Notions of identity lie at the heart of The Americans and while season 1 focused on marriage, this year broads the scope as there is new found stability and trust in Elizabeth and Philip’s relationship. Last week ended on a cliffhanger as a simple snatch and grab descended into chaos. “The Deal” picks up immediately after this incident as they must try and rectify what went wrong. The man who attacked them and who they end up taking hostage is a Mossad agent and this brings a whole new set of ideologies that conflict with what our protagonists believe.
In terms of costuming Philip wears his snatch and grab beanie attire for the majority of the episode as he is left to deal with the captured and injured agent – whose name we never learn – and the discussions about home stem from him as he tries to mess with Philip’s psychological state. Philip as we have seen throughout the series isn’t just an automaton despite what he is later accused of by Anton. Philip has feelings, he also has orders and even though he likes living in America he is a KGB officer first and foremost. The question of identity is raised throughout, from this agent mentioning the icicles and asking if they have them in Russia – Philip lies that he doesn’t remember as he’s trying not to give up anything about who he is. Later when Philip hands him over the agent mentions they spent the night together and they don’t know each other’s name followed by a dissection of the man Philip might not be “But your name isn’t your name, is it? Is your face your face? Are your children your children?” All this man knows about Philip is that he likes the cold, that’s all he has given to him.
There are two defining identities when it comes to Philip; the “Mr KGB Man” aspect of Philip, the one plays many roles and who will kill a young kitchen porter after he has seen his real face and there is Philip, father of two, loving husband and travel agent. The two aren’t separate people, he’s just very good at compartmentalizing these aspects when he is out in the field and it’s why he is so good at his job. Identity is something he does possess even if there are conflicting aspects and this is why his bond with Elizabeth, which evolved throughout last season, is so important to whom he is and this is no more apparent than in the closing scene of “The Deal.”
In flashbacks last season they were told to never speak of who they were and where they came from before they became Philip and Elizabeth. After Elizabeth was shot in the season finale she asks Philip to come in their native tongue and while the Mossad agent doesn’t think that this home for Philip – because his heart lies in the motherland – he couldn’t be more wrong. The bed that he sarcastically quips must be so nice to lie in, is in fact where Philip is at his most content. The bed on this occasion is the sofa as Philip lies down next to his wife after a terrible and exhausting night at work. Philip’s long exhale as he can finally relax tells Elizabeth of the trying night he has had so she gently jokes that “Clark has some explaining to do” as she spent the night with Martha.
Philip brings up the icicles he refused to discuss with the Mossad agent and it leads to a very tender conversation about their train ride out of Moscow and how when Philip grew up they played with the icicles using them as swords. Elizabeth is the one that brings up the Moscow train and while she isn’t sure what has prompted the icicle questions, she is intuitive about Philip needing an anecdote like this. Elizabeth understands her husband and when she tells Brad earlier as part of her cover that it has taken her time to start feeling again, she is telling the story of her relationship with Philip. Now she can reveal these parts of herself to him. It’s important that we get these moments, however brief, so we can see beneath the surface and share in the emotional honesty before the next day begins. It’s because of this that we know the accusations leveled at Philip by Anton are not true.
“You’re a monster. You’re not a man. Whatever you once were, whoever you were they trained it out of you. No feeling, no humanity. You may as well be dead.” This what a pleading, crying Anton tells Philip as she drives him in silence to his very much unwanted journey back to Russia. In this moment, for Anton this assessment is accurate as Philip doesn’t engage with him. A stone cold stare forward is what Philip gives him, nothing else. He is merely the driver, delivering his cargo. For a brief moment, in his eyes you see all of his humanity.
Philip does show compassion earlier in the episode when he’s with the Mossad agent; he helps him go to the toilet even if he has to wipe his ass and knows that it will end in an attempted escape. There is no pleasure taken in operations like this and he doesn’t use it as opportunity to exert again kind of aggression or put on a display of extreme masculinity. The same cannot be said for Oleg, who is not only going up against Arkady, but he also confronts Stan about Nina; what is his overall play here?
Philip’s not the only one in the Jennings’ house doing the heavy lifting as Elizabeth gets the files she needs from Brad and then has to let him down gently. From the shot above you would think this could be a rom-com rather than a spy show.
The other major role Elizabeth plays this week is with Martha as she goes to stop her from putting down Clark’s name on the job application and this means the return of Clark’s sister Jennifer and the amazing bouffant short wig and giant glasses combo; she really does look like the female equivalent of Clark. Elizabeth plays up how awful Clark is with everyone card so Martha doesn’t suspect he is only terrible at maintaining contact with her and as the wine flows so does Martha’s mouth about Clark. That’s right this also includes chat about what Clark is like in bed – he’s an animal. This is the only time that Elizabeth betrays her cover as she asks “what does he do?” and this is something no sibling would ever ask follow up questions about. Elizabeth looks sad when Martha tells her that Clark makes her his and I think this is in part because Elizabeth knows this is not true, but also as it’s upsetting to think about the person you love having sex with someone else, even if it’s for work. Both Brad and Martha are collateral damage on the romantic front; Brad’s was brief but it will have a lasting impact on him. With Martha it’s going to be more devastating in the long run.
One person who Elizabeth doesn’t know who to talk to or understand is Paige and when Paige comes to her to explain why she is going to this church group it misfires. Paige starts to explain that it’s not her mom, it’s her “My life, my crazy life. I don’t know where to put everything.” Paige goes to elaborate further and stops; she just can’t articulate these feelings and while Elizabeth knows how to relate to Philip, there is something stopping her from interpreting her daughter. As Elizabeth mentioned last week, they know what their values are, but Paige is searching for a connection and it’s something she can’t find at home.
“The Deal” also introduces Kate (Wrenn Schmidt, Richard Harrow’s wife Julia from Boardwalk Empire), the Jennings’ new handler and she’s not a Claudia. Philip has no time for her friendly introduction and while her appearances were brief I’m looking forward to seeing more from her, especially when it comes to meeting Elizabeth.
The Americans continues to expertly handle both the spy and relationship aspects of the show, while also making my stomach lurch thanks to the endless tension. The final scene this week between Philip and Elizabeth illustrates why their relationship which exists in this complex world is so simple at the heart of it all as they do really love and understand each other; excellent performances from both Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys once again.