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The Americans 2.12 “Operation Chronicle” Review: “Take it Easy”

15 May

These words from Philip offer little comfort to Elizabeth as she questions how well their own children would handle Jared’s current predicament and she believes this day will eventually come. Family has played an intrinsic part on The Americans this season and remains in focus as we head into the final episode of the year. There is the burden of isolation that runs through all of these characters with some choosing this path of loneliness, while others cling to the relationships they have. Some of these connections are there to serve a greater purpose and yet still produce moments of emotional honesty even if the bonds aren’t real.

One unseen threat – to Philip and Elizabeth – is Larrick as he continues his hunt, building the tension and dread as the episode progresses. How much you can rely on the country you serve is called into question and Paige also feels doubt towards her parents as she continues to (rightly) sense they are lying to her.

The Americans 2.12 kitchenA couple of episodes ago I wrote about the kitchen location and how it represents the constant push/pull between their home life and their work; it’s where they spend time with their kids and doing domestic tasks, but it’s also where they debrief and plot. There’s also the rebellious streak with Elizabeth smoking in there and having sex on the dining room table while the kids sleep upstairs. The family they have is part of their cover and the initial union between Philip and Elizabeth was nothing more than part of this setup. Emotions were never meant to come into play, but when you bring children into the world together and really fall for each other, well then it is going to get complicated.

The first season saw Philip and Elizabeth take the first steps towards making this real and in doing so they have become stronger as a couple, however they have also compromised their abilities to remain impartial. With Paige and Henry, Philip might have always been the fun dad and Elizabeth as the disciplinarian but in “Operation Chronicle” we see that Philip has a lot more confidence in their abilities to deal if they were put in the same position as Jared.

Elizabeth is far less certain of this citing the fact they had each other when they first came to this unknown country, plus they had training. The one thing they have in common is their lack of choice. Jared is now heading to a destination unknown – Switzerland, Hungary and Australia are all options – and he’s going to lose any connections he once had. Jared has already lost his family, but to lose everything else that makes up his identity doesn’t sit well with Elizabeth. This feels like a role reversal as Elizabeth is taking the position of questioning the decisions of the Centre; this isn’t her duty to her country talking, but the promise she made to a friend and her instincts of being a mother. It’s not like Philip is shoulder shrugging the whole thing, but he’s of the more pragmatic school of thought on this one.

When it comes to their own kids, Philip has faith in them pointing out how smart Paige is and while Henry is still a kid, who knows in a couple of years? In fact we’ve seen Henry’s capacity for defending both himself and his sister when he smashed a bottle of beer over the creepy duck feeding dude last season. Plus he knows how to break and enter, even if it is just to play video games. Henry also provides some pop culture analysis this week discussing the first Star Trek movie (which he is not a fan of) and the forthcoming Wrath of Khan (which he thinks has some potential thanks to Khan, but he doesn’t have high expectations) so hey he could be a movie critic. Get in there Henry, while there is still money in it.

The Americans 2.12 PaigeThere continues to be tension between Paige and her parents, with Elizabeth on the receiving end of Paige’s disappointment this week thanks to a work emergency. The emergency is real (Jared), but of course they concoct a semi-believable lie to throw Paige off the scent. Paige listens in on their phone call, but the click of the receiver reveals her presence and her parents are far too experienced to fall for this. Paige wanted to pack her bags for her big protest trip with her mom and this disappointment is genuine; yet another occasion where their work has got in the way of spending time with their kids. Paige talks to Pastor Tim – who I get a creepy vibe off, it might be his hair – about her parents and how she thinks they both could be having an affair and whatever it is, she doesn’t believe anything they say anymore. The magic is gone and her instincts are right, I mean they have both technically had affairs, it’s just there’s no way Paige would ever think they were something as dramatic as KGB spies.

The above outfit would not look out of place now proving that plaid is a timeless pattern that transcends the decades of the latter half of the twentieth century and this one we are currently in.

The Americans 2.12 meeting FredOh hey it’s Elizabeth’s disguise she used a few weeks ago when she went to an AA meeting and now she’s using this as a cover to help push Fred towards getting what they need with the RAM paint samples. It’s appropriate that these two disguises are paired together as Philip had his moment of despair while wearing this attire in the same episode as Elizabeth’s post AA share session. Stan mentioned how KGB spies would look for weakness and exploit it and Philip and Elizabeth are doing just this with Fred. Fred is a loner and so Emmett used tales of his family to make Fred feel wanted and part of something, by bringing Elizabeth along to this meeting Philip is doing the same thing. They also appeal to Fred’s sense of superiority and this achieves the response they want as he agrees to going through with their plan.

The Americans 2.12 FredLet’s take a moment to look at this stunning shot of Fred in the snow and looking as isolated as it comes – oh hey thanks Polar Vortex for helping create these shots even if it’s the worst to shoot in.

The reasons behind helping the cause are varied; for Elizabeth and Philip it’s how they were raised, with Larrick it’s blackmail, for some it’s money, others think their government is corrupt and deserves it and for someone like Fred it’s there chance to be a somebody and belong. Loyalty and trust are hard to come by and while Philip and Elizabeth now implicitly trust each other, it hasn’t always been the case. This is one of the benefits of falling in love and while it has had a negative impact on how well they do their job at times, this kind of trust is not the kind that can be bought. Of course they still have very different processes and Elizabeth’s hot headed nature is the kind of thing that could put them in danger, it has put them in danger in fact. Philip is more emotional in general, but more measured in the field and as they come up against the unseen Larrick I wonder if either of them is really prepared for what they will face.

The Americans 2.12 Clark and MarthaMartha’s figured out one of Clark’s secrets and that’s his ‘toupee’ situation. Philip is quite taken aback by this, but there’s no way that thing that sits on his head feels like actual hair. If anyone was wondering whether Martha and Clark use any form of protection the used condom disposal answers that question, but uh oh as Martha wants to have kids with Clark. This isn’t up for discussion and now I’m wondering if Martha will go to any kind of extremes to get what she wants.

As Clark, Philip discusses why having kids in this line of work is a bad idea and this applies to his real life, but the kids he had are part of that cover. Those kids, like Jared are a product of a larger plan they are unaware of and these children are caught in the crossfire (for Amelia the literal kind). It’s a complex scheme because their children are going to be their number one priority and they’ve been told to produce something they will be more loyal to than the country they are serving. Elizabeth is the more staunch believer and her reaction and instant desire to protect a child that is not even hers shows the lengths she would go to if there was a threat to either Paige or Henry. Family trumps country.

The Americans 2.12 NinaWhat about a lover? Stan is being asked to betray his country to save Nina’s life and while she’s playing him, her life really does hang in the balance if he doesn’t come through. Stan’s been going through it this season and I’d really like to see him get a win, as long as this doesn’t cause Nina’s death, nor negatively impact Philip and Elizabeth. Stan has been tasked with getting information on Echo (the title of the finale) to save Nina and Nina has another benefactor in Oleg as he gives her an envelope stuffed full of cash if she has to go on the run. Where would Nina go? Like Jared, Nina would end up somewhere unknown and alone and the connections she has made, both real and fake would end here. Stan is also pretty isolated as Sandra’s moving in with this other guy and his son can barely look at him; unlike the Jennings’ kitchen which is generally full of warmth (Bible destruction aside), the Beeman’s couldn’t feel anymore sterile or unwelcome. Not even a pilfered VHS copy of The Rocky Horror Picture Show can win Stan cool dad points.

Taking it easy is a luxury none of these characters can afford, especially when there is a silent threat stalking them. The seen and the unseen is an important concept as there is a lot of blind loyalty and following orders from someone they never see. In losing Kate and their answering service George, they have lost their physical connection to what they are trying to achieve and now they are being sent short messages with missions that serve the cause, but don’t protect them from other dangers. Larrick and Stan threaten Philip and Elizabeth for very different reasons and Larrick poses a far bigger menace to the personal safety of their family. One other source of peril is Philip and Elizabeth themselves as while they are a more united than they have ever been before, there does still exist conflict between them and how they deal with the problems they encounter; could this be the real enemy within?

With just one episode to go the crackling tension that has been building all season is about to boil over and I have a feeling we are in for some heartbreak come next week. How many physical and emotional casualties will there be? As with last year my worries lie at the feet of both Nina and Martha.

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