The Plot Against America
Credit: Michele K. Short/HBO

The Plot Against America (TV Show)

S1 E2

We've jumped ahead a few months. It's now October 1940, and the general election is around the corner. Herman still thinks Charles Lindbergh doesn't stand a chance in hell of beating FDR — he spends a solid 80 percent of the episode yelling this to anyone who will listen — but it's clear that there's some energy around the candidate, even within Herman's own family. As Lindbergh flies into yet another one of his campaign stops, making sure that everyone sees him as a mythic American hero, Herman's son Sandy runs out of the house and takes the bus to the airport so that he can see the man. Eve is there too, though her motivations might be more complex, as she's attending with Rabbi Bengelsdorf.

"Part 2" is largely about fractures. There are fractures in America at large, within the population of Newark, within the Jewish community, and within the Levin family. The world is at a tipping point, and everything feels uncertain; the characters spend a lot of time in their living rooms anxiously listening to the news, which feels eerily familiar at the moment. It's an episode that uses the lives of the characters to explore different ideas of identity and ideology. People clash, sometimes openly and other times quietly, but the undercurrent is simply that things seem to be getting worse, and nobody can do anything about it.

Take Alvin. Herman helps arrange a new job for him, this time driving around the powerful Mr. Steinham. Alvin is grateful for the job, but as he gets into it, he discovers Steinham's complete lack of empathy. He's a ruthless, angry man who feels everyone else is beneath him. We watch him walk into a crowded deli and push his way to the front, rambling off a massive order while everyone else waits. He goes on and on about needing to be aggressive in the world, otherwise you'll end up with nothing. Alvin hears him berating his wife and children. Alvin sees him as everything that's wrong with the world: men just taking what they want.

So, Alvin and Herman clash. Herman wants his brother to simply be grateful for the job, which is opening up a path to an education at Rutgers, and put his personal feelings aside. Alvin can't do it. This is about Steinham, but it's also about their ongoing argument regarding the election. Herman is still certain of an FDR win, and Alvin can't believe his brother doesn't see what's going on, that he could be so blind to the climate of anger and hostility around them. The Steinham situation is just a representation of their different outlooks, and by episode's end, there's a literal divide between the men as Alvin heads to Canada so that he can join the fight against the Nazis.

Bess and her sister Eve have a more friendly relationship, but they have their own confrontation here too. Bess is excited that her sister has met a new man, but when she learns it's Lionel Bengelsdorf, she's wary. She's aware of the man's politics, and while Eve does seem hesitant about supporting Lindbergh, she's also quick to come to the Rabbi's defense and parrot Lindbergh's line of being "anti-war" more than anything else. Is Eve reaching here, trying to find purpose and romance with a Jewish man in the wake of her recent breakup while sacrificing her morals?

While Philip enjoys a rather innocent day out with Earl, following people around on the bus, the rest of the Levins struggle to comprehend what's happening around them. Sandy is confused by his father's hatred of Lindbergh. He adores the pilot, and he's able to recite all the arguments about why America shouldn't go to war. He doesn't have the context that his father has, but that doesn't matter to a child. Sandy thinks he's right, and he's going to keep drawing Lindbergh. Philip, back from his day with Earl, struggles to comprehend the bombing he sees when his father takes him to watch the newsreels. Eve, who's supportive of Bengelsdorf, seems put off by his speech at a Lindbergh rally. She's not vocalizing any discomfort, but it seems she's at war with herself.

Things will only get more confounding, and perhaps Alvin is the only one that sees it all. He rightly calls Bengelsdorf's speech what it is: an excuse for the non-Jewish to vote for Lindbergh while keeping their conscience clean. If this Jewish man says it's okay to vote for Lindbergh, then I can certainly do it and not be associated with Nazis or fascists. We've heard that argument before.

Now, Alvin is off to war, and Lindbergh is president, a fact we learn in a stirring final montage where we watch the night pass in the Levin living room, everyone hopeful at the outset and then settling into misery as it becomes clear what's happening. Again, a familiar feeling.

"We have taken back America," says Lindbergh after his victory. The worst is yet to come.

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The Plot Against America (TV Show)
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