Monday, March 16, 2020

REVIEW: 'The Plot Against America' - The Levin Family's Attempts to Thrive Are Blocked by a Rise in Anti-Semitism in 'Part 1'

HBO's The Plot Against America - Episode 1.01 "Part 1"

Anticipating a promotion, Herman takes his family to look at a house in an upwardly mobile neighborhood, though Bess is wary of leaving the safety of their tight-knit Jewish community amid growing anti-Semitism sparked by Lindbergh's ascendancy. Her sister Evelyn has a disappointing rendezvous with a married lover, but finds herself charmed by a distinguished local clergyman, Rabbi Bengelsdorf. Getting an earful from Herman for being fired from his job, his nephew, Alvin seeks retaliation for an aggrieved friend.

In 2019, the television industry aired 532 scripted shows across numerous outlets. The way people consume content now is different than it used to be. It happens according to one's own schedule. As such, it's less necessary to provide ample coverage of each episode in any given season from a show. Moreover, it is simply impossible to watch everything. As such, this site provides shorter episodic reviews in order to cover as many shows as possible. With all of that being said, here are my thoughts on the series premiere of HBO's The Plot Against America.

"Part 1" was written by Ed Burns & David Simon and directed by Minkie Spiro

The Levin family is surrounded by a loving and supportive community. The children can play outside with their friends. The adults help their neighbors whenever they need it. It's a tight-knit community. That means it's not inherently better when family patriarch Herman says his imminent promotion will allow the family to move to a bigger house elsewhere. When they arrive to see the fruits of his labor, they are instead greeted with the resounding hatred that is prevalent throughout the world to the Jewish community. This is a period drama. It depicts an alternate version of history to showcase what could have happened if these beliefs were not tempered down. But it's still insanely topical. The show positions aviation hero Charles Lindbergh as an alt-right candidate for President. A man who believes in extreme isolation for the United States even as the rest of the world is falling prey to Hitler's reign and condemnation of the Jewish people. Lindbergh argues against entering the war. He positions the choice as between leadership or war. He puts things in those stark terms. He talks about the American people uniting under one common identity. He just does so by exiling and condemning those who have different ideologies than him. Herman is so upset whenever he hears Lindbergh speak on the radio. He views a man speaking in generalizations who doesn't believe that all American citizens should be seen equally in this country. Instead, he wants to segment the population by stating that Jewish Americans are more loyal to their Jewish history instead of their national pride. Herman is angry when he sees this fascism just around the corner. He is subjected to that hatred. He knows this promotion may do harm to his family. They remain in their home surrounded by the support of their community. That provides him with an outlet to talk about the insanity of this rising rhetoric. But it may insulate him as well. He is speaking out with people of similar backgrounds who feel the exact same way as he does. No one is particularly being challenged. They are baffled at the suggestion that Lindbergh's words could be popular. They just see a man woefully out of his depth who has the pompous belief that he should be the leader of the free world. It doesn't make any sense. He is a man who has no qualifications to become the President of the United States. But again, his words inspire others to take action. It frees them in a way that allows them to act on their worst impulses. It normalizes this behavior. And so, anti-semitism is on the rise. Young Jewish men are being assaulted on the streets. It makes it seem as if the only viable action young Alvin can take is to be an active component in that fight. He doesn't want to go off to Europe to fight in that war. Instead, it's much more personal to him because the battlefield is happening right in front of him. The Jewish community has to face this hatred and intolerance from their households and amongst their families. Bess and Evelyn's mother is ashamed about Evelyn possibly dating someone who isn't Jewish. Evelyn too feels the pressure to find happiness and love in her life. It hasn't happened for her yet. That is a profound loss while she is continually asked to sacrifice her independence for the family. That may make her vulnerable in the grand scheme of things when others come along to fill her head with beliefs she may not share. Meanwhile, Herman isn't exactly the best role model. He loses his temper. He only uses his words at the moment. Alvin is the one who uses his fists to show his  right to be alive. But this is a spread of ideology where everyone has their own unique perspective on what Charles Lindbergh is doing and saying. They don't always understand it all either. Sandy may view the controversial figure as someone worth drawing. But that could also be interpreted as praise at a time when the rise of Nazism could perilously doom the world and the Jewish people. It's all insanely complicated while paying close attention to the details that inform this family and how they operate in this life and form their opinions. They may feel some sense of protection at the moment because of the strength of the family unit. However, there are instances where they push each other away because they doubt the other can understand without judgment what is going on in their minds. It's a struggle to be open and vulnerable. The hard exterior that forms as a result of that refusal though can only further make the world a difficult place to grow as a person while making the appeal of isolationism even stronger.