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The Americans 2.08 “New Car” Review: “We All Serve”

17 Apr

Consequences and accountability dominate “New Car” as both Philip and Elizabeth deal with decision they have made that result in the death of someone else. While family continues to be at the heart of season 2 of The Americans, the work they are doing is taking them down some incredibly dark paths and each mission has an aspect that goes horribly wrong. As we find out in this episode even the ones that go off without a hitch (well practically), there is still a chance for devastating blow back.

The Americans 2.08 PhilipPhilip has been harboring a desire to get the new Camaro for weeks now and even though he tells the car salesman that he is merely looking, he succumbs to temptation. This is what Philip enjoys about his life in America; we’ve seen it in how much he likes country music and certain fashions. In fact this is the first time we have seen Philip in a flat cap and sunglasses like this; it’s like he got them to go with the car. He’s basically playing the 1982 version of the cool dad (the lesser discussed of the ‘cool’ parent trope). This is easy going Philip and it’s one we’re seeing less frequently as a result of the terrible, bad things he is doing this season in the name of his country.

The push/pull here is fascinating as the new car that he lovingly patted when he left it turns into a symbol of all that is terrible about this country when he hears about the submarine disaster. A tragedy he played a part in as he was the one who stole the defective plans. Philip’s been dealing with a lot of death recently and to add 160 more to his list takes the thrill out of his new toy. Elizabeth has always held the material benefits of America at arm’s length; yes she wears the beautiful shoes and has way more than she ever had at home, but she has never seen this world as better. So while her relationship with Philip has altered drastically since the pilot episode, how she feels about things hasn’t. These are all props that aid their cover, this is not who she is and she won’t be seduced by advertising.

With the new car, instead of blending in Philip now stands out. The color and shape are completely different to every other car we see as everyone else is still driving 70s boxy looking vehicles. Philip’s car has a futuristic vibe and Stan looks upon it with envy and when he parks his old car in his junk filled garage he lets out all of his frustrations on the car door. Philip’s life looks pretty rosy from the outside, if only Stan knew.

the Americans 2.08 HenryThere is a delinquent son to address; well Henry isn’t all that bad in the grand scheme of things. Instead of dealing with Henry’s breaking into their neighbor’s house to play video games problem, this doesn’t get resolved until a day later. This is the problem when you have spy issues to deal with, the kids come second. In part this could be seen as a reason behind Henry’s misdemeanor and this does have classic cry for attention written all over it. Or he just really wanted to play that video game and this adds another tick into Elizabeth’s fear for her children in a capitalist society column. The neighbors are very understanding and this adds to Henry’s feelings of guilt. When his parents eventually talk to him about it, Henry does pretty much all the talking and this scene perfectly captures the moment when you know you’ve done something wrong and you emotionally vomit your feelings.

Incorporating teen characters into the story can be a treacherous path with cougars and hit and runs being used to spice up the story. So far I’ve been impressed with how The Americans are weaving Henry and Paige into the overall narrative and Henry’s “I’m good” breakdown could be seen as being a touch on the nose, but it also goes to illustrate the varying moral grey areas this show is working in.

We’re so used to the spy story dominating the trajectory of an episode that often features Philip and Elizabeth deciding whether someone lives or dies; Philip letting the septic truck driver live in an act of mercy that could ruin their cover, but Philip has way to much innocent blood on his hands to be swung by all of Elizabeth’s “what if” hypothesizing. So when they’re dealing with something at home, the consequences are far less but it still holds emotional weight that grounds The Americans and makes it so much more than a spy show. Henry feels terrible that his parents and the neighbors now think badly of him and while his justification as to why he kept doing it (“It seemed like no one would even know”) is pretty flimsy, I can’t help but feel for him as he works himself up into tears.

The Americans 2.08 ElizabethThere’s an air of melancholy hanging over the entire episode as Elizabeth has to deal with death out in the field as Lucia proves that she runs too damn hot. For Lucia the mission with Larrick was always a means to kill him for training the police officers who tortured her father. Lucia goes too far and compromises everything they have been working towards and Elizabeth’s decision to let Larrick kill Lucia is a huge blow for Elizabeth; it shows just how vulnerable she still is post shooting. It also highlights that almost anyone can end up as collateral damage if they don’t understand what comes first and that is who they serve. Personal matters should never impact the overall objective, but that still doesn’t make it any less awful that Elizabeth had to watch Larrick choke the life out of Lucia. Philip wants to kill Larrick when he gets back from Nicaragua, it’s getting rather personal for him and this is worrying. Elizabeth’s “I let him” is heart wrenching and can we give all of the awards to Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell this season please?

When it comes to shifting blame, Oleg isn’t going to be held accountable for the submarine disaster in the same way Philip is feeling it – side note Kate was a tad too emotional about this incident and it’s hard to work out just how genuine she is being right now, maybe she knew someone on board? Oleg mentions the hasty time it took to build the sub, with little regard to testing it properly but as Arkady mentions they were the source of the original plans so they are at fault. Oleg remarks that “We all serve” and so there’s always a chance that any one of them could die for their country. There’s a glimpse at an old face with Vasili (who was sent back to Russia last season and who Arkady replaced) attempting to bond with Anton so he will reveal his scientist secrets “Mother Russia isn’t easy, she has to defend herself. But she is good in the end.”

The Americans 2.08 Nina and StanThe Stan/Nina/Oleg triangle is a rather curious one and Nina continues to be an enigma; everything she says to Stan appears to be coming from a place of honesty and in their scene together I really believe she cares for him. As soon as we cut to her playing video games with Oleg and generally larking around this changes and it’s hard to work out just where her loyalty lies when it comes to Stan. Stan is fighting a losing bureaucratic interagency battle as he keeps getting denied access to files on Anton. Anton he believes is the key to winning against Oleg and protecting Nina, but does Nina even need protecting anyway? Arkady is concerned for Nina when it comes to Oleg as his powerful family have the ability to be both cruel and kind.

The Americans 2.08 MarthaMartha feels bad about spying on her colleagues who she believes are “good people” – there it is again, this notion of good – and no longer wants to do this for Clark anymore. Philip edits one of the recordings to make it seem like they were calling Martha ugly to get her back on side. It’s a pretty shitty thing and there’s apparent tension between Philip and Elizabeth when the Clark/Martha stuff is discussed. Luckily Philip doesn’t have to play it as Martha has changed her mind; however Martha is a ticking time bomb as she continues to throw up new potential issues. Oh and meatloaf and eggs for breakfast sounds like the worst, first washing her hair in the kitchen sink and now this. Come on Martha, you are better than this.

The Americans 2.08 short hairNew wig alert! The pixie look really suits Keri Russell here and while I don’t think she will ever go full Felicity chop again, it works. Elizabeth showed mercy with the worker who stumbled upon them while they were stealing what turned out to be bad plans, now Philip is doing the same with this dude.

The Americans 2.08 Reagan“Look at him, he’ll do anything. He doesn’t care.” As a Ronald Reagan speech about defense budget and basically being better than the Russians plays in the background, Elizabeth can’t help but utter her dismay upon hearing the news of the submarine deaths. The tuxedo Reagan is wearing only adds to this notion of them vs. us and while Elizabeth’s statement could apply to them – after all they also serve a country and do terrible things for their cause – Reagan’s speech punctuates their conversation as if he is taunting them.

Notions of goodness, like beauty can be in the eye of the beholder (though it is probably 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 with the job he is tasked with means he operates in the moral grey area. The same applies to Elizabeth and the look she shares with Philip as Henry is purging his soul suggests they want to believe they are good people too, but can they ever really be when they have committed such awful and criminal acts even if it is in the name of Mother Russia?

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6 Responses to “The Americans 2.08 “New Car” Review: “We All Serve””

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. The Americans 2.09 “Martial Eagle” Review: “I’m not here to be Saved” | TV Ate My Wardrobe - April 24, 2014

    […] from Philip is less about what happens at the camp and more about Lewis, the guy they tied up last week. Lewis was meant to be the innocent guy they didn’t have to kill to get what they wanted, but […]

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

    […] his face for half the season followed by the real joy he gets from spending time with his children (cool dad new car dancing for example) has been a real pleasure to watch. Playing a slightly more balanced role has been Keri Russell and […]

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

    […] of Philip and Elizabeth items such as comfy looking sweaters or Philip’s attempt to look like a cool dad act in conflict with the dark violence we know they are both capable of. There is no one point […]

  4. The Americans 3.03 “Open House” Review: Wants and Needs | TV Ate My Wardrobe - February 12, 2015

    […] buy your kids everything they want, right?” This is not an issue in the Jennings home, except that one time they didn’t buy Henry a video game console and he broke into their neighbor’s house. […]

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

    […] manner. Otherwise it is a reaction that is unstable and leads to unpredictable moments such as Lucia attempting to kill Larrick in season 2 and ending up dead herself. Anger can push someone further away and Philip knows the importance of […]

  6. The Americans 5.13 “The Soviet Division” Review: It’s Us | TV Ate My Wardrobe - May 31, 2017

    […] fact this relates to a scene from season 2 after Philip bought the Camaro and he asked Elizabeth if there was anything that she liked about […]

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