“Transatlantic” is a fictionalized retelling of the operations conducted by the Emergency Rescue Committee to help refugees who had fled to Vichy France, from Nazi Germany. The list edited by Varian Fry included mostly Jewish artists whose lives were at risk. The plan was to help them escape to the United States, but it was a tricky operation since the French authorities refused to issue exit visas. Even though Vichy France was officially independent, the Nazi influence was nevertheless palpable, which made running the ERC more challenging.
‘Transatlantic’ Plot Summary: What Is The Series About?
Varian Fry had witnessed Nazi oppression during his stay in Berlin in 1935, and the haunting memory stayed with him and motivated him to form the ERC. Supporting him with her presence and wealth was heiress Mary Jayne Gold. Even though Mary Jayne had arrived in Europe to experience the good life, she later got attached to the rescue operation. Her father was against her decision to stay in Marseille and demanded that she return home, but Mary Jayne refused to do so. She wanted to be more than daddy’s princess, and she demonstrated her bravery and passion for the cause more than once. While the names involved in the rescue operation and the way it all panned out stay true to the actual events in “Transatlantic,” there are fictional characters and scenarios that are added to bring it all together.
With the police rounding up on the ships that were used to transfer refugees without an exit visa, Varian and Mary Jayne desperately needed to find an alternative route for safe escape. While bailing out the refugees, Mary Jayne met Lisa Fittko, who had mapped out an escape route through the Pyrenees that led to Spain. Lisa’s plan worked; she and the other refugees successfully reached Spanish territory. Lisa decided to return to Marseille along with Albert to further assist with the rescue operation. With a new route, the ERC was determined to save over 100 refugees before Christmas. Albert volunteered to take over the illegal aspect of the operation, which included forging exit visas, and Mary Jayne promised to continue funding the operations. The only problem was that her father had stopped sending her money, and she had to figure out a way to fund the plan.
Why Was The Villa Air-Bel Significant? Why Was Mary Jayne Approached By British Intelligence?
Varian Fry is reimagined to be a closeted homosexual, and his lover Thomas Lovegrove offers to shelter refugees at his chateau. Varian and Thomas had met at a bar in Berlin, and their common interest in helping the oppressed brought them together. After five years, Varian received a letter from Thomas inviting him to his chateau, and even after all these years, there was romantic tension between the two. When the Marseille police received information that the German philosopher Walter Benjamin was hiding at the Splendide Hotel, they conducted a raid. Varian was warned about it by the British intelligence officer Miss Margaux, and within a few minutes, he planned an escape for Walter Benjamin. Through an underground pathway, they escaped from the hotel and walked their way to the Pyrenees mountains and into Spanish territory. Walter Benjamin committed suicide after reaching Spain. He chose to die rather than be repatriated to Nazi Germany.
Since the Splendide Hotel was no longer a safe place for the refugees, they were shifted to the chateau Villa Air-Bel. The place soon became the mingling ground of artists ranging from Max Ernst, Marc Chagall, Hans Bellmer, satirical author Walter Mehring, political philosopher Hannah Arendt, and Russian revolutionary Victor Serge, to name a few. While the surreal parties kept the spirit high, Mary Jayne had to find a way to keep the money flowing. She was ready to try all her options, which included sleeping with the US consul, Mr. Patterson, in the hopes that he could change her father’s mind. When none of her options paid off, Thomas managed to convince her to meet Miss Margaux. With a common enemy (the Nazis), the British intelligence hoped to find support from members of the ERC to help transfer their POWs through their safe escape route. She had plenty of money to offer in return for the service that she expected from Mary Jayne. She was offered to work as a British spy, and the mission required her to take pictures of the British POWs in prison to forge visas. With her charming personality, Mary Jayne managed to enter the prison three times and successfully complete her mission.
How Did Mary Jayne Release The British Pows?
Mary Jayne guided the British POWs with a map she drew on a fashion magazine. With their new passports, they looked forward to a safe escape. While the entire mission was quite successful, Mary Jayne knew that Varian Fry would not be pleased by her decision. By helping the British on foreign land, she had called into question her nation’s neutrality, and she could be tried in the United States for treason. Varian soon found out all about it, and he was quite upset by their reckless decision. By siding with the British, they had put their entire operation in jeopardy. Meanwhile, at Max Ernst’s birthday party, Patterson had seen Varian and Thomas in a compromising position and immediately reported the misdemeanor to the State Department. Varian soon received his letter of termination and was asked to return to the United States immediately. Mary Jayne was informed by Lisa that the British POWs were arrested while crossing the border, and the police had access to the route. With Varian no longer a part of the ERC and their secret route becoming public knowledge, it was getting more and more difficult to find a way to help the refugees escape.
Margaux informed Mary Jayne that the British POWs could possibly reveal her identity to the police under pressure. After all, she was the only person they had seen and communicated with during the entire mission. Mary Jayne had trusted Thomas and Margaux when she agreed to the deal, but she did not realize that she could end up as the scapegoat. Margaux pressed her to find a way to free the British POWs from prison before Christmas all by herself. Mary Jayne sought help from her trusted duo, Albert and Paul. The three figured out that Hans Bellmer had been inside the prison and could help them build a blueprint of it. Meanwhile, Paul conducted a meeting at a church with other Black immigrants. He believed that if they could help drive the Nazis out of France, they could negotiate their way into throwing the French out of their colonies.
While the others were hesitant about helping the British, Paul managed to convince them that by extending a helping hand, they could later build on the collaboration. With the support of the Black French prison guards, Paul entered the prison while Mary Jayne created a distraction with her dog. And Albert waited for the prisoners near the barbed wire. The four prisoners safely crossed the barbed wire, but amidst the chaos, Mary Jayne lost her dog. The dog connected Mary Jayne to the case, but Patterson managed to convince Philippe Frot that the break-in at Camp des Milles was all planned and executed by Paul and socialist Hans Fittko. Even though Patterson knew that Mary Jayne was involved, he could not afford to put his nation on the spot.
‘Transatlantic’ Ending Explained: How Did Varian Arrange The Escape? What Did Paul And Albert Decide?
After staying back in Vichy, France, on a tourist visa, Varian Fry made an arrangement with Captain DuBois to take refugees as stowaways. He sought help from Vice Consul Hiram Bingham to arrange entry visas to the United States. Unlike Patterson, Bingham was more than willing to help the cause, both legally and illegally. Bingham hid under his desk and waited for everyone to leave. He entered the US Consul’s office and typed the names of the refugees listed to travel the next day, one after the other, on US visas. He handed the visas the next morning to Varian, and the refugees were finally ready to leave France.
Meanwhile, the police arrested Paul for orchestrating the break-in. Even though Hans Fittko was not involved in the prison break-in, Patterson’s secretary, Letoret, influenced him to believe that he was responsible for it. His secretary worked for the Gestapo, and she was the one who listened to the spy device that was secretly hidden underneath the dining table at the chateau. Since Hans Fittko was a socialist, Letoret wanted him to be arrested, and she tried to manipulate Patterson. Even though she had knowledge about the artists’ escape, she considered them “degenerates” and believed they were better off in another country. After figuring out Bingham’s involvement in forging US visas, Patterson fired him from his job. While he lost his job, he had successfully served his purpose.
With his US visa now approved, Albert could travel to the United States. Mary Jayne dreamed of marrying him after reaching the States. While the thought of a safe and happy future was comforting, Albert always knew in the back of his mind that he did not care about living a safe life. The moment he learned that Paul was arrested, he immediately agreed to find a way to safely rescue him. They received a message indicating that Paul was a prisoner at Fort Saint-Nicholas. Since he would soon be deported to Nazi Germany, they had to act fast. Petit and Albert discussed the situation with Hans Fittko, and they realized that their only option was an armed ambush. The firearms left by the British POWs were used to stop the van carrying Paul. When the police fired, Hans shot them dead, and in the process, Petit and the Rabbi died.
Meanwhile, Mary Jayne waited for Albert, hoping that he would come along with her to the States. Though he came running to her soon after the ambush, it was to bid her final goodbye. Albert wanted to be a part of the resistance along with Paul, and even though he loved Mary Jayne, he could not abandon his people. We can assume that he and Paul joined the armed resistance in France. “Transatlantic” ends with Varian Fry deciding to return to the States along with the Chagalls. He realized that his relationship with Thomas could never be a reality. He did not wish to wake up from the beautiful dream, but he knew that someday he had to face the truth.
With too many subplots and characters, “Transatlantic” struggles to find the right balance. Those watching without any knowledge about European art movements might find the series difficult to grasp, especially with regard to the significance of the entire operation. It was disheartening to watch how the celebrated artists and philosophers were reduced to just a couple of cliche dialogues. While the series was aspirational, it did not deliver much, both emotionally and intellectually. The end credits are surely worth a mention, perhaps they are the most exciting aspect of the series.