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The Americans 2.07 “Arpanet” Review: “He’s Our Monster”

10 Apr

Season 2 of The Americans is exploring ideas of family; the one we create and the more abstract ideological aspects such as country and what is home. The death of Emmett, Leanne and their daughter has made everything darker and more dangerous for Philip and Elizabeth, the risks they are taking could have a much wider impact on their personal life. Effectively they could be helping their country and destroying their family. Last season Elizabeth was the one who got the job done at all costs with collateral damage like a security guard not weighing all that much on her mind, things have shifted and Philip is the one who has been doing some very bad things to protect the missions and his family. Now who is the monster?

The Americans 2.07 Philip“For what? What was the point?” It’s the second time this season that Philip has killed an innocent bystander and it’s not something he takes lightly. There is no pleasure, no exhilaration so while he might be considered a monster he doesn’t do it for the thrill of it. These actions are beginning to weigh on him and I wonder if he is going to reach his breaking point soon. It was close a few weeks ago when he was transporting Anton as he was called a monster for his lack of reaction to his plight. So far we have seen that Philip can compartmentalize and when it comes between getting caught and killing someone, he has always choose the latter. With the busboy it was because he had seen his real face and minus the wig. In “Arpanet” it was all a matter of discovery; it doesn’t matter that Philip is in heavy disguise (one they refer to as Fernando on set) because the implications here are that someone is aware of this precursor to the internet and they have infiltrated it. The lesson here is to remember your wallet or really don’t go back into a building when there is an alarm going off.

Charles is becoming a burden, where before he has been an asset. Yes he gets Philip the code, but he almost jeopardizes everything when the code he has written on the palm of his hand has been sweated off due to nerves and his body craving alcohol. At the bar rendezvous point he acts all triumphant and this only infuriates Philip more; to Charles the spy life is a fun exciting game and the consequences don’t seem all the bad in the warm light of the bar with a drink in his hand. Charles claims the drink he has is non alcoholic, challenging Philip to try it if he doesn’t believe him. Philip doesn’t rise to this, waiting instead for Charles to leave before ordering the same drink and finding out that yes it contains vodka. This is one unstable asset and as everything hangs so precariously in the balance, this is the last thing he needs right now.

The Americans 2.07 dinerPhilip has no time for pleasantries with anyone outside of his family this week and he is straight to the point with both Lucia and their new handler Kate. He scolds Kate for her outfit choice which makes her look like a spy in an old movie – trench coat, headscarf – even though his black turtleneck screams spy attire to me. Maybe this comes across as cliche now, but it’s also a classic look for this period. Philip pretty much wears a version of this outfit throughout this entire episode (except for when he is in disguise) and it’s his way of blending in. With the diner meeting with Lucia he doesn’t bother with chit chat, instead he wants to know what Lucia has been up to and if she has been spotted. He’s forceful and direct, whereas Elizabeth has revealed a bit of her past to Lucia – we now know that her father was a miner. Philip is usually the friendly, personable one so this shift is noticeable.

The Americans 2.07 reporterA new disguise and a new moustache! Here is Philip’s journalist look and it balances the perfect amount of shabby with put togetherness. This was also a great tutorial about the start of the internet – TV teaches!

The Americans 2.07Here’s the tech set up in the office of the travel agent and the main part is currently getting redecorated, does Elizabeth prefer eggshell or ivory? This is the humor highlight of the episode as Elizabeth asks “What’s the difference?” and Philip responds “The color.” The conversation quickly shifts from this trivial matter to important spy business.

The Americans 2.07 fun PhilipThe same can be said at home where for a brief moment fun dad Philip is broken out as he talks (and then sings) to Henry about the car he wants to get. It’s a moment of levity before Elizabeth returns to tell him of yet another issue they have (more on this below). Like Paige, Henry is acting out and even though they are not completely neglected by their parents, the level of attention they get is diminished every time a new work related problem occurs. Instead Henry has been using his birthday present to get in on his own spy action and he breaks in to the house across the street to eat food from their fridge and play on the video game he has been begging his parents for. This is building to something more and their ability to keep spinning all of these plates is going to get increasingly difficult as there are just too many variables at the moment.

The Americans 2.07 joggingOne such variable is Lucia and she’s going to get herself killed at the rate and I can see 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 versus passion; Elizabeth generally knows how to temper her feelings and tells Lucia that under no circumstance can she kill Larrick for revenge. Revenge is all about an emotional response and we’ve seen this from Elizabeth most notably in the pilot. When she tells Philip that Lucia “burns hot” he mentions the similarity to Elizabeth.

Elizabeth is so cold and detached, that when she releases emotion it tends to be explosive. For Philip he is generally calm and measured, but he is capable of terrible things. They have so far not been motivated by his emotions, this is reserved for when someone has done something or threatened to do something to his family (see the pilot once again). This is where Philip and Elizabeth differ and separate; it’s all in their impulse control and as we saw with Elizabeth and the Mossad agent she still has a problem here. Not always, but it is something that can flare up.

The Americans 2.07 polygraphOne person who has learnt how to control her emotions is Nina and she successfully passes the FBI polygraph test with the help of Oleg and tips like squeeze your anus before answering, thinking of Oleg standing there and asking for a glass of water to break up the time. These scenes are fascinating as it’s still hard to get a read on exactly what Nina is thinking and the end scene with her in bed with Oleg compounds this further. With Stan, he is of course madly in love with her so he’s going to agree to her forever declarations. Nina is protecting herself and yet I can’t quite tell how much of what she is doing is for her country and how much is for self preservation. The only reason she started working for the FBI was because he caught her doing something illegal, so it wasn’t like she freely went along with this. Now Nina is playing double agent and it’s also hard to pin down what Oleg’s motivations are. As with Philip, there is a lot about Western culture Oleg appreciates, namely the music. It’s another case of how much country means versus personal survival/gain and at the moment Oleg doesn’t seem too fussed about ideology.

Both Matthew Rhys and Annet Mahendru show how much can be conveyed by eye moment; for Philip it is his moral conscience weighing on him after killing an innocent person – Philip never answers his own question about how many people he has killed but it’s got to be a high number – with Nina it is all about confidence and lying to herself to get through the test. These are amazing performances and they achieve a number of things including giving us a Philip we can still feel for no matter how many awful things he has done. Is he a monster? Sure, for the pain he has inflicted on multiple people this season he could be called that, but to repeat Elizabeth’s sentiment “he’s our monster” and where he differs is that he feels every bad thing he does, before storing it away in his spy bad deeds bank. It’s when he can’t fit anything more in there that we will have to worry. Trust or lack of it is an important concept and while Philip truly has Elizabeth now they are committed to each other in love as well as country, Nina has no one. This is why she is keeping her options opening; she tells Oleg she doesn’t trust him (which he’s congratulates her on), with Stan she has promised him everything but deep down she knows that he has a patriotic duty he won’t betray.

For country, for love whichever one wins it is a tangled mess in which all of these characters must live.

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2 Responses to “The Americans 2.07 “Arpanet” Review: “He’s Our Monster””

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. The Americans 2.08 “New Car” Review: “We All Serve” | TV Ate My Wardrobe - April 17, 2014

    […] a less abstract concept) and it all depends on what side you are serving. The question of whether Philip is a monster has been raised this season and while he has done monstrous acts, he still feels things like remorse and guilt and this coupled […]

  2. Serving Up Doubt on The Good Wife | TV Ate My Wardrobe - November 9, 2015

    […] and for all of Jason Crouse’s how to mess with a polygraph techniques (he did not opt for The Americans squeeze your anus Oleg advice) they come up short as the new test is being administered by a […]

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