus on the human stories and what the show says about human nature?
Unfortunately, I do have one more question about the sci-fi side of the show for you. Did we subtly find out who the Man in the High Castle is? Is it Hitler? Am I crazy for thinking that? He’s collected a ton of those news reels!
So wait, is he?
[Laughs] I’m not going to answer that. You see him, and he’s in a castle. That’s no accident. But is he the Man in the High Castle? I don’t know.
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Did you have any input into casting Hitler?
I didn’t handle casting, but the casting directors looked for someone who was the right age, was a good actor, could speak fluent German, and who could look like Adolf Hitler, and they found him. If you took off the wig and mustache, he doesn’t look like Hitler, fortunately for him.
In the finale, a major death we see is Wegener (Carsten Norgaard), who shoots himself after saying goodbye to his family and confronting Hitler. Did you have any other plan in mind for Wegener while you were writing the series, or was he always meant to sacrifice himself?
No, I always knew that was going to happen to poor Wegener. Actually, it made me really sad, because I thought Carsten did such a great job, and you become attached to the actor and the character. It is like a loss you feel to have to kill a character, but it really felt like there was no other possible way to end his story.
And what about Smith (Rufus Sewell) shooting Heydrich (Ray Proscia)? This was another one of the Obergruppenführer’s coolly calculated moves, right?
You see that when his aide is outside the window, there’s a reflection before that moment happens, so you figure that Smith must have told him to follow him before he left to meet Heydrich that day. So yes, he outsmarted Heydrich.
With Juliana and Frank, it’s Ed who takes the fall for holding on to Frank’s gun. Why did you have to do that to poor Ed?
Yeah, poor Ed! I mean, Ed is such a loyal friend from the beginning, and I think you see his kindness in contrast to the selfishness of his grandfather, and it just makes it heart-wrenching for Frank to see his friends suffer in his place, especially because Ed was the one begging him not to do this. It is just the worst possible outcome for Frank.
So a second season hasn’t been announced yet. Are there any plans in place to pursue one?
They haven’t officially ordered a season 2, but I guess I’m feeling pretty optimistic. All the signs seem very positive, so my fingers are crossed.
Have you started thinking about the story lines that could happen?
Yes, I’ve been working on them quite a bit. I have a lot I want to do.
Well, with that ending shot, the sci-fi aspect of the story has blown wide open. How can this series move forward with the knowledge that Tagomi saw an alternate world?
Well, you know I’m not going to tell you that! [Laughs] That’s the fun of it, really. Writing for television is putting the audience in a position of, “How are they going to get out of this? How can you possibly move past this?” But of course we can, and we will. I wouldn’t box myself in without a way to get myself out. So yeah, never fear. [Laughs]
Looking back on this season as a whole, are there any story lines you wish you had more time with?
Oh yes, absolutely. It’s such a giant narrative, and you’re serving so many characters and story lines. I would like to spend more time with every single one of them, you know? My problem with the show all along is there has been more stories than I have time, and it’s just prioritizing. That’s why, when I started thinking about season 2, it was not a struggle for me. It was like, “Oh yeah, I want to do this, and I want to do this and this and this,” so I have lots I’m excited to pursue.
Any characters or threads in particular you wanted to pursue?
There were any number of characters that I can say that I loved and that I want more time with, but I don’t want to tip my hand, I don’t want to say where I’m going.
Then, if you could change anything about this run of 10 episodes, what would you change, other than getting more time?
I’m one of those people who always sees what’s wrong on everything I’ve ever done, so yeah. [Laughs] There are things about The X-Files I would still change! But at a certain point, you have to stop writing, and you have to stop editing, and you have to deliver a show. And if people like it, you go, “Okay, well I’ve succeeded enough.” And that’s why I’m feeling satisfied, because it seems like people like it. That’s my attitude toward the work.
Well, if there’s a second season, you’ve now experienced what it’s like to have an entire show released at once.
Boy, that’s the truth of it. It’s like, wow, 10 episodes in one day, and then you know right away! It’s not like waiting 13 weeks or three or four months to find out what people think. It’s so sudden.
The Man in the High Castle is available for streaming on Amazon.