The Plot Against America: Part 6 (Series Finale) HBO Review | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
Friday, August 7th, 2020  

The Plot Against America: Part 6 (Series Finale)

HBO

Apr 21, 2020 Web Exclusive
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More frightening than any horror flick’s GGI ghoul, the cowled Klansman that comes face to face with Herman Levin (Morgan Spector) and his son Sandy (Caleb Malis) is sure to give viewers gooseflesh while watching the finale of The Plot Against America. It’s one of the six-part miniseries’ many captivating highlights, a testament to the talents of executive producers David Simon and Ed Burns (both of The Wire fame), Pulitzer Prize winning author Philip Roth (whose novel of the same name serves as the source material), and the keen eye of episode director Thomas Schlamme (The West Wing). Aside from being a grippingly horrific scene on a technical level, the Klansman facedown is rendered all the more effective by audiences’ increasing concerns of such blatant hate becoming commonplace in their own lives. Indeed, Simon and Burns’ decision to adapt Roth’s alternative history cautionary tale, where Nazi sympathizer Charles Lindbergh ascends to the presidency while Europe is engulfed by the Second World War, couldn’t be more timely in our alt-right era. 

What’s more: echoes of the scarier-than-fiction 2017 Charlottesville riots abound through The Plot Against America’s series finale. While Spector and Malis work wonders conveying the dread of middle class American Jews threatened by anti-semitic riots, the episode’s most memorable moments are provided by Zoe Kazan. As Levin matriarch Bess, Kazan is viscerally relatable while trying to comfort one victim of prejudice over the phone, while also desperately determining how to protect her own children who lay vulnerably asleep upstairs. Later in the episode, Bess’ emotionally galling confrontations with sister Evelyn Finkel (Winona Ryder, palpably portraying one of the era’s countless diminished women) also make Kazan a clear early favorite for TV actress of the year.

Speaking of Ryder, her character’s arc—along with that of love interest Rabbi Lionel Bengelsdorf, a ceaselessly charismatic John Turturro—come to satisfying conclusions before the credits role. So yes, the concerns I raised while reviewing The Plot Against America’s premiere are quelled in time for the finale. In fact, everything from Ryder and Turturro’s sidelining in that initial episode, to the occasionally leadened dialogue dimming Spector’s otherwise spectacular performance, to the lethargic pacing, were all smoothed over way back in the series’ second episode. Director Minkie Spiro (who helmed the miniseries’ first half, before Schlamme took over for the final three installments) dazzles with soaring tracking shots, idiosyncratic camera angles revealing everything from fresh newsreels to the aghast expressions of his bigotry embattled cast of characters, and more in follow up episodes after tediously (but necessarily) sorting the series’ foundation in the premiere. Another slowly unfolding wonder throughout these half dozen episodes: Anthony Boyle as Alvin Levin, a tragic war hero turned bootstrapy gangster by the finale. A Tony nominated Irish stage actor, Boyle’s deftly played arc on The Plot Against America bodes well for his Hollywood prospects, as he gives Alvin hollowed eyed despair in one early episode scene, kinetic realism as he strives, and fails for dignity at an army hospital (the less you know before you watch it, the better), and smoldering gumption throughout. His long simmering confrontation with uncle Herman comes to a boil in the finale—yet another unforgettable scene bringing The Plot Against America to a satisfying close. 

No, Simon isn’t exactly renowned for the conclusions to his cult favorites—the finale of The Wire was widely deemed a letdown after its singular fourth season, while his recent critical hit The Deuce was mired by star James Franco’s #MeToo scandals.  He has more success, however, with The Plot Against America’s closing act. It’s a must-watch miniseries that slow burns and ignites, blazing as all-revealing-bright as the fictional Lindbergh-era riots it depicts, not to mention the real life tiki torch wielding bigots it evokes. We can only wish the events of our day didn’t necessitate such gripping allegories. (www.hbo.com/the-plot-against-america) 

Author rating: 8/10

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Average reader rating: 6/10



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