The Plot Against America Season 1 Episode 1 Review: Creeping Fascism

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Creative geniuses David Simon and Ed Burns have struck thought-provoking gold again.

This time, Simon and Burns set their sights on xenophobia and fascism starting on The Plot Against America Season 1 Episode 1.

No, the six-episode HBO miniseries isn't set in Donald Trump's America (although it certainly could be). However, it's clear that this allegory targets a divided modern America.

Upwardly Mobile - The Plot Against America

Instead, the series, based on the Philip Roth novel of the same name, is set in an alternative America, where hero aviator Charles Lindbergh rides an isolationist, fascist platform to the Presidency in 1940.

The story is effectively told through the experiences of a Jewish family who start out enjoying their lives in Newark, N.J.

Conflicted Man - The Plot Against America Season 1 Episode 1

Herman Levin, an insurance agent, was the head of the household and was living the American dream. He had just  been offered a promotion at work, and was mulling the idea of moving his family to a single-family home in an upwardly mobile neighborhood.

Herman, naively it turns out, considered himself an American who just happens to be Jewish.

Both he and the viewers got quickly disabused of that notion as the Levins had vile slurs hurled at them from a German bar as they drove home from househunting.

That was the first of many scenes illustrating how the Levins had been living in a charming ethnic bubble, protecting them from those who saw them as different.

You would expect a certain callowness from 10-year-old Philip, who didn't understand the angry things that were being said by Herman, his neighbors, strangers, and people on the radio.

Brotherly Mission - The Plot Against America Season 1 Episode 1

His teen brother Sandy wasn't much help. Although Sandy would never admit it, he also didn't have a handle on how their world was changing.

Only mother Bess understood. She grew up socially ostracized as part of the only Jewish family in her neighborhood. She didn't want to burst her husband's bubble but she also didn't want her boys to experience what she had.

Zoe Kazan is a revelation as Bess, making her points subtly with just a few words or a glance, running her household while trying to also take care of her spinster sister Evelyn and her mother who was suffering from dementia.

Bess wants the house in the suburbs, so she could take in her mother and allow Evelyn to live her own life finally. But those living in the suburbs don't want Bess and her kind.

The message here is that assimilation in the United States has always been a multi-generational struggle. "Your kind" can't be accepted until there is someone new against whom to rail.

Mother to All - The Plot Against America Season 1 Episode 1

The hardest part for the Levins to accept that the man pointing the fingers at Jews was America's hero, aviator Charles Lindbergh.

In reality, Lindbergh was an isolationist and became the spokesman for the anti-interventionalist American First Committee.

As heard on the radio in the Levin living room, Lindbergh did give a speech in which he blamed the British, the Jews, and the Roosevelt Administration for pressing for American intervention into World War II.

Whether Lindbergh was a Nazi sympathizer has long been debated by historians. However, his efforts to delay American entrance into the war worked in Hitler's favor.

The Lindbergh in The Plot Against America went beyond well-meaning idealist to canny politician, giving the Jew-haters what they wanted.

Listening to Fascism - The Plot Against America Season 1 Episode 1

As Herman exclaimed during Lindbergh's speech, "He's giving red meat to his base."

Hmm, that sounds familiar. But no one has ever accused Simon and Burns of subtlety. If it takes a hammer to gain viewers' attention, so be it.

Just like today, people coming out of The Depression were more concerned with taking care of themselves and theirs and weren't that worried about the faceless masses being run over roughshod by the Nazi war machine.

Not all of Herman's neighbors disagreed with Lindbergh's isolationism, even when he was making them one of his targets. Even Sandy, rather than scrap his Lindbergh drawings, was still working to finish one in secret.

So would it be any wonder that other Americans, looking for someone to blame for their troubles, would hook onto Lindbergh's isolationism and possibly put him in charge?

Sisterly Love - The Plot Against America Season 1 Episode 1

The filmmakers made effective use of authentic newsreel footage, helping to catch up the historically weak on a war of which few remain aware. 

With few overseas correspondents, newsreels were how Americans caught up on the fighting far away, much as Herman and Shepsie did in this episode.

It wouldn't be a Simon and Burns production without politics right out front. But as they've shown in the masterpiece The Wire and Generation Kill, well-drawn portraits are another of their signatures.

Continuing her comeback, Winona Ryder follows up Stranger Things' Joyce with wallflower Evelyn, who has spent her youth caring for her failing mother, only to discover she's no longer as desirable as she once was.

Wayward Heart - The Plot Against America Season 1 Episode 1

After finding out she was a mistress instead of a future Mrs., she dumped her married Italian beau. Then she met cute with a charismatic rabbi. John Turturro is always good, so it will be intriguing to see how that relationship works out.

Irish actor Robert Boyle shines as Alvin, the orphaned cousin who the Levins took in. Herman often clashed with Alvin, one of the angry young men who found themselves with few options as The Depression lingered. 

It wouldn't be much of a stretch to see Alvin enlist to fight in the war. He might as well be productive with that anger.

It promises to be harrowing to see how fiction diverges from history in future episodes.

Frank Discussion - The Plot Against America Season 1 Episode 1

Which character is your favorite?

Were Simon and Burns too subtle for you?

Could this really happen?

Comment below.

Part 1 Review

Editor Rating: 4.6 / 5.0
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Dale McGarrigle is a staff writer for TV Fanatic. Follow him on Twitter.

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The Plot Against America Season 1 Episode 1 Quotes

Bess: Every Friday, the same line.
Herman: Every Friday, the same soup.

Unfortunately, ladies, the artist in residence has to come inside for dinner.