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The Americans 5.12 “The World Council of Churches” Review: What’s In a Name?

24 May

Lines between make believe and reality are intrinsically blurred on The Americans because Philip and Elizabeth’s cover lives are so entwined with who they are and were that it’s impossible to separate the two at this point.Small acts of defiance such as getting married in secret, in a ceremony that used their original names is important to the series as a whole, not because it’s going to bring down the Berlin Wall or end the Cold War, but because it gives Philip and Elizabeth something that is actually theirs. Mikahil and Nadezhda are now really married and it doesn’t matter that their American marriage certificate isn’t legit. And now they have got from that point of brief contentment (because crowns and okay, commitment) to wanting to go home.

But it’s not as easy as that and while Claudia is surprisingly receptive to the idea, it’s their kids inherent Americanness that is ultimately going to be the issue. Maybe this is why Claudia is so receptive; she knows they have other things to consider and the journey home is long. Also, Philip continues his pattern of never sitting down at these meetings.Names come up on countless occasions; first when Paige asks about how they came by Jennings. They explain that Philip Jennings was a real person (as was Elizabeth’s maiden name) and the KGB take the names of real (and now deceased) people to strengthen their covers. This was how they cracked the Clark code and realized Martha’s husband was KGB. Philip admits that he misses his old name and there is a wistful tone when he says this. Wistful because this is the first time home has felt this close. 

But it is far from easy. They can talk all they want about what names they will go by when they return to Russia and the Jennings marriage has never been stronger – remember “it’s us” – but they are living in a fantasy land if they think that Paige and Henry will be fine with any of this. Sure Paige is adjusting to life as a junior spy and soon the weight of Pastor Tim (and the cross around her neck) will be gone, but she’s going to be just as alienated there as Pasha is in America. And Henry. Well Henry is another story as he’s got his hopes set on an entirely different dream. Seeing first hand what has happened to Pasha and the lengths Tuan is willing to go to when it comes to completing their mission is chilling. He’s just a teen in a Marty McFly like gilet and rotating pop culture tees (this week featuring Knightrider), but he might also be the most ruthless of them all. He’s the king of manipulation including convincing Pasha to slit his wrists as a way to get back home. He told him how to avoid the artery, but there is no guarantee. And this is why Philip (dressed as Brad) storms out of the house in a bid to stop this plan.

It doesn’t matter that this might jeopardize the entire op, because Philip has had enough of this shit and his parent brain kicks in. And when she catches up with him, Elizabeth is there to grab him by the hand and be all in this together. It’s all in their vows. Plus she’s got to make this surprise visit look more natural than it currently is.
With one episode left to go this season it looks like breaking point has well and truly been hit. And it’s only going to get worse.

Note – this week’s review is much shorter because I am traveling. Will be back to the usual essay length for the finale next week. 

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The Americans 5.11 “Dyatkovo” Review: Paying for the Past

17 May

You can’t escape the past and season 5 of The Americans has constantly been looking back to explain the present. History repeats and this impact is felt on both a micro and macro level; individuals and organizations are at risk and real change is hard to implement. Especially when authorities have a different face/name and yet continue with their shady shit. Corruption seeps down to every level.

Post-WWII turmoil in Russia has been alluded to with Philip learning the truth about his father’s profession, Oleg finding out about his mother’s imprisonment and Gabriel discussing the work he did. You can make a new life, get a new name and yet the scars run deep. Memories threaten to bubble to the surface and ruin the facade of perfection that has been constructed.A seemingly unconnected operation to everything Philip and Elizabeth have been doing brings everything to a head in an unexpected way. In a sequence that is reminiscent of the equally brilliant “Do Mail Robots Dream of Electric Sheep?” Philip and Elizabeth interrogate someone the KGB believes killed their people for the Nazis in the occupied town of Dyatkovo. As this is The Americans this is not a simple case of good versus evil and first they must determine whether they have the right person.

Philip has to be sure that this isn’t a case of mistaken identity and early on the evidence they have isn’t particularly conclusive. The photo could be her, but this isn’t enough and Philip reinforces his point by mentioning the conversation they had earlier this season. He can no longer shoot first only to find out that they were wrong. It seems like a good marker, to be honest and Elizabeth is aware that he is close to breaking point; which is why she does what she does later on.Paying for the past is a complicated business and after some back and forth with Natalie about whether she is really Anna, she confesses. At first I thought this was a fake confession as a way to save her husband, but it turns out that she really did all the things she was accused of. But these were far from the actions of someone who took pleasure in committing these atrocities. This is one of Irina Dubova’s first acting credits and she is incredible in this role delivering pain, guilt and fear.

Natalie’s confession takes place in front of her husband with horrific details such as watching her family get shot and being forced to dig their graves. She was saved and she doesn’t know why, “nothing made sense.” And after this she did what she had to in order to survive – echoing what Oleg’s mother told him about prison – which included killing her own people. The first time she did it she was so drunk she could barely stand and all of this began when she was just 16. Elizabeth was 17 when she joined the KGB. And now Paige is at this age too. Too young to be embroiled in all of this.

This is The Americans doing what it does best; hitting us in the gut with the lack of options available. Before this moment Elizabeth calls Natalie a monster throwing back the word that Pastor Tim questioned whether they are. As I already mentioned this episode is reminiscent of “Do Mail Robots Dream of Electric Sheep?” particularly the conversations Elizabeth has with Lois Smith’s Betty as she coerces her into taking too many pills. Betty also brings up this notion of Elizabeth being a bad person. In fact she calls her out on her “to make the world a better place” reasoning by saying that’s “what evil people tell themselves when they do evil things.”

This is the most Elizabeth has previously been effected by an on the job kill – I got super teary rewatching these scenes – and the whole thing with Natalie is enough for Elizabeth to make a huge decision; she wants to go home.When Philip hesitates in pulling the trigger, Elizabeth steps up as she said she would. It is an awful moment and even though it was clear they were never going to let them live – they’d seen their faces after all – there was part of me that hoped otherwise. It doesn’t matter that Natalie had made this new life where she was doing good, those actions of the past sealed her fate in the present. Even if she committed these war crimes in order to survive.

So what makes Elizabeth think they can just go home? Everything has been building to this point of quitting the spy biz in one way or another; it is getting too much for both of them. Philip is the one who has been showing the obvious signs of reaching his breaking point and despite his fractured psyche he’s in it for as long as Elizabeth is.

They don’t know the Soviet regime is also crumbling, but the misinformation regarding missions and how they keep pivoting away from doing good is having an impact. The virus sample they extracted, the sample that effectively killed both William and Hans has been weaponized and William’s legacy is having this version named after him. The exact opposite of what he would’ve wanted. They’re both fed up the honey traps and Pastor Tim’s scribblings have had an impact.Thankfully The Americans has never been concerned with the prestige TV trope of “we’re good people that did a bad thing” instead they are people who have done very bad things in the name of duty/country and feel conflict about it. It is why the wordless interactions between Philip and Elizabeth hold so much weight; everything is etched on their faces. Cue my “give Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys all the awards” broken record.

Philip right now is a giant exhale of sadness in human form and seemingly happy childhood memories are doing nothing to free him from the increasing worry lines on his face as they are tainted with the truth. Even something as mundane as watching TV and eating McDonalds with Tuan is far from freeing. He leaves his real son all preoccupied and happy to join his fake son only to have the past eat away at him. To him his father brought some light into his life and likely a lot of darkness and pain into others; is he getting a glimpse of how Henry will view memories of Philip in the future?

Processing other photos gives Philip reason to bring up Paige’s* motivation behind the whole diary reveal. They don’t come up with a definite answer, but Philip wonders if she wanted to see their reactions to reading what Pastor Tim had said about them.

*A Paige-less week, but you can read my thoughts on Paige and the use of horror on The Americans over at Collider

The lasting damage they are having on their children is hard to ignore and Philip has conceded in letting Henry go to boarding school if he gets in. This of course is all academic, if they do indeed decide to go home to Russia and there is no telling how either Paige or Henry will react to this bombshell. Because Paige sure as hell was not chill about the suggestion last season.Ah, Henry. Sweet, smart, oblivious Henry. Listening to his Walkman while doing homework, having a girlfriend and getting a guided tour at the FBI. The latter brings up another interesting point in Philip and Elizabeth’s basement convo about how Stan or the FBI is not getting Henry. They’re also pretty disparaging about Matthew. Way harsh, guys.

Henry does seem very interested in what Stan does at work and is fully delighted when he gets to meet Mail Robot. This is the appropriate reaction. Later on Henry reads Stan his paper that pretty and exclaims that working at the FBI sounds like the “best job in the world” and Stan is quick to inform him that this is far from the case. Way to crush young enthusiasm Stan, but he does his best to explain the big drawbacks and one of those is never being able to truly trust anyone. Not even your wife and kids. Across the street this is not the case and because Philip and Elizabeth have each other it makes this difficult world a tiny bit better. If only they could all retire to a secret island and live happily ever after.

Everyone is feeling the strain of their jobs, but Philip and Elizabeth have never been more in sync. Even when they don’t quite agree they have been finding middle ground recently. The secret wedding last week doubled down on their commitment to one another and maybe it really is time for this part of their life to be over. However, I can’t see the KGB agreeing to let some of their best deep cover operatives go without a fight. Especially when you factor in just how many operations they have in play right now.

And if they go on the run they could be the ones starring down the barrel of a gun in a few years time for being traitors. Talking of in sync and how they enter Natalie’s home ensnaring her in a terrifyingly efficient way; they catch their prey without a sound.Over in Russia, Oleg continues with his investigation and even though they find evidence against Lydia that could put her away for fifteen years she is steely as fuck when facing their questions. She notes that this is how their country runs and it is not going to change. She calls the KGB “high and mighty” and it is hard to have a good comeback when Oleg has his own fancy supermarket he gets to shop at because of who his father is.

Two episodes remain this season, twelve in total and with Elizabeth’s “I want to get out of here. We should just go. I mean it. Let’s go home” everything suddenly feels very much near the end. The sound you just heard was my stomach churning from dread and anticipation of what’s going to happen next.

Fun Spy Equipment The camera in the bag is a classic and I’m glad we got to see Elizabeth toting this tote.

Family Photos and Owl Lamps

Family pictures act of reminders and the Jennings house is littered with these happy memories. Once again I am so pleased they use photos that are neither photoshopped or production stills. Also that owl lamp always catches my eye in how perfect and pretty ugly it is. And thanks to Twin Peaks all I can think is this lamp is not what it seems.

Be sure to check out my essay over at Collider discussing the use of horror on The Americans including a deep dive into the Jennings House of Horrors and whether Paige is the ‘Final Girl.’

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

10 May

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fabulous ’80s Knitwear 

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

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

The Americans 5.09 “IHOP” Review: Secrets and Spies

3 May

Keeping secrets is a big part of being a spy and on The Americans there is always a thin line between someone speaking the truth while wearing a wig and hiding everything in plain sight. Secrets have power and the ability to destroy as well as protect and the person who knows the most tends to be the one in control. Our parents keep things from us even if they aren’t international super spies and I think we can all relate to finding out something later in life about our families that is surprising.

No, not all of us will learn our mother was in a Soviet prison camp or that both parents were born in a different country and are only part time travel agents. And yet there is a time when we find out something from the past that will open our eyes to why our parents are the way they are; suddenly they become people and not just your parents. Season 5 continues to take note of how much of a toll this life is taking on everyone and “IHOP” took a break from Paige to shift focus onto the other teens that know varying degrees of what a covert life entails. Kicking off with a returning face and Kimmy is back to emphasize just how much Philip has on his plate and he is still maintaining this relationship so he get the tapes from her father’s briefcase.

When Kimmy was introduced she was acting out against her father’s emotional neglect in a way that would be considered pretty typical; drinking, drugs and hooking up with older guys. This could also just be explained as typical teen behavior, but the death of her mother when she was younger and her father always being at work definitely contributed to her desire to connect and this was something Philip could exploit.Luckily for Philip he came up with an excuse to not sleep with a story about religion and a made up son; ah yes the made up son that was based on the real son that Philip still hasn’t met. It is hard to keep track of the different incarnations of sons on this show and Mischa Jr. provided the backstory for Philip’s lack of sexual interest in Kimmy. This story is of course born out of real feelings and when Kimmy talks to Philip (as Jim) about how he wishes he could do the family stuff gain, but right this time she astutely says “I don’t think anybody does it right.”

And in fact if it wasn’t for the KGB then Philip wouldn’t have the family/house he does, which on the outside looks like picture perfect suburban living and yet there is a strong undercurrent of wanting the spy part of his life to be over. He rectifies his original statement changing it to ‘not wanting to screw things up’ and this wistful tone applies to his real life. As with most interactions Philip and Elizabeth have when in disguise reality and fiction blend.

What about Henry? The neglected Jennings child who is thriving without any help from his parents. It is a smart and unexpected move by the writers to have Henry excel at school rather than bottoming out; it would be far easier to have him lean into delinquency. As with Paige and her religious rebellion it makes for far more interesting storytelling and now they have to decide whether to send Henry to the boarding school he has already applied for. In another great move they set up Henry’s pitch in the same way Paige asked for the truth in “Stingers.” He stands waiting for them to come home in the same position at the kitchen island all nervous and when Philip and Elizabeth initially walk in they can be forgiven for thinking “Oh fuck. Not this again.” Instead Henry has a whole speech planned about his future and again Philip and Elizabeth can’t hide their confusion (and initial waves of nausea this time) when it comes to Henry’s education.

Time for my weekly “give all the Emmys to Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell” comments and again they are very good in their lack of poker faces here. They just can’t quite understand what is going on or why he might want to study away from home.

Circling back to this discussion later when it is just the two of them and perhaps surprisingly Elizabeth takes the pro boarding school stance. And it would be good for Henry to get him out of this environment so he doesn’t get sucked into this business or just further neglected.

You would think Philip would be for this as he’s all about getting people out of this spy orbit and yet it bothers him how this boarding school looks quipping that it is a “fancy orphanage” while pointing to how much they already have in comparison to what they did have when they were Henry’s age. As with all discussions like this they get interrupted by the phone and no decision is made about Henry’s education. They have their other son to go check in on.After noting that Tuan seemed lonely last week, Elizabeth has also picked up on this vibe and decided to make a surprise visit with a fast food care parcel. Except Tuan isn’t home and Tuan doesn’t come home prompting a strong amount of concern from Philip and Elizabeth. Getting the team on Tuan’s trail they track him out of the state and see him going into an IHOP. Confronting him in the dark of their house in the middle of night they are very much not in parental mood with Philip shoving him up against the wall as Elizabeth holds a gun on him. Tuan explains that his adopted brother from the family who took him in has leukemia and he’s been going out of state to check in on him. So while he answered the call to work for his country he still cares about those he is effectively working again. They all have attachments.

In a heartbreaking moment he begs Philip and Elizabeth not to write any of this in his report. Elizabeth believes his story and Philip thinks that maybe he wants to get sent back so he can escape this shit. “That’s not who he is” responds Elizabeth and once again we are presented with how they are ultimately diametrically opposed when it comes to how they see the work. It doesn’t matter how in sync or united they are as a couple as this factor always has the power of coming between them. This also mirrors what Philip was about to say about Henry while discussing boarding school as he got cut off saying “He’s not the kind of kid…” But do they even know what kind of kid he really is. Over in Moscow there is another discussion between father and son that informs the arc of this entire season as Oleg confronts his father with what he knows about the past. When he asks why they didn’t tell him sooner Igor responds that every family has a story like this one and they did it so Oleg could have the life he has. It is a heartbreaking scene as Igor explains how Yelena was a changed woman after she came out of the camp after everything she did to survive inferring that she had to sleep with other men as part of this. Again the specter of the past comes back to haunt the present and the fear of history repeating. It isn’t like how it was, but there are figures just as imposing and dangerous that threaten this family and others like them. No matter how powerful a person thinks there father is.

Keeping this secret from Oleg and his brother ensured they didn’t suffer and this mirrors the secret that is being kept from Henry Jennings. It is not like Paige is better off knowing even if it has brought her closer emotionally to her parents; the burden far outweighs the benefits.Also for Oleg there is the matter of the investigation he is leading and the one that is happening on him. He has some success in working his source giving over an apple and healthy dose of emotional manipulation as he talks about his brother being nothing more than a photo on the wall. Saving a son in place of putting yourself in danger is good enough reason for Dimitri to talk. Even if he is clearly incredibly scared of the consequences.

It is unclear what Major Kuznetsov has on Oleg, but they are very keen on hearing all about Stan Beeman. Again Oleg and Stan’s story runs in parallel and now revenge for Gaad is being used to get Stan to consent to the CIA using the tape against Oleg.Picking up the pieces isn’t just a family matter and in Moscow we also get to see a little more from Martha. Her sad looking dinner (I do love a baked potato though) in her sad looking apartment, wearing her sad ensemble is interrupted by a familiar face. This whole apartment is devoid of bright color and neutrals reign.

Martha is not pleased to see Gabriel and her lack of enthusiasm extends to when he takes his coat off implying this will be an extended visit. Not even the mention of Clark can lift her spirits and instead she lets Gabriel know that time has allowed her to process her situation and understand just how much her services are appreciated. She doesn’t want to see Gabriel again and I don’t blame her as he is another reminder of why she is here. Maybe Gabriel will have better luck finding a friend in Mischa Jr.

There are consequences for all their actions and so many lives have been left in ruins because of this work. And now it turns out that maybe the virus William and Hans gave their life for is being used not for protection in case of a nuclear attack, but as a weapon in the war in Afghanistan. Elizabeth doesn’t believe that, but Philip thinks it is too much of a coincidence to not be. If this is the lie they have been told it will be hard for Philip to look beyond this; it is only really his wife that is keeping him tethered to the cause at this point.

In Praise of the Production Team The production team on The Americans continues to give great family photos that don’t look a) badly photoshopped or b) like a production still from an episode. Ivan Mok who plays Tuan mentioned on Instagram that this is a real photo of his as a kid and that family portrait is a delight.

Disguise of the Week 

This is quite possibly the most basic disguise Philip has ever worn that involves fake facial hair; flat cap, mustache, big glasses and a turtleneck. It would only be more Spy 101 if he had a trench coat on and was talking behind a newspaper. And that’s kind of the point. He doesn’t have time to deal with another person to meet with and he gives Gabriel’s source the exact kind of effort with his disguise that he has the energy for. They are stretched too thin and with the return of Kimmy we are reminded just how much they have on. No time for baby sitting someone else.

The comment about praying is an interesting one as a way to deal with this kind of life and at the moment Philip looks willing to try anything for some peace.

 

For more style highlights from Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys check out their fabulous custom Rag & Bone outfits from the Met Gala.

The Americans 5.08 “Immersion” Review: What Do You Want to Be?

26 Apr

Elizabeth Jennings, international super spy has been many things over the years including a Mary Kay sales rep, fashion buyer, flight attendant, housewife, travel agent and countless other professions that have provided the details of the disguises required to complete the work of her actual job. That of KGB agent.

Even her role as a wife and mother is part of the bigger picture; the main difference here is that she’s not faking her way through most of these things as she really is a mother to two children and her relationship with Philip has evolved from doing the necessary to becoming the thing they were projecting.At its heart The Americans is a marriage/family show wrapped up in spy packaging and with the recent Paige developments home and work have become even harder to separate. Philip and Elizabeth have a lot on their plates right now with several operations running in tandem and now they’re most trusted adviser has upped and left them.

For Philip, Gabriel’s departure is more complicated because of how contentious their relationship was at times and because of his parting words about Paige being kept out of all of this. In fact Philip even questions Gabriel’s motives and whether it was simply because it was his job. Elizabeth believes otherwise and is certain he cared about them – caring was something she said she couldn’t do with their targets last week – and she’s stunned when Philip tells her he’s glad Gabriel has gone. A world where none of them have to do things like this is a repeated theme this week and Elizabeth is the first one to head down a wishful thinking channel. Bookending the episode with talk of a world without spying and Elizabeth seems genuinely surprised by this question of what she would’ve done as an alternative career. After a beat she says she would’ve been a doctor. Something that Paige finds amusing as her mother has terrible bedside manner. Much like Keri Russell’s other most famous TV role there is a push pull between two vocations; for Felicity it was between art and medicine and this is a far cry from Elizabeth’s two job opportunities. Ben Stobert has a whole Scott Speedman vibe and everything keeps coming up Felicity.

Placing focus on doing the things you wish you didn’t have to is something that this season keeps circling back on; in this career conversation Paige asks if Elizabeth likes what she does and Elizabeth sings the party line about being proud of her work,. She wishes she didn’t have to do the things she does, but there is a purpose. I wonder what Paige’s father would say if he was posed with the same question. Philip is of course going to do what he has to even through gritted teeth and the Topeka operation is indicative of this. So even when he kind of tanks his relationship with Deidre he finds a way to win her back; she wants someone who is more assertive so he tells her that he’s married.

It is interesting watching both Philip and Elizabeth cancel their Topeka plans on the phone. First because their both kind of going against the Centre by canceling with both claiming it is not because of the other, but the quick sideways glances in the office suggests otherwise. They both have their game faces on even though it is all through the phone and it is odd to see them as Brenda and Gus when they are not wigged up. Discussing their respective days in the Jennings bedroom is unlike most other marriages as Elizabeth shows off her new fondness for tai chi – “looks like slow kung-fu” quips Philip – as it is relaxing. There is a broad smile across her face until Philip mentions that he has been dumped. Elizabeth thinks that EST is to blame and that it has softened Philip; something he very much disagrees with and yet this conversation doesn’t end in an argument showing just how good things are between them right now. They’re sharing everything with each other and this includes what Elizabeth told Paige about her past.Keri Russell should probably use this episode as her Emmy submission for the training scene in the garage alone as she goes from badass fighting mom to revealing her deepest secret in a bid to show Paige how it is possible to move beyond being scared.

Elizabeth was raped when she was 18 by a superior officer – the superior officer who turned traitor in the pilot – and after that moment she trained hard so no one would hurt her like that again. She’s no longer afraid nor does she ever really think about it and by revealing this part of herself she is giving Paige something to cling to while she scrambles in the dark. For a long time this was something Elizabeth kept as her secret to bear the weight of by herself and by telling Philip this opened the door to where they are now. The power gets shifted from her attacker and what it did to her; by telling Paige about this she shows how fear doesn’t have to rule you. When Paige goes to hug her mother, Elizabeth stops her and reinforces the idea that she trained hard to combat being afraid. Elizabeth is never going to be a touchy feely mom, but this level of emotional intimacy is her way of being open with her daughter. Later when it comes up again Elizabeth lists the things that allowed her to focus; her job/her kids. Of course in this truth telling session she doesn’t tell Paige what became of her rapist and the time he spent in the trunk of their car in close proximity to them while they slept. And also in the location where this fight training is now taking place.

Claudia remarks that Paige is her mother’s daughter and asks some catch up questions now she is back to being their handler. This is met with reservations from Philip and Elizabeth, with Philip particularly having no time for her bullshit. She is the woman who split up his marriage back in season 1 after all. No need for polite chit chat and Philip pretty much wants to get whatever information she has to give them and get out.

Later on Elizabeth indulges in a drink and conversation and despite almost beating her to death there is an understanding between these two women beyond animosity. Unlike Philip, I am sad to see Gabriel go and yet I am thrilled Margo Martindale will get more screen time particularly as this dynamic is a lot more prickly. And because she’s Margo fucking Martindale. All hail the return of the squirrel pins.The last time they saw her would’ve been at the end of season 2 when Claudia informed them of the Centre’s plans for Paige. Plans that are very much in motion and Claudia asks for an update from Elizabeth and not for work reasons. Claudia it turns out has been back home in-between sessions with Gabriel spending time with her daughter and grandchildren and she sounds genuinely sad when she mentions that they didn’t remember her. Claudia asks what Elizabeth wants for Paige and it is all rather abstract as she just wants her to care about things that matter. This also echoes her conversation with Stobert as she references how much his work matters in comparison to what she does; flattering his ego to keep him on the line or showing respect for what he does?

She also mentions to Claudia that with Philip they will never see eye to eye on this Paige stuff, but despite that things have been good between them. She seems reluctant to go into detail and I wonder if this is in part related to the time Claudia drove a wedge between them. Philip still has his mind in the long ago past after learning about what Gabriel did in the bad times back home and he wonders what Claudia was up to during this period. We have seen how deadly she can be and I have a feeling she was doing something similar. Fear related to the past is something we see in Oleg’s story as his mother is terrified that her only surviving son is going to get taken away. When his room is searched she thinks they will find something even if there is nothing as that is how things used to operate.

More information is given regarding her time spent in the gulag as she was accused of sabotage, which back then could have been for something as innocuous as taking a pencil home from work. She was eventually pardoned and Oleg wonders if his trip to the archive brought on this home visit. His boss doesn’t think so and in a regime ruled by paranoia it could be anything. The surprise here is that because of his father’s position this search even happened and it is troubling. Also tipping into troubling territory is Tuan and so far this operation has been chugging along nicely in the background. Evgheniya has been a surprising source of opportunity for them with her job teaching Russian and the affair she is now having. Now they just need to get her to go back to Russia so they can utilize this to maximum effect. This will require Tuan to turn on his friend as they need Pascha to want to go home and Tuan thinks this should be easy.

The concern here should be their adopted son as this is the second time he has asked them to spend more time at this home and unlike their actual son he is showing signs of wanting their attention. Because they have so much going on I have a feeling this is the operation that will end up causing them the most bother in the long run. Meanwhile, Stan and Aderholt are gently coaxing their new source Sofia into feeling more comfortable. She is incredibly jumpy and they are using monetary incentives and her son’s future as a way to get her more on board. She talks about all the different things her young son wants to become and it once again points to this notion of growing up to be something and the hopes we have for our children.

Stan also has some good quality time at the Jennings house in which Renee’s name comes up and she wants to get him to go sky diving. He quips that he wants to be alive to see Matthew graduate college and cue raised eyebrows from everyone watching. They touch on the recent teen breakup while also quipping about Henry’s current girl situation and if he wasn’t so neglected I would say that Henry has it best out of anyone on The Americans.A sense of dread permeates all and there’s nothing to suggest that is all going to collapse as everything is moving along rather nicely. However we are entering the last third of the season and this implies that something is going to give soon; what this season has been doing a lot of is exploring the internal while moving the pieces for the final act.

It is a slow burn and it definitely feels like we’re heading toward something, but who is going to break first? My money for what it is worth is on the trifecta of sons being what leads to the dam breaking; Henry, Tuan and Mischa.

Outfit I Would Wear in 2017Another fabulous disguise and this season has been the gift that keeps on giving with Elizabeth. This jacket alone is on my covet list as I am always partial to vintage ski style and if I could also get Henry’s sweatshirt (that you can see near the top) then that would be great. Those glasses are fabulous and I’m looking forward to seeing Katie Irish’s inspiration board behind this one.

Updated to add the bio board for this disguise. Interesting to see what changes during this process. 

The Americans 5.07 “The Committee on Human Rights” Review: History Repeating

19 Apr

History has a habit of repeating and while the players/scenarios might change there are certain elements that remain the same. Gabriel’s departure on The Americans gives Philip the opportunity to ask questions he might normally let simmer, festering away in a mind that has been taught to compartmentalize. There is only so much that can pushed deep and season 5 is dealing with the consequences of years of manipulation.

Paige has only recently been brought into the fold, but things are weighing just as heavy on her and while on the surface it appears that things are getting better the reality is quite the opposite. Is it too late to stop the spy cycle from continuing?Gabriel’s goodbyes to his surrogate children couldn’t be more different; from the physical interactions to the set up of these scenes and the overall tone. Mirroring his relationship with the pair and Philip has always pushed back, which is why his farewell includes a real sense of finality and less warmth. Those niggles are still there and Philip can’t help but poke some more. Gabriel notes that at least they are ending on something positive with the plant sample they secured in Mississippi, but Philip isn’t satisfied with leaving things here. Instead he asks what the mini-operation Elizabeth is doing and from which this episode gets its title. Elizabeth has been vague and it is unclear how much she actually knows and Gabriel is just as withholding.

Switching gears to Gabriel’s past and this is something they touched on last week when Philip found out about his father’s real line of work. There’s a sense of pretending that some of this stuff didn’t happen and Gabriel asks what Philip thought about the stuff they did before and after the war “I didn’t. I didn’t ask questions.” Without going into too many specifics Gabriel emphasizes just how bad it was and the number of people who died including those who had done nothing wrong. Parallels between how Gabriel and Philip see things are clear in this conversation and Philip is looking for a reason to justify for the terrible things they have also done.Bear hugs are not how this duo say goodbye and instead Philip pisses him off in the way he always pisses him off; by pushing too far. His follow up question is about Stan and unlike Elizabeth, Philip cares. As far as Gabriel knows she is not one of them, but the Centre might not have told him for this very reason. And if this goodbye was going badly already Gabriel ends it all with a humdinger of a mic drop telling Philip that he was right about not wanting Paige to be part of this. That’s one hell of an exit.

With Elizabeth things are far less contentious; he praises her for how she raised Paige to not think the world owes her happiness. The plant sample sits between them with a red bow on it like a gift – which it is – and when he describes Paige as having a big heart and not being a quitter that is really a combination of both her parents. As the light streams in from outside it matches the warm and tender tone with Elizabeth asking why he is really leaving.

In the past I think he would’ve mentioned Mischa, but now he knows Elizabeth would tell Philip straight away. They are no longer a couple who keep secrets from each other. She questions what they will do without him and he flips it back on her as he barely has anyone back home. What will he do without them? They clasp each others hands and this is a stark difference to his Philip conversation. He could always be more honest with him.Justifying their actions can at times be hard to do. Especially as innocent people get hurt and when Gabriel references a higher purpose as a way to reason with his conscience it reflects this current cycle of intelligence collecting.

Paige still thinks that they are trying to stop the US from poisoning their crops and it would be far too complicated to explain that they got things wrong and it is lot more complicated than that. It’s been quite the 180 for them to get their heads around because of the death of the lab worker and it is much easier for Paige to think that they are the very good guys in this scenario. When she mentions going to the press she gets shut down quite quickly, but Chekhov’s newspaper expose has been thrown into the mix.  Also Philip’s not exactly having the best time with Deirdre and she called out his neediness all the while he is waiting for an opportunity to ask about super-wheat. Ben’s also not quite the MPDB that he seemed and there’s another lady in his life other than the Elizabeth. There’s a flicker of satisfaction from Philip when he sees him stepping out with this mystery blonde and he’s not beneath a little jealousy.

Paige’s conversation with Gabriel has him waxing lyrical about the heroes they are and the lives they have saved; heroes don’t tend to like this moniker or being praised in this way and for Philip and Elizabeth it is a lot more complicated than that. The positioning at the table at Gabriel’s is also interesting as Elizabeth sits by Gabriel beaming while Philip looks a lot more conflicted next to his daughter. Elizabeth isn’t the staunch soldier she once was and there is conflict brewing there, but she is still very much more about country first and ask questions later. Propaganda in any war is vital and Philip quips that he feels like he is on one of the posters when they are out in the field getting their sample. Not with that wig you wouldn’t be, but it is the most wistful he has been for a while. Gabriel referring to them as heroes doesn’t sit well and yet if this crop works out then they will be just that. Many lives will be saved and yet that can’t erase the horrific things they have done.

The emotional toll is also significant and the weight Gabriel feels is reflected back in Philip. This is another acting showcase from all the major players and this also happens to be Matthew Rhys’ second time behind the camera on The Americans. Not quite the same big levels of drama or forehead vein of anger and like a lot of season 5 the story is a slow burn and yet the consequences feel just as high.

As they manage Paige they’re still ignoring their other child and I’m still convinced Henry is going to be their potential downfall or be a better candidate for spy training. Paige is like her father in that she feels too much; when Philip tells Elizabeth that it is okay to care about the sources she is working she emphatically shuts him down. Not for her it isn’t. Otherwise she might end up with another Young Hee. Matthew Rhys uses lamps and light from widows to good effect showing the stark difference between Gabriel’s farewells to Elizabeth and Philip. It might seem cruel leaving Philip with that humdinger of a statement and from the look on Philip’s face he is pretty aghast at being told he has been right all along. Especially after all the reassuring that has been going on.

In a way it is Gabriel’s gift in trying to stop the continued cycle of the kids bearing the burdens of their parents. But he surely could’ve wrapped this up in a less thorny bow. And this all comes after Philip and Elizabeth had a not so convincing conversation about how the Paige situation has shifted for the better. In fact it is a whole lot worse. What it has done is bring Paige closer to her parents. There are moments of familial intimacy that would’ve been out of the question last year including Elizabeth warmly putting Paige’s legs across her lap and Philip moving from a kneeling position to getting her to scooch over on her bed.

She broke up with Matthew in a fraught scene and while Philip and Elizabeth are privately pleased about this, they both give good sympathy conversations. But I wonder how happy they would be if they knew just how gut wrenching the break up conversation was. Elizabeth talks about her own experiences (with Gregory I presume) and Philip reassures her that she will get used to this. This also gives Paige a chance to express how she always felt different and at least now she knows why. It is some of the better parenting they have done and yet they have also done this to her and they are more than complicit in her heartbreak.  Having honest conversations with parents occurs over the pond in Russia with Oleg and his bond with his mother is strong. He tells her about the CIA no-show and also discusses his brother; this closeness is not something he has with his father. Later on we see him getting his mother’s prison file and even though his story is separate from all things Jennings there are parallels. Again they are looking to the not talked about past to inform the present. A present that has far too many similarities to back then and those cannot be ignored.

Oleg doesn’t know Stan was behind the intervention and Stan finds out this week that his threats were taken seriously. His boss intervened in getting him reassigned thanks to his current operation, which has finally started providing some sense of results and the scene where he tells Renee everything without telling her anything is an impressive use of dialogue. It also once again does nothing to quell the theory Philip has suggested about her being KGB. Mail Robot also made a brief drive by in the FBI corridor. Good to see you again, old friend.Is this the last we’ve seen of Gabriel? It is hard to believe that Frank Langella won’t grace The Americans scenes again, but if this is the case then he has ended on a strong note and hopefully the Emmys will recognize his work. In terms of conflict if Philip and Elizabeth are back to dealing with Claudia this could prove to be rather difficult and therefore fun to watch.

She has far less patience for their bullshit and at the same time there is more likely to be some kind of push back particularly from Elizabeth. Claudia is not one for gifting stuffed toys or for their relationship dramas. They are far stronger as a unit now than when she was their handler last time and it will be interesting to see how she adapts to this change in dynamic. If Gabriel is very much like Philip then Claudia is the mirror of Elizabeth.

Book Club

Elizabeth did indeed get Paige some books to go with her copy of Marx and this is good collection of literature in understanding the whole history repeating notion I mentioned at the start. It also doesn’t look like Paige is returning this book to Pastor Tim anytime soon and she’s also questioning her faith. Not something he probably expected from this book lending sitch.

Fun Camera AnglesShooting through the wardrobe always makes me think of Halloween, but on this occasion Philip and Elizabeth are talking about his trip while he unpacks. Matthew Rhys makes use of familiar spaces from a different perspective.

The Americans 5.06 “Crossbreed” Review: Sins of the Father

12 Apr

Being deceptive is part of the spy life; it is how information is gathered and compartmentalizing is one way to mentally survive. How long someone can do this job for effectively comes into question this week on The Americans and Gabriel announces his plans for retirement, which in turn gives Philip an opportunity to ask the questions about his past that have been plaguing him this season. Nope, not about the son who came to America and has now been sent back to Russia, but regarding the father Philip never really knew and yet has recently been the main feature in Philip’s memories.

When Philip and Elizabeth signed up to the jobs that would become their lives they were told to forget everything about who they were and to keep this information to themselves. A mandate that they kept to until their faked union turned into something real; at the end of the pilot Elizabeth tells Philip her real name and from this point on a new layer of trust was introduced into this partnership. Since then there have been snippets of stories from icicles to caring for a parent and the barrier that once existed between past and present self has dropped. They are now a couple on every level and this includes who they once were.Philip is the one who has been preoccupied with thoughts of his parents and specifically the father he has all but forgotten; previously the only information the audience has been given is that he died when Philip was 6 and he was a logger. This also happens to be all Philip can remember until recently when he has been getting flashbacks of grainy images. In these moments we see his father bringing back clothes and food, which Elizabeth suggested was a good thing but Philip was hesitant. Other aspects have been playing on his mind including the way some of the local men would stare at him and his brother. As Gabriel is leaving soon it doesn’t give Philip much time to ask about his past and when he steels himself in the car this is another case of Matthew Rhys delivering in the ‘saying so much without saying a thing’ department.

“Crossbreed” is an acting master class from all the major players with Rhys, Keri Russell and Frank Langella delivering in the sighs and silences alone. When Gabriel first announces his departure plans there is a shift in Philip and Elizabeth’s stance that is reminiscent of their breakdown moment from last season. They haven’t hit this low point, but there is something childlike in their response; Philip immediately thinks he is to blame because he has been difficult and pushed back and Elizabeth looks distraught. Philip is part of the reason, but for something Gabriel can’t tell him and this lie about Mischa Jr. has hit Gabriel hard. Gabriel has been much more a father than either Philip or Elizabeth had when they were growing up and Philip finds out a difficult truth about his father’s occupation that has him questioning why the KGB chose him in the first place.The logging story was a lie cooked up by his mother and in reality he worked at a prison camp as a guard. It is likely that those items he brought home were from some of the prisoners and the bloody water from those boots is a very bad sign that there are more buried memories to come. Gabriel has no information on the kind of person Philip’s dad was and quashes Philip’s thoughts that because his dad killed people then that’s what they saw in Philip too. The sins of the father and all that.

In reality Philip’s father “was nobody. We were all nobodies.” A problem Philip now has is that because he is actually a somebody in the KGB and doing some very important work rather than just being a cog in the machine any concerns are noted in his file. And there has been cause for concern regarding his shaky standing in the past; they’re always going to be keeping an eye on him regarding his ability to effectively carry out the forever growing tasks and operations.

It is also interesting to note that while we don’t know how Philip’s dad really died – something to come? – he is referred to as coming from a trustworthy family whereas Elizabeth’s father was a deserter. In this relationship it was almost Philip who turned his back on his country and Elizabeth is the stauncher soldier, perhaps because she grew up with the stigma of what her dad did.Gabriel feels bad for lying to them about his reasons for going home and their other thought is that he must be sick. Instead he tells them that they don’t need him anymore as they have each other. But his guidance is valuable and the information he does divulge to Philip leads to a very big first meeting at the end of the episode. Philip sits dejected in the Camero after learning about the prison camp and tells Elizabeth that he didn’t know anything about who his parents really were. He was the most resistant about revealing their real identities to Paige and yet this is something he never got at home, which brings us to the end of “Crossbreed” and Paige meeting the closest thing to her grandfather.

Meanwhile, Henry the math genius is still very much on the outside sharing stuffed peppers – at first he thought they were gross until he realized they were pretty much cheeseburger – with Stan and talking potential girlfriends. Will this change their behavior toward their often forgotten son? Philip might be concerned that his troubled life will rub off on his pretty carefree child; there’s got to be one member of this family that isn’t plagued with guilt or doubt.

And will meeting Paige change Gabriel’s plans to return to the motherland? This moment also counts towards what I am guessing will be Frank Langella’s Emmy submission.This idea of home and how it has changed comes up between Paige and Elizabeth after seeing her reading the Marx that Pastor Tim lent her. Paige shares a similar thought to her father in that because they haven’t been home in so long then how does Elizabeth know it is still like that. There is this idea of how things have changed since they were kids; the prison camps no longer exist except we’ve seen through the treatment of Nina, Mischa Jr. and now the guy Oleg has put away that things are not fair and certain elements of mistreatment still exist. The idea of home that Elizabeth has is wrapped up in this ideology when in reality they had so little back then and now they have everything. Equality is preached by Marx and Elizabeth mentions that while there are problems in Russian society there is an element of everyone being in it together. Except for all that corruption.

Philip and Gabriel are not the only ones suffering from the things they have done and Elizabeth’s post-psychiatrist eye roll is exactly the kind of thing that covers her torment from the mission that has deeply impacted her psyche. For Philip the killing is what crushes his soul and while this also makes Elizabeth feel some kind of terrible it is what she did to Young Hee that bothers her deeply. A visit from a Mary Kay rep dredges up these usually well buried emotions and this leads to her driving to Young Hee’s house to see what her onetime BFF is doing. Except another family now live there and there’s no closure for Elizabeth or the audience; we are all left to wonder what became of this marriage but it can’t be good.In the psychiatrist session the doctor does not ask about her dreams – much to Philip’s disappointment – and instead she bases her comments in reality while scoping out the room. She discusses the mugging and I’d say this is something that isn’t playing on Elizabeth’s mind. But she isn’t at this session to get anything from it other than information and she thinks the whole process is eye roll worthy.

Elizabeth laughs off Ben’s questions about what lies beneath; she’s in fashion so she’s not that deep and she’s giving burns to the cosmetic and clothing industry all over the place this week as a way to deflect. He then teaches her the art of tai chi and this guy is a full MPDG right now. Or a real Miss America as Gabriel jokingly points out. They still have to pursue their Topeka targets as the super-wheat will be really useful to their concern about hunger. Elizabeth audibly sighs about this assignment with a simple reference that she gets this is the work while mentioning that things are different. In what is another parent like moment Elizabeth asks “Is there something wrong with me?” Gabriel responds like any father telling her never and the only thing that has changed is the status of her relationship with Philip; honey traps are no longer guilt or emotion free.Investigation wise the FBI have got their potential bite after Stan and Aderholt use the tactic of opportunity, whereas Oleg and his colleague are opting for something less fun, but just as persuasive and the parallels between Stan and Oleg keep on coming. Oleg is still unaware of Stan’s intervention and when the CIA don’t show up again he burns the tape and map on a snowy rooftop. The Americans production team has filmed some exteriors in Russia and it really pays off in how good these Oleg scenes look. No dodgy green screen here and some of the Lincoln Memorial stuff suffers from this (though not the above shot) and it is not on the Scandal level of bad Washington DC landmark CGI.

All the pieces continue to fall into place and there’s still that signature element of building tension and impending doom approaching. It wouldn’t be The Americans without it.

Outfit I Would Wear in 2017

The only Brenda we get this week is mostly naked Elizabeth, but she does look pretty smoking in just Ben’s t-shirt.Other than that Paige is giving great exaggerated sweater shoulders showing the slight shift in fashion. Yep even sweaters were shoulder pad adjacent. I think I could make it work.

Shots of the Week

The travel agency office is a small space where Philip and Elizabeth have had a lot important conversations about both work and their family. At times it has seen them at odds with each other and great distance has been felt in their positioning even when they are in such a close space. Here they are at opposite sides of the room at their own desks and at times not looking at each other, but they have never felt more in sync. This united front doesn’t have to be about physical closeness and the framing of them as Elizabeth encourages Philip to talk to the Gabriel about his father shows just how united they are.

This is Roxann Dawson’s first time behind the camera on The Americans and she crushed it.

Bowling at the FX All-Star Event with The Americans, You’re the Worst and Fargo

7 Apr

FX is having quite the year already and what better way to showcase talent than an all-star upfront bowling event. This is now a set annual tradition for FX as this is their 8th bowling outing and at Lucky Strike in New York, casts from shows such as You’re the WorstThe AmericansFargoAtlanta and Legion gathered all in the spirit of FX.

Outfit wise this means a whole lot of casual attire because bowling and then there are some stacked heels that should be going nowhere near these lanes.

The You’re the Worst cast and creator Stephen Falk give great posing with weighty balls.

A post shared by Stephen Falk (@stephenfalk) on

FX knows how to put on a shindig just as well as they make good TV if the size of Aya Cash’s beer is anything to go by.While these shoes might not be the best for this activity and look like they could easily slide off, Aya Cash’s jumpsuit is a great choice. Also her technique is going full Tom Haverford and as I found out when I last went bowling this is hit and miss. My terrible performance might have also been down to the amount of drinks we had while waiting for a lane to free up at The Gutter in Brooklyn. Also I am not a good bowler. Chris Geere gives great bowling stance. Still no bowling shoes though.We’ve seen that this is a favorite activity of the Jennings (and their covers) on The Americans and it is nice to see everyone out of the super tense environment of spy life in 1984. Also just how tall is Costa Ronin? It also looks like Henry found some Sun-In. It is really hard to write about this event without falling down an innuendo spiral (see the first photo). But what I will say is that it is nice to see Matthew Rhys with Costa Ronin as the pair have never shared a scene and probably won’t. But who knows.Great shoes for very different reasons from Margo Martindale and Keri Russell. Those heels are probably way too stacked for me – I can still love from afar – and Russell is leaning into the cool af thing she does so well at events like this mixing casual with some edge. Meanwhile I now very much want some silver Vans in my life.

Hanging at the bar is also my bowling speed (see early mention of my last bowling experience) and they’re with Christine Lahti. Lahti most recently popped up on The Good Fight as one of the many Good Wife actors who have made the jump and the depth of this guest star bench is outstanding.Ewan McGregor gives great bowling technique and he’s wearing bowling shoes. Yes he looks amazing.Jean Smart is doing that thing where you’re willing the ball to hit some pins, but in my case this doesn’t do much to help. Now I’m wondering which FX cast member is the best bowler.A couple from the red carpet and Legion’s Amber Midthunder – what a great name – will definitely need to switch out those amazing silver heels to bowl. Great dress choice that manages to swing between casual and fancy. A hooded henley is not something I’ve encountered a lot (or maybe ever?) and Atlanta’s Keith Stanfield pairs it with a great jacket and some classic Cons. Stanfield is straddling smart and casual in a way that I applaud.

The Americans 5.05 “Lotus 1-2-3” Review: This is Us

5 Apr

Missions go wrong on The Americans and innocent people have lost their lives along the way, but there has always been a big picture reason that acts as a way to placate the soul. They’re doing this to protect their country and for the people back home who are suffering. Other times it is to ensure their own safety and to keep up the cover; so when Philip’s wig was torn off at the start of season 2 and the young bus boy saw him there was only one option in Philip’s mind.

The wrong place/wrong time collateral damage has happened on numerous occasions and when they killed Randy in the lab a couple of week’s ago he was seen as being a cog in this evil famine causing machine; this death was justified by the bigger operation and his role in the war against the Russian people.Except the bugs weren’t being bred to destroy wheat abroad and instead they were part of a bigger project to create a strain of crops that is resistant to all pests. Elizabeth told Randy he should’ve asked what the bugs were for and while the outcome would’ve probably been the same – he’d seen their faces after all – there was a slim chance for survival. That is all academic now and Randy joins the long list of reasons why Philip’s soul has been shattered into tiny pieces; what makes this different from the last time he spiraled is the strength of the Jennings marriage. Back in season 2 when despair hit they had only really just got back together and there was still an element of hiding things from each other until boiling point hit.

When Elizabeth gets home from Topeka this week there’s this look of relief mixed in with happiness that she’s back. A long embrace leads to Elizabeth stealing herself to tell Philip the truth; a non-spy marriage might have this be revealing an affair, but not for this couple. Instead Elizabeth has to tell her spy partner that they got the whole bug thing backwards and this is their devastating consequences. Which means it is also time for my weekly praising of Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell for crushing things in the subtle emotional reaction department. Also the flag to the side is a nice production design touch as the only bit of bold color in the frame. The nature of their training and compartmentalizing means they will never be experts at spilling everything to each other; they’ve spent too long putting feelings into locked boxes for that. And yet “Lotus 1-2-3” shows just how far they have come as a couple who have to deal with known extra-marital affairs and the occasional death on the job.

Starting with the latter and the end of the episode as Elizabeth comes to Philip at the Eckert house (even though she doesn’t have to be there) to resolve their earlier conversation and Philip’s shattered reaction to how wrong they were about the researcher. Offering to do these kinds of things by herself as a solution is an act of kindness from Elizabeth that in the past she would’ve probably scoffed at or never even considered as an option.“It’s us, Elizabeth. It’s us” is Philip’s response; there’s no singularity anymore and despite how worn down this job has made him there is no way he is abandoning her now. Again this is very different from the Philip in the pilot who considered defecting. Claudia called Philip ‘shaky’ in relation to his patriotism and she’s correct, but there’s no one he’s more loyal to than his wife and for every second Elizabeth is still in this fight then so is he.

The issue of Mischa and how Gabriel resolved it after his chat with Claudia makes heartbreaking sense and Mischa represents the side of home that could continue to cause cracks in Philip’s beliefs about the motherland. And if Philip is impacted then so is Elizabeth. She’s still pretty all in on doing what needs to be done and yet if she was exposed to some more negative aspects this could start to shatter some of those beliefs.

Elizabeth’s eyes are open and she’s not blinded by her loyalty to country as she once was; Claudia knows that the scales are not tipped entirely in favor of the work. Of course Elizabeth still does what she is told to operation wise, but there is also resistance and questioning that didn’t exist in the past.Last week I talked about how the new honey traps are different to the ones we have seen in previous operations as their level of reluctance and how they are talking to each other about the mission at hand is in sync. Philip was quick to mention that his target is incredibly dull and while it looked like his halfhearted flirtation had little impact it turns out he is still good at the charm factor. Deirdre is all about the work and this is proving potentially fruitful with the mention of the Lotus 1-2-3 program which gives the episode its title. Sex with Deirdre is totally perfunctory and Philip also gets another memory flash from his childhood; by disassociating with the act he is doing his mind is wondering to other things.

The latter is something he brings up during Elizabeth’s checking in for no reason other than to tell her husband she misses him. This phone call is an incredibly sweet gesture from Elizabeth, which also acts as a way to reassure Philip after the conversation that ended “What’s the Matter with Kansas?” There’s no specific reason to call and at first an awkward silence fills the air before Philip mentions these memories. Identifying that food and clothes are good things turns what appears to be like desperate times (which they still are) into a positive interpretation and I have a feeling this is not the last time we will be seeing flashes from Philip’s childhood.Things are going well between Elizabeth and Ben; he’s pretty open about what he does and he seems like a decent guy overall. He cooks, he’s well traveled, he’s not selfish in the bedroom – giving Elizabeth time to scope out his room through her moans – and he wants to save the world. But there has to be something else going on, right?

Another person who seems pretty perfect is Renee and because of this Philip thinks she must be someone they’ve sent to spy on Stan. Poor Stan. He is less forthcoming about his work than Ben is and Renee’s questions could be more red herring than red flag. However I am more inclined to believe Philip’s line of thought as he’s given a lot of detailed reports on Stan to the Centre.

Plus the operation Stan and Aderholt are running is currently a frustration and yet you can bet it is going to transect with what Philip and Elizabeth are doing. But at least Oleg has been left alone by the CIA (for now) even if he has to contend with his parents setting him up with not one, but three dinners dates (at the same time).In fact I would say “Lotus 1-2-3” is the best episode of season 5 so far – and one which was directed by Noah Emmerich – as the threads are coming together and the tension continues to build. There is also some levity among the devastation as the meeting at Henry’s school is to talk about how well he is doing. It might be the one time both Philip and Elizabeth fail at giving good poker face and they can’t hide their surprise beneath their wide eyes and splutters. They just figured he’s been messing around and when they talk to Henry about how happy they are he pretty much whatevers them and mentions that of course Paige is the smart one. As a the younger sibling I very much identify with Henry in this moment and later on Paige has an insecure moment about her brother’s surprising academic achievement. Maybe they want to be training Henry up too.

Also it is a concern that they’re underestimating Henry so much and I am convinced that he is going to find out something about their real identity before the season is over.

There’s a lot of son action this week including the one who has traveled across the world only to be told that he can’t see his father because it is too dangerous. Somehow I don’t think this is the last we have seen from Mischa. Tuan is continuing to do good work, but there is an element of him wanting company from his fake parents. Plus Philip brings him McDonald’s (old foam boxes and all). He’s good at reading situations and knows to make himself scarce when Elizabeth unexpectedly turns up.So while their Topeka operations are hit and miss at the moment, they’re doing good things as the Eckerts as Alexei’s wife Evgheniya has now got a job teaching Russian at the Department of Agriculture. This was a case of Elizabeth giving good poker face as she gently gave Evgheniya positive reinforcement about going for this job while knowing what a goldmine this could be for them.And in other relationship news, Paige is finding it hard to be with Matthew and she plays this off to him as being scared as he’s her first proper boyfriend. While eating Chinese leftovers with her dad she goes deeper telling him that she thought Matthew would be a respite from her “garbage life” but that hasn’t proven to be the case; if Philip wasn’t already feeling terrible about their impact then this really hammers it home.

Cause and effect; so many consequences and the plates keep on getting stacked. Soon they’re gonna topple and when they do at least they will have each other and that double “It’s us” is an incredibly powerful statement.

Outfit I Would Wear in 2017 Pretty much everything Brenda and my obsession with her black/grey/white look continues. I wish we could see more of the coat/striped sweater in the phone box scene as this is a full heart eyes outfit.

The Americans 5.04 “What’s the Matter with Kansas?” Review: Meet Cute

29 Mar

It has been a long time since Philip and Elizabeth had a new honey trap mission on The Americans and in “What’s the Matter with Kansas?” they both get to give their seduction skills a workout with varying results.

There is reluctance from both husband and wife when Gabriel gives them their objectives at the start of the episode and each comes up reasons as to why this is very bad timing; the travel to Kansas, how intense things are with Paige, their other ongoing operations. And while Gabriel has been accommodating in the past to their calls for space and time, this is not one of those occasions and it is full steam ahead.
Philip is particularly reluctant and his heart really doesn’t seem in the flirting game. He gives it a good go though and the gym has proven to be a great dating ground for others recently (see Stan and he’s already at the double date stage). Deirdre does give Gus Alexander his number, but is pretty non-committal when Philip rings to make a dinner date. There’s the work excuse as she seems pretty invested in her job, but there’s also the Philip factor of not being quite as effective as he tends to be in this arena.

Maybe he’s out of practice and his most recent new mark before Deirdre was Kimmy and he was even less enthusiastic about that one. Martha was long term and that started just prior to the new phase of the Jennings marriage where pretending turned into reality and the same goes for Annalise. Maybe Philip just doesn’t have it in him anymore

The marriage at the heart of the story is stronger than ever; they are on the same page when it comes to Paige (I’ll get my coat) and this is evident in how in sync they are with their similar reactions to Paige’s snooping at Pastor Tim’s. When talking about this new operation there is reinforcement from both about how reluctant they are. Philip jokes about how he might die of boredom with Deirdre (although this could also be good deflection if he strikes out) and Elizabeth brings Philip a gift from the plane. A drink that another guy bought her, but she made sure he knew who she would be giving it to.Philip waits up for Elizabeth to get back from Topeka and one thing the Americans does very well is use spaces throughout the home for these intimate moments. Even if the outside still looks like a looming house of horrors, inside it is nothing but warmth.

This is also where this show excels at the marriage aspects and despite the overall content of their conversation being very different from the average “How was your day?” back and forth this is very much a husband/wife chat. Along with the miniature bottle gift, Elizabeth tells Philip that her guy is “full of himself” and doesn’t go into much detail beyond the hiking date she has set up. Even without mentioning how hot he is (he is very hot, hello beard) Philip’s jaw clenches in a way that would suggest just how unhappy he is with this whole scenario. This is also time for my weekly praising of how good Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys are at saying so much with just their faces.

Other than the hotel manager in season 3 it has been a long time since Elizabeth engaged in some extended extra-martial spy seduction shenanigans. The whole Don set up was faked and all of her other recent operations have been friendship based. Post-end of season 1 reconciliation the only other honey traps Elizabeth has been a part of were during season 2 and this is ground they haven’t had to cover while their marriage has been this strong. It clearly makes Philip jealous and his comments about her liking this new guy after she mentioned that he’s funny are met with a stern rebuttal and this previous scene from season 1 would work wonders here as a response.

Instead of getting angry she instead points to the big picture of the why they are doing this and how she actually feels about Ben. Those jokes are something she has to laugh all while he is trying to starve their country.

Earlier in the episode Philip quips “Think we’re going to get fired” and she points out to him that this isn’t funny (he knows) so the mention of Ben’s humorous qualities strikes a nerve that is already frayed. This is tension that hasn’t been felt since the Martha stuff came to a head mid last season and with all they are doing right now it isn’t surprising that emotions are high even if they are both experts in control.Elizabeth’s meet cute at the health food store is way more successful than Philip’s lukewarm gym attempt and Elizabeth plays the awkward clumsy girl to perfection. Not only does Ben get to show off his knowledge of all things health food, but he also gets to play the hero sweeping in to help with the dispenser she purposefully can’t quite figure out how to use. Elizabeth works the ego element well – all the while a store worker awkwardly sweeps up – and her look as Brenda might be my favorite yet. Yes even more so than Patty last season.

Brenda works in fashion selling women’s clothes and her look is more edgy than Patty’s. It’s all about the various blacks and this is Elizabeth’s first foray into acid wash denim territory; a hard look to pull off and of course Keri Russell does just that. The shorter black bob looks cute on her and the glasses are not quite the full ’80s covering half your face horror show that Philip’s guy is wearing (which I actually love).

After a fun hiking date, Elizabeth goes back to Ben’s and before things go too far she makes her excuses to leave; she has him on the hook and wanting more. There’s also a sense that she’s doing this not only for the mission, but because of the complicated emotions at play. Or maybe Elizabeth is just better at separating the work from her marriage, even if her marriage is intrinsically entwined with her work. In the same way Elizabeth felt insecure about Martha, Philip is leaning into this state and she shuts him down pretty effectively at the end of “What the Matter with Kansas?”Paige also gets let in on some of the aspects of this mission after she asks about their separate time away. Elizabeth is vague on details explaining that sometimes they have to work sources on their own. She asks about her cover name and profession and is rightly weirded out by the thought of her mom pretending to be someone else. If only she knew the whole story and then her mind would be really blown. In this sharing session Paige also reveals she found Pastor Tim’s diary while she was babysitting. Elizabeth is more concerned than proud as she points out that Paige could easily slip up and act different if she was even almost caught in the act. This is the same point Philip makes and there is worrying amount of cavalier attitude with Paige as she points out to her mother that she wasn’t there.

Not to completely shit on her achievement and Elizabeth does call her brave and smart for finding it; later she also raises the point that there might actually be something useful in the diary to use against Pastor Tim and Paige is very much her mother’s daughter. Blackmail is very much a central theme in the other major thread this week with Stan finally figuring out what he can use as leverage against the CIA and that’s public embarrassment. He threatens to go to the press about that time he gave Vlad a burger and then shot him in the back of the head, but is it too late? Aderholt gave him the idea after he mentioned a very successful operation in which blackmail was used and everyone came out a winner. This is not something that typically happens on The Americans and all’s well doesn’t tend to end well.Oleg is deep in his investigation and this one also uses weak spots to exploit for the so-called good of the country. He’s not really into this line of reasoning and he wants to find another way and this further reinforces the idea that he’s not that different from Stan. Except he thinks Stan has betrayed him and he tells his mother about his big dilemma.

So far we have only seen her as a weeping mess, but this week we get to see an entirely different side to Oleg’s mother. Unknown to him and before Oleg was born his mother was sent to a camp for five years. She explains that she survived by doing what she had to and now he should do the same.In other son news Henry is now really tall and delivering on teen sass. He’s pissed that his mom doesn’t put enough jam on his toast and instead of simply putting on more he throws it in the trash; a very significant point considering how much food or the lack of is at play this season. Henry is also in trouble at school and Elizabeth thinks his old friend Doug is actually code for a girlfriend. Just who is he on the phone to for hours? Meanwhile the other son makes his dangerous trip across the border and arrives at JFK. I figured Mischa’s travels would take a lot longer than that and the speed of his venture is welcome rather than dragging it out.

Philip goes for a beer with Alexei and is far more successful with him than his other mark. They talk about how everyone sees Alexei as a genius here as he’s giving them a lot of information about Russian infrastructure. Alexei notes how similar the two countries are in terms of land and yet how backward they are with their methods. This plays into the discussion in the motel room last week and there’s a push/pull at play between the very real things that are wrong with the corrupt system at home and loyalty to country.

Outfit I Would Wear in 2017

I don’t think I can pull off acid wash, but I would definitely give this jacket and those glasses a go. A+ costume work from Katie Irish and her team. Looking forward to more Brenda.

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