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The Americans 2.06 “Behind the Red Door” Review: “Watching is Different”

3 Apr

On The Americans Philip and Elizabeth’s spy work and cover life are intertwined as demonstrated by back to back phone calls in “Behind the Red Door;” one is from Paige’s school informing them that she has quit volleyball, the other is to inform them of a meeting with their handler. Prior to these calls, Elizabeth has been teasing Philip about his bedroom skills with Martha, how she called him a “wild animal” and now Elizabeth wants to have an evening with Clark. What starts out as flirty banter turns ugly later on and once again The Americans examines ideas of identity and how this impacts a relationship.

Everything has become more fraught as new information could lead Philip and Elizabeth down a dangerous path as they try to ensure their family will not end up like Emmett and Leanne’s. They’re not the only ones who are taking risks as Stan deals with his Oleg issue and gets warned that he could be in way over his head. Pretty sure this statement could apply to everyone on this show, even the most experienced agents like Claudia are guilty of this.

The Americans 2.06Elizabeth and Philip are constantly switching between domesticity and danger; they discuss missions while doing housework (I don’t think I’ve ever seen this much laundry and doing the dishes on any other show). Emotions are heightened and so when Elizabeth comes home agitated from their meeting with Claudia it leads to a moment of sexual intimacy between the pair, stemming from Philip helping take Elizabeth’s boot off. As we saw from the season premiere things appear to be all good on the sex front and as Elizabeth lies there naked – while Philip remains fully clothed, his undone fly the only indicator he has just had sex – they discuss what could be going on in Nicaragua and whether Emmett and Leanne’s killer is coming for them. The tone changes when Elizabeth brings up her conversation with Martha as she posed as Clark’s sister Jennifer, first Philip corrects Elizabeth that Martha is not his wife (even though she kinda, sorta is). Then as he is gently stroking her very naked skin, Elizabeth asks about the wild animal thing and mentions how funny it is, Philip doesn’t seem to think so.

The Americans 2.06 flirty banterThe next night Elizabeth continues down the Martha/Clark path and while she’s doing it in a playful, flirty way it’s definitely hitting a nerve with Philip and this course of questions and requests is never going to end well. Role play is something that is part of their everyday world; they’re constantly switching from character to character. Quite often sex is a factor in getting information; whether it is using a fake sexual assault, that is based on an actual experience or if it is a more established cover like Clark, sex is a tool they repeatedly use. I don’t think it is a coincidence that the last two episodes have referenced Elizabeth’s sexual assault at the academy through her conversations with Brad and it’s what makes the later scene between Elizabeth and Philip so shocking.

The Americans 2.06 Clark and ElizabethElizabeth waits for Philip at what looks like a safe house of sorts or rather the place they go to costume up and then leave as themselves. Philip’s reaction to seeing his wife sitting on the bed in her rather demure mismatching underwear – this is also in contrast to the matching black set from earlier – is one of displeasure, this is not a path he wants to go down. This scene is incredibly hard to watch as Philip becomes the monster he was accused of last week. Philip can’t be Clark with Elizabeth, because Clark is this abstract construct that is for Martha only. He goes to take his glasses off, something he never does when he is playing Clark and he just can’t be this idea of a person for Elizabeth. This is why Elizabeth is not satisfied with the version of  Clark she is getting; everything he is doing is how they do it.

What this turns into is something that, while I wouldn’t call it rape is something that borders on one of the most traumatic and aggressive scenes this show has done. It definitely made me feel queasy. It’s over very quickly, but I’m not sure what the long term implications are considering they finally felt like a solid real couple. It’s complicated for multiple reasons and it’s also worth noting that Elizabeth and Philip’s first real moment of sexual intimacy back in the pilot episode came after Philip broke the neck of the guy who really did rape Elizabeth. That was something that brought them together, but now that Philip has inflicted pain of another kind on her it’s a concern how they will move past this. In terms of how this scene is shot, it does mirror their earlier scene together and Elizabeth crying on the bed is shot from above in the same way their earlier naked, relaxed moment was framed. The ceiling fan and music further added to the discomfort and horror of this interaction.

The Americans 2.06 ripping the wig offPhilip’s reaction to what he does is one of pure revulsion as he goes into the bathroom and rips the Clark wig from his head, he looks like could throw up. It’s an incredibly claustrophobic scene as we go tightly in on Philip. There’s no backing away from what he has just done. Later on Elizabeth asks Philip if he is mad at her, he responds with “no, of course not” and this is all they say on the matter before changing the subject to work. It’s this constant switching between who they are as husband and wife, with who they are as KGB operatives which makes it hard to grasp hold of what they are really feelings. It’s why their moment at the end of last week’s episode stands out as it was devoid of any kind of withholding.

The difference between this season and the start of the first year is that Elizabeth has opened herself up in ways she has never done before, it’s why she feels comfortable lying naked next to her husband and why she grimaces in the dark when she hears Lucia having sex as a distraction. Sex used to be just a tool to get ahead, now Elizabeth feels a whole new array of emotions to both her own plight and the idealistic women who are new to this world. First she squashes Lucia’s fairy tale notions by pissing all over her parade somewhat dismissively saying “A world without exploitation and dignity for all.” Elizabeth is far more jaded and experienced to believe there are rainbows and unicorns at the end of it all and the women in this episode each represent different feelings associated with the various stages of their careers.

Lucia is fresh faced and optimistic about the difference she can make. Lucia wants Elizabeth to know that she has seen her people die but Elizabeth wants her to know that “Watching is different.” Elizabeth has done a lot more than watching in her time in the US and while she still believes in the cause she knows there’s no winning or losing in the near future. The Cold War has been going for so long now that it’s all she knows. With Claudia she is feeling an ultimate sadness at all that has been lost; she’s been fighting before it began. Claudia admits to Elizabeth that she revealed her true identity to someone from the outside, a man she became involved with as “this business can be lonely.” Claudia has changed her position on Philip and now she thinks Elizabeth is “lucky to have him.”

The Americans 2.06 NinaAnother woman who is part of the same cause is experiencing her own messed up relationship issues as she gets caught between Stan and Oleg; she is a pawn in the power game and she rightly wants to protect herself from this mess. So when Stan suggests a polygraph, which will blow her double/triple/whatever status she exclaims that she’s done with all of them. Stan is stumbling and he turns to Agent Gaad and while Stan suggests that Nina is in over her head, Gaad astutely suggests that Stan is the one who could be flailing.

The Americans 2.06 the BeemansStan’s home life is as it ever was; strained and as if he isn’t there. From the outside this looks like a perfect family dinner, but he has no idea what Sandra and his son are talking about – they’re quoting Animal House as John Belushi has just died, this episode is set in early March 1982 then. Claudia mentions to Elizabeth that people who aren’t in this world can’t understand what they go through and the Beeman family is exemplary of this notion.

The Americans 2.06 PaigeHaving quit volleyball, Paige continues to go to the church youth group and after another week where one of Elizabeth or Philip has announced “What is up with her?” Paige reveals more of what she does at the church group. Elizabeth asks why the sudden sharing and Paige replies that she doesn’t want to lie anymore. Sorry to break this to you Paige, but your house is built on a mountain of lies. Paige also invites her parents to the come to the group one day and this is the comedic interlude this show needs.

The Americans 2.06 gay clubCharlotte Sieling directed this episode (her previous work includes all my favorite Scandi shows – BorgenBroen and Forbrydelsen, plus an episode of The Bridge) and there are some exquisite shots that I want to point out. Philip is dressed in full bureaucratic CIA clothes and he’s revealing his KGB status to Captain Andrew Larrick, but not as himself. Larrick is the man Emmett and Leanne were bribing and while he is in the clear for killing them, he’s close to an operation that will benefit the KGB. Philip is bathed in red light in this scene and the red door in the title refers literally to the Beeman’s new tomato tango front door, but also to the many dangerous doors these characters are venturing through this week; Elizabeth with her Clark persistence, the mission they are now on, Lucia falling for someone she has to kill and the danger that Nina faces. This shot also looks like a ’70s spy movie drenched in this red light.

The Americans 2.06 HitchcockWhile Philip looks like he is in the ’70s, Elizabeth is full Hitchcock female lead in this scene; hiding in the shadows with very little light on her face. The costuming and wig add to this sentiment and there’s nothing about this look that would suggest she is from the decade, or even the previous decade they are in.

The Americans 2.06 Oleg and LeninThis is really fantastic as Oleg browses through a file, standing shoulder to shoulder with the Lenin portrait as Lenin looks up and Oleg looks down. Oleg’s motives remain unclear, but he isn’t working alone – a reluctant Arkady is fully aware of what he is doing.

“Behind the Red Door” is an excellent episode, it’s tough to watch as it refuses to shy away from the awful things these characters do. Philip has crossed a line and hurt Elizabeth both physically and emotionally; it will be interesting to see how this impacts their solid couple status. Elizabeth infiltrated Philip’s compartmentalizing process with wanting to experience Clark and there’s a reason why some stuff should stay between a spy and his mark. The problem for Philip and Elizabeth is their very real love for each other and how this is going to become a problem as the season progresses, even if Claudia of all people is now Team Jennings.

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9 Responses to “The Americans 2.06 “Behind the Red Door” Review: “Watching is Different””

  1. Emma Maria Dalton April 5, 2014 at 1:11 pm #

    Reblogged this on The Muses Guild:THE EMMFONIA.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. The Americans 2.07 “Arpanet” Review: “He’s Our Monster” | TV Ate My Wardrobe - April 10, 2014

    […] Elizabeth being the one who does it. Elizabeth continues to give her the strong paternal face and last week Lucia told Elizabeth she didn’t want another one of her lessons. This is all about experience […]

  2. The Americans 2.10 “Yousaf” Review: Mutually Assured Destruction | TV Ate My Wardrobe - May 1, 2014

    […] him she is more than capable. This is also the first time we have seen them get intimate since Elizabeth’s misguided desire to sleep with ‘Clark’ and what better place to hook up than in your kitchen. Philip is […]

  3. The Americans 2.13 “Echo” Review: Finding Meaning and Purpose | TV Ate My Wardrobe - May 22, 2014

    […] overall production quality also deserves a special mention as the direction, particularly in “Behind the Red Door” (which I singled out at the time) has been magnificent. The shot above is so simple and yet […]

  4. Keri Russell Talks The Americans: Playing a Complex Character, Awards and the Season 2 Twists | TV Ate My Wardrobe - June 4, 2014

    […] complicated stuff and I think that’s when the show is at its best.” With regard to this episode Russell also mentions how incredible Danish director Charlotte Sieling is and scenes portraying […]

  5. Best of TV Costuming 2014: The Marriage Disguise on The Americans | TV Ate My Wardrobe - December 4, 2014

    […] in a moment of despair reveals how in tune they can be in this new stage of their relationship. Earlier in the season this is not always the case and when Elizabeth wants to sleep with the wild animal that is […]

  6. The Americans 3.12 “I Am Abassin Zadran” Review: All in the Family | TV Ate My Wardrobe - April 16, 2015

    […] wig. We’ve only seen Philip’s wig removed twice; first during a fight, the second time he ripped it off in anger and this reveal is huge. There is something sinister about the slow, measured way he removes the […]

  7. The Americans 4.03 “Experimental City of Tomorrow” Review: “Run, Run, Run” | TV Ate My Wardrobe - March 31, 2016

    […] Tim regarding his secret spilling. Anger is an emotion we rarely see from Philip and Elizabeth; Philip ripping out the pages from Paige’s bible and Elizabeth reaction to Paige’s confession last week are the two times we have seen them […]

  8. Best of TV Costuming 2016: The Americans, Vulnerability and the Jennifer Disguise | TV Ate My Wardrobe - December 14, 2016

    […] love triangle and the last time Elizabeth showed outward signs of Martha curiosity/envy was back in season 2 when Martha referred to Clark’s bedroom prowess (not a good conversation point with a sibling […]

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