The Americans 3.12 “I Am Abassin Zadran” Review: All in the Family

16 Apr

Family on The Americans blurs the line between truth and lies starting as one and becoming the other and Paige continues to struggle with what she was told a couple of episodes ago. Last week Elizabeth divulged more about her mother than ever before, which to us as the viewers is of great emotional significance, but to Paige it is another part of this web of deception. It doesn’t matter that her parents are now revealing the real parts of themselves when they have been lying for her entire existence. Paige isn’t Philip and Elizabeth’s only concern as the multiple operations they are running hit a critical juncture; the human element means that no matter how well they plan something there is the potential for things to go awry, which is what tends to happen on this show.

The Americans 3.12 Elizabeth CIAIn fact the operation with Abassin Zadran goes without a hitch (at this juncture) as Philip and Elizabeth successfully plant the seeds of doubt while having to hear a cheerful tale about how much satisfaction he gets from killing communists. Both remain composed while he talks about gutting and Elizabeth even takes a moment to massage his ego by calling him loyal and brave. As with most assets it is all about saying what the person wants to hear to get them to comply without even realizing it. This is the operation we have been following all season and it’s why Philip has been hanging out with a fifteen year old girl who isn’t his daughter and it is good to see them get a relatively straightforward win even if it comes with such brutal execution.

Teen girls and specifically Paige and Kimmy are at the heart of yesterday’s Americans post and one matter discussed was how Paige might act out. Instead of going for the traditional act of teen rebellion, Paige instead hits her parents where it hurts; with religion and her relationship with Pastor Tim as she left a note saying she was going to stay over after a lecture. A big hell no moment from Philip and Elizabeth mostly out of fear she might spill their secret and also partly because they are angry at her insubordination. So they once again leave Henry alone with just the company of TV and his beloved computer game; is this Henry neglect going to come back to bite them? It’s not like he will Jared them or anything but I do think they need to start paying some attention to child number two, well besides how much he might be able to hear when Paige is yelling about this family not being real.

“Don’t jump all over her.”
“You know what I mean.”
“No, maybe I don’t. You wanna teach me how to handle my own daughter?!”

First of all this exchange between Philip and Elizabeth is a great example of what makes this show so special; it is a typical parental debate about how to handle a wayward child with a strong hint of implied knowledge that they will react unfavorably. Elizabeth proves that she can remain relatively calm in this instance and while nothing is really resolved they manage to get their point across that Paige can’t act like this. This is where The Americans deviates from the family drama as with this knowledge Paige now holds the key to their downfall and as they are high level operatives it will be a huge loss for the KGB. When they return home, the garage acts as a kind of holding cell as they block Paige in and reinforce how much they need to be able to trust her and because the space is so small it adds to the tension. The way they use this house and the familiar settings heightens the drama because everywhere is tinged with the family life that also feels pretty alien to Paige at the moment.

The Americans 3.12 Philip and ElizabethLater on Paige interrupts her parents who are discussing the Martha problem in the confines of their bedroom with Elizabeth and Philip remaining seated when she enters. Armed with a family photo album Paige questions the so-called relatives who feature and whether they are really their blood. Of course they aren’t; Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell do a stellar job of managing the awkward acceptance that this going to be just one in a long line of having to admit to things which they faked with quick glances at each other. There is also a strong sense of agitation from Paige as her voice gets louder and Elizabeth as she tries to remain calm.

The Americans 3.12 bedroomAnd then it all gets too much for Elizabeth and she does the thing that Philip warned her against doing as she literally jumps all over her trying to stifle Paige’s speech by putting her hand over her mouth. This of course goes horribly and Paige utters a very familiar “Don’t touch me” giving me flashbacks to fifteen and some dumb fight about whatever. If Philip was an asshole he might point out to his wife this is what he was referring to earlier, but Elizabeth is quick to register regret at how this escalated.

Philip remains seated and we get to see him framed in the center of the two most important women in his life trying to calm the situation and failing. It once again ends with Paige departing and at this point they haven’t really ended any conversations with Paige as she always exits first.

The Americans 3.12 PhilipGiving Paige space is wise, but this needs to be resolved so Philip goes to see Paige on her own turf. Like Paige did earlier, he uses photos as a way to reach her and when he enters he sits on the floor with her maintaining an equal level rather than going for a superior position. Philip is better at reasoning with Paige because at this point Elizabeth is incapable of completely controlling her emotions. Elizabeth tends to be the colder one of the pair but since she actually fell in love with Philip when it comes to their family her feelings are more intense and harder to dismiss. Photos are Paige’s tool to point out everything is fake and Philip uses this same tool to show her how real things are. Yes Cousin Roger and Aunt Helen are points of fiction – Philip mentions Elizabeth being unwell, not that she got shot – but everything in this house is real.

The Americans 3.12 baby photoAnother fantastic job by the props/art department as they continue to kill it with the Jennings family photo collection. There is nothing more irritating than being taken out of a highly emotional scene by bad photoshop or personal pictures which are clearly from the promo department. We get an instant connection to this moment because it looks like a real family photo celebrating a very important arrival. It brings everything back to their family and the experiences which are not fake. A family camping holiday is the other reminder Philip brings and Paige mentions how Henry was afraid a bear would eat him, something Philip didn’t know because Henry had made Paige promise she wouldn’t tell (we all keep secrets). It is a really lovely scene between father and daughter without the level of fraught tension from their recent scenes. Photographs can create an illusion as a smile doesn’t always mean a person is happy and yet they also freeze a specific time/place allowing us to experience it again and see the truth.

Despite Gabriel saying no last week to Philip’s request for Elizabeth to see her mother, Philip is pushing forward with this plan and even goes so far as suggesting Elizabeth takes Paige with her. As before Elizabeth hesitates when it comes to this conversation and it’s like his chat with Gabriel lit a fire under him as he pulls the ‘if you don’t take her, I will’ card. A hard card to argue with and Elizabeth tells Paige about the trip idea (accompanied by Ultravox “Vienna”) making sure Paige knows that it is her choice if she wants to come or not. It’s like Philip and Elizabeth are finally on the same page (boom boom).

The Americans 3.12 Claudia and GabrielGabriel has an interesting conversation about the state of everything with Claudia (!) and it is so good to see Margo Martindale share a scene with Frank Langella discussing their long history, the amount of menu choice and what to do about the Jennings family. Jared is referenced and how this disaster caused a huge rift in the Centre and yet they still want to progress with Paige. Claudia thinks Philip is the problem and yet Gabriel also has doubts that relate to Elizabeth and her ability to deal with Philip since this plan has been set in motion. As with how Gabriel manipulates his agents, Claudia does the same to Gabriel telling him how much faith the Centre has in him. This is right down to how Gabriel reaches for Elizabeth’s hand, so does Claudia do the same to him. Oh Claudia, do you not remember what Elizabeth did to you when you tried to interfere with her family last time?

Doubt is creeping in all over the place and another photograph prompts questions. Stan makes a surprise visit to Martha’s and luckily Hans is watching the building as he tips Philip off that someone from the government is inside. Hans is not the loose cannon I thought he might be, but I guess there is still time for that to change. Martha’s wedding photo with Clark is safely hidden in her drawer and when she went to look at it, I figured she was going for her gun. This picture is the perfect example of the lies Paige was talking about and while their marriage is technically real (although not at the same time as Clark is an assumed identity); it means something far greater to Martha than it does to the person behind Clark.

The Americans 3.12 Martha bedMartha is beginning to fall apart and being driven out to the middle of nowhere to have secret chats with your husband is not reassuring. Alison Wright delivers a heartbreaking performance of monumental proportions first when she tries to pretend that everything is fine on the phone to her parents followed by her confrontation with Clark. She tells her parents she is staying there and Clark that she is going to her parents so what is she really packed for? If she leaves in this way the FBI are going to figure it was her who planted the pen and this trip has finality to it. Philip tries everything he can to convince her that it will be fine and none of his words help so he goes for the extreme option revealing not only his true face but pulling off the wig. We’ve only seen Philip’s wig removed twice; first during a fight, the second time he ripped it off in anger and this reveal is huge. There is something sinister about the slow, measured way he removes the pins slowly showing who he is and I can’t see Philip letting Martha out of this alive, not now he has revealed his true face. Yes I think he genuinely cares for her, but there is only one family he will protect and that is his real one. It is worth pointing out Philip has not had to kill anyone yet this season and this looks like it might change. Oh, Martha.

In other operations Arkady is already fed up of the chit chat they have to sift through with Operation Mail Robot/Zephyr and it takes Oleg and Tatiana to reinforce how important it might be. Tatiana is an intriguing character as she appears to be invested in Arkady keeping this position and she is worried if he pulls the plug this quick then it will look bad on him. Personal conversations can be used to exploit the agents who are having them; affairs can equate to blackmail potential. Also Stan and Agent Aderholt had a very heated chat about Nina and the distinctive beeping of ol’ mail robot can be heard in the background so I wonder if this back and forth will cross their desks. It’s not just Nina they talk about as Elizabeth is also referenced as the illegal Stan shot and who he thinks maybe beat up Gaad and Aderholt way back in the season premiere.

With just one episode to go of this exceptional season it is hard to see how they are going to tie everything up and I expect a lot of this will continue next year including the Lisa storyline which is briefly covered this week; Maurice continues to be a huge thorn in Elizabeth’s side and if looks could kill he would have been eviscerated by now.

Shot of the Week

The Americans 3.12 kitchenThe reading of Paige’s note and I love how despite Elizabeth being slightly out of focus you can see the anger on her face and tension in her shoulders. Henry is the ultimate latchkey kid and his back is turned away from the source of contention with Philip puling concerned dad face. He hasn’t even taken his coat off yet.

The Americans 3.12 MarthaThe Martha/Clark chat of attempted ‘everything will be fine’ is framed in this wonderful light/dark way and I think it is safe to say it will not be.

Disguise of the Week

The Americans 3.12 big blue phoneElizabeth wears her CIA disguise for her phone maintenance worker hotel trip and there is no way Neil will suspect this is the woman he hooked up with last week. This is my favorite of the Elizabeth wig collection and this giant blue phone just adds a whole extra something to the shot.

Outfit I Would Wear in 2015

The Americans 3.12 PaigeIn the wide shot the jeans are a little unflattering when the shirt is tucked in this much, but I dig Paige’s plaid shirt.


7 Responses to “The Americans 3.12 “I Am Abassin Zadran” Review: All in the Family”


  1. The Americans 3.13 “March 8, 1983″ Review: “Why Are You Here?” | TV Ate My Wardrobe - April 23, 2015

    […] Kimmy and Martha. Neither appears in the finale and the absence of Martha looms large after the huge de-wigging moment. About 25 minutes in I did write in huge block letters “WHERE IS MARTHA?” and while it […]

  2. The Return of Will Graham’s Glasses on Hannibal | TV Ate My Wardrobe - June 12, 2015

    […] Another occasion where a show uses a real photo instead of a terrible photoshop version joining The Americans on my list of shows that do this […]

  3. Behind the Insta-Scenes: Photos from the Set | TV Ate My Wardrobe - November 19, 2015

    […] Annet Mahendru goes on her own top secret mission scouting out Dupont Circle Travel and all their personal touches. The set dressing detail on The Americans is fantastic as is their collection of family photos. […]

  4. Best of TV Costuming 2015: Removing Disguisies and Revealing the Truth on The Americans | TV Ate My Wardrobe - December 11, 2015

    […] one major misstep The Americans made this year was by ending the penultimate episode with this scene and then giving no follow up in the season finale. It is so big that it needed […]

  5. Best of TV Costuming 2015: Best of the Rest Part 2 | TV Ate My Wardrobe - December 28, 2015

    […] side eye and it’s pretty terrifying. This is also one of Elizabeth’s best wigs of the season (which is actually a slightly less wavy repeat from S2). Blonde is definitely working for […]

  6. First Look at The Americans S4 in the First Look Issue of Entertainment Weekly | TV Ate My Wardrobe - December 30, 2015

    […] a closer peak at the photos on her headboard because The Americans is one of the best examples of not using terrible photoshop on older family […]

  7. The Americans Season 4 Extended Promo: “Do People Get Hurt?” | TV Ate My Wardrobe - February 16, 2016

    […] only does Paige have her own indiscretion to reveal, but this new extended promo also shows that Philip’s Clark de-wigging was not a one off and he’s also kinda divulging what happened to Martha’s now dead […]

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