Beautiful shots of 1940 New York City fill the frame of the opening scene of The Plot Against America’s second episode. As the camera pulls back, we are in the cockpit of Charles A. Lindbergh’s The Spirit of St. Louis, the plane that Lindbergh piloted making the world’s first solo nonstop transatlantic flight. Hearing the estimated time of arrival on the radio, Sandy Levin takes a bus from Newark, New Jersey to an airport on the outskirts of New York City to see Lindbergh. Flight had been achieved by many aviators worldwide by 1940. However, Lindbergh utilizes flight as a spectacle. A spectacle to entice war-weary American citizens to vote for Lindbergh rather than for the incumbent President, Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Or as Lindbergh states during his speech: “This is a vote for Lindbergh or a vote for war”.
I have seen several alternative history novel adaptations for film and television. Most are mere “since this has or hasn’t happened, then this happens” scenarios. However, Phillip Roth’s novel carefully crafts a story of severe apprehension and terror through the viewpoints of very rich and complex characters. The characters, predominantly of the Jewish Levin family, each have their own story arc. However, all of their story arcs are connected to the main arc of the fear and uncertainty of the potential election of a Nazi-sympathizing isolationist.Each family member exudes different permutations of fear. The Levin matriarch desperately attempts to keep the peace amongst Jews arguing over the election, despite suppressing her own anger for Lindbergh. The patriarch is the most boisterous and is very indicative of detractors of the current Presidency. The eldest son is not a fan of Lindbergh, but seems to be the least on edge; contrary to young Sandy, who packs an escape kit for fear of being bombed, after watching a newsreel of Nazi Germany bombing allied cities. Winona Ryder, in one of the best roles of her career, is Evelyn Finkel, the contrarian of the Jewish community. Finkel is in love with a Lindbergh supporter and is blind to the potential harm of an antisemitic Commander-in-Chief.
Everyone’s trepidations come to an apex on election night. What was meant to be an easy election for FDR turns into a twisting and turning vote count. The Levin family and other Jewish families listen in dismay as the final vote count gives the electoral and popular vote to Charles Lindberg.
Life has changed for an entire nation.
David Simon’s adaptation is quite faithful to the novel, and Simon has assembled a near-perfect cast and crew to make The Plot Against America a memorable limited series. Admittedly, the timing of the release of this series is meant to parallel current American politics. But this does not make the series any less satisfying. I look forward to the remaining episode, as I am very curious to see if Simon’s take will include the novel’s delectable twist.
Before you go, find out what’s coming in Episode Three:
And why not give the official podcast a listen?