Saying you’re fine and actually being fine are two very different things and quite often when we are asked “Are you alright?” it doesn’t matter if the answer is actually yes and the polite thing to reply in the affirmative. When this question is posed by someone close to us the same brush off response is sometimes still the one we reach for and in the season 4 premiere of The Americans Philip insisted he was fine on each occasion Elizabeth asked.
Elizabeth accepted this as a suitable answer rather than pushing further despite it being clear that something was up; while they are far more solid than when we met them four years ago their strength as a couple does not come from spilling their emotional guts all over the place. The confrontation with Stan forces Philip’s hand and it is a big week for confessions as Philip finally comes up with an answer to Elizabeth’s checking in questions that goes beyond the waving off with a hand deflection.It doesn’t all come pouring out because this is not who Elizabeth and Philip are; instead a series of sighs punctuate the hard to get our words as Philip struggles to explain just what he has been doing and why he has been doing it. In a way it is like he is admitting to an affair as this is an activity he has done in secret and while Elizabeth was out of the country. The ‘feeling’ that Philip got last week which caused him to call off their original meeting with William clearly bothered Elizabeth as she asks if EST is the kind of thing that teaches this. It isn’t and she seems more open to what it is after he confirms that. When she asks if it is something he would like her to go to he looks genuinely surprised and happy by her willingness here. I don’t think Elizabeth would be very receptive to the actual process of EST – now I really want to see her attend a seminar – and yet this offer of potential attendance is a big step.
Sandy Beeman was Team Tell Elizabeth as a way to really benefit from the seminars and Martha also championed the idea of sharing as a way to strengthen a relationship (if only she knew). The experience Philip has been fixating on and one we saw in flashback form last week is something he sees as a defining moment in who he is now and he could only share the very edited version of what happened with both women (and the EST class). With Elizabeth he can spill the whole thing and yet she is the one he finds it the hardest to talk to about this stuff. After the handover goes “pretty bad” it gives Philip the ideal time to unburden his soul and reveal the childhood memory which has been plaguing his recent thoughts. What this also does is serve as a good lesson in what EST does; it helps deal with painful memories, but it requires a confrontation of those experiences rather than avoiding them.
It isn’t surprising to see Elizabeth sympathize with Philip over this incident and she thinks it is good that he stood up for himself; there is no judgement that it went as far as it did. The reveal that he was 10 when he did it is instead met sadness that something this brutal happened to him at a young age, but Elizabeth is not surprised nor horrified. Instead she reaches out her hand to him and this marriage hits another stage of intimacy and shedding of layers. I’m not sure how good it will be for them to completely unpack everything they have done, but therapy of some kind is required to heal their fractured souls.Adverse side effects from conversations like this could include nightmares and Elizabeth dreams of the Pastor Tim murder plan and Paige with a blast from her own past. It is a pretty quick moment, but we see Nikolai Timoshev grab Paige in Elizabeth’s dream; Timoshev is the operative who Elizabeth and Philip kidnapped in the pilot episode and he is the man who raped Elizabeth while she was training to be a spy and who Philip killed. It is like she has reached into her most terrible moment and her subconscious is pairing this with bringing Paige into the fold.
In fact the Paige situation is spiraling and Elizabeth’s fears about Paige spilling everything to Pastor Tim have come true in quick fashion. Instantly going for the killing him solution is not a surprise and I think everyone in the audience expected Pastor Tim to meet his end as soon as Paige uttered those words. But in the same way I think a lot of us expected Martha to have peaced out by now it doesn’t look like Pastor Tim is on the chopping block just yet because Paige ruins everything by telling her mom what she did.
The plan was to make it look like an accident using the space heater in Pastor Tim’s sermon prepping cabin, but because Paige has revealed her slip of the tongue it will now be pretty clear to Paige that her parents had something to do with it if he does indeed end up dead. Accident or no accident. Philip for his part already suggested this would be the case and the idea to run gets floated a couple of times this week. His main concern is that if they do kill Pastor Tim it will send Paige running instead; basically they’re fucked whatever they do.This doesn’t even factor in the deadly pathogen that keeps on coming back to their house, which itself is very much a symbol of the poison seeping in every crack of their family life and it becomes comical that they can’t shift it. Of course this is hilarious in the darkest possible way, but I couldn’t help but let out a laugh when Philip looks down and sees the tin sitting on the bus seat with the guy he has just killed stuffed next to him. Yes the mission did go “pretty bad.”
Both Elizabeth and Philip are pissed with Gabriel and how this is all turning out; that they get the grunt work and are tasked with the delivery of the package. Philip wants to do a dead drop, but this poses a list of potentially lethal issues. It does mean we get to spend more time with the fascinating and super belligerent William, who also really wants Philip to fail at getting that level 4 clearance. Their conversation is peppered with droll zingers and the moments of dark comedy this week are high.
Gabriel is concerned with Elizabeth’s state of mind particularly with the news he has to share with her; her mother has died but she did make sure to pass on a message of love, which Elizabeth does not believe for a second. What this death does is give a moment of mother/daughter bonding for Elizabeth and Paige because of their very recent trip to Germany and in turn this causes Paige to confess about her confession. Unlike her parents or her brother, Paige is not the best at lying. Even though Elizabeth already knew the rage she has tempered while talking to Philip about Paige boils to the surface and she lets her daughter know exactly how much she has fucked up. Paige for her part doesn’t just stand there and take it pointing to how it is Elizabeth and Philip who did this and they have to deal with the consequences. It’s a pretty heartbreaking scene and the phone call from Philip that interrupts Elizabeth’s rage also gives us a chance to see her quiet desperation as she emotionally and emphatically asks him to come home.
Every inch of the Jennings home is a space to confess and this adds to the intimacy. The kitchen is the place where Paige found out the truth; it is the heart of a home and this heart has been stomped all over. It is telling that rather than wait for Philip to come in the house, Elizabeth waits outside having a much needed cigarette. She gets into the parked car in the garage with him and as the walls close in around them there is still the potential for flight, but as the camera pulls away from their place of refuge it is clear that this is far from a simple solution.Elizabeth is not the only person who faces a death in the family and Oleg receives some bad news about his brother who has been killed in combat. Oleg tells Arkady that he didn’t even have to be fighting still as his tour ended in October (we are still in March), but he chose to stay. This theme runs throughout and it is the question plaguing Philip and Elizabeth; even if they did want to leave is that a choice offered to them? Stan tries to use this news as a way to get to Oleg on another level but is met with a brush off. They are not friends.
Friendship is hard in this business especially when a sea of ideology stands between them and Stan is still on the outs with Philip after he accused him of sleeping with Sandy. Elizabeth jokes about Philip making up with his boyfriend (see even Elizabeth can make light of a situation) and it looks like Stan has found a surrogate son in the form of Henry Jennings as he is hanging out at Stan’s eating mac and cheese while getting lady advice. Henry is also adding to his cologne collection which is sure to please his parents even more.Family plays an important part in Nina’s actions this week and in the past she has been very much about self-preservation and her loyalty has not always been the easiest to read. Last week she asked to see her husband and her request has been granted. It isn’t a particularly long scene, but we learn a lot about who Nina was before she came to the US; she was married, got pregnant and the intimation here is that she either miscarried or had an abortion. The interaction with Boris is full of so much warmth, but the lack of heat shows that this was not a passionate relationship and Boris sums up Nina’s trajectory with this sad and beautiful sentiment “My world was too small for you.” What Nina wants from Boris is a favor regarding Anton; she wants his son to know he is alive. This is a huge risk and one that doesn’t benefit Nina in a way which Vasili can understand when he confronts Nina about it later.
There is a sense of absolution in her decision and even though she was almost free Nina is no longer “who I was.” In the past we have seen her scramble and do whatever to try and earn her freedom, but something in this place has changed her and that is no longer her prime objective. Her relationship with Anton is an interesting one because it isn’t based on anything sexual and this connection is incredibly important in shaping her decision. Making sure that Anton doesn’t disappear into dust is a priority even if it is detrimental to her position.
And really is there anyone on The Americans who is close to being free?
Disguise of the WeekThis looks like a less curly version of this season 3 delight and Philip tries to work all his persuasive magic with sadly terrible results and it gives rise to some disturbing choking imagery plus a whole lot of “are you fucking kidding me?” facial expressions. Plus this scene also uses Soft Cell’s “Tainted Love” in a way which underlines just how quickly this situation turned and just how shit it is for everyone involved. If only that Russian pilot hadn’t been twitchy as fuck. What helps about this look for Philip is that it is pretty bland and that suit is not going to stand out to anyone. The only defining feature is the fake mark on his cheek and that should be the only thing someone should remember.
Shot(s) of the Week
Returning to my earlier point about how different parts of their home are used for confession and the laundry room is a prime example of this. At the start of the episode Philip initially finds it hard to look at his wife when he explains why Stan is mad at him. Later on when it is time for the secret sharing of the crushing his soul variety it starts with this display of utter exhaustion, but a lot more openness in a much bigger and brighter space. For starters the way Elizabeth is lit, dressed and stood suggests tenderness rather than this harried expression and dark attire from the opening scene.They end in this moment of really looking at each other and I really love how the big bathroom mirror is used in this shot.
Outfit I Would Wear in 2016This week for The Observer I spoke to Americans costume designer Katie Irish and one of the items we discussed was this Coach Wool Icon Trench (we will see Elizabeth sporting one in tan this season too) and as I mention in the piece a trench coat is timeless and this whole look would not look out of place in the 80s or present day. Plus Elizabeth really looks like she is not going to take anyone’s shit in that getup.
Bonus – The Most ‘Felicity’ Elizabeth Jennings Has Ever Been
Random and late observation and in this bathroom scene I got a whole lot of Felicity Porter vibes (yes I know they are played by the same actress but there has never been ANYTHING Felicity about Elizabeth). Here in this bathroom as Elizabeth ties up her and goes about her evening skin routine – even spies must moisturize – wearing a plaid shirt it read a little Felicity. The sympathetic ear aspect also adds to this factor and it also hits my love of secrets shard in a bathroom setting.