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The Americans 2.13 “Echo” Review: Finding Meaning and Purpose

22 May

Spy life and family are so intrinsically linked on The Americans because Philip and Elizabeth created theirs to help maintain their cover. Dread has been building all season culminating in a stomach churning finale; going in a soul crushing direction that is completely unexpected and one that explores the overall purpose of these characters and the children they were compelled to have. Compartmentalization is a key component to how Philip and Elizabeth operate and this has been challenged all season, with Philip having a hard time reconciling some of his actions and switching off from the terrible things he has done. Danger has come from outside of their family unit and while I mentioned the threat from within during some of the early season 2 promotional materials, I never expected the twist that has the potential to destroy this family unit.

The Americans 2.13 picnicPaige’s interest in religion came across initially as a way to create conflict in a manner that sidesteps the usual teen rebellion tropes while being fundamentally opposite to her parents’ beliefs. The reason why Philip and Elizabeth have so much disdain towards organized religion 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 place. Elizabeth thinks that Paige would benefit from finding meaning and purpose in something bigger than her, so what happens when the KGB reveal their plans to indoctrinate a second generation of illegals who are born to ‘American’ parents on US soil? The twist is particularly insidious because it takes away their children’s choice, repeating the cycle by using the same grand declarations about a cause that is bigger than any one person.

The initial horror comes courtesy of Jared and the discovery of who really killed Emmett, Leanne and Amelia. All this time either Larrick or another unseen force has been the likely culprit and Jared was never a suspect. Jared’s blood spluttering confession is incredibly jarring as he’s done such a good job of protecting his cover and acting the innocent; from his reaction to the bodies in the hotel room, to his tears when Elizabeth first met him. Since Elizabeth first saw Kate meeting Jared out of disguise, she knew something was up and Jared did react far too calmly to the upheaval to his life, not that I ever saw this coming. Philip and Elizabeth both look on in dismay at Jared as he confesses his crime while choking on his own blood and neither of them can hide their shock. They’ve spent so long looking over their shoulders wondering when someone is coming for them and they never contemplated this was a domestic issue wrapped up in the cause.

The Americans 2.13 Philip and ElizabethThroughout this finale (and season) there are many micro gestures and movements often between Philip and Elizabeth as they convey so much to each other without saying a single word. It’s something The Americans excels at and it’s a show that demands you pay attention otherwise the some of the nuance is lost. This happens in this scene after Jared takes his last breath and Philip sinks backwards finally exhaling (mirroring my inner feelings after this intense scene). It’s something Elizabeth does at home before Philip gets back as she rests against the couch in a move that if that piece of furniture wasn’t there and if this show was more melodramatic she would have done so anyway and just fallen to the floor. Exhaustion, relief, fear are all reasons behind this and when Philip and Elizabeth embrace after they have got home from their danger vacation all of these things are communicated in how they are holding each other and in their eyes. Looks in the car between them as they daren’t say anything even if the kids are sleeping show just how in sync they are, well in sync on almost everything.

Simultaneously setting up conflict for next year while tying up the loose ends of this season is expertly handled as Claudia reveals the why of how Jared was recruited against his parents’ wishes. It looks like they are giving Philip and Elizabeth a choice, but really they’re saying the exact same thing to them as they did to Emmett and Leanne; we want your child to work for us and you have no choice. Philip emphasizes the notion that Paige is “our daughter” and yet she is a product of their cover and in this respect she belongs to the KGB and this larger thing they are all part of. This taps into a very specific part of Elizabeth and she has yet to waiver when it comes to their overall purpose. With Philip it is a different story and he has been more prone to disillusion, targeting his daughter is a very good way to add to these feelings.

No matter how united Philip and Elizabeth are, there is always going to be this fundamental difference between them and the Centre could exploit this to get what they want. There is also the danger of what will happen if they do tell Paige who they really are and I think Philip understands there is a chance Paige will reject this path and her parents. Paige is already pissed and confused, she tells Henry that she’s already counting down the days until college when she can escape this “lunatic asylum” and I’m not sure the truth would make her feel any different. It’s a risk and one Elizabeth is contemplating.

The Americans 2.13 meeting ClaudiaElizabeth has a habit of when it comes to these discussions of cutting them off when it’s not going in a direction she’s happy with and it is a tactic she has been employing all season. In fact this is a way to undermine Philip’s opinions as she switches subjects or calls the kids for dinner to abruptly end a discussion. This leaves it all up in the air for the audience as well and now we are left contemplating just how serious Elizabeth is with this consideration. Cut off sentences and half finished stories are a consequence of the double life and it’s part of why compartmentalizing can be so difficult to comprehend. They discuss Paige while they wait for Fred (RIP) in full disguise and to them it’s the most normal thing in the world.

Sharing stories of their childhood like Elizabeth revealing how at 14 (Paige’s age) she looked after her mother for 10 months when she had diphtheria and she still managed to go to school. Her life was hard, but she made do and this isn’t a complaint and more a statement of fact. Philip begins to share his own tale and his is from when he was a couple of years younger than Henry – both use their own children as a reference point – and we never get to hear how Philip outsmarted the kids who attacked him as they’re interrupted by the police scanner. Whenever they talk about their past they are breaking the rules that were laid out before them and it shows intimacy and trust between them as they peel back the layers of who they were before they became the Jennings.’

So Paige is Elizabeth and Henry’s very much his father’s son; Paige is questioning and dismissive whereas Henry is open and enthusiastic. In a way both are living vicariously through their children as they’ve never had to experience the hardships they had when they were growing up. Philip wants to protect them from ever having to deal with this, it’s why he’s so forceful as reminds Elizabeth “We swore we would never…” The children are meant to be off limits, they are meant to protect them and yet Elizabeth sees Philip’s fear as a slight against who they are and what they do. The through line this season has been family and we’ve hit the point of examining what is more important; family or the cause? For Philip the answer is easy, for Elizabeth it is not so cut and dry and I expect this will dominate the start of next year.

Elizabeth’s desire to tell Paige the truth is also a selfish one as she wants to show her daughter who she really is, as she did with Jared when she turns up at the cabin without her disguise and in a super cool looking leather jacket. To her daughter she is just a very neurotic travel agent and it hurts that she can’t reveal who she really is. I don’t think Elizabeth even contemplates that Paige might reject her; I think this is all Philip thinks about.

The Americans 2.13 Elizabeth leather jacketFor a brief moment I considered the idea that they might kill either Paige or Henry in the finale, but if they had I think this would have driven both Philip and Elizabeth away from the cause. Instead Larrick decided to go with the turning them in option, except he didn’t count on Jared having a gun. Larrick didn’t go out quietly, instead it resulted in a fight that involved both Philip and Elizabeth in handcuffs and the gun Larrick had tucked down the back of his pants being used to kill him. Larrick has been truly terrifying and his unpredictable nature has made him the kind of villain I’d like to see more of on this show.

Philip meets with Arkady for the first time, showing just how serious he is by risking his cover as Arkady is often subject to surveillance. It’s a very brief meeting and one that conveys just how strongly Philip feels about this. We’ve seen how the KGB use manipulation and points of weakness to exert control and I suspect they will attempt to drive a wedge between Philip and Elizabeth to get their second generation spy (this storyline reminds me of “Project Christmas” on Alias). Season 1 focused on the shakiness of their marriage, but this was prior to the bond they have now and I wonder how easy it will be pit them against each other now they are in love.

Rolling StoneBecause I love magazine covers here is the issue of Rolling Stone Philip picks up to browse while he is talking to Arkady. It is from April 1982 and the “Beware the Pentagon” headline is rather appropriate. Warren Beatty is giving me Peter Gallagher vibes in this photo sans the eyebrows. Also that cover line. Seriously.

Back to The Americans and I’ve almost hit 2000 words without mentioning the other plot of dread as Stan contemplates treason for love. It’s another case of how far someone will go for their country, in this case it’s Stan and protecting the US against the Russians. Despite having nothing in his personal life beyond Nina now that Sandra has moved out and a son who couldn’t give a shit, it is not a simple choice. Stan rejects Sandra’s correct intuition that something is bothering him, showing that even with their recent stranger status, twenty years does count towards something.

Stan didn’t even want to get surveillance reports for Oleg and probably gave himself an ulcer as a result of this so it was always unlikely that he would give over something as huge as Echo even if it was to save the woman he loves. Stan even went through with wearing a wire (giving himself another ulcer most likely) and getting the information (floppy discs!), but running away with Nina and betraying his country is not something someone like Stan is capable of. Like those on the opposite team he has limits and he chose duty over love. But tell Nina he’s sorry. I can’t hold it against Stan for failing Nina and despite some impulsive reactions like killing Vlad; he’s one of the good guys. The FBI is bigger than him and if he betrayed that he would lose his identity and this was laid out in his discussion with Henry in “Stealth.”

The Americans 2.13 Nina and LeninSo what about Nina? Options have run out and the envelope full of cash Oleg gave her last week is of no help now as she is trapped by circumstance. Nina’s story has been tragic all along and it’s been one long fight for survival since Stan first approached her. There’s no fight left in her as she leaves the Rezidentura as she’s come to accept her fate and there’s nothing she can do to stop her trip to Russia and most likely her execution. Oleg has connections and he clearly loves her, but I don’t think this is enough to save her; if it was he would have used this move by now. The Lenin portrait is so defiant and the framing of Nina next to this shows her own defiance and sadness. This is truly heartbreaking as this character’s resolve and attempts at self-preservation in the face of certain doom has been incredibly compelling, as has Annet Mahendru’s performance.

It’s hard to find fault in any of the performances and another quietly devastating scene comes courtesy of Martha and her desire to have children. Martha doesn’t know if her marriage to Clark is enough and we know it isn’t because of who Clark really is. I’m glad they’re not going down the pregnancy route with Martha at the moment as Philip already has far too much on his plate without this extra concern, but on a personal level I want so much more for this character. Martha is currently proving her worth with the files she is stealing – in Stan’s dream Martha is seen taking a file off the mail robot showing that he is aware of her deception on a subconscious level – and ideally for her it would be best if she can’t give Clark anything that might be useful. This isn’t the kind of show that will let her bow out that easily and it’s significant that Philip becomes aware of the gun that now sits in the same drawer as her bottle opener.

This season has built on the solid foundation from last year and by going deeper into these relationships and setting higher stakes it has gone from strength to strength. It’s hard to sum this all up without a series of hyperbolic statements but it really does deserve all the plaudits and praise. Matthew Rhys has been the season’s MVP as he has been a ball of emotions quietly simmering and then exploding. The pain that is etched on 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 she has been no less exceptional and her pain has often on the quieter, more understated side and the chemistry between the pair is undeniable whether it is spooning on the couch or getting a lot more intimate on the dining room table.

the americans 2.13 drivingThe 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 it highlights the level of dread as Philip and Elizabeth scoop up their kids in the middle of the night and jump in their car. All there is them and the open road and yet it’s never going to be just them as a family and this season finale has made this abundantly clear.

 

To have a look at our rundown of the best disguises from season 2 head here.

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16 Responses to “The Americans 2.13 “Echo” Review: Finding Meaning and Purpose”

  1. TT May 31, 2014 at 5:26 am #

    Hi, I normally don’t post things online or respond/reply; however, I just had to let you know that your reviews of The Americans are so thorough and amazing to read (and I’ve read ALOT). I’m currently obsessed with the show and I love that you have the same thoughts and focus on Philip/Elizabeth as I do. Thanks for sharing!

    • Emma Fraser May 31, 2014 at 12:16 pm #

      Thanks! It’s definitely one of my favorite shows to write about and I’m happy to hear such a positive response.

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