HBO's The Plot Against America Interesting Alt-History Despite Pretense at Prescience

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The Plot Against America

HBO's six-part series THE PLOT AGAINST AMERICA is an adaption of the Philip Roth novel of the same name, chronicling an alternate history of World War II in which Franklin Delano Roosevelt lost his third bid for the presidency to Republican candidate and aviation hero, Charles Lindbergh. In this reshuffling of events, the election of Lindbergh gave way to a populist upheaval in America, which led to a rise of antisemitism and fascism, particularly against Jewish citizens.

Rather than an inside-the beltway examination of events, the story watches things unfold through the eyes of a middle-class Jewish family, the Levins, of Newark, New Jersey. At first the changes are subtle, even though patriarch Herman Levin (Morgan Spector) is convinced from the beginning that Lindbergh is a fascist, and is willing to argue the point with anyone willing to listen to how Lindbergh's "America first" rhetoric will lead to America's downfall. Herman's wife, Bess (Zoe Kazan) prefers to stay out of political discussions, particularly because of the way Herman gets worked up about them. However, her sister Evelyn (Winona Ryder) finds herself in the thick of the new administration when she become sthe affianced to a South Carolina rabbi, Lionel Bengelsdorf (John Turturro), who supports Lindbergh and has a special appointment to the White House to represent the Jewish people.

Lindbergh's campaign was based on staying out of the ongoing war in Europe, which prods Herman's street-wise nephew Alvin (Anthony Boyle) to run off to Canada so he can join their military and kill Nazis. While he's prized for his technical skills that make him adept for special training, his shortsightedness eventually gets him sent home wounded. But his training gets him recruited much later to take part in a plot involving British spies and Roosevelt administration representatives to assassinate Lindbergh.

As things escalate, racist elements in America are emboldened. Cities go up in flames as the Ku Klux Klan burns out establishments owned by "the other," and Rabbi Bengelsdorf promotes his program to integrate the Jewish community more intrinsically into the American way of life by sending them to live with rural farm families during the summer. Many Jews flee to Canada, which is what Bess wants to do; but Herman is insistent that he will not be driven from his own country, until finally it's too deadly to stay -- and the northern borders have been closed off.

THE PLOT AGAINST AMERICA is a story of political provocation giving tacit permission to bigots to act out, which they do in this miniseries in unsubtle ways. The special features on this 2-disc release talk about how the present day was the right time to adapt the 2005 novel, and the parallels to the Trump election are plain. However, for being called prescient, Roth's novels goes in different directions. The presence of the Nazi war in Europe and the more entrenched racial division of the early 1940s gave way to violence from the right-wing elements within the country -- diametrically the opposeite of the unrest the country has seen throughout the last few years by left-wing protestors, such as those acting out in the name of Antifa and Black Lives Matter.

If you're a fan of alternate history novels by the likes of Harry Turtledove, then THE PLOT AGAINST AMERICA is something you're going to enjoy. But, much like THE HANDMAID'S TALE, it's nothing more than science fiction; not a guidebook.

Grade: 
3.5 / 5.0