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The Americans 5.02 “Pests” Review: Playing By the Rules

15 Mar

Lines are blurry on The Americans and rules are constantly being broken with each side doing what they believe they have to do in order to protect their country; however there are certain things that neither would do, right? This is one of the main questions at hand with Russian grain supply (that comes from the U.S.) being at the heart of Philip and Elizabeth’s new operation as they move from biological weapons that could cause mass casualties to a potentially more insidious tactic by their enemy.

Targeting food is something Philip never thought the Americans would do and after a long night of digging and delivering both the sample and bad news about Hans, when Gabriel tells them what this new plan might be Philip can barely contain his horror through his exhaustion.There are rules in combat no matter how cold this war actually is and it seems like both sides are feeling at a loss with some of the tactics at play. For Stan he feels it is his duty to stop Oleg from getting caught in the cross hairs of another operation; the CIA wants to recruit him no matter what. If they were to just let him be then they might see that he is doing important work back home as he investigates the corruption that threatens to destroy Russia from within. Patience is a virtue and the CIA want something to work with now and they believe Oleg is their guy. To them he is another cog in the machine, but – and to borrow from Crazy Ex-Girlfriend – for Stan it is a lot more nuanced than that.

It also is not a coincidence that the establishing shots of the FBI and KGB buildings show just how similar each looks in all its concrete glory. Chris Long directs once again and he also gives the Jennings house exterior the same horror feeling as he did in the season 4 finale and last week’s premiere only this time it is daylight as the camera pushes in.

Stan has already lost one agent who he was working (in more ways than one) and Nina is the tie that binds him with Oleg. He pleads his case to the deputy AG and this is where the notion of rules and good/bad comes into play. Everyone has to have a code and he believes Oleg already gave them this huge gift and he should be allowed to go home and be free from the burden of that treason admitting recording. And it looks like his plan has worked to some extent as Oleg receives a message from Stan and a map of where to meet to discuss further. Although a big part of me thinks this isn’t really from Stan; instead it is the CIA using his name to secure this meeting and they will attempt their original plan that Stan so vehemently opposed.

Difficult conversations take place over friendly beers as Stan talks to Philip about his Paige concerns; concerns that he can’t quite verbalize beyond asking if everything is okay in Paige-land. The Beemans and Jennings are entangled in friendship and this burgeoning romance making this a ticking time bomb that Philip and Elizabeth know could go off at any minute. So far strong arming Paige to stay away from Matthew is of course doing the opposite; Philip has tried and now it is time for Elizabeth to have a go at explaining why this relationship cannot happen.
Elizabeth opts for talking while training and as with last week’s garage defense lesson scenario it is about giving Paige a sense of control while also emphasizing why Matthew as a boyfriend is a bad idea. The rhythmic sounds of Paige hitting her target as Elizabeth still dressed in her work attire coaches her adds to the tension and fraught nature of this conversation. This is also part one of ‘the talk’ and when Elizabeth asks if Paige is having sex she quickly follows up with pointing out that she doesn’t care if they are. Not what you would expect to hear from a mother as she talks to her daughter about sleeping with her first proper boyfriend, but Elizabeth has other concerns beyond the usual teen sex worries.

The Elizabeth/Paige dynamic continues to be fascinating as for the first time Elizabeth can be seen for who she is by her daughter. So much of Elizabeth’s decision to become a KGB officer and take on such a long deep cover mission is tied to her mother; the sacrifices she made (which were reiterated in terms of food last week) and her mother’s beliefs that mirror her own. With the training sessions she now gets to show her how to build on her strength and there is a deep sense of pride amidst the concern that Paige might inadvertently ruin everything by spilling their secret.

Tactics to keep Paige and Matthew apart are not working and when they return home from their digging expedition to find Paige’s bed empty, Philip and Elizabeth fear the worst. Where they find Paige is a concern for another reason as she was asleep in her closet as she continues to have post-stabbing sleep issues. There are no set parenting rules for dealing with first boyfriends and really they are no different from any other parent trying to work their way through first love. Except for that whole enemy spy thing.

Marriage strength between the pair comes in telling each other exactly what is going on; something Philip and Elizabeth have not always done and these bathroom confessions while applying night cream and brushing teeth reinforce just how good things are in this relationship even if everything else falls apart around them. This week’s conversation includes bonus heartbreaking Hans chat with Elizabeth telling Philip how excited Hans was about his sister’s forthcoming visit. The sighs and silences that punctuate all of their scenes speak just as much volume as any dialogue. Philip relays his chat with Stan while Elizabeth informs him of how unsuccessful her attempt at the Matthew problem was. The question of how long before Paige slips up hangs in the air with no immediate solution.

Babying Paige or even laying down threats (if only Paige knew how dangerous her parents are) is doing nothing and after a painful dinner out as the Eckerts with their new Russian defector friends – if Elizabeth could stab Alexei with her fork she would – Elizabeth comments that she is fed up with treating Paige like a “goddamn kid.” The scene that follows is up there with the stomach churning levels of when they first told Paige who they really are because Philip and Elizabeth aren’t your average parents and this isn’t your average sex talk.

In fact they approach this conversation as if Paige is an asset rather than their daughter and they are far more successful at relaying their message because of this change of tactic. They have both trained a lot of people especially when it comes to sex and while they’re inexperienced as parents in this particular arena they very much know how to manage feelings and not let them muddy things. It is a practical conversation and while we have seen just how fucked up the training they had was in this department there is a whole lot of compartmentalizing on their behalf.

This is also an incredibly sad scene because they’re viewing sex through this lens of their work, but it is also a weirdly bonding experience that gives Paige a practical tool and her parents’ piece of mind. In a weird way this is them teaching her about protection, but instead of a condom over a banana it is a way not to reveal their secret. Also I now want to go back and watch previous episodes to see if either of them ever use this technique.

In other big developments of the heart Stan finally mustered the courage to ask out the gym woman – Renee – and things are going well here. She’s the female version of Philip! Oh, Stan. It is also interesting to see Philip viewing her with suspicious eyes, but I guess he is always accustomed to looking at these things with spy eyes and Stan could be a target for this.

Also there are bugs aplenty in the greenhouse Elizabeth breaks into and because I’ve watched The X-Files my first thought went to bees that interrupted an all important Mulder and Scully moment. Thoughts of X-Files also courtesy of Stan’s new love interest. Instead Elizabeth ended up with a whole lot in her hair (despite the wig) and she tells Philip they need Alexei to help figure out what is going on with this agriculture business.

We also spend some more time with Tuan and find out that he really was adopted by an American family; a family who treated him well but who were also very pleased with themselves for this seemingly altruistic act. This might be where some of his resentment comes from along with the fact that his entire family (save his grandma) were killed by bombs in the Vietnam War. There’s a bit of a bond already with Philip and we see more of Tuan than both of Philip’s actual sons as Henry says he is at the library and the look on Elizabeth’s face when Paige tells her this is one of “yeah right.” Paige agrees and suggests he’s probably at the arcade. Meanwhile Mischa continues to make his voyage off screen.

Tension continues to build and deciding to open further to Paige will mean drawing her in closer; both to who they are and the job they do. The lines continue to blur.

Outfit I Would Wear in 2017

I’m so happy whenever Philip hits the court with Stan as this means retro sportswear. While not quite hitting the levels of this Dunlop tee, I would still be happy to have this stripe polo or Stan’s Adidas in my closet. Got to remember to keep an eye out on Etsy as costume designer Katie Irish suggested.

This is also another week of wanting to wear all the high-waisted pants and silk blouses a la Elizabeth and the outfit she’s wearing when they have the talk with Paige is the ideal version of this. And I have never related so much to Philip as him halfheartedly throwing his jacket in the direction of the coat hooks by the door.

The Americans 5.01 “Amber Waves” Review: Protect Yourself

8 Mar

Home is meant to be where you feel safe, but at the end of The Americans season 4 finale the Jennings house loomed like a visage from a horror movie as Paige was escorted home and told she couldn’t see Matthew Beeman anymore. Chris Long directed both that finale and this premiere episode so it is not to see a repetition of this foreboding shot and for Paige there is no escaping the night she saw her mother stab a guy in the throat in self defense.

Paige is having nightmares and there is something comforting about hanging out across the street while her parents are out working doing who knows what (we know). She might not get food with any good nutritional value at Stan’s, but it is the only place she can go where the scary images don’t follow.“Amber Waves” throws us back into stories long established such as the Paige problem; how do they manage what she knows without destroying her a piece at a time? There is also a new mission, loose ends from an old one to tie up and the matter of what is going on back home. Ah home, you can never really go back and Philip and Elizabeth are forever caught between two worlds. Forcibly smiling through dinner with a defector who spouts on about how much he hates the homeland puts them to their acting test and of course they pass with flying colors. The car ride home provides plenty of time to spew venom about his treacherous opinions and reflect on their past lives.

It is rare to hear Philip and Elizabeth talking about when they were Mischa and Nadezhda and as with previous conversations this one reveals just how hard things were in post-war Russia for both of them. There is also a sense of guilt, particularly from Elizabeth with regard to how much her mother sacrificed for her and it goes a long way to explain why she is so hardened to everything. But they also haven’t been home in a long time and they don’t know just how bad it has got; the post credits montage shows just this by juxtaposing the impressive American crops with the disaster that is taking place in the USSR. Followed by those long lines for food that looks inedible. Philip might remember a time when onion soup tasted just like hot water, but as we are reminded of in this episode the amount of food available to them is endless.

Food is plentiful and it isn’t like The Americans is suddenly remembering that their characters eat; food scenes have played a big part as well as an everyday part with Stan often popping over for dinner (as we can see from his cooking skills there is a reason why). Elizabeth often offers to cook eggs for Philip when he has had a shitty day and there was also that time I found out that tuna noodle casserole is a thing people ate. Oh the ’80s. There was also that time Elizabeth ate bacon after Paige had walked in to her parents’ bedroom at an unfortunate time and a variety of kitchen items were used to conceal Keri Russell’s IRL bump last season including crock pots, unpacking groceries, salad bowls and the refrigerator door. What I’m saying is they aren’t changing the amount of produce being consumed, but by focusing on the issue Russians are facing it puts this endless supply of food into focus.

Oleg is now back in Moscow; returning at his mother’s request as she is still deep in grief about the son she lost at war and his new role within the KGB is also about the food supply issues at hand. Bribery is a huge part of the problem and his new boss wants him to get to the very top of the matter, which might include some very powerful people who know his very powerful father. Oleg is quick to accept and his guilt about what happened to Nina has already led to him helping the FBI; when he sees just how corrupt the whole system is will this further push him toward Stan? Stan for his part is concerned about why Oleg has flown back home and whether he has been burned with regard to his part in the William.

Speaking of William as he makes a surprise appearance in “Amber Waves” and he gave me a reason to yell “What’s in the box?” at the screen, which I am always happy to do. Before this comes Gabriel telling Philip and Elizabeth about William’s fate; how he wished he could’ve given him the fantasy ending of returning home and having a family. Instead he died a painful death and after Elizabeth calls him a hero, Philip bitterly responds that maybe they can put him on a stamp.

This isn’t the end of their association with William and deadly pathogens as the last quarter of “Amber Waves” involves a whole lot of digging in a dialogue free sequence that involves the biggest team we have seen them work with. They break into Fort Detrick and dig a very deep hole to retrieve an important tissue supply from the now deceased William – oh hey Dylan Baker in a bag – and the exhausting nature of the task is shown in how long it takes. The team is so big because this mission is so arduous; digging in February is not easy and between the beanie hats (which I talk about at length here) and their visible breath this only adds to the extremes they are going to. At one point when Philip and Elizabeth are taking a break and sharing a flask it looks like a bleak picnic.

Everything looks like it is going according to plan, but as this is The Americans something goes wrong and Hans slips and falls into the hole landing on the open metal coffin cutting himself and exposing his blood to the Lassa virus. I was going to tweet how happy I was to see Hans again as he is now a vital part of their team and it is a good job that I didn’t. After a wordless exchange between Philip and Elizabeth – Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys are incredible at saying so much to each other with just their eyes – Elizabeth pulls out her gun and shoots Hans in the back of the head. They then dispose of his body in the same metal box as William and that’s another death to add to their list of bad feelings. We have seen Elizabeth kill without hesitation in the past, but I think this one is going to take its toll. As we saw Philip grappling with the weight of their job in season 2 after a whole lot of collateral damage, Elizabeth could be headed in the same direction.

The fact their daughter now knows who they are and is continuing to ask questions about what they do could add to this burden of guilt. Elizabeth is also in full training spirit and while Philip is having no luck with detracting Paige from spending time with Matthew, Elizabeth is trying a different tactic. As they circle around the awkwardness of a sex chat, Elizabeth teaches Paige that she needs to know how to protect herself; spy training 101. The Esprit sweatshirt that made an appearance in the promo is worn by Paige in the premiere and it is fun seeing such a fashion touchstone moment like this (also for more costume details check out my interview with costume designer Katie Irish here).

Philip and Elizabeth also have a fake new son. Someone they spend more time with than their actual one (poor Henry). Posing as a couple who are an airline pilot and flight attendant with an adopted Vietnamese son, Tuan (who is also an agent) this new mission is all about crops. Whereas biological weapons and the insidious nature of threatening a population with a disease was at the heart of season 4, food and stopping the supply of it is the weapon of choice this year. At the heart of it is always family and protecting that unit at all costs.

Speaking of family as Philip’s son has made his way out of Russia on the first part of his journey to meet his father. Much like the biological weapons last season that posed a threat throughout; there is also something unnerving about what Mischa’s trip to the U.S. is going to do for Philip and Elizabeth’s whole cover. He is the ticking time bomb headed their way and it’s not like they already have a lot on their spy and parental plate already.

As with the season finale this is a slow burn and it does what The Americans does best; somehow raising the stakes and tension levels to new heights. Setting up new stories, while threading the ones from the past and all while adding another layer to this intricate and complicated world. As we head into the almost final stretch with this penultimate season it looks like there is a still a lot of story to be told and I am excited to see how Philip and Elizabeth will handle the new and deep rooted challenges.

Outfit I Would Wear in 2017

Henry got tall and he’s also wearing another ski like jacket that I am coveting hard. Elizabeth is still up their with her strong coat game and I’m glad to see a return to silk blouses and high waisted pants now there is no IRL bump to cover up. Also Philip’s still got the best dad sweaters in the business.

The Americans 4.02 “Pastor Tim” Review: “You Were Almost Free”

24 Mar

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.The Americans 4.02 the jenningsIt 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.The Americans 4.02 ElizabethAdverse 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.The Americans 4.02 Elizabeth and PaigeThis 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.The Americans 4.02 carElizabeth 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.The Americans 4.02 Anton and NinaFamily 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 WeekThe Americans 4.02 disguiseThis 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

The Americans 4.02 Elizabeth and PhilipReturning 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. The Americans 4.02 bathroomLater 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.The Americans 4.02 Philip and ElizabethThey 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 2016The Americans 4.02 Elizabeth and GabrielThis 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
The Americans 4.02 Elizabeth FelicityRandom 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.

Shaking the Tree on The Good Wife

26 Oct

Alicia held favor in bond court for a very brief amount of time on The Good Wife before the judge was back to calling her Marie Antoinette and taxing her heavily. The issue being that she was causing waves in how the system flows as the court is more concerned with processing speed, rather than dealing with cases on an individual basis.

Everyone is a number and one in a stack of many files; those numbers include probation offers, bail money and their place in the pile. It can even be their weight which factors into nothing more than a way to sort out which bond lawyer gets first pick.

The Good Wife 7.04 AliciaIf this was a reality show then I’m sure Alicia might be pulling out the “not here to make friends” moniker as she is ruffling pretty much everyone’s feathers by disrupting procedure as she actually listens to her clients and actively tries to get them the best offer. But she has actually made friends and despite many exasperated looks from Lucca Quinn throughout “Taxed” it hasn’t damaged the rapport they have built up over the last few weeks; much to my delight.

A+ disdain and patterned outfit combo.

The Good Wife 7.04 Lucca QuinnThe whole system needs a makeover, but money rules everything and there is “no glory in this slog.” Alicia is shaking the wrong tree, or really she is shaking the one which won’t pay the bills especially when Judge Schakowsky is at the helm. Alicia has a pretty decent civil action case because the store in question could easily be accused of racial profiling – as several real stores have – and instead she trades that for surveillance footage which clears her client. The problem is that it shows her client’s mother originally stole the sweater in question. Not exactly the win Alicia was hoping for. What it does do is open her eyes to her current working situation; Alicia has no desire to go back to Lockhart, Agos and this freedom in cases is exhilarating. And yet she is still bound by bureaucracy and people who don’t want to fix what is broken.

Cary wistfully remembers starting the firm in Alicia’s apartment and this is the wrong way to go about getting Alicia to return to Lockhart, Agos by doing Reese Dipple’s bidding. The atmosphere between the pair is warm and there is hope for a working relationship between Alicia’s startup and her old firm despite the prickliness from Diane last week. Alicia doesn’t want to be stuck in the favor cycle and starting over was meant to wipe the slate clean; now she is stuck in another kind of legal purgatory with Judge Schakowsky.

The Good Wife 7.04 Alicia and LuccaOver martinis with Lucca – wearing another fantastic outfit – she ponders her next move and when Lucca spells out the disadvantages of Alicia’s current strategy an offer is made. This is the offer I have been expecting/hoping for with Alicia asking “Want to do it together?” That is shaking the tree for better paying cases. We don’t get Lucca’s answer and this isn’t the first time Alicia has offered this kind of deal to someone (Finn *sob*), but they have proved their success as a team and I can’t see why Lucca would turn her down. Job security is one reason to stick with bond court and there have been a couple of moments of conflict; however this would be a good move for both Alicia and Lucca. Seeing Alicia working in a different legal environment has been fun and yet I am now at the point where a break from Judge Schakowsky would be bliss.

Another person who is causing a stir is Jason Crouse and woah is the screen oozing with all the sexual tension whenever he is on screen with Alicia. When Jeffrey Dean Morgan first appeared a couple of weeks ago I was maybe reluctant at accepting this new potential love interest; now I am all in. I am also fully prepared to be disappointed. Jason is a bit of a mystery and this is apparently part of the whole investigator persona – here is another investigator mystery WHERE IS ROBYN? – and Alicia learns a few more things this week. He used to be a lawyer and he got disbarred for punching a judge. He also claims he is one of the calmest, sweetest dudes but he agrees with Alicia’s assessment that she should worry about him. He claims he is not joking and this only makes him seem more enigmatic (and attractive). The Good Wife 7.04 JDMJust look at the way he looks at her (*swoony sighs*).

Tree shaking is going on all over the place this week and Eli is playing mischief maker by taking Cary’s turned down request to Alicia and putting the other female Florrick’s onto Peter, but really onto Ruth in a bid to mess with her. And at first it works as Jackie feels put out by Peter’s new campaign manager and Grace is passionate in her disagreement over physician assisted suicide and this bill. Ruth is no fool and she quickly figures out Eli’s scheme and sweet talks her way with both Jackie and Grace; Eli is going to have to work a lot harder if he wants to sabotage Ruth’s efforts.

Euthanasia and this forthcoming bill provide the thrust of Diane’s storyline and it is so good to see Diane in a strong plot of her own. Last season Diane had to go against her principals to secure Reese Dipple as a client and they even got rid of Alicia at his request because he comes with a lot of prestige and so much money. He is their new ChumHum and once again Diane is put in a difficult position to keep him happy. Dipple doesn’t make an appearance and I’m guessing Oliver Platt wasn’t available. Not to worry as Sandy Cohen himself, Peter Gallagher is here as a very welcome proxy and he puts Diane in charge of an anti-euthanasia case, much to her chagrin.

The Good Wife 7.04 Diane and SandyDiane might not agree with what she is fighting against, but they want her because she knows the case and she knows the opposing counsel. Louis Canning is a formidable foe and yet Diane is more than aware of his sympathy inducing diversion tactics. She can also argue against something she believes in even if she can’t always hide her distaste at the methods and overall objective. It even looks like they have won it until Canning finds the message board smoking gun. It is a mighty fine week when none of the usual victors – Alicia, Eli, Diane – actually succeed in what they set out to achieve as it can get really boring when our guys win every case.

And to close here is another addition to the Diane Lockhart stunning jacquard jacket collection.
The Good Wife 7.04 Diane Lockhart

Grace also continues her fabulous assistant blouse look.

The Good Wife 7.04 Grace

One final patterned delight from Lucca. Sorry about the smears on the plexiglas.

The Good Wife 7.04 LuccaFingers crossed Lucca will accept Alicia’s offer and my love affair with her costuming can continue.

The Americans 3.13 “March 8, 1983” Review: “Why Are You Here?”

23 Apr

There is no denying that Philip and Elizabeth have done plenty of bad things on The Americans as we have seen them engage in activities which compromise them in a variety of ways. The very idea of good and evil can be rather abstract, particularly when dealing with opposing ideologies so the Reagan rhetoric which plays over this season’s final moments not only shows how precarious relations are at this point in the Cold War, but also taps into the state of mind of the three central players.

The Paige Problem which shifted into the Paige Revelation altered the balance and somehow raised the stakes further; the kitchen scene in “Stingers” is the defining moment not just of this season, but the entire run so far and everything that has come after feels even more fraught. Doubling down on fragile mental states in the Jennings household is Philip who has been teetering on the edge of the abyss and this talk of good/evil is pretty on point when it comes to his current status (‘Philip is feeling broken’).

The Americans 3.13 Philip and ElizabethElizabeth has never really wavered when it comes to duty to country; a few weeks ago Betty, the old woman who Elizabeth pretty much forced to kill herself used the word evil when Elizabeth justified her actions with the usual ‘making things better’ line. While Elizabeth is not simply a stone cold killer allowing herself a few tears shed in the darkness, the ends still justified the means. When it comes to killing for the cause Elizabeth is much better at shutting off her emotions, in the same way she told Philip that she doesn’t think about the sex training she also appears to do the same when it comes to the most brutal acts they commit.

It has been notable that Philip has not actually killed anyone this season, until this episode that is. Yes he could be considered complicit in the death of Annelise and he has certainly been present when someone else has pulled the trigger (or set the fire). Yousaf is the constant reminder of what happened to Annelise and he is under the impression that Philip has no real feelings about this; instead Philip tells him “I feel like shit all the time” and while Philip claims Elizabeth is the person who really knows him he tends to reveal more of himself in moments like this when he is in disguise. Pressure has been piling on Philip from a variety of sources including the relationships he is cultivating all in the name of the cause with Kimmy and Martha. Neither appears in the finale and the absence of Martha looms large after the huge de-wigging moment. About 25 minutes in I did write in huge block letters “WHERE IS MARTHA?” and while it is somewhat disappointing she didn’t make an appearance after such a jaw-dropping reveal, the finale is already overflowing and so it makes sense to imagine her squirreled away somewhere (I’m imagining with Hans) as she tries to process exactly what is going on.

The Americans 3.13 PhilipWhen Philip showed his true face to Martha I figured it was an act of ‘kindness’ before he has to kill her and while I can’t see how Martha is going to make it for yet another season, Philip’s desire to avoid any more collateral damage is strong. Instead he frames Gene, the computer dude and stages his suicide. No need for a forced handwritten note when a computer sits in the center of the room. Philip’s typed words of “I had no choice… I’m sorry” double as his own apology for this and Matthew Rhys giving a masterclass in playing self-loathing and quiet desperation throughout the finale. When he comes home to an empty house towards the end of the episode it is one of the lowest points we have seen him at as he rotates from listening to the radio to lying on his bed in silence. He enthusiastically bounds down the stairs when Elizabeth and Paige get back from their trip reads as an attempt to cover up his melancholy; it is only later on when he is alone with his wife that he tries to explain how he is feeling. I’m pretty sure if Philip started crying he would never stop and so far he has been pretty incredible at only hitting pre-glassy eyes.

EST has played in the background in a seemingly inconsequential manner as a failed attempt for Stan to win back Susan. Instead it has tapped into a part of Philip and he returns to the meetings alone bumping into Susan in the process. These are two characters that have barely spent anytime onscreen together and at first it is jarring seeing them sharing such an intimate discussion. Susan suggests being honesty friends, which would be fine except Philip, can only really share a small part of who he is with her. It is also interesting that Philip has chosen the seminar on sex as his refuge as honesty is such a big part of the EST philosophy and so many of his sexual interactions involve the notion of ‘making it real.’ Sex with Elizabeth is also complicated as while they have a strong intimate bond, Philip has told his wife that in the past he has used this technique with her too. I would very much like to see Elizabeth’s reaction to one of these seminars as I’m pretty sure she would be as open to this as she is to church.

The Americans 3.13 Philip and ElizabethPhilip is looking for an emotional tether in the same way Paige has been when it comes to religion; father and daughter have this in common and by the end of the episode they reach out to the person who they believe they can trust the most. Finding it hard to formulate his feelings, Philip struggles to tell Elizabeth exactly what is going on in his mind. She thinks he isn’t necessarily seeing things clearly and yet she is also distracted by the big Reagan speech playing on their bedroom television. This is Philip really opening up about the emotional toll of all this as he awkwardly explains how he needs to know what he’s doing better. It is not entirely clear what he means by this but with the moral terms being used by Reagan, I think he needs to know that what they are doing is positive and not just destroying multiple lives. Elizabeth doesn’t register his pain, or doesn’t want to acknowledge that yes there are flaws in their organization. It is the same way she brushes off Paige’s discomfort at lying and tells Philip how the trip has been really beneficial.

The Americans 3.13 PaigeInstead Paige is having her own moral quandary as she lies on her bed sobbing and boy is Holly Taylor destroying my soul in every way possible. Really they should have take that phone out of her room the instant they told her the truth, but they are both convinced she won’t spill their big dark secret. Spill she does and the tension is almost too much to take as we cut between Philip and Elizabeth’s missed connection talk with Stan and Henry happily playing a board game oblivious to what is taking place across the street. Paige can’t take the lying and in her mind her parents are trying to infect her with their lies. Seeing Elizabeth with her mother could have been a bonding moment and in Elizabeth’s mind it was, but she is only seeing it from her own POV. Paige questions how Elizabeth’s mother let her go like that and Elizabeth reassures her that nothing like that will happen to her. I’m not sure this is the answer Paige is seeking as she tries to reconcile everything she knows now. Seeing her mother ‘at work’ as she checks to see if they are being followed is an eye opener and even though nothing comes of it, seeing her mom in full spy mode has got to be unnerving. Paige has not had to live in the moral grey area before; this is all Philip and Elizabeth know and because they see family loyalty as being stronger than Paige’s feelings of what is right and wrong I don’t think they even consider Paige uttering this

“I’ve been having a really hard time and I’m hurting a lot. And I don’t know what to do. I’ve tried praying and it doesn’t help. Please, please help me. I can’t take it, they’re just, they’re liars. They’re liars and they’re trying to turn me into one. They’re not who they say are. They’re not Americans. I’m not supposed to say it, you can’t tell anyone. They’re, they’re Russians.”

And that sound you just heard is my screaming “Whyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy?” at the length of time it is going to be until we find out the resolution of this HOLY SHIT confession. Oh, Paige. That speech is heartbreaking on its own but intercut with Philip’s own attempt at revealing his pain it takes on the level of brutal soul crushing The Americans excels at. Elizabeth is so focused on the cause that she can’t see her husband and child are not exactly feeling it. This is not to say Elizabeth doesn’t feel anything as demonstrated by the scene with her mother and this is some extraordinary stuff from Keri Russell (this review could quite simply be two thousand words on how great all the face parts acting is from Russell, Rhys and Taylor). The Elizabeth we have seen this season has been far more connected to emotions including flashes of jealousy towards Philip’s other women to the tears we saw not just with Lois, but post the very close call early on this year.

The Americans 3.13 ElizabethElizabeth has known her mother has been sick since Gabriel’s return and while their handler has been using this connection to keep Elizabeth on side, Philip has seen it as an opportunity to assert his power. The plan Philip came up with was to get Elizabeth and Paige into West Germany and go from there with Gabriel calling this move childish; Philip said he was going to look out for his family and this is him doing just that. The tension between Philip and Gabriel is far from resolved and it is one of the many storylines which looks set to explode next season with Elizabeth placed in the middle of this rumble. This isn’t about the cause though and Philip was simply trying to do what he could to help his wife see her dying mother, a woman she hasn’t seen in over 20 years. The scene itself is rather brief, but manages to do a lot connecting three generations in this space and time, inviting Paige in but holding her at a distance as she remains standing. As Elizabeth clings onto those last glimpses, Paige is in the bathroom praying once again emphasizing how different Elizabeth and Paige are. Elizabeth can’t bring herself to pray with her daughter, but she does join her in this moment of reflection.

The Americans 3.13 prayingThe use of space in this hotel location helps demonstrate how alone Paige feels whereas for Elizabeth this experience is all about coming together. She gets to see her mother when she didn’t think that was ever going to happen again and if Elizabeth believed in miracles then she would probably call this one. For Paige it simply overwhelms and adds to her feeling of discomfort at who her parents really are. When she asked them for their real names or to speak Russian it was a test to see if they were telling the truth, being in this room in West Germany seeing her real grandmother and hearing Russian spoken so freely is an entirely new level of comprehension. It is also worth noting that Paige is not only wearing her cross, but she is also wearing a t-shirt with footprints in the sand, which has strong religious connotations. Paige is very much holding onto her beliefs.

The Americans 3.13 footprints teeOne person who is through with compromising herself is Nina and she can’t keep buying back her life. Nina isn’t going to get saved by Stan and Oleg’s partnership, a partnership which Stan is using to get leverage so he can flip him or expose his treason (more on this to come) and she also doesn’t want to sell Anton out. Anton is actually doing a lot more work since Nina’s arrival so she might inadvertently get her freedom if he comes through with something. It is all about asserting control where they can and the opportunity to explore this technology through the photos Lisa got is too exciting for Anton to ignore and there is always some hope that one day he will see his son again. Something romantic might take place between this pair, but they share a connection on a much more intimate level as their fates are entwined and they both know what it feels like to be used as a bargaining chip. Nina having some amount of agency makes me very happy and even though this story has been on the periphery it is one of many that I am looking forward to returning to.

The tension at the FBI is ever increasing as Agent Gaad is still smarting from the pen incident so Stan’s off books work means he gets the brunt of Gaad’s frustration and anger. If it was up to Gaad, Stan would be dunzo, but red tape doesn’t stop everything and his work has been recognized from higher up. Getting the go ahead to continue with this operation but without Nina’s freedom as leverage means he is going to have to find a new way to get to Oleg.

What we are left with at the end of this season is a lot of questions and unresolved storylines; this could be considered anti-climatic in one respect, but that doozy of a final sequence coupled with how strong the narrative has been throughout means I am so close to curling up in the fetal position under my desk thankful for a bleak break. Not every plot has been entirely successful this year and at times there has been too much going on with Stan’s marriage/divorce being something that could easily have been trimmed down this year. Overall this has been one incredible season without a single weak episode and even though it is only April it is going to be hard for any other show to top this one for me this year.

Shot(s) of the Week

The Americans 3.13 GabrielDirector Dan Sackheim delivers plenty of amazing shots that could be included (and a lot of them appear in this review) and this scene at Gabriel’s uses space in the way I have discussed further up. There is so much distance between them with Gabriel only coming close to Philip when he wants to lay down some father like words of warning/disappointment.

The Americans 3.13 hotelThe light from the large windows in both shots helps frame those within the room and even though Elizabeth is standing she looks childlike before her mother in her blue nightdress (the blue dress links back to the one Elizabeth mentions to Philip in “Baggage.” Even though we hear about her tough her mother is, there is nothing but love in this scene.

Disguise of the Week

The Americans 3.13 Philip disguisePhilip has definitely borrowed one of Elizabeth’s wigs with this blonde number when staging Gene’s suicide. Maybe he thinks he can channel her ability to compartmentalize (he can’t).

Outfit I Would Wear in 2015

The Americans 3.13 NinaNina’s attire has been a whole lot of beige, grey and brown but her knitwear game is strong. Probably a must for how cold it is where she is.

The Americans 3.12 “I Am Abassin Zadran” Review: All in the Family

16 Apr

Family on The Americans blurs the line between truth and lies starting as one and becoming the other and Paige continues to struggle with what she was told a couple of episodes ago. Last week Elizabeth divulged more about her mother than ever before, which to us as the viewers is of great emotional significance, but to Paige it is another part of this web of deception. It doesn’t matter that her parents are now revealing the real parts of themselves when they have been lying for her entire existence. Paige isn’t Philip and Elizabeth’s only concern as the multiple operations they are running hit a critical juncture; the human element means that no matter how well they plan something there is the potential for things to go awry, which is what tends to happen on this show.

The Americans 3.12 Elizabeth CIAIn fact the operation with Abassin Zadran goes without a hitch (at this juncture) as Philip and Elizabeth successfully plant the seeds of doubt while having to hear a cheerful tale about how much satisfaction he gets from killing communists. Both remain composed while he talks about gutting and Elizabeth even takes a moment to massage his ego by calling him loyal and brave. As with most assets it is all about saying what the person wants to hear to get them to comply without even realizing it. This is the operation we have been following all season and it’s why Philip has been hanging out with a fifteen year old girl who isn’t his daughter and it is good to see them get a relatively straightforward win even if it comes with such brutal execution.

Teen girls and specifically Paige and Kimmy are at the heart of yesterday’s Americans post and one matter discussed was how Paige might act out. Instead of going for the traditional act of teen rebellion, Paige instead hits her parents where it hurts; with religion and her relationship with Pastor Tim as she left a note saying she was going to stay over after a lecture. A big hell no moment from Philip and Elizabeth mostly out of fear she might spill their secret and also partly because they are angry at her insubordination. So they once again leave Henry alone with just the company of TV and his beloved computer game; is this Henry neglect going to come back to bite them? It’s not like he will Jared them or anything but I do think they need to start paying some attention to child number two, well besides how much he might be able to hear when Paige is yelling about this family not being real.

“Don’t jump all over her.”
“You know what I mean.”
“No, maybe I don’t. You wanna teach me how to handle my own daughter?!”

First of all this exchange between Philip and Elizabeth is a great example of what makes this show so special; it is a typical parental debate about how to handle a wayward child with a strong hint of implied knowledge that they will react unfavorably. Elizabeth proves that she can remain relatively calm in this instance and while nothing is really resolved they manage to get their point across that Paige can’t act like this. This is where The Americans deviates from the family drama as with this knowledge Paige now holds the key to their downfall and as they are high level operatives it will be a huge loss for the KGB. When they return home, the garage acts as a kind of holding cell as they block Paige in and reinforce how much they need to be able to trust her and because the space is so small it adds to the tension. The way they use this house and the familiar settings heightens the drama because everywhere is tinged with the family life that also feels pretty alien to Paige at the moment.

The Americans 3.12 Philip and ElizabethLater on Paige interrupts her parents who are discussing the Martha problem in the confines of their bedroom with Elizabeth and Philip remaining seated when she enters. Armed with a family photo album Paige questions the so-called relatives who feature and whether they are really their blood. Of course they aren’t; Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell do a stellar job of managing the awkward acceptance that this going to be just one in a long line of having to admit to things which they faked with quick glances at each other. There is also a strong sense of agitation from Paige as her voice gets louder and Elizabeth as she tries to remain calm.

The Americans 3.12 bedroomAnd then it all gets too much for Elizabeth and she does the thing that Philip warned her against doing as she literally jumps all over her trying to stifle Paige’s speech by putting her hand over her mouth. This of course goes horribly and Paige utters a very familiar “Don’t touch me” giving me flashbacks to fifteen and some dumb fight about whatever. If Philip was an asshole he might point out to his wife this is what he was referring to earlier, but Elizabeth is quick to register regret at how this escalated.

Philip remains seated and we get to see him framed in the center of the two most important women in his life trying to calm the situation and failing. It once again ends with Paige departing and at this point they haven’t really ended any conversations with Paige as she always exits first.

The Americans 3.12 PhilipGiving Paige space is wise, but this needs to be resolved so Philip goes to see Paige on her own turf. Like Paige did earlier, he uses photos as a way to reach her and when he enters he sits on the floor with her maintaining an equal level rather than going for a superior position. Philip is better at reasoning with Paige because at this point Elizabeth is incapable of completely controlling her emotions. Elizabeth tends to be the colder one of the pair but since she actually fell in love with Philip when it comes to their family her feelings are more intense and harder to dismiss. Photos are Paige’s tool to point out everything is fake and Philip uses this same tool to show her how real things are. Yes Cousin Roger and Aunt Helen are points of fiction – Philip mentions Elizabeth being unwell, not that she got shot – but everything in this house is real.

The Americans 3.12 baby photoAnother fantastic job by the props/art department as they continue to kill it with the Jennings family photo collection. There is nothing more irritating than being taken out of a highly emotional scene by bad photoshop or personal pictures which are clearly from the promo department. We get an instant connection to this moment because it looks like a real family photo celebrating a very important arrival. It brings everything back to their family and the experiences which are not fake. A family camping holiday is the other reminder Philip brings and Paige mentions how Henry was afraid a bear would eat him, something Philip didn’t know because Henry had made Paige promise she wouldn’t tell (we all keep secrets). It is a really lovely scene between father and daughter without the level of fraught tension from their recent scenes. Photographs can create an illusion as a smile doesn’t always mean a person is happy and yet they also freeze a specific time/place allowing us to experience it again and see the truth.

Despite Gabriel saying no last week to Philip’s request for Elizabeth to see her mother, Philip is pushing forward with this plan and even goes so far as suggesting Elizabeth takes Paige with her. As before Elizabeth hesitates when it comes to this conversation and it’s like his chat with Gabriel lit a fire under him as he pulls the ‘if you don’t take her, I will’ card. A hard card to argue with and Elizabeth tells Paige about the trip idea (accompanied by Ultravox “Vienna”) making sure Paige knows that it is her choice if she wants to come or not. It’s like Philip and Elizabeth are finally on the same page (boom boom).

The Americans 3.12 Claudia and GabrielGabriel has an interesting conversation about the state of everything with Claudia (!) and it is so good to see Margo Martindale share a scene with Frank Langella discussing their long history, the amount of menu choice and what to do about the Jennings family. Jared is referenced and how this disaster caused a huge rift in the Centre and yet they still want to progress with Paige. Claudia thinks Philip is the problem and yet Gabriel also has doubts that relate to Elizabeth and her ability to deal with Philip since this plan has been set in motion. As with how Gabriel manipulates his agents, Claudia does the same to Gabriel telling him how much faith the Centre has in him. This is right down to how Gabriel reaches for Elizabeth’s hand, so does Claudia do the same to him. Oh Claudia, do you not remember what Elizabeth did to you when you tried to interfere with her family last time?

Doubt is creeping in all over the place and another photograph prompts questions. Stan makes a surprise visit to Martha’s and luckily Hans is watching the building as he tips Philip off that someone from the government is inside. Hans is not the loose cannon I thought he might be, but I guess there is still time for that to change. Martha’s wedding photo with Clark is safely hidden in her drawer and when she went to look at it, I figured she was going for her gun. This picture is the perfect example of the lies Paige was talking about and while their marriage is technically real (although not at the same time as Clark is an assumed identity); it means something far greater to Martha than it does to the person behind Clark.

The Americans 3.12 Martha bedMartha is beginning to fall apart and being driven out to the middle of nowhere to have secret chats with your husband is not reassuring. Alison Wright delivers a heartbreaking performance of monumental proportions first when she tries to pretend that everything is fine on the phone to her parents followed by her confrontation with Clark. She tells her parents she is staying there and Clark that she is going to her parents so what is she really packed for? If she leaves in this way the FBI are going to figure it was her who planted the pen and this trip has finality to it. Philip tries everything he can to convince her that it will be fine and none of his words help so he goes for the extreme option revealing not only his true face but pulling off the wig. We’ve only seen Philip’s wig removed twice; first during a fight, the second time he ripped it off in anger and this reveal is huge. There is something sinister about the slow, measured way he removes the pins slowly showing who he is and I can’t see Philip letting Martha out of this alive, not now he has revealed his true face. Yes I think he genuinely cares for her, but there is only one family he will protect and that is his real one. It is worth pointing out Philip has not had to kill anyone yet this season and this looks like it might change. Oh, Martha.

In other operations Arkady is already fed up of the chit chat they have to sift through with Operation Mail Robot/Zephyr and it takes Oleg and Tatiana to reinforce how important it might be. Tatiana is an intriguing character as she appears to be invested in Arkady keeping this position and she is worried if he pulls the plug this quick then it will look bad on him. Personal conversations can be used to exploit the agents who are having them; affairs can equate to blackmail potential. Also Stan and Agent Aderholt had a very heated chat about Nina and the distinctive beeping of ol’ mail robot can be heard in the background so I wonder if this back and forth will cross their desks. It’s not just Nina they talk about as Elizabeth is also referenced as the illegal Stan shot and who he thinks maybe beat up Gaad and Aderholt way back in the season premiere.

With just one episode to go of this exceptional season it is hard to see how they are going to tie everything up and I expect a lot of this will continue next year including the Lisa storyline which is briefly covered this week; Maurice continues to be a huge thorn in Elizabeth’s side and if looks could kill he would have been eviscerated by now.

Shot of the Week

The Americans 3.12 kitchenThe reading of Paige’s note and I love how despite Elizabeth being slightly out of focus you can see the anger on her face and tension in her shoulders. Henry is the ultimate latchkey kid and his back is turned away from the source of contention with Philip puling concerned dad face. He hasn’t even taken his coat off yet.

The Americans 3.12 MarthaThe Martha/Clark chat of attempted ‘everything will be fine’ is framed in this wonderful light/dark way and I think it is safe to say it will not be.

Disguise of the Week

The Americans 3.12 big blue phoneElizabeth wears her CIA disguise for her phone maintenance worker hotel trip and there is no way Neil will suspect this is the woman he hooked up with last week. This is my favorite of the Elizabeth wig collection and this giant blue phone just adds a whole extra something to the shot.

Outfit I Would Wear in 2015

The Americans 3.12 PaigeIn the wide shot the jeans are a little unflattering when the shirt is tucked in this much, but I dig Paige’s plaid shirt.

The Americans 3.11 “One Day in the Life of Anton Baklanov” Review: “We Do Hard Things”

9 Apr

Questions come in many forms on The Americans this week including the emotional fallout from last week’s huge revelation and trust is not something that comes easily across various storylines. Philip and Elizabeth continue to juggle multiple operations while dealing with their fraught situation at home and the scrutiny they are under has increased. In an episode with Anton Baklanov’s name in the title he remains on the periphery with the Jennings still very much at the heart of the story, especially after that bombshell last week and Paige has something Anton’s son Jacob does not have; answers.

These answers don’t completely satisfy Paige with half snatched conversations and the inability to fully believe what they are telling her. The foundation of her entire world has been destroyed and we are entering uncharted waters.

The Americans 3.11 Snow!Philip and Elizabeth have spent the season at odds over this decision with Gabriel acting as the master manipulator. Tension has been simmering between Philip and Gabriel with Philip telling him exactly how he feels about his methods a couple of episodes ago over a not so friendly game of Scrabble. This continues this week in both their solo conversation and when Elizabeth is present. Gabriel keeps asking how they are and it seems less out of personal concern and more to do with their positions as highly valued agents. Later Gabriel questions whether Philip is falling apart and all I have to say to Gabriel on this one is you should have seen him last season because right now Philip is incredibly stable. In fact Philip is doing a better job of compartmentalizing his emotions than Elizabeth is right now, maybe he is doing it too well and he should concerned with his mental state.

With Elizabeth, Gabriel holds a certain level of control with his access to the tapes from her mother and he informs her there might not be too many more. There is something about the way he takes her hand that really puts my back up and I am very much on Team Philip on this one. Prompting Philip to suggest once again that Elizabeth has one last face to face meeting with her mother before she dies and both Gabriel and Elizabeth think it is impossible. This request from Philip is not out of character and much like Elizabeth’s desire to get Philip’s son home from Afghanistan it shows a deep level of love between the pair that goes beyond their inability to always share how they are feeling with each other. The difference here comes in Gabriel’s response as when Elizabeth asked he left it open and managed to come through; with Philip it is a straight no. By pushing Philip like this it unleashes the sassy strop off which is more than fair as Philip points out how much he has done for the Centre and he’s getting nothing in return. This includes a detailed description of what happened with Annelise – “I had an agent I slept with for three years and then I got her killed. I broke her bones and I shoved her in a suitcase” – the Paige problem and the Afghanistan issue.

In a way it feels like they are having two conversations which comes back to the repeated use of the word fine; Philip says “we’ll be fine” when Gabriel asks how he is specifically and then this switches to how this whole situation is not fine followed by Philip barely containing his disdain when he snarks “I’m fine.” Basically Philip wants Gabriel to stay out of anything to do with his family and he also wants him to do something in return to make up for this clusterfuck of a life they are living. Earlier on when they tell Gabriel that Paige knows, it is Elizabeth who emphasizes how fine they are and they are less convincing the more they say it.

Philip sells it much better with Yousaf as they have a heart to heart about the aforementioned suitcase incident with the party line being that what they do doesn’t get any easier but the thought of what the world could be like is what gets him through. This sounds a lot like the version of their job description they told Paige about last week, which was a highly edited and unspecific description. They can only tell Paige a certain amount about what they do and I doubt they will be sharing recent activities with her such as sleeping with hotel managers or the other wife that Philip has.

The Americans 3.11 pancakesThere is some transparency and instead they focus on personal details which means we get far more information about Elizabeth’s childhood (still Philip is pretty much a blank slate) and the discussion in the car between Paige and her mother is heartbreaking. Elizabeth essentially monologues with her daughter sitting there listening to this tale of hardship; what appears to be a potential bonding moment ends with Paige explaining that she doesn’t know how she can believe anything they say anymore. Elizabeth does not have a sharing disposition, but as we see here and in the past when she is talking about her mother it taps into a reservoir of emotion. Paige starts the episode with a series of questions and she is quick to find out they are not willing to talk about this when Henry could come in at any moment. Luckily Henry is too busy practicing his Eddie Murphy impression that while he is aware there is tension he is also not that bothered by it.

At the end of the episode Paige knocks on her parents’ door – after last time she has definitely learned that knocking is key – and asks what they are talking about. Philip is honest and mentions how her grandmother is sick; Paige is overwhelmed and leaves without saying much as if she still can’t process all of this information (she has a grandmother now), which is more than understandable. Initially leaving the door open we are left with a shot of Philip and Elizabeth in bed, but she comes back to shut the door and we are left with Paige on one side and her parents on the other. The divide in the Jennings house continues to grow.

The Americans 3.11 ElizabethIn the past we have seen Philip and Elizabeth reconnect through sex and Elizabeth uses this tried and tested move with different results. This season has featured several occasions where Philip comes in late at night followed by either stoned confessions or shared sparking up sessions. The intimacy level has been high but in different forms from what we see this week; when Elizabeth comes home from the hotel (where she made her excuses with Neil) she strips and wakes Philip with a passionate kiss. As Elizabeth drops out of the frame we stay on Philip’s face which remains impassive and this attempt at connecting falls short. This is the first time in an age where Elizabeth has been used as a honeytrap and the earlier encounter with Neil is all about him giving her pleasure and it feels like this is her way of making it up to Philip. Elizabeth has been experiencing jealousy for the first time this season and while I wouldn’t necessarily suggest that Philip is projecting similar feelings he is concerned about the hotel operation.

Going back to Philip’s conversation about ‘making it real’ when it comes to sex and despite the sexiness of Elizabeth’s underwear and Neil’s “I want you wet” there is an awareness in these scenes of how fake it is as Elizabeth takes a moment to sell it and sell it she does when she experiences a real moment of pleasure. However when Elizabeth comes home from her sexual encounter with Neil she looks so fucking depressed as the consequences are far higher now her daughter knows who she is and there’s a lot more feelings to be considered beyond just Philip.

Anton talks to Nina about how he was traded like a slave and he is fed up of being used in this way. Nina connects with him by using his son and her own experience of being traded back and forth. Everyone on this show is being used in some way and it is all about controlling how this is done; Philip is attempting to limit this with his conversations with Gabriel, Martha is being used and Paige doesn’t have a clue what could be in store for her. And what of Nina? She is so good at getting people to trust her and as with last season it is hard to tell exactly what is for show and what is real. They have tried to get to Anton with a series of women for him to sleep with and I am thrilled that Nina is using charm of another kind to obtain her freedom.

What The Americans also teaches us this week is how to look like you’re making eye contact with someone as Philip preps Martha. He tells her to stare at the end of Taffet’s nose as this will create the illusion of looking into someone’s eyes. Martha passes this test with Taffet as she confidently answers his questions although I am concerned for her safety now that Hans knows where she lives.

Speaking of unstable entities and Maurice wants in on Michelle’s money making plan. Lisa hasn’t made an appearance for a few episodes and this reminds us just how many missions they’ve got going at the moment. There are plenty of ways for any of these plans to go wrong and there is a strong look of concern (and loathing) when Maurice is upfront about knowing Elizabeth is the mastermind of this plan.

One story that continues to tick over is at the rezidentura and the bug they put in the mail robot is up and running. Arkady has given Oleg and Tatiana the task of going through the transcripts and I have a feeling the beeping which causes them to crack up is going to be very important.

This episode was very much a table setter after last week’s major shift with Philip and Elizabeth attempting to keep control of their inseparable home and work life. It feels like it is only going to get harder for the pair as they are now in deep in every facet of their life and there still remains some distance between them emotionally; is there couples therapy for spies?

Shot(s) of the Week

The Americans 3.11 Philip and ElizabethElizabeth and Philip are poised waiting for Gabriel to tell him about the big development and this shot represents how fine they are trying to pretend they are while both looking like they want to throw up. When Gabriel enters, Elizabeth pulls up a seat close to Philip putting on a show of unity.

The Americans 3.11 Anton and NinaThis looks like an Edward Hopper painting.

Disguise of the Week

The Americans 3.11 ClarkPhilip causes extra confusion as Clark by wearing a turtleneck AND a sweater; perhaps this is his way to distract Martha from asking any other questions. Although unlike Paige, she hasn’t shown any desire to delve any further.

Outfit I Would Wear in 2015

The Americans 3.11 Elizabeth kitchenSpeaking of sweater game and Elizabeth gives good serious face while wearing this purple number. I would probably leave the high waisted polyester slacks for another occasion.

The Americans 3.10 “Stingers” Review: “If You Really Love Me”

2 Apr

For all the facades and lies that have been told on The Americans there are some truths that can’t be shaken; the family that was started as part of their cover is very real despite the double life they lead. Paige has been at the heart of much of the discord between Philip and Elizabeth this season as they vehemently disagree about the Centre’s interest in their daughter as a future asset. Elizabeth has been itching to tell Paige who they really are all with Philip firmly in the keep her in the dark camp (a camp of one).

The Americans 3.10 Philip and Elizabeth - CopyThis season has been building towards Paige finding out inching forward a tiny amount at a time with the nearest Elizabeth has got involved talking about their activist past. Rather than going all in at once Paige has lingered in the background as the constant elephant in the room with Philip questioning his wife about her projected time frame; would he come home one day to find a now all knowing Paige? For all Elizabeth’s desires to go ahead and tell Paige, she has also been concerned about Philip because they are now very much husband and wife. This love is very real and she is considering his feelings in the matter whereas in the past she wouldn’t have given him a second thought if it meant defying Centre’s orders. Things are different now and Elizabeth even apologizes for her trip down memory lane with Paige and Elizabeth Jennings is not one for apologizing.

In the end it isn’t a decision made by either Elizabeth or Philip to tell or not to tell as Paige confronts them of her own volition. It isn’t out of the blue as Paige has been questioning what her parents have been up to since the end of season 1 when she made the trip down to the basement to check the laundry. With the counsel of Pastor Tim she asks them what their big dark secret is opening with an emotional kicker of “Do you love me?” Paige pivots on this and uses it as a reason for them to tell her what their deal is and doubles down on this by using love as a reason for them to be completely honest. If they really love her then they would tell her the truth and she’s backing her parents into a corner. Yeah they could lie their way out of this situation, but the question is out there now and this is actually the perfect time to do the thing one of them has been aching to do all season.

What makes this scene so incredible is how all the pieces move; from shock at Paige’s forthright question to how they decide to tell her. Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell are so good at the face parts acting, it sounds like such a simple notion but I can’t think of two other actors at the moment who can convey so much through the smallest gesture or reaction. After Paige lists off all the possible reasons there can be for their behavior/lack of family – witness protection, they killed someone, drug dealers, she’s adopted, they’re aliens – and turns her back on her parents there is a long beat and Philip nods at Elizabeth giving her the go ahead to reveal who they are. So for all their fighting it ends up being a joint decision.

The Americans 3.10 StingersEven the telling process is in sync as Elizabeth starts the confession with Philip actually being the first one to explain they weren’t born in the US after Elizabeth stumbles on her words. This back and forth of finishing each other’s sentences shows their united front in this and while Elizabeth has wanted to do this, it still doesn’t make the actual telling any easier. I’ve watched this scene a couple of times now and it is incredibly powerful seeing them share the burden and highlighting how important it is that Paige doesn’t tell anyone; not Pastor Tim, not Henry. The moment after with Elizabeth and Philip left alone in the kitchen deconstructing what happened includes Elizabeth asking Philip if he hates her (he doesn’t) and Philip pointing out how Elizabeth thought the kids finding out would “kill them.” Everything has changed since then as this was a line uttered in the pilot when Philip suggested defecting and that time seems worlds away now. This season they have been talking about Paige a lot as “my daughter” and now they are back to using “our” and “we” showing this all important unity. In this they are very much a team once again.

The morning after is just as impressive for everyone involved as they tiptoe around their daughter; asking her what she needs, whether they should stay home and it is all about not pushing her no matter how much they want to. This isn’t just about finding out your parents have a different job and it is entirely world changing. Nothing is what it seems and praise should be heaped on Holly Taylor for how she conveys Paige’s confusion towards this monumental news. She doesn’t scream, shout or burst into hysterical tears (all of which would be perfectly understandable in this situation) and she plays it with the right level of incredulity. This is earth shattering and changes her perception of her entire upbringing; her parents are nothing like the idea she had of them and spies wasn’t even a consideration on her list of possible reasons why they behave so strangely.

In the final scene she sits transfixed by how her parents are with Stan. Stan who is an FBI agent and who they are technically at war with. It’s like she is seeing them for the first time and now everything teeters on a knife edge even more than it already did. The balancing act just got a lot harder and this is one which includes seducing teens, a huge forthcoming mission and another marriage which is in a precarious position. Henry is of course oblivious to all of this and he barely takes his nose out of the electronic computer game to register what is going on. That’s not completely fair to the younger Jennings sibling as he watches a pirate copy of Tron courtesy of Stan and when returning the VHS he chats to Stan about his forthcoming divorce. The Stan/Henry relationship is rather sweet even if Henry has a photo of Sandra Beeman in her bikini stashed in a box with other illicit pictures beneath his floorboards – showing signs of being a good spy. Henry also does impressions which Philip and Elizabeth have no time for even pretending they are the least bit interested in. Oh, Henry.

The Americans 3.10 Elizabeth and HenrySo if Philip has been so strongly opposed to telling Paige why did he give his blessing in this moment? Early in the episode he has to leave before dinner is even served to go get a drunk Kimmy from a house party. When he takes her home there is no one there and she drunkenly mumbles “I think you’re the only one who really cares about me” as her friends were a no show. This alone is so tragic because he is using her for the intel which he goes to get while she is probably puking in the bathroom; this girl has no one and the sad family shot of Kimmy, her dad and step-mom in her dad’s office further highlights this. A few episodes ago Kimmy laid out how desperately alone she feels at home and I think Philip can’t bear to have Paige feel like this. So when Paige gives her ‘if you really loved me you would tell me the truth’ ultimatum it really hits Philip and revealing all is the only option even if it pushes her away initially.

Gabriel informs Philip that Mischa has been secured an early return from Afghanistan (thanks to Elizabeth) and it is one he has refused; they can force him to if Philip wishes and it is something Philip turns down. How can he make a decision this huge for a child he has never met and I believe that Philip doesn’t want to exert this power even if it might save his life. And he probably doesn’t want to be in debt to Gabriel in anyway. It will be interesting to see how Gabriel reacts to this Paige news and particularly the united front from Philip and Elizabeth. Philip has already told Gabriel that he can see through his manipulation and the tension is simmering away.

The Americans 3.10 Philip and ElizabethHeavy exasperated sighs puncture several interactions in this episode as everything continues to stack up against them from Philip’s audible groan on the phone when he has to leave to deal with Kimmy to Elizabeth not being able to hide her anxiety before they sit down and tell Paige. There is even talk of sleep at one point and when Philip returns with the tape from Kimmy’s – note how quick he is telling Elizabeth what happened, or rather what didn’t – Elizabeth offers to send the signal because she has had sleep. Philip insists as he knows the Yousaf protocol and later on she mentions how Yousaf only has eyes for Philip. Elizabeth meanwhile has the hotel plan on lockdown as she uses her charms with Neil the concierge, securing him for when they will need him later on. Elizabeth hasn’t had to seduce anyone all season and I think it is worth pointing out that Philip hasn’t had to kill anyone so far this year either. Soon it feels like both of these things will change.

More is at stake now and while one burden has been lifted, they also appear deflated because they are going to have to watch what Paige does in an entirely different way now. We see Paige calling Pastor Tim and for a moment it looks like she might spill all, but she hesitates ultimately heading her parent’s words about ending up in jail for life. I’m so excited as to where this story might go now that Paige knows and I figured this was going to be a season finale kinda bombshell. Instead there are three episodes left to play with and I cannot wait to see what happens next. This episode has made me so giddy.

Other storylines are simmering away in the background with the revelation that Zinaida is indeed a double agent and not really a defector. Good instincts Stan. Arkady is worried that because the mission is so secret someone from their own side is going to fuck things up not realizing it is part Oleg and the reason is Nina. Speaking of Nina she is slowly earning Anton’s trust first by speaking in English and then mentioning living in America. In the bug in Gaad’s pen investigation Stan is interviewed and has a moment where it looks like he is starting to suspect Martha, dude has a good gut for this kind of thing. Well except for the neighbors across the road (and he was originally suspicious of them, they are just very good at deception).

Shot(s) of the Week

The Americans 3.10 Paige bedroomI could easily have gone for far more than two shots this week but otherwise this would just be an endless page of photos. First up Paige the morning after; wearing the same clothes and she’s still in a state of disbelief. If you looked at this image and didn’t know it could be from a different kind of drama that would lead to a teenage daughter turning her back on her parents and refusing food. It also highlights the amazing production design and the Jennings house feels so lived in. This is also the scene where Paige asks them to say something in Russian as some sort of proof that she didn’t dream up their story. Philip can’t quite bring himself to do so, he tries but he looks like he is gagging on the words. Elizabeth does so for them both with Philip translating that they love her very much.

The Americans 3.10 StingersElizabeth stands and watches Paige when they get home from work with suspicion and fear, which makes such a striking image. The truth has set them free but at what cost? And it’s like she is looking at the spot where everything changed and the way they use the different rooms in this house is so good.

Disguise of the Week

The Americans 3.10 Elizabeth disguiseA new disguise! Sexy white suit (well sexy for 1982) with bobbed hair business lady. All the better for seduction needs.

Outfit I Would Wear in 2015

The Americans 3.10 star earringThe morning after and Elizabeth’s earrings are rather whimsical large star shapes. What this says to me is that Elizabeth wasn’t necessarily thinking about what she was putting on in the morning, but also that she has subconsciously gone for something inviting/silly. I don’t even have my ears pierced but for these I might.

The Americans 3.09 “Do Mail Robots Dream of Electric Sheep?” Review: “Loving, Devoted, Adoring”

26 Mar

Faith on The Americans is about far more than Paige’s recent religious discovery and Elizabeth and Philip have a strong belief that what they are doing is for good even if it causes them to act in horrifying ways. They honestly believe their actions will make the world better and it’s all very utilitarian viewing the big picture rather than the smaller collateral damage along the way. Not that this means they aren’t emotionally affected by what they do as we saw from Philip’s erosion of his soul last season as his body count piled up and Elizabeth has a very strong reaction – well strong in comparison to what we have previously witnessed – to the encounter she has in “Do Mail Robots Dream of Electric Sheep?”

The Americans 3.09 Do Mail Robots Dream of Electric SheepMarriage and trust are two topics which come up on multiple occasions in this episode and considering where our starting point was with Elizabeth and Philip way back in season 1 the pair has progressed in leaps and bounds. They are still incredibly stunted when it comes to talking through their feelings as Elizabeth showed when she clumsily tries to sympathize with Philip regarding the Martha situation. She is very much on the outside of this one as he has a strong belief that Martha won’t betray Clark with Martha showing just this by preparing a very regular meal and feeding him information regarding the mail robot repair schedule.

Elizabeth has her own Martha in some respects with Hans as he shows just how far he is willing to go to carry on serving the cause and by extension her. Todd doesn’t get the second chance Elizabeth and Philip gifted him last week and this isn’t the first time where they have tried to let someone go only to have them end up dead anyway. Hans puts equal weight on doing things for the cause and Elizabeth; Hans has pledged he will do anything for her but I worry his infatuation will become a liability. Killing Todd isn’t as simple as shooting him and he notes how it didn’t go exactly as planned. Elizabeth is quick to point out that it seldom does and it is very rare for something to go without a hitch or someone dead by the end of it on The Americans.

Case in point is the trip to the factory which is fixing the mail robot, a factory which by all accounts should be empty at this time of night but this doesn’t take into account the many unknown whims of people. Philip coldly brushes off this hiccup as “she picked a bad time” while Elizabeth develops a connection with the woman who will become collateral damage. It is unclear if the positions were reversed what Philip would do in Elizabeth’s place, but I don’t think he would have a long conversation about marriage with Betty in the same way Elizabeth does. Betty hits a nerve with Elizabeth on several levels; first as a woman who is probably around the same age as her own dying mother and also as a wife/mother herself. Playing comforter and executioner Elizabeth gets to be there for Betty in a way that she can’t be for her own mother. She is also the reason this is happening to Betty in the first place so it’s not all kind words but also being forced to acknowledge the why of her actions.

The Americans 3.09 Elizabeth and BettyThe wise old woman chat includes some anecdotes which might be considered a tad convenient considering what is going on between Philip and Elizabeth including their conversation just prior about Martha; it also gives us the chance to see a softer more compassionate Elizabeth than we have maybe seen in the past when dealing with a witness who needs to be silenced. A couple of questions to be addressed first including why are they only in the lightest of disguises? The answer here is covered by the fact that a) they believed the place would be empty and b) if anyone did stumble upon this operation they would have to kill them so the FBI remained clueless about this new bug setup. The other question is why did Elizabeth prolong killing Betty? In part Elizabeth had to come up with a plan to make it look as natural as possible and simply because Elizabeth isn’t as stone cold as she sometimes comes across in these scenarios.

Elizabeth also gets to bare her soul to Betty in a way she can’t do with her mother back home or Philip or even Gabriel. I’ve talked on multiple occasions about how they both use their cover identities as a way to filter the noise of their actual lives so they will both use real experiences and work through them when they are Michelle or Jim or whoever they are playing. On this occasion Elizabeth gets to be as much as herself as possible because Betty is not going to live to tell the tale. So this includes showing her real face, talking about her real parents, her husband and where she is really from. As soon as Elizabeth mentions Russia, Betty knows there is no getting out of this for her and the conversation weaves between talk of the personal and the why behind Elizabeth’s actions. War, religion and family are all on the table and while Betty’s experience is from the conflict which preceded the Cold War there are parallels between the two.

The biggest mirroring comes when Betty mentions she had two goes at marriage with her husband Gil as they divorced then remarried after his second wife dies in an accident. They no longer had “sugar in our eyes” and the latter attempt was far more joyful than the first. The same could be said for Philip and Elizabeth though with perhaps less joy and more stressful spy related deeds, but they too have been apart and then come back together. Far different circumstances of course and yet they are different to how they were before. Philip’s discussion with Gabriel later on about marriage is contentious because of what is going on between them and yet Philip’s notion that his reaction to Elizabeth was like a bolt of lightning he hasn’t experienced with anyone else still rings true.

The Americans 3.09 Philip scrabbleFor her it has taken longer to get to this position but it is clear that she has fallen hard for him over the past few years; there is a jealous streak and her actions this season despite their Paige conflict show just how strong her feelings are. Philip might not necessarily see this and he is wary when talking to Gabriel about her saying that he doesn’t believe Elizabeth felt this way when they first met. Gabriel reveals how Elizabeth rejected the first officer who was presented to her and therefore she also chose Philip, but like Philip I find it hard to trust anything that comes out of Gabriel’s mouth as everything presents itself as emotional manipulation. This game of Scrabble is educational when it comes to the origins and meanings of certain words such as ‘amatory’ – loving, devoted, adoring – while also giving Philip an opportunity to tell Gabriel how he really feels. He is tired of his bullshit and he no longer trusts Gabriel; he knows Elizabeth is lapping it up still but he will do what it takes to look out for his family and this feels like a not so veiled warning to back the fuck away.

Going back to Betty and Elizabeth and Elizabeth’s justification that what she is doing by killing her is the right thing. The two-handed scene between Keri Russell and Lois Smith is brutal in a very different way to the many harsh actions we have witnessed this season. It is rare for The Americans to hit me in this way, normally it stabs my soul while leaving my eyes dry; not on this occasion and misty eyes took full effect. Both Russell and Smith let their characters teeter on the edge and it is far more effective revealing fear and sorrow in this subtle way without landing into hysterics. The stillness of Elizabeth combined with the inevitable end which is prolonged due to the method in which Elizabeth has opted to dispatch of Betty is heartbreaking and as Betty’s breath becomes labored Elizabeth gets to feel the weight of actions even if she ultimately thinks it will make the world a better place. It is not quick and easy and Elizabeth doesn’t usually react with tears when she kills people who happen to get in their way.

Elizabeth doesn’t suddenly unleash a torrent of tears, her wet cheeks are hidden in by the shadows and instead of answering Philip’s question of concern she instead points out they have to get out of there. We don’t see the pair discuss this matter any further instead the aftermath is between Philip and Gabriel with Philip laying down how he really feels. This is in part why Philip and Elizabeth are so dysfunctional as they find it so hard to share with each other at times. Maybe they need to get stoned together again.

The pressure is piling on both of them from multiple angles and as we enter the last third of the season the tension is only going to increase as Kimberly and Paige have both been pushed to the side, they are sure to come back to the forefront and I have a feeling Philip might regret telling Gabriel exactly how he feels about him as everything is still very much at stake. Yes, I think Philip can trust Elizabeth and at a push she would have his back but Gabriel is very good at manipulating Elizabeth particularly as he can dangle news of her mother as a way to reach her emotionally.

Oleg and Stan have to put their trust in each other in their attempt to save Nina and Oleg is now convinced there is something off about Zinaida. This plan involves fake ambushes with very real head blows and a debrief session over beer. This pairing has been unexpected and despite their animosity I think we might have the BFF equivalent of Romeo and Juliet. It is probably not going to end well knowing this show.

Shot of the Week

The Americans 3.09 snowSnow! Oleg meeting up with Stan post phase one of their plan is made all the more covert seeming by the everything grey and cold location. I do want to see what the sunny warm weather version of this show looks like but for now I love what the snowy conditions add to the look of The Americans.

Disguise of the Week

So there isn’t a photo to accompany this as Oleg was in the shadow as he threatened Zinaida, but let it be known that he had the whole menacing thing down with slicked back and glasses.

Outfit I Would Wear in 2015

The Americans 3.09 ElizabethNot much on offer this week but I am always partial to Elizabeth’s sweater tees.

The Americans 3.08 “Divestment” Review: “Is Any of This True?”

19 Mar

The real/fake relationship setup at the heart of The Americans twists and turns delivering gut punches on a weekly basis. Whether it is Philip and Elizabeth navigating parental decisions when they disagree so much over this one very big thing or the amount of angst which is stacking up in the other relationships Philip is maintaining all in the name of the cause. The net is closing in on one of those as Martha questions everything about who Clark is causing him to turn on the damage control charm spewing out half truths to save the operation.

the Americans DivestmentNcgobo tells Philip “Being married and being at war do not always go together” and yet in the case of the Jennings being at war is the reason they are married. For them it is different, but for everyone else pulled into their orbit it is far from the case. The teen girl who through misguided rebellion or simply a craving for someone to notice her, the other teen girl who doesn’t know her parents are fighting over her future career, the woman who will believe whatever her husband says because he tells her he loves her; these are the people who are going to suffer because they are pawns in a war they don’t even realize they are part of. This isn’t to say that Philip and Elizabeth are not suffering as the operations with Martha and Kimberly directly impact Philip all while Elizabeth must maintain the supportive player role pushing down feelings of concern and jealousy which is creeping in. Combine this with the Paige problem coupled with the son he didn’t know was real until very recently and the weight of the war overseas is playing on his mind.

This is where being married comes into play in a positive way as Elizabeth wants to alleviate some of the pressure and while she can’t remove the burden by taking Philip’s place in any of these operations she can try and reduce his worry in another way. Her visit to Gabriel at the end of the episode to ask for help getting Mischa Jr. home surprises their handler because he didn’t realize Philip would tell Elizabeth; he noted things had changed between them but not by that much. Gabriel was using this personal connection to Afghanistan as an incentive for Philip to progress with the Kimberly operation and this husband/wife information sharing is not something he factored in.

Last week Philip listened to the news in the laundry room away from his wife, now he is back in the bedroom and the tight closeup on Philip’s face reveals a whole world of worry for the child he has never met. Elizabeth asks what his son is called and while we have seen Elizabeth share what her real name is we were not privy to seeing Philip do the same. So whether she recognizes the significance of Mischa or not by hearing his name it only adds to this personal connection, which leads to the favor asking. Elizabeth also receives a package from Gabriel and for a brief moment she fears the worst about her mother, instead Gabriel reinforces the notion that her mother is “a fighter.” As with Ncgobo and the home he has long since left there is this aching for the past and the family they can’t access.

One difference as Ncgobo points out is they still have their home and there is a stark contrast in methods, something Ncgobo mentioned when discussing disciplining his children last week. The Americans has been pushing boundaries all season and it crosses the stomach churning bar previously set by the packing and dentistry scenes as Ncgobo makes Venter’s death as painful and prolonged as possible by setting him on fire. At first it felt like a bluff and a way to get Venter to talk, but then I remembered this show doesn’t really bluff and we are forced to watch just as Philip, Elizabeth and Todd are. It is a dark, fucked up scene and one that shows the extremes of the multiple wars which are being waged. With Todd, Philip and Elizabeth both end up arguing for him to be spared and win their case citing his age – “he’s just a kid” – and what he has witnessed as a deterrent. Philip and Elizabeth might disagree on some fundamental things but here with Ncgobo they present a united and unbreakable front. His age has certainly helped save him and kids getting caught up in the war of their parents is a repeated theme this season; Paige, Kimberly and Misha.

The Americans 3.08 Martha at workSomehow I have got this far without mentioning this week’s most devastating performance as Alison Wright takes the ball she was given last week with her bathroom spiral and runs with it. First at work Martha is holding it together in an impressive fashion with only Gaad showing cracks as a result of this investigation, as he is the one who is ultimately accountable and poor mail robot feels the full force of his frustration. Martha’s interview with Taffet is a tense affair and yet she uses an aura of ignorance to stay off his radar; this is the most fraught conversation about office supplies since Office Space.

At home it is a very different story as she nurses a glass of wine waiting for the confrontation she was edging to do last week. Again it should be pointed out how incredible Alison Wright is in this scene moves from acknowledgment and devastation as she tearfully asks “What have I done?” and demands to know what is true to falling under Clark’s spell again despite her better judgement. At first it looks like nothing will make her believe him particularly when she points out that Walter Taffet is who Clark is meant to be; while he never answers the questions pertaining to the web of job related lies he swings things in his favor by resorting to desperate and flowery language about love. Damage control includes truths such as “You are one of the most true and honest and good women I have ever known” combined with something I think only stands for Elizabeth and the kids “I love you and I would do anything for you, to protect you.” Clark asks her is this is enough and if she needs more than this and with the shake of her head it looks like he has convinced her.

The final shot of the episode of both Philip and Martha lying naked and awake in the same space but so distant from each other and this is in direct contrast to the bedroom sharing scene of Philip and Elizabeth last week and it feels like something far more devastating is around the corner for Martha; is she someone who is going to get divested?

The Americans 3.08 Paige researchPaige is also questioning the story her mother told her about Gregory after doing some research – using microfiche – and finding out that Gregory was a drug dealer. Elizabeth manages to turn this into a conversation about the injustices Paige is already fighting against. Nice deviation Elizabeth, though maybe you should be more concerned about your daughter eating cereal for dinner even if this is a practice I sometimes partake in and I love breakfast for dinner. In a way these questions are good for Elizabeth’s plans to tell Paige, but I’m not sure how happy Philip would be at this development. In Paige’s book club this week she is reading Why We Can’t Wait by Martin Luther King, Jr.

Over in Russia, Nina has shaved some time off her sentence thanks to her work with Evi, but she still has to serve ten years which is not such a thrilling proposition. However she has a chance to walk free is she can get Anton to work a little quicker than he has been. Anton is the scientist who was shipped off against his will last season and who at the time yelled at Philip for being a monster. He still isn’t thrilled with his situation and isn’t going to be broken as easily as Evi. What Nina now has is certain comforts in her imprisonment even if she has also come face to face with her former boss Vasili who she set up back in season 1; the forgiveness she asks for is not accepted.

Calls from the Motherland to the Rezidentura come in over a secure line and this factor is important as Oleg’s father doesn’t want anyone listening in on his conversation about his son. He wants Oleg to return home but Arkady is sticking his heels in and his neck out for Oleg. Not being able to get the train when he goes home is not something Arkady is concerned by and yet I worry this will have bigger ramifications down the line. Oleg’s brother as we know is in Afghanistan and this war looms over everyone and everything on the Russian side of things.

In the midst of this talk of children following on from their kids whether it is Oleg, Paige or Ncgobo there is one character whose path deviated far from his father’s and that is Agent Aderholt. His ‘unusual’ road to the FBI comes up in his conversation with Taffet as he is the son of a janitor and went to night school at Berkeley; Taffet tries to suggest this ‘difficult’ path sets himself apart from everyone else. Aderholt disagrees and doesn’t see himself as a victim stating that “Being new isn’t a bad thing.” A legacy doesn’t always make for the best kind of worker and I am beginning to wonder just how vital Aderholt’s role this season is going to be as he hovers on the edge.

Shot of the Week

The Americans 3.08 ToddTodd thinks his fate is death and showing us his view of those decided what to do with him raises the tension. Luckily for him Sid and Nancy are repping for him.

Disguise of the Week

The Americans 3.08 wig of the weekLast week I said I would come back to this look and this is the most cool and edgy disguise Elizabeth has worn so far. She definitely wouldn’t look out of place now in the leather jacket/hoodie combo and this wig is super sleek. While Elizabeth isn’t going to blend in as easily as some of her dowdier other disguises allow she does look different enough that Todd wouldn’t be able to identify her. Bonus super smudgy eyeliner.

Outfit I Would Wear in 2015

The Americans 3.08 ElizabethThis is pure Elizabeth casual chic with the slouchy but sexy sweater and a high waisted skirt (with pockets!). Seeing as I’m currently in a leather jacket coveting phase the disguise outfit could also work for this category, ditto the hoodie and yet I can’t resist this very typical Elizabeth at home look.

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Twitter Music Club

A rotation curation music club, based on Twitter, mainly for Kiwis


If you enjoy a challenge, like Claude Makélélé, read my blog. Its about sport.

lost somewhere in new york city

We rock a lot of polka dots


We rock a lot of polka dots

Just another site

Cultural Learnings

Television Reviews and Analysis

judgmental observer

film, tv, popular culture, higher ed, unicorns


We rock a lot of polka dots

The Frisky

We rock a lot of polka dots

Tell Us a Story

stories about true things