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The Americans 6.05 “The Great Patriotic War” Review: Trying Your Best

26 Apr

The Americans pilot opens with Elizabeth in a bar wearing the first of many wigs, sidling up to a government employee, who she then extracts some information with the power of a blow job. Sex on this show has always been a tool in the spy manipulation arsenal, a signature move if you will. What “The Great Patriotic War” does is showcase how sex complicates things, as well as underscoring why Philip didn’t want Paige to become embroiled in this work.

Paige is getting exposed to everything Elizabeth reassured her husband that she wouldn’t; she has seen her mother covered in the blood and brains of someone else, now she is using her sexuality to get information (despite Elizabeth forbidding her to do so). And at this point Paige still doesn’t know how to separate the personal from the professional, something her parents occasionally have an issue with.The reappearance of Kimmy last week means a return the parallels that ran throughout season three between the two teens.  Back to a time Philip was doing everything in his power not to sleep with a girl that was pretty much the same age as his daughter. And his tactics worked. “Jim” became a surrogate father type for Kimmy, even while Philip struggled at parenting his own inquisitive daughter. Kimmy has gone from typically rebellious teen with daddy issues to a stable, well-adjusted young woman. She even quit smoking weed two years ago.

The things Philip says to her about being proud are true, even if he is using it as a tool for manipulation. To finally get her into bed. I pretty much watched that scene in the car through my fingers, knowing what was going to happen next. Kimmy is no longer underage, but it is still creepy as fuck. Watching Philip steel himself for that inevitable is crushing, right now he will do anything that Elizabeth asks of him because she really hasn’t asked for a lot and he can see how much the work is grinding her down. And the plan works. Kimmy smiles, while Philip grimaces. How he has he found himself back here?

Elizabeth’s plan to get Philip to plant drugs on Kimmy in a Communist country is hardly fool proof. They don’t even know whether Kimmy’s dad will give the information they need. Considering how well Elizabeth’s operations have been going this season, it is highly likely that he wouldn’t. Elizabeth is trying her best with what she has, but what she has is not amounting to much. She can’t even get her art homework done. It is such a weird moment to see her get rebuked by someone else. Erica continues to needle Elizabeth in a way we haven’t seen since Young-Hee. But Erica’s condition continues to get graver; will she end up with nothing here too? Thomas Schlamme directed “The Great Patriotic War,” his sixth outing behind the camera on The Americans. And interestingly enough he also directed “Dimebag;” the episode in which Philip came up with using Paige’s interest in Christianity to solve his horny Kimmy issue. Featuring a scene with Philip and Elizabeth at their most lighthearted, getting stoned and giggling over prayer suggestions. As with any moment in this show, there is still a level of darkness; Philip notes that when she gets older he might have to sleep with her. Prophetic words it turns out.

But Philip can’t go through with the plan, even after he has crossed the physical intimacy line. Every episode this season has delivered those Emmy-worthy moments, but I can’t get over the phone call Philip makes to Kimmy. He’s out of disguise, which brings another level to it, as he tells Kimmy he can’t go to Greece. Philip has fucked her, but he can’t take the risk of fucking with her life. They have already destroyed too many people in the name of their country. Too many kids.

Elizabeth notes Kimmy is no longer a kid, legally she isn’t. But she is still a young person with a bright future ahead of her. There is no way he can control Paige’s path, but he can with Kimmy. What he is risking is huge; his entire relationship with Elizabeth could rest on this (oh and the fact he is going behind her back with Oleg), but he does it anyway.Both Matthew Rhys and Julia Garner crush the emotion of this scene. Garner because Kimmy has just been told the person she has wanted for a long time will no longer be in her life, Philip because he is “trying his best.” He got a taste of the spy life again and it was not good, but the tipping point comes after Stan is a lot more loose lipped than he has been in the past. Coming over for a beer after a hard day at work used to be the norm, now Stan rarely does this. Stan tells him about the double-murder and the 7 year-old boy that got to see the bloody aftermath of Elizabeth’s handiwork. Even without knowing Elizabeth did it, Philip *knows* Elizabeth did it. Another kid impacted by the work.

Elizabeth and Claudia’s Russian history lesson for Paige this week centers on the Great Patriotic War aka WWII; they underscore just how much the Soviet Union lost in comparison to the U.S. (400,000 to 27 million), the battle that changed everything (Stalingrad, not D-Day) and the poverty that followed (Elizabeth mentions eating rats). The history book erasure is a valid point. They suffered, they died, they won. But this doesn’t justify what Elizabeth has been doing this season. How every operation and episode has added to the body count. Each death has come as a result of operations not going to plan; Elizabeth attempts her “got a light?” (how very Twin Peaks) tactic again, this time she is interrupted.Plan B involves going up the fire escape and into Gennadi’s safe house. A plan that would have been fool proof if Stan hadn’t succeeded in getting Sofia to give Gennadi another chance. Elizabeth goes to exit the kitchen, first hiding behind the fridge, then the door. But she is spotted, there is only one way out of this building for Elizabeth alive; another bloody mess bringing her work back in the orbit of Stan.

Also in the orbit of Stan is Oleg, but he gets a different visitor asking exactly what he is doing back in the US. One-time love interest Tatiana approaches as a friend, but when Oleg uses study as the reason he is here, she loses her shit. She is mad that he used the information she gave him about the bio-weapons, costing her career. She has been stuck in the same position ever since, her star was previously on the rise. Tatiana calls him a traitor and later at the Rezidentura she underscores how little he can be trusted, putting his life in danger. It doesn’t feel like things are going to end well for Oleg.This episode clocks in at just under 60 minutes, currently some shows unnecessarily extend their run-time (shout-out to Kathryn VanArendonk’s A+ piece about this trend), this is not one of those cases. Thomas Schlamme makes very scene feel worth it, every word by writer Hilary Bettis is earned, the performances from top to bottom are fantastic. In a long list of very good Americans episodes, “The Great Patriotic War” is up there with the best. And we are only halfway through the season.

There is a fluidity in the way the camera moves, whether it is capturing Elizabeth’s daring Gennadi plot, moving from hiding place to hiding place or the closest The Americans has come to a walk and talk scene. Instead it is walk and argue starting with Paige essentially yelling “You’re not the boss of me” at her mother in the garage, then Philip and Elizabeth carrying on this heated discussion moving from the kitchen, to the stairs and then the bedroom.Elizabeth’s “it’s none of your business” retort to her husband about who Paige is sleeping with is also very teen like, but she goes from being incredibly defensive to accepting that Philip was right about Paige not being cut out for this business. But this is not what he said, he reiterates this by saying “She can do it, my point was always that she shouldn’t.” This argument starts because Paige lost her cool in a bar, a super skeezy guy laid his hands on her so she reacted. But this was impulsive, drawing unwanted attention that could put the entire family in danger. It is also worth noting that Paige’s surprise visit interrupts a tense debriefing scene after Philip gets back from his Kimmy trip, every conversation in this sequence feels unfinished and emotionally charged.

Right now Paige feels empowered. So while Elizabeth is out murdering more people (albeit she does it without drawing attention to herself), Philip swings by Paige’s apartment to find out just how much she knows about fighting. And to teach her an important lesson.What Philip gets is another case of Paige acting superior as she tells him “I know you’re not into what me and mom do.” Like he doesn’t share an interest in their hobby. Instead Philip tells her to come at him, his hand still in his pocket nonchalantly as she quips about how they don’t have pads. Again the contempt in his voice is impossible to ignore (again it is delicious to hear) as he notes “There aren’t really pads in the real world.”

He pulls some moves out of the bag, easily putting her into a choke hold. This moment is Philip giving her a vital teaching moment, to make sure she doesn’t feel invincible, but he still looks incredibly disgusted at himself. As he does multiple times in this episode.Before Kimmy, the murders, Paige being a know-it-all; Philip and Elizabeth do experience something we haven’t seen all season, real physical intimacy. For a brief moment they are back to how they were. Last week it almost happened, but Elizabeth rolled away from her husband.

Schlamme previously directed one of the most intimate Philip and Elizabeth scenes, thankfully this time there is no tooth pulling. Here the only thing getting removed (on camera) is Elizabeth’s earrings. The camera moves from a static shot to overhead as they lean into each other, then lying down on the bed. The calculator beeps causing Elizabeth to laugh, it is good moment. Cut to a now familiar setting the next day; Elizabeth smoking outside with Philip coming out to see him. But there is a lightness, a spring is his step* as he notes that he hasn’t slept that well in ages with Elizabeth joking “I wonder why.” She still hasn’t slept well, the reason probably has something to do with what follows in the kitchen, as she asks him to go to Greece because without the Kimmy tapes she’s screwed. Sex again comes into focus as a manipulation tool; was Elizabeth just doing this so Philip would bend to her will.

*A nice costume detail here is that Philip hasn’t put his sneakers on properly because he isn’t going to wearing them for long. Also the brr noise he makes is the most adorable.

This is far more complicated than the many people they have slept with for information. Yes part of her probably did this to make him more compliant, but they have both been lacking and yearning for this connection. Paige thinks it is ridiculous that she would ever sleep with someone she didn’t like, Philip and Elizabeth know this feeling all too well. And it is not like they are fucking the empty void in the couch as Elizabeth’s first paramour ended up doing.

This will be the end of it for Philip, if he just did what Elizabeth asked, but he can’t and it isn’t. With just five episodes left it looks like things will come crashing down for this relationship before the Berlin Wall does. But part of me still believes they will come back together for each other, but I can’t see a happy ending. It is The Americans, after all.

Dream PhoneOther than this being a crushing scene for character reasons it also reminded me that I really wanted a phone like this when I was growing up. I did not get it.

Costume wish list

What better way to dress up a shirt than with a collar pin. Paige is crushing the style stakes this season, even as she finds out about the very bad things that happened to the Soviet Union during WWII.

Drinking Tips Claudia and Elizabeth give Paige a lesson in how to drink more; have a shot of olive oil before you start. Holly Taylor does not recommend this. Also I now very much want to get drunk with Claudia (and Margo Martindale).

Family Portrait 
A point I keep returning to is how well the Jennings’ house is used in times of harmony and discord. And that they have an excellent production design department. The pictures on the wall reinforce this notion of family; showing what is always at stake.

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3 Responses to “The Americans 6.05 “The Great Patriotic War” Review: Trying Your Best”

  1. teageegeepea April 30, 2018 at 4:32 am #

    I’ve done shots of olive oil, but just because, not because I thought it would prevent me from getting drunk. If I had known that, maybe I wouldn’t have done it!

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. The Americans 6.06 “Rififi” Review: Henry Jennings, Marriage Counselor | TV Ate My Wardrobe - May 3, 2018

    […] one in their garden or the kitchen island, or a metaphorical one. They came back together briefly last week, but this is the worst it has been between the pair. Even when they were separated during season […]

  2. The Americans 6.09 “Jennings, Elizabeth” Review: Topsy-Turvy | TV Ate My Wardrobe - May 24, 2018

    […] doing her own research, she is not stupid. Though she doesn’t get the idea of having sex with someone you’re not attracted to. When she heard the story about Jackson she put the pieces together, she is appalled. Appalled […]

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