The Plot Against America season 1, episode 5 recap – “Part 5”

April 14, 2020
Cole Sansom 0
TV, TV Recaps


Distressing news brings the Levin family to a crossroads in a thrilling penultimate episode.

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Distressing news brings the Levin family to a crossroads in a thrilling penultimate episode.

This recap of The Plot Against America Season 1, Episode 5, “Part 5”, contains spoilers. You can check out our thoughts on the previous episode by clicking these words.

For the Americans of the 1940s, the violence that seems to encompass the world is, for the most part, out of sight. The war occurs in the Old World. The attack on Pearl Harbor does not occur in the timeline of The Plot Against America. Glimpses of violence are shown in newsreels and spoken of on the radio. Even when Alvin enlists, the show does not depict the conflict itself, only the training and the aftermath.

The lack of on-screen violence means that when it does occur, as it does at the climax of The Plot Against America’s penultimate episode, the effect is shocking. When Herman returns from the Winchell rally, bleeding and bruised, it confirms all of his Bess’s intuitions. They are not safe in America anymore.

The violence that she feared has finally come home to roost. She gives Herman an ultimatum — lower his head and stop resisting the Lindbergh administration, or she will take the kids and flee to Canada, with or without him.

The show has frequently deployed the language of fear. It’s what Rabbi Bengelsdorf, Evelyn, and now Sandy, use to delegitimize Herman and Bess’s concerns about the Lindbergh administration. They’re just “frightened,” Evelyn says, frightened of being outside of their comfort zone — as if antisemitism is a thing of the past.

But Bess talks about fear too. Herman still refuses to see how bad his country has become, saying Lindbergh is “just a big man in a big plane.” Bess gives him a reality check, “everyone’s afraid,” and that fear compels everyone to keep their heads down, despite the injustices that occur around them.

While Herman is right to be upset about the erosion of civil liberties, Bess is attuned to the reality of their circumstances. “How can you see what they’re doing and not be aware of their strength,” she tells him. Thomas Schalmme fills the episode with intense close-ups, showing the pain in each character’s eyes. Kazan’s performance makes Bess’s anxiety palatable. The danger is coming closer and closer to their doorstep, and the sense of fear is pervasive.

And the Levins have much to fear. They’re still being followed by the FBI. Taking in Alvin after his injury has put them on a government list. (Alvin, however, seems to be doing well for himself. He’s working for a company that rents out pinball machines, where his smarts allow him to gain favor with the boss, and with the boss’s daughter…) 

They are selected for the first wave of Rabbi Bengelsdorf’s “Homestead Act,” measure of relocating Jews to “America’s heartland” Meeting with cabinet members, Bengelsdorf stresses that he has encountered resistance due to the involuntary nature of the relocations. Henry Ford, embodying the spirit of true capitalism, proclaims that relocation is voluntary: they have a choice between keeping their job and relocating, or staying and losing it.

The prospect of moving to Kentucky horrifies Herman and Bess. Despite the rise of Lindbergh, Weequahic has always been a safe place for them. Bess frets that there is unlikely to be a synagogue there. Herman responds “There isn’t even a Minyan.”

Of course, the only one who seems happy about the decision is Sandy, who repeats Lindbergh talking points and desperately wants to return to the farm he visited last summer.

The whole situation is maddening, and more so when considered, as the Levins initially do, as Evelyn’s revenge for the events of the last episode.

In response, Bess decides to visit the Rabbi, who stresses the importance of escaping the “insulated culture of Weequahic.” He cites the program as an example of “the great American experiment,” to which Bess retorts, “Do you think my family is an experiment?”

Philip, as always, is scared. He voices concerns about the “Kuducks Klan,” and goes to see aunt Evelyn to try and bargain.

First, he reveals that he saw her dancing in the newsreel, and, as the little child he is, simply wants to know what it’s like to meet the president. But his curiosity gives way to fear as he tells her “I don’t want to go to Kentucky.” Evelyn’s kind demeanor drops, and she refuses to believe he has come on his own volition.

Then Philip makes a decision; he tells Evelyn about Seldon, whose mother is now working for the same company as Herman. There’s a chance that Philip just wanted a friend in Kentucky. But Philip has never cared for Seldon that much. No, he wants to send Seldon and his mother in his place. He sells out his friend.

The decision, one made by a scared child, wracks him with guilt. One day, he returns home and runs up to his side of the entryway and yells “I don’t want to go to Kentucky.” It’s heartbreaking, and Philip is torn up and feeling guilty for his actions. When Seldon and his mother leave, he can barely wish them goodbye, until telling them to wait and runs to grab his stamp collection, which he thrusts upon Seldon. Philip’s eyes are filled with tears, as he pushes the book through the window.

Herman protests the move, first by trying to sue, and then by quitting his job. Following in Alvin’s footsteps (made clear by a repeated line about Epsom salts), he begins working for Monty, still refusing to see what is happening to his country.

But as Bess points out, this is not their country anymore. Herman watches his friend Shepsie, (Michael Kostroff, who played Maurice Levy, the crooked lawyer in The Wire) back up his film reels and head off to Canada.

Herman may still be proud to be an American, but America is no longer proud to host the Levins.

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