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The Americans 2.02 “Cardinal” Review: “How are we Going to Live Like This?”

6 Mar

There is a strong ripple effect reverberating through this week’s episode of The Americans as a result of the still unexplained murder of Emmett, Leanne and their daughter Amelia and the tension has increased ten-fold as they try and figure out the why of it all. Part of this is because they could fill a book with how this family is ‘just like us’ right down to the number and gender of their children. It’s a huge wake up call for both Philip and Elizabeth, even more so than the events at the end of last season that has already seen Elizabeth return with a slightly less rigid belief system. It’s not just Philip and Elizabeth who are taking note of these murders as they are all over the news (with no mention of course of their real profession) and Martha’s getting a gun for protection because of it – an early front-runner for Chekhov’s gun if there ever was one.

We are going to be looking at this episode once again through the lens of costuming and how this heightened paranoia is impacting the framing of certain shots.

The Americans 2.02 cream topWe open with Elizabeth still in full surveillance mode with everything and everyone posing as a potential danger; even the woman picking up children could be more than she seems. It’s all too close to home now and Elizabeth’s overall concern has switched from her duty to her country to her role as a mother. This ensemble is in tune with Elizabeth’s at home clothes and it’s the parallels it draws with another character which is why it stands out.

The Americans 2.02 NinaLike Elizabeth, Nina is leading in a double life and there is a noticeable difference in their styling. Elizabeth is playing the all American mom, whereas Nina is still very much a Russian in her surroundings and clothes. This cream sweater is not revealing in any way and the bow adds a hint of femininity. Nina does exert her sexuality outside the Embassy with Stan, but inside she is very much about toeing the company line, complete with the right look. Last season she also had to resort to sexual favors in the Embassy for information, however she holds her ground with Blondie loving Oleg with steely and determined fashion. White tones reflect innocence and both Elizabeth and Nina know how to work this angle to their advantage. There is also a level of detachment that Elizabeth has lost in light of recent events and yet Nina is still in possession of this; for how long?

The Americans 2.02 brown trenchAny good spy has a trench coat and Elizabeth is no different, she is rocking the slightly shorter length and as with a lot of clothes in the early 80s the color brown is very popular. Bold patterns and neon doesn’t come in until later and we’ve got the ’70s to thank for all the beige tones.

The Americans plaid and spotsPhilip’s taking the Harrison from Scandal approach with plaid and polka dots and this emphasizes not the slick tailoring as it does in Scandal, but rather how unassuming Philip is at work. Philip’s a travel agent not a threat, right?

The Americans 2.02 PhilipWell that’s when Philip’s not donning this delightful wig and moustache combo as he goes for a workman look and as I’ve seen mentioned elsewhere, he looks like he could play 2012’s Rust Cohle’s brother with this getup. Philip definitely gets the skeezier looking disguises and this is reminiscent of his revenge outfit from the pilot. This is far removed from Philip in dad gear as evidenced by Fred not recognizing him from their moment at the theme park, though that was incredibly quick and there was probably very little eye contact.

the Americans 2.02 playboyTo get some 1980s context here is a Playboy that Philip found on his Fred house search and Fred must be a Bo Derk fan as this issue is almost two years old (the date on it is March, 1980). Other headlines of relevance to today is the debate to legalize marijuana and this is when it still probably sounded cool to call it grass.

The Americans 2.02 LifeMore 1980s references ahoy as Elizabeth plays Life with Henry and Paige, I used to love this game and I’m pretty sure the spinning wheel was the reason why. Henry is less interested and wants to watch TV because that is real life. Henry is oblivious to everything once again and earlier in the episodes he explains his theory as to why two tests in one day is a bad idea. Paige is still suspicious and what she witnessed last week hasn’t deterred her snooping.

The Americans 2.02 Elizabeth phoneElizabeth’s wearing more from the brown color spectrum and here comes another ’80s pop culture reference as she suggests a trip to the movies to watch Raiders of the Lost Ark. Despite having come out in the summer of 1981 (we’re now in January 1982), it’s not all that surprising that a movie this huge is still playing in theaters; it didn’t get a VHS release until 1983.

The Americans 2.02 baseball capThe movie decision is so Elizabeth can respond to a call and rather than leave the kids in the house alone, the movie works as a suitable ruse. This is a dark shot, but Elizabeth’s only disguise is pulling back her hair and sticking on a baseball cap. She is dealing with a friend of their cause and this woman is also high on a range of substances so it’s unlikely she will remember much of anything, but it still feels like a bold move when things are at this heightened state of danger.

The Americans 2.02 leather glovesThere are so many tight shots throughout this episode, none tighter than Philip as he talks to Elizabeth, followed by Martha. He’s meant to be going back to Martha’s but down to a combination of what is going on at home and the mark that has been left on his hand after he’s been electrocuted there’s only one place he wants to be. It’s worth noting that Philip puts on the leather gloves while he is on the phone to Martha, as if he is trying to cover the mark even when she can’t see it.

The Americans 2.02 mirrorThis is another interesting use of framing as the closing shot of the episode features Elizabeth and Philip off to one side, shown in the reflection of the mirror. This discussion has Philip once again lamenting his decision to use Henry last week and Elizabeth tells him he didn’t have a choice. Philip’s response is that he did and it’s another occasion where the camera pushes in hard on their close up and it’s like everything is closing in around them.

It’s an incredibly intimate and telling conversation as Elizabeth brings up Jared, Emmett and Leanne’s surviving son and Philip reveals he saw him and heard his screams upon discovering his murdered family. “Taken care of” is a phrase that is lacking any real empathy, it sounds cold and like a transaction. There’s no real answer to this mess and Elizabeth has only just realized the impact that this could have on their children. She asks “How are we going to live like this?” Philip thinks they will get used to it and this is where the question of choice comes up. Elizabeth and Philip decided to become what they are, but Paige and Henry are a product of this and they have no agency of their own. We end on this shot and this line of thought knowing it’s going to have implications for the rest of the season.

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