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The Americans 5.10 “Darkroom” Review: Heavy Wears the Crown

10 May

Manipulation is one of the biggest weapons a spy has and to get someone to do exactly what you want without them even realizing it is an important skill to master. On The Americans we have seen different levels and techniques; pretty much every episode is a demonstration in how to assert some level of control over a situation to get the outcome they want.

At the start of “Darkroom” Tuan explains how he got the new group he’s hanging out with to put dog shit on Pasha’s locker and that he did it without them even realizing it. This comes just after Elizabeth has praised Tuan for how good he is at this work. A point of subtle manipulation in itself as this encouragement is to make him feel better after he strayed from the path last week by telling him he is special and she admires him.

In a way it is like a parent praising their child mirroring their cover story and Elizabeth also wants to maintain the good work he has been doing through positive reinforcement. One thing Elizabeth doesn’t do is bullshit him into thinking this life is going to get easier and she doesn’t go for the “it gets better” speechifying that she delivers to Evgheniya about Pasha. Instead she tells him that it won’t get easier, but he can be great at it. Plus they didn’t report him so he doesn’t have to be concerned about that aspect.

Calling something manipulation makes it sound calculated and underhand, which it quite often is on The Americans and yet there are times when certain things are done to protect. One such case is the potential path for Pastor Tim as it has become clear that his presence is doing more damage.

They never made it to EPCOT – The Americans version of the farm – and there is also the matter of the tape that Alice made when he went missing in Africa. It isn’t a simple case of sweeping him under the rug by a well timed car accident or faulty piece of electrical equipment at home. They know they would lose Paige forever if they went this route and we all know that Philip has had enough of killing.But something has to be done as Paige’s is teetering closer to the edge and finding entries in Pastor Tim’s diary about being worried about Paige’s soul is doing nothing to help their situation. This is a burden they don’t want to place on their daughter and while they have ops that run for years it doesn’t mean Paige should endure this challenge. The solution here is to get him sent far away and make it look like this job opportunity has nothing to do with them. And yet the damage might already be done by Pastor Tim’s private thoughts and what Philip and Elizabeth have put Paige through.

Pastor Tim was the reason why Paige asked the big questions in the first place and it is hard to see how even with all of their skills they could have avoided getting to this place. They can keep repeating to Paige all they want that Pastor Tim doesn’t know her and even if this is the case it doesn’t stop the weight of the words he has written down niggling away.

Paige takes a page (boom) out of her parents spy book and takes photos of his diary to help with picking what country to send him to, but also to show exactly what he has written about them. It isn’t a good look for the Jennings family as he questions whether they are monsters and suggests their actions are worse than the sexual abuse and affairs he has been witness to.This is a lot to take in under the red light of the makeshift darkroom, as the family develops these pictures together and Philip has already been having a hard time reconciling everything he has done and this includes the idea of bringing Paige into all of this. He has been reluctant from the off and Gabriel’s parting words further reinforced his fears. Elizabeth has always been the more optimistic and this mirrors how they both feel about the cause; Philip is far more pragmatic whereas she is the true believer.

Reactions are wordless in this scene and in a way it feels like that moment when the hero detective stumbles upon a serial killers murder wall. But instead they are finding out that they are the real villains of the piece.

Let’s not forget that Pastor Tim has seen Philip at his lowest ebb and scariest. This was a glimpse into the broken man Philip was in “Martial Eagle” after another innocent lost his life and this was before Pastor Tim even knew who the Jennings really were.  These comments in his diary use spiritual language and even though they are atheist and scoff at his protection from God, these words don’t have to be connected to religion.

Philip through EST is exploring aspects of himself and particularly his past that were buried and the principles are similar even if the methods and language is different. Even Elizabeth works through things while in disguise using real experiences to sell the fake one and while it never goes particularly deep she is still using it to help process emotions.Truth is the thing at stake and while Philip runs it intercuts with his EST meeting; we are all machines and we are mechanically programmed to respond to stimulus. Enlightenment is knowing truth. Pastor Tim is concerned that because of how big the deception was that Paige will never be able to trust anyone again and he actually has a point.

Earlier on in this episode, Philip and Elizabeth explain their loophole about this secret and lie as they only did it to protect their family. A family that only exists as part of their spy cover; it is something I keep returning to but there is no way to extrapolate one from the other and this is where real and fake merge on The Americans as the Jennings do not exist without the KGB.How do they make it real then?

Let’s go back to season one and a conversation between Philip and Elizabeth dressed as Clark and Jennifer in “The Oath.” This takes place just after Clark and Martha just got married and at this point Philip and Elizabeth are still separated with Elizabeth showing some early rare emotion:

“It was touching. No, it was. I didn’t expect it to be. You and I were never really married”
“No”
“It’s funny, I know they’re just words people say. Do you think things would’ve been different between us if we would have said them?”
“I don’t know”

A lot has happened since then and the cracks in Elizabeth’s super cool exterior have been slowly forming since and what better way to reinforce what is real than making it so. So much of their lives is performative and their relationship for a long time was part of this.

This hasn’t been the case for some time now and they are in a stronger place than ever before and this big romantic gesture by Philip does a couple of things; it solidifies what they already have and things are not going to get any easier for them professionally. In fact it looks like it is just going to get harder. It also gives them something real to hold onto as this ceremony is done in their native language and using their real names bringing in Gabriel’s Russian Orthodox priest contact.

Plus they get to wear crowns and boy do they look good in them. Philip and Elizabeth for Game of Thrones, please. Also a good place to tip my hat to Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys as it is not often they get to play this level of contentment and happiness. It is a moment to breathe for both them and the audience – even though the pit of dread is never far away – and it is an incredibly tender scene. The whole thing is performed in Russian and despite the presence of religion, which Philip apologizes for, it is actually perfect. This ceremony provides a connection to their home and past while cementing their relationship in the present. It is a renewed commitment to each other before everything else.

Later they must return to their ‘real’ lives and their actual wedding bands get locked away in the laundry room cupboard of things from home. Ah yes the same room where Pastor Tim’s words are going to get burned into their brains.

Because there is also still Topeka and tai chi as the plant they got needs years of research. When Claudia tells them they have to continue working their honey traps they don’t say no with their words, but their body language speaks volumes about how unhappy they are at this prospect. Another reason to remind each other that it is this united front that matters.

Protecting family isn’t just a Philip/Elizabeth concern and it is what they are using to try and push Evgheniya back to Russia. Elizabeth tells her to fight for her family and as with the wrecking of Young Hee’s marriage (*sob*) last year it is extremely unpleasant (to put it mildly) what Pasha is being put through. For everything they are doing to their own daughter, psychologically they have destroyed so many people in ways that go beyond just killing. The trail of destruction is long all in the name of this Cold War. Just look at the dinner table scenario with Oleg; they have a lot to work through and instead no one is saying a word.After their double date – yes I want to see karaoke with these guys – Elizabeth asks Philip why he is so bothered by the notion that Renee might be one of them. For Philip it is a simple answer; he doesn’t want Stan to be like Martha. I think when Stan finds out the truth about their real identities it is going to be far more devastating but I appreciate his efforts to shield his friend.

To send Henry away to boarding school would be getting him as far away from any fallout and Paige fights her brother’s corner by suggesting it isn’t too late for him. She says that Henry is different and he knows what he wants; she’s right as well and I wonder if Pastor Tim’s words no matter how much they try to ignore them will have an impact on this decision. Sometimes protecting someone means sending them away.What “Darkroom” managed to do was somehow magnify the sense of infinite dread, but in a different way than before; this wasn’t about how broken Philip’s soul is and instead Paige becomes the focus again. Now she is stress cleaning and while this is better than stress sleeping in her closet it is far from good. It is also a nice callback to when Elizabeth made her clean the kitchen floor in the middle of the night. This time Elizabeth is highly concerned about this late night activity.

Philip and Elizabeth are already bound by vows made to their country and by making their marriage real at this late stage in the game it puts another point in the column for choosing family over ideology if push comes to shove. We already know Philip would defect in a heartbeat if Elizabeth was to say yes and while the motherland is why they fight it is becoming increasingly clear that all might not be as it seems. And by making their union real on every level it strengthens them in ways the KGB never can.

Fabulous ’80s Knitwear 

There’s a lot of great vintage sweaters on The Americans and this one reminds me of so many from my mother’s closet.

Retro Sportswear AppreciationYou know I am always down for period specific sportswear. Philip’s polyester zip up is no exception.

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3 Responses to “The Americans 5.10 “Darkroom” Review: Heavy Wears the Crown”

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. The Americans 5.11 “Dyatkovo” Review: Paying for the Past | TV Ate My Wardrobe - May 17, 2017

    […] options available. Before this moment Elizabeth calls Natalie a monster throwing back the word that Pastor Tim questioned whether they are. As I already mentioned this episode is reminiscent of “Do Mail Robots Dream […]

  2. The Americans 5.12 “The World Council of Churches” Review: What’s In a Name? | TV Ate My Wardrobe - May 24, 2017

    […] were that it’s impossible to separate the two at this point.Small acts of defiance such as getting married in secret, in a ceremony that used their original names is important to the series as a whole, not […]

  3. 2017 Emmy Nomination Acting Wish List | TV Ate My Wardrobe - July 12, 2017

    […] dialogue constantly has me in awe. It wasn’t all doom and gloom for this pair of spies and a surprise wedding delivered a much needed romantic respite. Plus it is good to see a wedding with crowns that doesn’t end […]

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