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The Americans 6.01 “Dead Hand” Review: “Everything is Divided Up”

29 Mar

Personal and political have been entwined on The Americans since the pilot; Philip has always been the more pragmatic, seeing the larger picture, whereas Elizabeth will do whatever her country asks of her. It is part of the reason why they are such a good match. There is balance. But it could also end up being their greatest downfall.

In season five this job began to take its toll on both husband and wife (now official); a decision was made to get out, to return home, but there is always something else.  After giving Tuan a speech about how he wouldn’t make it alone, Elizabeth decided it was best for Philip for him to get out. Too tired and beat down, Philip went from the “it’s us” emphasis to agreeing to this compromise. They’d stay and Elizabeth would carry on. Cut to the start of season six, which jumps from 1984 to October 1987 and the state of the Jennings marriage is fractured. The divide has happened on the home front and back in Mother Russia.

Photo credit FX/Patrick Harbron

Gorbachev has been in power for two years, but there is still a push/pull between the old and new way of thinking. The INF (Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces) Treaty is what is on the table in a forthcoming three-day summit in Washington DC between the old foes. This is why Elizabeth’s workload has gone up on the last few months, it is why she is running on coffee and cigarettes. “Dead Hand” opens with the kind of montage The Americans excels at; telling us everything we need to know about the state of Philip and Elizabeth’s marriage. Much like the last time there was a big time jump midway through season four it is set to an ’80s classic track, this time Crowded House’s “Don’t Dream It’s Over” sets the tone.

Philip has built the travel agency into something bigger; the new office is far more spacious, his office has a window where the blinds no longer have to be drawn. On the other end of the spectrum, Elizabeth has multiple operations going at once requiring a cavalcade of wigs. These operations range from care worker to honey trap. The latter hasn’t got any easier either as we see Elizabeth in the shower washing the skeeze off her, while wearing said wig. As the episode progresses we see Elizabeth looking more drawn, the lack of sleep is showing and she is serving up a level of weary face that became a Philip signature. They do say couples start to look alike.

Meanwhile, Philip physically looks lighter without the burden of being a spy. Sure his home life isn’t what it once was—there is an aching loneliness when Elizabeth arrives home in the opening montage and all they can muster are half smiles at each other—but he’s enjoying all the trappings of America without the weight of the double life. He gives great pep talks, has a sweet new car with all the modern extras (electric sunroof! portable radio! car phone!) and has found a reason put those cowboy boots he coveted in the pilot on. Yep, Philip is now a hands on boss and it is good to see recurring employees like Stavos has made the move.

Style shifts over the last three years has Philip switching to v-neck sweaters; his shirts are more fitted, his suits more boxy. He looks good. Meanwhile Elizabeth still has her arsenal of silk blouses, but she’s also invested in some outdoor smoking knits, what appears to be sweats and oversized sweaters. Elizabeth also has a pair of cowboy boots, but don’t expect to see her dancing anytime soon. These are for her trip to Mexico. A trip shrouded in secrecy and part of the big divide back home. It is where the “Dead Hand” of the episode title is explained and it sounds terrifying; tldr everyone dies regardless of who strikes first.

Here she acquires a new piece of jewelry with an extra; yep it has a cyanide tablet and if Elizabeth didn’t already have the weight of the world on her shoulders, she is now wearing death around her neck.

Speaking of necks and the first kill of the season is delivered in a swift moment after Paige encounters a beyond persistent dude. Elizabeth will do whatever it takes to protect her daughter. And this isn’t the first guy she has stabbed in the neck for her child. Ah yes, Paige is very much in the spy life as she is being trained to be part of Elizabeth’s team (they are not aware of the family connection) and partakes in a hangout at Claudia’s.This early scene establishes this has become a routine; three generations of women that look like family. Russian television is watched, stories of home are shared and Paige even gives a rundown of her politically leaning college classes. Any tension between Claudia and Elizabeth has gone, Elizabeth is happy to do whatever missions Claudia sends her on with minimal questions asked. Philip was the one that pushed back and without him here this resistance is no more.

Ah yes, that mission. The one that brings both Oleg and Philip back into the game. An old friend visits Oleg and home, I missed Arkady and I’m glad to see they found an organic reason to bring him back. Arkady is now Deputy Chief of Directorate S and he has a favor to ask Oleg. In this conversation we get a lot of exposition about what has happened to Oleg over the last three years, again it feels organic. Everyone knows what he did, but there was no real proof. Not that the lack of proof has stopped someone getting a bullet to the head, but Oleg’s connections saved him.

Now, like his father he works in the Ministry for Transportation. He’s happy, he has a fabulous beard, a wife (Elina, one of the blind dates) and a baby boy; why would he risk that? Well, Arkady knows what kind of guy he is and taps into the honorable side. The side that warned the Americans about biological weapons. Arkady thinks Oleg is the guy to get Philip to spy on his wife, he refers to Philip as being “different” and notes that he met him once.

Just like that Arkady brings back not one, but two agents. Because Philip can’t ignore the signal and his whole demeanor changes in an instant. Fleetwood Mac’s “Gold Dust Woman” kicks in just as Philip’s jaw clenches and everything Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell do with their faces and posture in this episode is everything I have been yelling at Emmy voters for years. They convey so much without saying a word.

Photo credit FX/Eric Liebowitz

The Philip/Oleg meeting is a coming together of these two worlds. Two worlds that are enmeshed and yet have always (well almost) been separate. Oleg knows the way to convince a very stubborn Philip, who keeps on insisting he is out of the game, is by emphasizing the risk he has taken. If Oleg gets caught he’s fucked, he has no diplomatic immunity and if he gets sent home he will be killed. Philip the ever loving husband notes Elizabeth is just doing her job, but Oleg sews the seeds of doubt about which side Elizabeth is on. Philip knows her well enough to get that she might be on the hard line side.

Over the course of this episode Philip and Elizabeth share three scenes; the first is wordless, the second is a stilted conversation with Elizabeth explaining why she can’t watch Henry play hockey and the third threatens to boil over. Since the whole sleeping with Irina thing, they’ve been pretty good at not keeping things from other. And it seems like Philip is going to tell her about Oleg, but Elizabeth’s lack of sleep causes her to lash out. She doesn’t want to talk and especially not to Philip. His concerns about her state of mind are warranted, but right now they are far from being on the same wavelength. Reagan is about to ask Gorbachev to tear down this wall and the one between the Jennings has never been higher.

At the Movies It is unlikely that Philip will be taking Elizabeth to see Wall Street when it comes out in December.

Outfit I Would Wear in 2018Paige’s jeans are a little too high-waisted and acid wash for my taste, but this jacket and striped shirt are right in my wheelhouse. A new haircut also gives Paige that college age feel.

Disguise I Want to See More OfElizabeth wears a lot of disguises in the season six premiere; the one we see the most is care worker Stephanie. Here she is trying to spy on Gilmore Girls Max Medina, or rather Scott Cohen as Glenn Haskard, an important person working in the State Department. Glenn’s wife Erica is an artist and it looks like she is going to tap into Elizabeth’s fractured psyche. And if you’re wondering about the real artist behind these pieces check out this interview with Alyssa Monks.

And I spoke to costume designer Katie Irish about season 6 here.

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3 Responses to “The Americans 6.01 “Dead Hand” Review: “Everything is Divided Up””

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Out of the Box: Look of the Week | TV Ate My Wardrobe - March 30, 2018

    […] for all things Americans season six as Paige falls further into the spy biz here is my review of the amazing premiere and my interview with costume designer Katie Irish. Grown-ish star and […]

  2. The Americans 6.02 “Tchaikovsky” Review: The Dark Parts | TV Ate My Wardrobe - April 5, 2018

    […] as tool to get information her mother lies. The truth would be devastating because as we saw from last week’s opening montage Elizabeth is still very much using this tactic. Not to mention the many men and women her parents […]

  3. The Americans 6.03 “Urban Transport Planning” Review: The Way We Were | TV Ate My Wardrobe - April 12, 2018

    […] tell her about Oleg, but he just can’t do. Later he contemplates it while brushing his teeth. She asked him to let her sleep and now he does. The amount Philip clenches his jaw at the moment, he’s gonna need a trip to […]

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