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The Americans 2.11 “Stealth” Review: Making a Difference

8 May

Even when Philip and Elizabeth disagree on how to deal with their daughter’s new found interest in religion, they present a united front and this harmony has been developing since the pilot episode. Family has been in focus this season and the idea of making a difference comes to the forefront this week; it is why these characters take the risks they do. This takes several different forms and since Jared’s family was murdered in the premiere the fear for their own kids and Elizabeth’s sense of duty to her fallen friends has taken over.

Stan’s visit to Jared poses a threat on several levels; an ideological one as Elizabeth doesn’t want an American to reveal they were KGB and a more immediate danger as he’s once again looking for the illegals who just happen to be them. Larrick’s revenge mission is fueled by the deaths at the Contra camp and while we don’t know if he has any personal connection to the men Philip and Elizabeth killed, they could just be symbolic brothers to him.

The Americans 2.11 Philip and ElizabethStarting with Larrick and he once again proves what a terrifying enemy he is as he barely questions Kate before he snaps her neck. Larrick is picking off those who Elizabeth and Philip rely on for contact with the Center as he continues his quest to find them. Larrick wants to put an end to this mess, which he in part blames himself for. Unlike Stan who works within certain parameters (which he has broken in the past with Vlad), Larrick is dangerous because he doesn’t appear to have a stopping point and it’s all about self-preservation. Larrick is pissed that he’s had to do so much to damage his country, but he’s done it regardless and when it comes to finding Philip and Elizabeth there’s no guessing what he will do to achieve this objective. Even though he said he didn’t kill Emmett, Leanne and Amelia can we trust him? Threatening or even killing Paige or Henry doesn’t seem beyond the scope of what Larrick is capable of.

Larrick is also doing a very good job of covering his tracks and he removes any trace of his presence in Kate’s apartment. This includes untying her dead body from the ceiling fan and putting everything back as it was. Kate does leave a message behind on the cardboard toilet roll tube showing she’s not the dolt Philip might have suspected she was and she valiantly fought against Larrick, but his size and experience overpowered her. Kate’s last act of defiance involved spitting in his face and not everyone can be coerced into betraying their country. I’m sad to see Kate go so soon as Wrenn Schmidt barely got to scratch the surface with this character; who will be their next handler and will they be up to the high Jennings standard?

the Americans 2.11 Elizabeth puff shirt“Stealth” is very much a table setting episode as the tension and unease continue to grow. The Jennings’ have a list of issues they have to deal with and thankfully Philip seems to have recovered from his brief personal torment a few weeks ago. This isn’t to say that this isn’t going to resurface at any point, but at the moment he is very much focused on the mission at hand. Larrick is one threat and he’s not alone as Stan continues to connect the dots with the illegals and Emmett and Leanne, not to mention the Paige drama that continues. It’s all a balancing act and in part it’s why Elizabeth relents so quickly when Paige asks to go to a demonstration. Paige asks at a time when her parents have much bigger concerns and her pre-planned “Who I am and what I think and believe is mine. I’m me” speech isn’t really necessary – it’s annoying in a way when you have a whole argument ready and your parents say ok straight away. I understand why Paige decides to plead on a personal level as earlier Elizabeth refuses to explain why she can’t go to camp beyond the vague and frustrating “Because I’m your mother” and there’s no way to argue against this kind of reasoning.

In the final scene Elizabeth has an epiphany about her daughter as she notes how similar Paige is to her and how they both want to make a difference, however Paige is looking in the wrong place. Elizabeth talks earlier in the episode about how she doesn’t want Paige to get indoctrinated, but this is also what has happened with Elizabeth and Philip with Communism; it’s just a different kind of ideology and there’s probably a lot of similarities between the Young Pioneers camp that Nina spoke of last week and what Paige wants to do with her summer.

The Americans 2.11 Stan and SandraThis is the “they’re just like us” portion of the week and Stan’s desire to do something worthwhile is not all that different from why Elizabeth and Philip do what they do. Stan’s work is more transparent as he can talk to Henry for his school project about his job in a way Philip never could. There’s a hint of envy when Philip asks Stan to do the hero paper with his son as while his cover job is kind of boring, he would get hero status for what he is doing if they were back in Russia. Stan doesn’t see himself as a hero and the fantasy of the FBI comics he read as a kid chasing down the bad guys outside movie theaters is nothing like his reality and he seems ashamed of his commendation. Feelings of guilt might be overshadowing this joy with his betrayal to his country over the documents he gave Oleg, or because he killed someone in cold blood and then received an award for killing someone else. Being an FBI hero sure looks different to the days of gangsters and Henry’s surprise at the existence of these comics shows just how much the world has changed. Stan still has the desire to make a difference and do something good; this requires compromise and getting your hands dirty and it is something both Philip and Elizabeth know so well.

The grass is always greener and all that as Stan is still very taken with Philip’s new car and his own disintegrating marriage mirrors where we found Philip and Elizabeth at the beginning of the show; the gulf between Sandra and Stan has grown as Philip and Elizabeth’s marriage gained strength. The framing of Stan and Sandra’s scenes has reflected this distance all season and this technique is used once again as they discuss whether their marriage is over. In every sense beyond them saying it out loud it has been done for a long time and there’s no emotional connection between them beyond nostalgia for what they were.

the Americans 2.11 Oleg and NinaStan’s got other problems to deal with as Nina comes to him doing some damsel in distress posturing as she explains her deception has been discovered and while Nina is in a very precarious place, we know part of this plea is a manipulation as Arkady has known for a long time. They are using Nina to get Stealth information from Stan as he has the clearance they need, but Nina will get sent home and face a trial for treason if it all goes wrong or so Arkady says. How much of this is part of a bluff or double bluff is unclear and yet I am pretty certain that Arkady wanted Oleg to tell Nina that she is in danger.

Oleg praised Nina earlier this season for not trusting him and in the world they live in there aren’t many people who can be relied on. Philip and Elizabeth have this trust and no matter how much Oleg cares for Nina (and I think he has fallen for her), Nina is caught in a perilous position as she is being used by both sides. The Lenin Young Pioneers pin is a very sweet touch as Oleg has moved from antagonist to confidant. I could be completely wrong and Oleg might still be working all the angles for himself, I just don’t know anymore.

The Americans 2.11 PhilipOne person who keeps coming up with the goods is Fred as he provides Philip with the necessary person who knows all about the tech side of Stealth and it’s one of the ultimate “Hey! It’s that guy!” Zeljko Ivanek. Ivanek is playing John Skeevers who worked on RAM and has since got cancer that he blames on the paint that was used to suspend microscopic balls as part of technology for Stealth. This introduces us to a new Philip disguise and this one is on the very hairy side. It’s all about finding someone’s vulnerability and using this to their advantage; John’s memory might be a bit unreliable as he can’t remember who Philip is (which also is a bonus), but he is coherent enough to reveal some important detail about the paint and the bad side effects.

The Americans 2.11 ElizabethJared is also in a vulnerable position and Stan’s visit prompts Elizabeth to don her short wig and big glasses as she poses once again as someone from the Child Advocacy Center. Elizabeth is feeling guilty for burning Leanne’s letter and Elizabeth feels responsible for him. Jared knows that something is up and boy does this kid break my heart as his eyes plead with her to tell him the truth. Jared also meets with Kate and this is another mystery for The Americans to solve in the next two episodes; why was she visiting him in no form of disguise? Why do they have to get Jared out?

Making a difference and compromise are two key themes in “Stealth” and this episode suggests that achieving both is an extremely difficult task when the stakes are this high. Missions have been going wrong all season and as the tangled web grows, Philip and Elizabeth might get to a point where they will have to make a choice between family and their duty to the cause.

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2 Responses to “The Americans 2.11 “Stealth” Review: Making a Difference”

  1. Marilyn G May 8, 2014 at 7:13 pm #

    Excellent review. Thank you for the attention to detail. I loved this episode as it moved all the plot points forward setting the stage for the final two episodes to be ‘loaded’ with drama.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

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

    […] is not something they can share with their daughter adding to the already building tension. Elizabeth acknowledged how much Paige is like her a couple of weeks ago and how Paige is looking for meaning in the wrong […]

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