|THE PLOT AGAINST AMERICAAMERICA|
Though “The Plot Against America” took its time to get going, it’s full steam ahead for David Simon’s Philip Roth adaptation by Episode 4 — but to what end? With just two episodes to go, the drama has certainly flared up: The Levin familial bonds are being pushed to the brink as Sandy falls increasingly under Lindbergh’s spell, with the help of Aunt Evelyn and her new boyfriend Rabbi Bengelsdorf. The lines have been drawn, and it’s not looking good for either side. While this was by far the most exciting episode so far, it still feels as though Simon is obligingly following Roth’s outline rather than forging his own path.
In both the novel and the series “The Plot Against America,” there’s an unmentioned but implicit rhetorical question reaching out from beyond the page and screen. To borrow from the musical “Cabaret,” one of the only pieces of pop culture to artfully grapple with this unthinkable dilemma: What would you do? If a fascist were elected president of your country, if your sister started dating one of his shills, if your son was secretly sketching his visage by flashlight — how would you behave? Would you flee to Canada, organize the resistance, or stick your head in the sand and hope for the best?
The fourth episode hones in on these questions with laser-like precision, enjoying the fruits of the preceding three episodes that felt, both in retrospect and in real time, mostly like set-up. Having returned from his “Just Folks” adventure in Kentucky, a Hitler Youth-esque recruiting tool of Rabbi Bengelsdorf’s John Turturro design, Sandy has quite literally become the poster child for assimilationist Jews. Evelyn Winona Ryder proudly features him in a brochure for the program, against Bess’ Zoe Kazan wishes.
Sandy’s transformation has been building since the pilot episode, which ended with him surreptitiously sketching Charles Lindbergh from of a newspaper clipping. Having planted the seeds deliberately, the show earns its most uncomfortable moment so far when Sandy spits at his parents, calling them “ghetto Jews — narrow-minded ghetto Jews.” His transformation is complete. When Bess slaps him across the face, it’s hard not to let out a silent cheer. Your Jewish firstborn becoming a Nazi sympathizer may be the rare instance when a kid deserves a good wallop.
Less effective is a Shabbas dinner argument between Herman Morgan Spector and Bengelsdorf, where Herman puts aside any last shred of civility to tell the Rabbi what he really thinks of his man Lindbergh. Maybe it’s the fact that only the men are talking while the women make sidelong glances of...