The Plot Against America
Based on the novel of the same name, The Plot Against America is an alternative history story surrounding the Presidential Election of 1940 told through the lens of a Jewish American family from New Jersey. In this episode, the stage is set for the Lindbergh campaign that will eventually lead America down the path of fascism.
Spoiler Level: None
When a $25,000 was put forth as a prize to anyone who could make the first nonstop flight from New York to Paris, airmail pilot Charles Lindbergh’s name was thrown into consideration, noted to be an exceptional pilot, with a skillset that brought him to a masterful level. The very same can be said for the introductory episode of HBO’s limited series The Plot Against America—an exceptional, skillful, masterful pilot.
Following an alternate timeline around the rise of Lindbergh, suspected Nazi sympathizer, this show examines the accumulation of power in a way that feels inevitable in our current times. Audiences are introduced to the show’s protagonists throughout the length of the episode, gaining a feel for political climate, individual motivations, and familial communication. The overall theme: empathy. Place yourself into the shoes of the characters.
A good storyteller would then take that empathy, wring it through a healthy dose of brutal catharsis, and make viewers feel for these characters in a way that most have never felt for a working-class family of minority descent. If we’re lucky, we may even see some metaphorical simile between today’s politics and the satirical world presented to us. Plot Against America has every opportunity to build an engaging and powerful plot, and it’s shown every sign of success so far. The characters are representative without pandering. The plot feels familiar without stereotyping.
The pilot excels in its exploration of a multifaceted family that is engaged within their many communities. It uses real historical reference points to set the stage for the historical hypotheticals that are sure to come. I fully expect this show to tear me apart with its realism, driven by a desire to hold a mirror up to our current day and say, Look. Look and see the consequences of your actions. Of your inaction. Of allowing power to go unchecked.
Some viewers will enjoy that element. Many will not.
There are those that will roll their eyes and ask if this show is needed. If more sad stories are really all that necessary in a medium that can just as easily be utilized for escapism. If we really need one more piece of Hollywood to tell us about our current political climate, or if satire is even useful. My only response to these people is that perhaps they are right, and perhaps there are better stories to be told. But it’s worth noting, I think, that a book written about American fascism in 2004 somehow became relevant enough to get the green light in 2020. Maybe its very existence justifies its need.
In addition to its strong writing, the show’s technicality is exactly what you might expect from the network: beautiful. The setting is dripping with early 40s Americana, with factors of class, community, and circumstance all taken into consideration. Each location is individual, with a distinct refusal to lean on the aesthetic of the period alone. The costuming and makeup take on the same level of detail, furthering the development of each character. Finally, the show thrives with just exactly the kind of cinematic indulgence that I’ve grown to love in my HBO dramas.
This one checks all of the boxes. Good writing. Great design. A relevance that makes the show feel worth the time spent watching, in a world where everyone and everything begs for our attention. I am actively excited to tune in every week for The Plot Against America, and if this masterful pilot is an example of what’s to come, then I have no doubts that we are going to be in for quite the ride.
The Plot Against America: One Hell of a Pilot
Writing - 10/1010/10
Storyline - 10/1010/10
Acting - 9/109/10
Music - 6/106/10
Production - 10/1010/10
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