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The Americans 6.04 “Mr. and Mrs. Teacup” Review: Staying the Same

19 Apr

Nothing lasts forever, things move on, regimes change. The final season of The Americans is hurtling towards the end of the Cold War; those who want to see progress are being met with resistance. The Berlin Wall is still up, but everything around Philip and Elizabeth is crumbling. Elizabeth’s body count continues to grow, not only that but she is yet to yield any significant results. The radiation sensor continues to be her white whale, she is tired all the time. The anchor of this show is this relationship, right now all is not well in this area either. The marriage is adrift.

No, Elizabeth doesn’t want a beer (though she could probably do with having one).Philip is having a hard time with his version of the American Dream. Instead of looking sad about his spy work, he’s looking increasingly glum at the paperwork that just doesn’t add up. In a catch-up with Stan he waxes philosophical about business, why there is this incessant need to grow. Philip is not so good at this capitalism thing, he likes the idea of staying the same. Stan mentions how his father used to say “The more you want, the more you get.” But the reality is very different. Just because you want something, doesn’t mean you’ll get it.

Later Elizabeth jokingly asks—yes there are still some lighter moments in the dark, much like Elizabeth’s drawing lesson—whether Philip is rich yet, his “I wish” response is tinged with regret.Opposition to progress in relations between the US and Soviet Union is partly because a section of those in charge want the dynamic to stay the same. Oleg mentions that some worry they won’t be Communists anymore if any deal transpires. An identity crisis. In this sense, Philip is caught between these two ideologies. And he always has been. Elizabeth knows who she is, how she feels about this country. But Philip has fallen for aspects of this American life. The only time he has looked generally at ease this season is while he is line dancing with his staff, but his business is on shaky ground. Elizabeth thinks he will figure things out, he is not so sure.

The episode closes with Philip at his desk surrounded by papers, thinking back to the scraps he used to eat as a kid. His face as he contemplates his sandwich suggests his distaste for the capitalist cycle he has found himself caught up in, but even with this financial peril it is still a much better scenario than the poverty he grew up in. But there is always a fear that he could return to that, the real possibility that he could lose everything.If Paige is mirroring her mother, then Henry is very much his father’s son. He has the ‘soul getting crushed into a million pieces’ face down after Philip tells him they might not have enough money for boarding school next year. There is plenty of time to turn it around, but Philip seems pretty resigned at the moment. This episode is also sponsored by deep sighs of pretty much every character. The split in the Jennings family is felt most in the scenes where the kids are being discusses.

Philip is appalled that Paige has seemingly got over the whole seeing her mother covered in another man’s brains thing. They have already moved onto the next thing. He also doesn’t hide his scorn for Paige parroting her mother’s “sometimes bad things happen in the world” line. The way Matthew Rhys says “the world” is dripping with contempt and it is delicious. The things Philip has seen, he doesn’t need his daughter acting so high and mighty, like he doesn’t know. An argument is brewing, but Philip leaves before one can start saying there is no point. This feels far more unsettling than if they did have a blowout shouting match.It isn’t all pointed conversations, there is a long overdue moment of intimacy. They actually touch each other for the first time this season. Not only that, but Philip tells Elizabeth about the financial trouble their business is in—of course Elizabeth doesn’t know the names of the new staff—and she shares just how tired she is. A tender kiss fills in this void, the ache returns when Elizabeth rolls over. There is only so much sharing Elizabeth can do, she is not the talker. Sex used to be how they worked out their frustrations with each other or this job, not right now. Girl just wants to sleep.

We don’t know exactly what reason they gave Paige about why Philip quit, but Elizabeth reinforces the notion that Philip still loves them; however this job gets too much for some, even the best. Elizabeth is showing signs of this herself. Keri Russell continues to show Elizabeth’s exhaustion in the labored way she moves at home, the look on her face when she realizes she didn’t get any intel from the World Series opportunity—it is always fun to see their safe house/wig cave spaces. Ultimately, Emmys don’t really matter and yet I’m going to so annoyed if Keri Russell or Matthew Rhys don’t win for this final season.Even in heavy disguise, Rhys shows the exact moment Philip weighs up betraying his wife for his country. He weighs up everything Oleg says realizing that her loyalty could be manipulated by those seeking to stall progress. There is an rapport between these two men; they are both risking so much, but sadly this will be the last time they can meet in person as Oleg is being monitored by the FBI. The FBI resources are stretched thin, but it isn’t worth the risk.The information Philip gives is passed on by Oleg to his father using a code over the phone. Igor then delivers the message to Arkady. Here we find out that everything Igor has told his son about how everyone is doing, is a lie. They are fraught with worry about the mission Oleg is part of. Arkady tells Igor the reason why Oleg wants to do something that matters is because of him; this is his legacy, in a corrupt system Igor has instilled a sense of honor in his son to do the greater good, no matter the risk.

Legacy is something that came up last week when Elizabeth was talking to Paige about why she isn’t afraid of dying for this cause. It is bigger than her. This notion of what we leave behind is mentioned again, but this time in the form of Erica’s art. Erica is in a regretful mood, wondering why she even bothered. She wishes she had spent more time with her husband—will Elizabeth ever leave the work for her family? Which legacy is more important? Elizabeth exploits this vulnerability to get intel on the Russians working on the negotiations. It would be a sweet suggestion, if it wasn’t so calculated. It doesn’t work anyway, as Erica is far too sick to be out of the house.The information Elizabeth got from Evan (RIP) is used to break into the warehouse, but the shit really hits the fan. Well what we can see of it. This sequence involves flashes of light; from Elizabeth’s gun, flashlights and it is incredibly disorientating. I get what they are going for, but I would like to see a little bit more. Elizabeth makes it out just in time, empty handed once again. This pretty much sums up her work this season.

Claudia gives her yet another mission; the teacups of the episode title. They don’t feature this week, but Elizabeth has been tasked with getting rid of Gennadi,as his defection will be a propaganda gold mine for the Americans. This puts her back in Stan’s orbit as he is still being used as a counselor of sorts for the pair, much to his annoyance. He can’t quite get rid of this pesky pair. Elizabeth is looking to make sure he never has to hear from them again. Putting her team on Stan, Elizabeth makes sure that Julie aka Paige is nowhere near this operation because Stan would quickly ID her. Paige, is undertaking her own little spy op as she hooked up with the guy that her mother told her not to. Using sex to get information is not part of the grand plan for Paige. Sadly for Elizabeth, it doesn’t look like she is going to keep her out of this side of the spy biz after all.

Earlier in the episode, Elizabeth tells Paige how proud she is and this validation is all Paige needs. I have a feeling we might see the Emmy forehead vein when Elizabeth finds out about this extracurricular activity.While I’m on the subject of teens, Kimmy is back! And she might not be a teen anymore. Kimmy is at college, so the opportunity to switch out the tapes is limited and it doesn’t help that she won’t be coming back before the summit. Instead she is going on vacation to Greece with her friends, not if Elizabeth has a say in things she won’t. Kimmy notes Philip’s sadness, saying he is stuck. An apt description of where Philip is right now.

Teens in Jeans

More amazing ’80s jeans to add to Henry and Paige’s pairs. I am thrilled Julia Garner is back on this show. The Kimmy storyline has always walked the incredibly uncomfortable line, but I love her trajectory from troubled teen to grounded college student. In a twisted way, Philip is a big part of that.

Pattern Clashing Superstar 

As Philip’s business woes get bigger, his pattern clashing levels go up. Here he wears pinstripe, window pane check and paisley.

No Man is an Island

I’ve talked about the use of the kitchen in the Jennings house a lot; the island this season is being utilized as a visual and physical barrier (see also the first photo at the top).

To watch the Times Talk full video with Keri Russell, Matthew Rhys and co-showrunner Joel Fields, head here.

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The Americans Times Talk Panel (Video)

15 Apr

It isn’t quite Emmy roundtable season* yet, but TV panels aren’t just for awards campaigning. The Times Talks series delivers a fascinating discussion about The Americans featuring Keri Russell, Matthew Rhys and co-showrunner Joel Fields. This is ideal Sunday viewing for me on a Sunday of excellent viewing (see also Beychella and John Mulaney on SNL).

*I am convinced thanks to this photo of Evan Rachel Wood and Rachel Brosnahan that Emmy related stuff is occurring

And as it is the final season there is an element of celebrating the show, while also remembering that there are still seven episodes to enjoy. Everything from the current political climate, writing process to disguise highlights is covered (including one that seems to have made Russell horny af). As with a lot of Americans panels it is insightful, while keeping things mostly light despite the heavy subject material.

Elizabeth’s high body count comes up; Russell talks about how difficult it has been playing Elizabeth at the start of this season and how she reconciles these elements. There is also an amazing impression of Beloved Character Actress Margo Martindale by Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell (skip to just past the hour mark for that).

As this is the final season there will likely be more of these (including the ATX Festival) and hopefully Russell and Rhys will be taking part in Emmy roundtable season.

And let’s hope the Hart to Hart reboot becomes a thing. Even the miserable version.

The Americans 6.03 “Urban Transport Planning” Review: The Way We Were

12 Apr

Nostalgia is powerful as it can make us long for a time that was less than perfect. Change can be hard particularly when the place you long for no longer exists. This final season of The Americans encapsulates how romantic notions of where we came from can cloud perspective. Elizabeth and Claudia are teaching Paige about her Russian heritage, but Elizabeth is very much stuck in the past, clashing with the political progress being made. A collision course has been set and knowing the global outcome makes it is hard to not scream at Elizabeth to let go. Pizza Hut is indeed coming to Moscow.

Hatred for America still burns inside Elizabeth, the look on her face when Philip mentions serving zharkoye to Stan is a flicker of betrayal. Season five focused on food, but it has always been an important aspect of The Americans. It is a family-centric show, so naturally a lot of scenes take place in the kitchen; the heart of the home. It has been a long time since the tap has been left running or the radio switched on, this used to be a place where they talked work and family. Paige demanded to know the truth in this very room, it is where Philip tore Paige’s Bible, late night cigarettes and sex as salvation. The Jennings kitchen has seen it all.Philip and Elizabeth growing up in poverty means they are particularly attached to the small amount they had. It isn’t about what you liked and didn’t like or getting bored of eating the same thing—Paige, still so American—but appreciating what you had.

Elizabeth sneaks some leftovers to Philip, which he can only manage one bite of because he is stuffed full with takeout, which is very reflective of Philip’s push/pull between American culture with his home. Smell is very important when it comes to memory and this moment of connectivity between husband and wife fills this void. It also reads as a nod to the caviar surprise from the second episode of season one. Circumstances are very different; then they were truly getting to know each other on an intimate level, now they are adrift. For a brief moment it feels like it used to, the intimacy is back. But the food ends up down the garbage disposal and they have a bitter back and forth about the state of the world.

The shift in body language goes from pointing toward each other to standing apart. Philip doesn’t think Elizabeth can speak for people back home as she hasn’t spoken to anyone there in over twenty years, her retort of “neither have you” is met with a weighty silence. This would be the time to tell her about Oleg, but he just can’t do. Philip clearly fears whatever Elizabeth is working on and her passion to do whatever needs to be done. Later he contemplates it while brushing his teeth. She asked him to let her sleep and now he does. The amount Philip clenches his jaw at the moment, he’s gonna need a trip to the dentist. And not the basement kind.

A quick costume note to point out how great the winged shoulders of Elizabeth’s coat look in every shot. And if you’re wondering where it comes from, alas it is a custom design by Katie Irish. You won’t be able to pick this one up from Coach. A heavy sigh emanates from most of the major players this week. Elizabeth has no time for talking of feelings. It doesn’t matter that EST has rebranded to The Forum, you will never see Elizabeth indulge in this program. This isn’t a new stance from her, but the work is very much starting to weigh on her, even if she can’t admit it to anyone. She is unwavering in her anger toward her daughter. There is no sleeping over on a work night.

When Philip tells Elizabeth he told Paige she could talk to him, she snaps that she was doing just that. Elizabeth’s lack of empathy here made me laugh out loud because it is so brutal. And yet this is how Elizabeth has chosen to protect herself from all the horrible shit she has done. The cracks are starting to show.Again, Keri Russell gives a masterclass in showing Elizabeth’s exhaustion before steeling herself in front of others. The ‘out damn spot’ opening sequence is incredibly telling, but it is the moment she realizes she has to kill yet another person (that makes two murders and one death caused indirectly at her hands) which delivers the “Give Keri Russell all the awards” moment of the week.

Elizabeth’s repeated stressing that it is important Evan doesn’t spill anything about this meeting is undercut as soon as he mentions his girlfriend as she works in the same department as Elizabeth. The fake smile flickers as he eyes register exactly what must be done, but it is the moment after she has choked Evan that betrays how Elizabeth is really feeling. A mixture of “not this again,” exhaustion and emptiness as Leonard Cohen’s “Dance Me to the End of Love” plays over the top (another incredible music choice and one that connects me to my family as Cohen was my dad’s favorite singer).

Three missions have gone to shit in such a short space of time. Elizabeth has a team, but doing this alone is really fucking with her strike rate. Elizabeth might not be scared of dying for her country, but at this rate it is going to happen sooner rather than later.While Elizabeth is killing yet another guy, Philip has suited and booted or rather wigged and mustached as he keeps with his meeting with Oleg in the park. Matthew Rhys is also doing an incredible job in showing Philip’s betrayal; he is part disgusted at himself with a dash of looking like he wants to vomit, complete with the classic Philip ‘soul being crushed into a thousand pieces’ face. There is no easy solution to the Jennings martial strife, but we all know how Elizabeth feels about Philip lying to her, so this is really not going to go down well when she eventually finds out about the park rendezvous. Although it is not like Elizabeth has been particularly forthcoming either.

One person wants to help Elizabeth and Philip fill their relationship void and that’s Father Andrei. The last time we saw this priest was in much happier times for this couple on their big day and he can sense all is not well with this marriage. Like the audience, he has a personal investment and he tells Elizabeth to bring her husband the next time they see each other. She explains Philip is out of the spy biz, but Father Andrei insists.Will some spiritual guidance be the surprise fix? That fact that Elizabeth is willing to admit to Father Andrei there are issues with Philip is quite a big deal; last week I mentioned Elizabeth on Claudia’s couch as giving off therapy vibes, but this conversation is even more like that. I can’t see Elizabeth showing a lot of vulnerability in front of Claudia, but Father Andrei is another story. He knows them on this intimate level because that ceremony was just for them. There was no ulterior motive or reason behind it. This is what could bring them back together

Unlike the last time Paige saw a violent act up close and personal, she doesn’t seem particularly shaken even though she can’t get it out of her mind. Or at least on the surface level she isn’t. The following day Elizabeth is far kinder to her daughter with regard to this operational error. Elizabeth points out she also made a mistake with this guy, but Paige put everyone at risk. There is also the emphasis that Paige’s job will be different. She might not be throwing on a wig or seducing strangers for information, but the evidence of this is lacking. Is Elizabeth kidding herself?Meanwhile Philip is having a hard time financially due to expanding the business and not having the sales to match. He sweet talks his way into deferring tuition payment—he’s still got it—and gives pep talks straight from “Success through Positive Mental Attitude.” It is awkward as hell.

In other job related conversations there is an odd one in the Beeman kitchen where Renee points to the success of Philip and Elizabeth’s relationship is that they work together. Stan notes they don’t do that much work together anymore as Elizabeth is in charge of the corporate clients (lol at this excuse for her not being in the office much). When Stan finds out the truth… Anyway, Renee floats the idea of joining the FBI, which is bizarre because we of course still don’t know whether Renee is for real or a spy. Stan shoots this idea down because she is too old (the cut off is 37) and I wonder if we will ever find out if Stan is the Martha of this marriage.Stan has some pressing work business including the disaster that is Sofia and Gennadi. Sofia is a bad Soviet if she thinks Soviets are good at keeping secrets and they end up pulling them both out. Very publicly. Gennadi wants to stay together and tasks Stan with fixing his marriage.

There is also Stan’s catch up with Oleg where they catch up on old times including Nina. There is a mutual respect even if Oleg is still pissed at him for the CIA stuff. Stan warns Oleg to leave because he doesn’t have diplomatic immunity, but that meeting in the park still takes place. Each storyline looks set to overlap in a big way and it is only going to get more fraught. Strap in, this is only the beginning of the end.

Get Me That Electric Blue Eyeliner Another week. Another new wig. Or rather a wig we haven’t seen since season one. There are no Stephanie curls, but Elizabeth can get up close to Glen in this getup because she looks so different. Plus she has her back to the group they are tailing. The electric blue eyeliner/pink lipstick is the one.

What is Henry Up To? Henry’s jeans aren’t so acid wash as he rings to tell his dad about his hand in the hockey win. Sadly for Henry he calls at a bad time and this is the first time Philip has referred to spy shenanigans as work this season.

The DARE poster detail is just one reason I love the production design team on this show.

Hat Watch This isn’t the first time Paige has worn this pink beanie this season and while she hasn’t got to wear a wig yet, she does have a steady rotation of hats. Good job it is winter. Elizabeth also got in on the beanie action with Father Andrei, giving her a break from the cavalcade of wigs she’s been wearing this season.

Fun fact – Elizabeth has already worn ten different disguises in three episodes, the most she has ever worn in an entire season is twelve (season two), the least is six (season four).

The Americans 6.02 “Tchaikovsky” Review: The Dark Parts

5 Apr

Elizabeth Jennings has a lot on her plate. Not only is she running all the operations alone, when she used to have a partner to share the load, but now she is also being taught how to draw. This is of course part of a very important operation, but Elizabeth could end up exploring a part of her psyche that could be enlightening. But only if she lets it.

Right now she doesn’t get why someone would dedicate their life to something she sees as unimportant, but being told to draw what’s dark is pretty much what she does every day. Her darkness isn’t the mug before her, but the life she lived for all of her adult life. Erica explains that drawing is about looking at what is light and dark, but Elizabeth has spent so long in the moral grey area her eye isn’t trained in this way.The world Elizabeth works in is far from black and white, no matter how much Reagan tried to paint the Soviets as the Evil Empire. A point that Elizabeth reinforces when Paige mentions some light reading she has been doing on the tactics of spies. Paige is still very much in the dark about some of the things her parents have done in the name of the cause; when she asks outright whether operatives use sex as tool to get information her mother lies. The truth would be devastating because as we saw from last week’s opening montage Elizabeth is still very much using this tactic. Not to mention the many men and women her parents have seduced in the name of Mother Russia including the one that ended up as a wife and the one that ended up in a suitcase.

Dancing around the subject Elizabeth explains that those close relationships with sources could turn into something else. This conversation also reinforces how cut off Elizabeth is from everyone else; there is no water cooler in the spy biz. Or at least not in the version Elizabeth lives.

Words like monster and evil have been applied to Elizabeth in the past, most notably in the incredible season three episode “Do Mail Robots Dream of Electric Sheep?” when she forced an old lady to kill herself (I watched this episode again recently and Lois Smith is devastatingly good in her condemnation of Elizabeth’s justifications). Here she tells her daughter that things aren’t black and white, the world is complicated.But the weight of doing this alone is getting to Elizabeth. She lies back on Claudia’s couch talking to her as if this is therapy appointment—Matthew Rhys directed this episode and the intimacy of these moments is extraordinary—and when Paige comes in things switch from work chat to another Russian history lesson.

Elizabeth might scoff at artists, but she appreciates classical music. She took Paige to see The Nutcracker and Claudia explains that Tchaikovsky was all she could listen to after the war. It all sounds very melancholic to this classical music novice’s ear, but each woman seems to take something different from this moment. I really love what is going on with the three generations of women this season. These moments are really effective. We have come a long way since Elizabeth beat the shit out of Claudia; now Elizabeth is asking Claudia to continue with Paige if anything happens to her. This is a disturbing conversation when you think about her relationship with Philip because he has been entirely cut out of this huge part of this life.

Considering how many risks Elizabeth is taking that now seems more likely than ever. Whether it is switching out wigs/outfits within the State Department walls or wildly underestimating how much General Rennhull wants to help out the enemy. Formally a Colonel, who first appeared in the season one finale, “The Colonel” (btw I am so glad I rewatched all of The Americans before this final outing), Rennhull believed he was sharing intel for the greater good. It was to stop a crazy arms race that was more a sci-op than technology that would be possible in this period. But it spun out of control (as things do on this show) and he ended up killing someone to save his skin. It also shows that in this world, anyone can come back. No matter how long ago they were involved. It isn’t an easy life to escape no matter how much you try. Just ask Philip and Oleg.

Elizabeth uses this knowledge as leverage to get a lithium based radiation censor—for the Dead Hand—but what she doesn’t factor in is Rennhull’s state of mind. He would rather kill her than go to jail or betray his country again. The climatic moments in the park has Elizabeth using her kids as a way to stall, to get sympathy and after a brief tussle, Rennhull shoots himself covering Elizabeth’s face in his blood. It is quite the striking image, one that Paige sees as she runs over to make sure her mom is okay. Just another day at the spying office. Of course this isn’t the first time Paige has witness the aftermath of a violent act, but it isn’t getting any easier. And I don’t think Paige is ready for Disposing of a Body 101. After all, it was meant to be better for Paige in this line of work. Not the shit Elizabeth has been through. Getting a bloodier version of Dustin Hoffman in Straw Dogs vibe from this shot. Again, Matthew Rhys did an incredible job behind the camera as well as in front.

As Elizabeth juggles her care work (and art classes) where she offers her euthanasia services—while lying about how effective morphine can be—and the various other multi-wig requiring ops, Philip is having some money woes at the travel agency. Not so much life and death, but Philip is learning the price of expanding the business too much. Capitalism at its finest. A call to a very relaxed and happy sounding Henry has his son noting how forlorn his dad sounds—see Henry is perceptive. But with the Oleg thing hanging over his head it isn’t surprising to see that very familiar clenched jaw.In terms of Philip/Elizabeth interactions it follows the same pattern as last week, but without the fight at the end. She comes down for breakfast, which is a cigarette outside and later on they have a stilted conversation (also while she is smoking). She shares the vaguest of information with him about Paige; it is heartbreaking to see just how much she is keeping from him. This is worse than when they were screaming at each other about whether to tell Paige in season three. They are shells of themselves with each other and you can feel the ache emanating from them both. Philip’s different perspective is why they were so effective as a team, he took the time to think rather than act on a duty bound impulse. Without this Elizabeth ends up in a park at night with blood all over her face. Just how long will it be before he gets pulled back in? Her impulsiveness is a strength, but it can also be a near deadly weakness.

The Jennings aren’t experiencing marital strife per se, more like marital emptiness. Maybe they could do with the not so stellar marriage advice from Stan. Stan is mostly working homicide, but Sofia and Gennadi—the Russian couple from last season—are experiencing relationship woes that could impact a long running operation. Gennadi is a courier and we get to see his operation play out with another excellent music choice; “Slippery People” by Talking Heads. How to x-ray a diplomatic pouch while undetected is hard

And just like Philip, Stan seems reluctant to be drawn into his old life. But the return of Oleg certainly causes some interest.

The Felicity LinkFelicity could teach Elizabeth a lot about art. I don’t think Elizabeth would enjoy it very much. Felicity could also give Elizabeth some curly hair tips for her Stephanie wig.

Teens in ’80s Jeans The ’80s jeans continue to be amazing. Particularly the ones they give Holly Taylor and Keidrich Sellati to wear.

Fake Teeth

When I spoke to costume designer Katie Irish, one of the things she mentioned was the fake teeth that everyone loves, but rarely get used because the actors can’t really speak in them. Well, they made an appearance in “Tchaikovsky” in one of the many new Elizabeth disguises.

Smoking Cardigan UpdateElizabeth has more than one. We will continue to update the smoking cardigan collection as hey come. There’s a lot of walls between Philip and Elizabeth right now.

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

29 Mar

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

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

Photo credit FX/Patrick Harbron

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo credit FX/Eric Liebowitz

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Americans is a Serious Show, The Press Tour is a Delight

22 Mar

The Americans returns next week for its final season, which means press tour! This includes last Friday’s New York premiere, an appearance by the cast and creatives at the Newseum in Washington D.C. earlier this week, a Variety cover story and a joint interview with Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert (which you can watch below).

For a show that is so steeped in serious life or death material it is always a delight to see the stars shed those all consuming worried expressions for cracking up on the red carpet. Keri Russell’s polka dot Johanna Ortiz is perfectly ’80s inspired considering the period The Americans is set in and also reminds me of the dancing lady emoji if she ever changed her dress color. It is all fun and games until Stan finds out. I’m feeling a little nauseous just thinking about that inevitable scene.

For excellent behind the scenes interviews there is Jen Chaney’s piece over at Vulture, which highlights some of the ways they keep things light while shooting this material. For the L.A. Times, Meredith Blake includes a fabulous Margo Martindale anecdote in her article (and a delightful photo) and the aforementioned Variety cover story by Cynthia Littleton goes deep on the final season.

And if you want to know about Keri Russell’s lipstick from the Washington D.C. event (you know I do), then The Cut has all the answers (and you should also follow make-up artist Tina Turnbow on Instagram for more BTS secrets).

Last night the pair appeared on Colbert to promote the show. This might be my favorite look so far from Keri Russell during this press tour. Such a great polka dot dress; perfect for the start of Spring (let’s pretend the current weather is not snow)

And while they didn’t give away too much about the final season—other than the sweater fabric evolution (which you know I am more than interested in)—this is an adorable interview with the pair. I might be referring to Philip as “squishy” in my reviews in the coming weeks.

The Americans returns Wednesday, March 28. Get ready for lots of devastating moments as this TV Ate My Wardrobe fave comes to an end.

The Americans Final Season Trailer: “It’s On Us”

14 Mar

The Americans returns in two weeks (March 28) and a new trailer is dishing out end of Cold War anxiety. Philip all but quit the spy biz at the end of season five, but his wig wearing game is still strong.

There is a strong sense that things are not going to be okay for our fave spy couple because even Elizabeth looks rattled. In some movies and TV shows, smoking means a character is a bad guy, in The Americans it is a sign that Elizabeth is stressed. There are flickers of scenes shown in earlier trailers such as the aforementioned pensive smoking and a bloody Elizabeth, but here she looks panicked when in full disguise. Plus a chat with Claudia reveals what they are up against. It finally looks like things are swinging Stan’s way.

Matthew Rhys continues to be the king of expressing the erosion of Philip’s soul with a look of the eye. From sitting alone, enduring another awkward group dinner with Stan (this time with Aderholt) and explaining to Elizabeth that they are complicit in all of this. But with the appearance of Philip in a wig it is clear he is willing to do anything; maybe not for country, but for his family. Also his plaid shirt game has never been stronger.

And Paige has a decision to make about her future career; to spy or not to spy?

Plus new cute wigs including a look that made me think of Diane Keaton and a brief appearance from Max Medina.

The Americans returns for its sixth and final season Wednesday, March 28.

‘The Americans’ Final Season Teasers and Key Art: Spying on the Spy

13 Feb

Everything looks set to fall apart for Philip and Elizabeth in the final season of The Americans, if these two new teasers are anything to go by. Philip quit the spy biz at the end of season five, but that doesn’t mean wigs and fake mustaches are no longer in his life.

A time jump means we’re also missing out on that transition period and ramping up toward the end of the Cold War. It also means seeing just how much the solo spy mission life has taken its toll on Elizabeth. Teaching Paige the ways of the spy world is one thing, frantically scrubbing blood off her hands a la Lady Macbeth is another.

Oh yeah it also looks like Philip is now meeting up with a beardy Oleg to discuss Elizabeth’s work.

All is probably not quite as the teaser makes it seem, but this is not going to go down well with our now officially married spy couple if Philip is indeed reporting on his wife.  Just like riding a bike, Philip still those casually eating, when actually spying skills ready to utilize when needed.

Both teasers are incredibly ominous, but it wouldn’t be the show I love if there wasn’t a feeling of dread in my stomach.

Season 6 Key Art Update! 

The Americans artwork is always a visual treat (the season two all red affair is still my iPad lock screen all these years later) and this year is no different. But unlike last year’s disarming stare toward camera, this is all suspicious side eye. Hinting at the dischord between the pair (and the factions within the Soviet Union) that is featured in the teasers.

The dominating use of blue in the background suggests the peace that is about to come (kinda) between these two countries. But it all feels very ominous to me. 

The Americans returns for its sixth and final season Wednesday, March 28.

Scott Speedman Was a Disaster of a Boyfriend and Other Important Felicity Things

31 May

Yesterday Keri Russell received her star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, it was season 5 finale of The Americans and she appeared on Jimmy Kimmel Live! with former co-star and ex-boyfriend Scott Speedman. The two are still pretty tight, along with other Felicity co-star and former onscreen roommate Amanda Foreman aka Meghan and this pretty much ticks so many boxes. Not Meghan’s magical box, but those ones I talk about often on here (see the recent Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants reunion) about former co-stars still hanging out.

The back and forth banter between Russell and Speedman includes the fact that he was a disaster of a boyfriend with no real specifics, which considering how squirmy Speedman gets is probably a good thing for him.

Although he couldn’t have been too bad considering how tight they clearly still are. A Felicity reunion is quickly nixed and even though I’m a huge fan of the show I don’t need to see that unless Twilight Zone homages or time travel is at play.

The infamous haircut comes up (of course) and Russell also reveals that Speedman had no idea what ceremony he was actually attending.

The whole interview with both of them is delightful and earlier in the episode Keri Russell also reveals that she is going to appear on Running Wild with Bear Grylls and that IRL boyfriend (and on-screen husband) Matthew Rhys got an adorable gift for her that included some strong advice from her oldest son.

Rhys was also present at the Walk of Fame ceremony along with Americans co-stars Holly Taylor, Noah Emmerich and co-showrunner Joel Fields. Felicity co-creators JJ Abrams and Matt Reeves also spoke at the ceremony.
This might be the first time that I’ve really liked a deconstructed shirt and Keri Russell looks fabulous in this striped Johanna Ortiz number and pairing it with flared Chloe pants works like a charm. The Rag & Bone full suit is great on Matthew Rhys and for the occasion. Expect to see more from The Americans pair with Emmy FYC events in the works.

The Americans 5.13 “The Soviet Division” Review: It’s Us

31 May

There are a couple of threads running through season five of The Americans that culminate in some big decision moments; first the idea of staying together and this applies to partnerships and the family unit as a whole. The other is the impact on the teenage characters of which this show has a number of extending way beyond just Paige and Henry.

In fact both of these threads have been important for some time now and back toward the end of season 3 I wrote about how teen girls rule the world on The Americans (they just don’t know it), but this has now been extended to several boy teens. Boy teens are typically ignored or just sit and wave (oh hey Chris Brody) on prestige dramas so this is going against the norm in making them integral.Let’s start with the scariest boy teen there is and if Elizabeth is trying to make Paige in her own image, well there’s already a spy version who is even more committed to the cause than even she is. Tuan is terrifying because like a lot of teens he has strong opinions and he’s also super impulsive. Yes his plan worked, but Pasha did almost die and they can’t ever know whether he would’ve survived if Philip hadn’t stomped over there.

He sees weakness in Philip and Elizabeth and he has the perfect one-liners to throw at them including their “certain petty [or petit] bourgeois concerns.” Those concerns on this occasion being whether a teenage boy is going to live or die. Not whether to get McDonald’s for dinner.Tuan admits his own weakness in his report and also points to Philip and Elizabeth’s failings, ‘failings’ which can be attributed to their experience and the fact that a) they have been working on multiple operations and b) they work as a pair. So despite Philip’s potentially rash choice to break protocol and head over to Pasha’s house while a CIA agent is posted outside, Elizabeth is by his side in an instant.

Early in the episode as they discuss Tuan, Philip notes how young he is and Elizabeth wishes she could take him with them back to the Soviet Union. Elizabeth sees a lot of herself in him and despite his hard exterior she knows that he needs someone. When she has her one-on-one chat with him after he has attempted to ream them out – the side eye Elizabeth gives is magnificent – Elizabeth points to his weakness.

Telling him he will fail if he stays by himself is a very on theme message for this episode and season as a whole. After all they were very young when they started this dangerous life and they have always had each other, even when they weren’t together together.I keep coming back to the conversation at the end of “Lotus 1-2-3” and the unifying statement Philip makes telling Elizabeth he can’t let her take over the whole thing because “It’s us,” but ultimately the point they come to by the end of the finale is that this is the path they are going to take. Kimmy’s dad has been promoted and he’s going to be the head of the Soviet Division.

This is the spy jackpot and everything they have been working towards; Philip considers getting rid of the tape and whether it is duty to country or knowing that he can’t lie to Elizabeth he refrains from doing this. I suspect it is more the latter and the ‘normal’ life they have been dreaming of disappears as soon as he tells her about the tape’s contents.

Family is important to Elizabeth and yet she is a soldier for her country first and there is no way she can leave now they have this goldmine opportunity. But hey this means Henry can go to boarding school now. Elizabeth understands why Philip yelled at their son in the same way she totally got it when he tore out the pages of Paige’s Bible; it is a culmination of so many things and fun dad is not always fun. Especially when he is slowly being ripped apart from all the shit they have to do.This brings me to another theme of the episode with Elizabeth’s reasoning as to why moving back home will be great “All of us together without all of this shit on our backs” and Stan telling Renee that he is “tired of feeling shitty.” They’re all at a crossroads and the parallels are hard to ignore; different sides, but the same awful side psychological side effects. They all have to manipulate and put other people’s lives on the line. People have got hurt and worse along the way and it is getting too much to handle.

Stan’s situation is also running concurrent to Oleg’s (who sadly does not appear in the finale) and they are both good agents trying to do the right thing. This is something Renee emphasizes to Stan as a reason why he should keep doing what he is doing and she is definitely a spy, right? Or the writers are throwing up another red herring.

Either way there is no confirmation about her status, but Philip remains suspicious and also has times for jokes pondering what it would be like if they ever had kids quipping that Paige thinks she has it bad.It is good that despite his soul being shattered into pieces, Philip can still see the dark humor in their dark situation but the pipe dream of getting away and living a happy life in Russia as a family is over by the end of this finale.

Also this fantasy of a happy life together back home is of course a fantasy because there is no way that Henry (and even Paige) would react well to this massive change. And it is not just their kids who would find it hard and as Elton John’s “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” plays we see Elizabeth looking at her wardrobe full of clothes and kitchen appliances. Their petty bourgeois concerns.

In fact this relates to a scene from season 2 after Philip bought the Camaro and he asked Elizabeth if there was anything that she liked about this life. She denied it at the time, but her wistful glances at her beautiful shoes tells another story. It would be a massive lifestyle shift for all and even when they’re talking about planning a European vacation as their cover there is an end of The Graduate like moment where they both look a little unsure about the course they have set for themselves.Ultimately this is all irrelevant by the end of the episode because they’re staying put and when Philip apologizes to his daughter about not having the normal things like a dog or a regular boyfriend across the street, it is because he already knows what his wife will say when he tells her about the tape. It is a heartbreaking scene for a number of reasons as he slowly welcomes his fate. There is no escaping this life.

Paige is embracing certain aspects and like Tuan she’s a risk taker; parking her car in the same place where she saw her mother spring into full on defense mode and this feels like a test. A test to see if she can defend herself or at least confront her fears about getting attacked. It is also pretty dumb. Later on she takes a smack to the mouth from her mother and she’s still got ways to go before she is as tough as her teacher. Although she takes it pretty well, this is very Elizabeth Jennings of her.Because Philip and Elizabeth lost their father’s at an early age, they both know what a loss like this can do and they are on the same side when it comes to this notion of keeping a family together. This is why they both fight for ensuring Alexei returns to Moscow with his wife and son. He’s too scared despite Tatiana’s earlier assurances and it looks like he will be staying behind. Part of their attempts at reversing his choice comes from guilt feelings at the things they have done – see Young Hee – and because they are tired of ruining so many lives. Philip’s concerns are impacting Elizabeth in this way.

One person who has seen positive growth since the spy world unknowingly entered her life is Kimmy and Philip as Jim emphasizes how much she has changed for the better when he reveals he is moving to Japan. Guessing Jim’s job is going to fall through now and if Elizabeth gets her way this will be the only operation Philip will be running from now on. The fact that Kimmy looked like she was going to get out of this whole mess better off, only to unknowingly become a bigger part of their scheme is pretty depressing. Can she remain unscathed? And will her friend ever get to Japan? Oleg and Mischa Jr. are absent this week, but there is one Russia thread that managed to shine a ray of light and not only is Martha’s Russian coming on, but they’re also making sure she isn’t alone as they’re giving her a super cute (or adorable) orphan girl. This feels like a good thing and after all it was what Martha wanted with Clark, but there’s also part of me wondering if there is something more insidious at play because intentions are rarely pure on this show.

So what about that big conversation at the end? In true Americans tradition the conversation itself is rather sedate and a quiet end to a mostly quiet and meditative season. If season 1 ended with Elizabeth telling Philip to come home in their native tongue then in this moment she is setting him free. It is still proclamation of “It’s us” but in telling Philip she will go it alone from now on she is doing her duty to both country and her marriage. Plus he’s still going to be some pretty important work (as well as running the travel agency) and if he can look a little less sad in season 6 well then that will be a victory for Elizabeth.

This being The Americans it is probably not going to be as simple as that and while this year has seen a less explosive season than one might expect for the penultimate outing getting to the point where Philip is bowing out while Elizabeth stays in is pretty huge. Especially as they’re doing it together. “It’s us.”

When Not to Make Jokes“My fellow Americans, I am pleased to tell you today that I’ve signed legislation that will outlaw Russia forever. We begin bombing in five minutes.” This is from the news item Paige is watching (and Henry is oblivious to, because of course) and it also gives us a date in time around when this episode is set; August 11, 1984.

This shot is also an appropriate time to once again to give a shout out to the production design department for the Jennings family photos.

The Return of My Favorite Philip TopStill on the hunt for a retro Dunlop tee and Philip is once again taunting me with this perfect version.

 

Until next year and the final 10 episodes of The Americans. It has been a pleasure!

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