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The Americans 4.09 “The Day After” Review: Never Enough

12 May

After everything came to a head for Philip and Elizabeth on The Americans last week the pair were granted a vacation of sorts with no new missions and just the low level intel they had been gathering from Kimmy and whatever the Young Hee friendship has been leading to. Their breaking point was almost hit and it looks like the war between the US and USSR is reaching a similar stage albeit 7 months later and on a much more global disaster scale.imrs.phpLast week’s pop culture milestone was all about hope and recognizing freedom with David Copperfield’s Statue of Liberty spectacle and in “The Day After” we see everyone gather to watch the ABC TV movie event of the same name. This is wonder of a different kind and instead tracks the very real possibility of nuclear war as twitchiness levels grow. Oleg tells Tatiana of a case a few months prior where sunlight was mistaken for a missile launch from the US and luckily for them the person behind the controls didn’t go into full panic stations.

The Day After aired November 20 and just a few weeks prior to this a 10-day NATO exercise by the name of Able Archer 83 ran in Europe and had some convinced on the Russian side that this was actually more than just an exercise. I am glad I have seen Deutschland 83* as it not only gives a slightly different perspective on these events, but it also adds to the background of what was going on in Europe and why Russia was feeling a little on edge about their substandard technology in comparison to what the US had in their possession.

*It also means I am very familiar with one of the two standout song moments from this episode as Tom Schilling’s “Major Tom (Coming Home)” is Deutschland 83’s theme song (for the subtitled version – New Order’s “Blue Monday” is the theme song for the version shown to German audiences).

Everyone is on edge so while Elizabeth and Philip are feeling well rested there is still much work to do and the broadcast of The Day After underscores the importance of the Young Hee operation. Philip sides with William’s way of thinking in that if they tell the Centre about this brand new terrifying biological weapon it is only going to keep getting worse. The Lassa virus sounds even more horrific than Glanders as this one liquifies your organs and causes blood to seep through your skin. Thanks for that image and TV certainly teaches. William explains to Philip that nobody needs something like this in their lab and while he doesn’t really trust the Americans with it he also doesn’t trust his own people; he has seen how terrible the threads of their containers are first hand.

This level of escalation can be matched in the other kinds of weapons each country is producing and nervous fingers on buttons makes for nervous operatives. All you need is for one person to overreact and you’ve got farms in Kansas getting obliterated and Steve Guttenberg trying to stay alive (I watched some of The Day After prior to this episode and it is easy to see why people might have been even more terrified of nuclear war after).

Elizabeth views things differently to Philip as is often the case when it comes to these matters and she sees it as the US making this virus to use against them and their people; she does have a good argument as she points out the bombs they have dropped in the past. So while they are comfy and on ‘vacation’ there is this very real threat and they can’t just sit idly by while all goes to shit. This is why they are the perfect team as they come at things from very different places and ultimately they balance each other out. We saw this early on back in season 1 after the Reagan assassination attempt when Philip held off on giving some information over to the Centre so not to cause possible WWIII and his instincts turned out to be spot on.

With this he doesn’t argue against Elizabeth and her decision to go ahead and find out if there is anything they can use to blackmail Don. Don it turns out has access to the dreaded Level 4 (as I saw some speculate on Twitter) and this is why Elizabeth befriended Young Hee in the first place. This friendship goes way beyond anything we have seen with Elizabeth and any of her previous assets. Philip knows why this mission is hard for her and suggests looking for an alternative way. It is also worth noting they have gone around Gabriel with this meeting and it is like the next generation of Russian operatives are starting to show some level of disobedience to their elders. But pulling an agent out is not the same as concealing information and ultimately they only steer a tiny bit outside of the lines.

Young Hee has given Elizabeth something she has been lacking since who knows when (I guess her last real friend was Leanne and she was a colleague as well) and that is friendship. There is also a strong nurturing element which I discuss in this piece for Collider regarding Elizabeth and motherhood. The entry point to this relationship wasn’t real and neither is the way Elizabeth looks as Patty (who is wearing SO many amazing outfits this week including her purple seduction number), but everything else is. This is a lighter Elizabeth; one that doesn’t look burdened by everything so it is really hard to watch her come to the conclusion of what she must do in order to complete the mission. She offers to watch Young Hee’s kids while she and Don enjoy a romantic night away. This gives Elizabeth plenty of time to find something on Don, but as Philip posited he is pretty clean. The only vaguely incriminating thing Elizabeth finds is a porn video, but that is not enough to blackmail him with. As the hours tick by and nothing is found the grim look on Elizabeth’s face is telling.

It is a heartbreaker for us to watch too because we know how unlike Elizabeth it is to become attached to an asset in this way and Ruthie Ann Miles is so charming as Young Hee. Plus her relationship with Don is solid and Elizabeth’s attempts to seduce Young Hee’s husband are met with a hard drunken pass on his side and then a hard drunken passing out so Elizabeth can stage a hook up. This is an evergreen remark but once again Keri Russell crushes the emotional devastation and elevates her performance with how disgusted Elizabeth is at herself for the things she has to do; I don’t think we have seen Elizabeth look this conflicted. Even when she has had to kill someone she hasn’t looked this broken before and it rivals last week’s post-Lisa kill for self-loathing. No extra vacation time now.

Also I really would not want to get on the wrong side of Elizabeth when it comes to fucking up a booking and it was fun seeing her taking out her stress with something travel agent related. This is when Philip notes that she doesn’t have to go through with it; not because of him but because of how this will impact her. This comes back to strength in numbers and his support here is vital. Philip has her back no matter what and this is why William comes to him with his dilemma as he has no one to talk these things through. Philip opened up to him both about what he would want from life if this job was not in his way (Elizabeth) and with the Martha situation (we find out here that Martha made it to Moscow) and my desire for these two to become besties is happening.

William questions the notion of the freedom Martha now has and also scoffs at the idea that they get vacations, but at the moment Philip is all he has. He also likes Philip’s new disguise (and one Keri Russell discussed on Late Night with Seth Myers). I am more partial to Elizabeth’s raspberry beret and glasses combo (pictures to come).

Speaking of friends and Philip has some much needed bro time with Stan over racquetball. Here we get to see excellent early 80s gym fashion such as Philip’s Dunlop tee and some short shorts. Stan wonders why Philip is so on fire at the moment and he explains about all that extra sleep he is getting and the clients they have ditched, ahem. Stan meanwhile tells him about his shitty time at work and his new boss who refers to as a Munchkin (also the title of next week’s episode) because he is very much by the book and way more than an kiss ass. Sad Stan is still sad because he has broken up with Tori, but hey him and Matthew do come over to the Jennings house for the TV event of decade (the viewing figures for The Day After were over 100 million and Super Bowl levels).Philip and StanOne relationship in focus this week is Philip and Paige with some bonding over driving lessons. This injects some humor into proceedings and this season continues to deliver on the funny front in these unexpected places. First of all this gives Philip a chance to brush off some dad jokes and it is also quite possibly the most petrified this character has looked. Sure he has been involved in knife fights and exposed to deadly viruses, but nothing prepares you for sitting in the passenger seat next to your teenage daughter. It also shows just how good he is at teaching and when he tells her to relax and blink he could also be talking about the spy side of their life.

After The Day After Paige is understandably worried considering how close this all feels to home and it gives Philip not only the opportunity to sell what they do a little more, but also gives him the chance to be honest regarding his own fears. Paige wants them to be together if something like this does happen and at the moment they don’t have to worry about her going against them. Pastor Tim is a different story as despite her best efforts and fake smiles, he has been getting sadness vibes off Paige and he wants to have a sit down with them all when he gets back from his Ethiopia trip. Alice is looking very Princess Di in her maternity frock and she would have just given birth to Prince Harry so this influence would have been strong at this time.

Philip takes on what Pastor Tim says and treats Paige to a spin in the Camaro and this is the second time in this episode where a Paige/Philip sequence is intercut with Elizabeth’s Patty/Don mission. The first track used is “Winter Kills” by Yaz and this band will forever be connected to Kimmy and I wonder if this is another reminder we will be seeing her again. The second track as I have already mentioned is “Major Tom (Coming Home)” by Tom Schilling and it underscores Paige’s fear and then thrill at driving. The joyous high five juxtaposed with Elizabeth’s completed mission is pure Americans happiness intercut with something terrible. And Elizabeth can’t fake too much enthusiasm for Paige’s triumph when she gets home; instead crying off with a headache and going upstairs where Philip joins her.

“Major Tom” is replaced by the strains Philip and Elizabeth’s melancholic theme and it is heartbreaking when as he takes her hand she tearfully tells him “I’m gonna miss her.” Me too Elizabeth, me too.

Meanwhile in other relationship updates Oleg and Tatiana are very much doing it and I still don’t trust her. Her motivations seem to be all over the place and she definitely seems to resent his comfy circumstances growing up. They do watch The Day After together and it is sad to see that William and Arkady are the only ones watching alone. Maybe they need to be pals too.

Even with the brief moment of respite which for these characters is the lengthy 7 months and for us just a week, tension continues to build as the threat goes from small scale to global.

 

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