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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.

Felicity Flashback

Halloween on Felicity was an early look at how good Keri Russell looks with a short bob.

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The Americans 5.03 “The Midges” Review: Even Cowboys Get the Blues

22 Mar

When Philip and Elizabeth first told Paige their big spy secret towards the end of season 3 of The Americans they left out a lot of the details about what they did. How do you explain to your teenage daughter that not only are you a Russian spy, but that you also pretend to be other people to get the information your country requires?

This is already a confusing and difficult conversation and let’s not even consider the ramifications if Paige found out about all the other stuff they do all in the name of their country.Everything changed when Paige saw her mother act in self defense and kill a man in front of her; while she had already figured out that the breadcrumb details she was given didn’t tell the whole story, this was a real eye opener. The questions they keep on coming and by dating an FBI agent’s son Paige has put herself in an even more precarious position from an emotional point of view. Dealing with parents who are spies is one thing and throwing in all of these first boyfriend feelings just makes things even more complicated.

If I was talking about vampires on The Vampire Diaries I would be throwing around the phrase “heightened emotions” and this is exactly what Paige is experiencing. But instead of learning that she can live forever, Paige has found out that her parents are nothing like your regular mom and dad.

The reason why Paige confronted them in the first place was because she could sense that something was off with their behavior and by withholding they are still keeping her at an arm’s length. Of course there are things they can’t reveal and aspects such as sleeping with assets would not be the best way of keeping her on side. Or the fact that they have destroyed lives (see Young Hee and Martha *sob*) and killed a lot of people in the process. If Paige thinks it is gross lying to people with ease, can you image is she knew how often her parents have to resort to bullets and back breaking as a way to protect their identity/work.The latter happens at the end of “The Midges” after their investigation at the lab is interrupted by someone who works there. Another case of ‘wrong place, wrong time’ and Randy gets added to this growing list which also includes security guards, guys returning for a left behind wallet and delivery drivers. Randy at first attempts to lie about his position at the lab and while he’s high up, he also doesn’t know a whole lot about why they are breeding this type of pest. The information he does give shows that this is linked to Stan’s investigation and the FBI and KGB are going to be crossing paths again soon. As Elizabeth informs him “You should’ve asked.”

Philip has a bad track record with the cowboy hat and the last time this was part of his disguise his wig got ripped off and another innocent bystander paid the price. This time it is a double team effort and despite being much shorter than Randy, Philip and Elizabeth easily intimidate him. First Elizabeth hits him from behind against the glass and then she pushes him toward Philip who quickly ends things by breaking his back. Pretty fucked up date night and when Philip mentions telling Paige about this aspect of their work it is a super dark joke I was not expecting, but considering how much terrible stuff they have done as part of their job it isn’t surprising that morbid humor is the way to go. It is either that or go to the dark place that Philip has been circling since season 2. And I’m not even sure Philip intends it to be funny.It is his idea to tell Paige about what their current operation is because it clearly shows Russia as the victim; attacking food supply and starving a country is something Paige will understand as bad. What they also do is reveal part of their cover telling her about having fake identities while leaving out their fake son. They mention that they are pretending to be a pilot and flight attendant and how hard it can be. Throughout this scene Elizabeth looks pleased that they are sharing this with their daughter and there is a sense of pride that they can talk openly with her about this stuff. Well, not entirely and as with Elizabeth’s later conversation with Paige she talks about the importance of not sharing everything.

Not that Elizabeth is maybe the best at giving romantic advice considering how closed off things were with Philip when we first met them. They are of course a lot better at sharing with each other than they have ever been, but because of the nature of their arrangement and how they had to compartmentalize their original lives there is always going to be some aspect of holding back. They’re experts in emotional manipulation and yet they are often stumped at how to deal with their own feelings.

Communication has vastly improved and there is no one better than having a conversation without saying a word than Philip and Elizabeth; they say so much to each other in their glances and this is a point I could make on a weekly basis (and probably do) as Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell are so good at saying so much without saying anything at all. This brings me to the scene in the motel room where Elizabeth recognizes how much the weight of what they are doing is burdening Philip’s soul.

Targeting food has brought up a whole lot of shit about his childhood and as we saw in the very brief flashback as Philip stares into the bathroom mirror his upbringing was not an easy one and the thought of anyone going through that again back home is too much to think about. Philip ponders on the notion of why can’t they grow enough grain to not have to rely on the US when home looks similar to the fields of Oklahoma.So when Elizabeth turns on the radio and “Old Flame” by Alabama plays, she takes this as a moment to distract him from the big picture stuff. Plus they have time to kill and she takes the cowboy hat part of his disguise first wearing it herself making a joke about being queen of the rodeo and then places it on his head.

Instant thoughts of Philip in the pilot giving great embarrassing dad while dancing in the department store wearing cowboy boots and in the past Elizabeth has mocked him for liking this part of American life. Here she does the opposite and in an incredibly romantic moment she sees his hunched over sadness and turns this into a fantasy moment for him; she places the hat on his head and they slow dance to the song. For a moment everything else gets blocked out and it is just them in this motel room. It is also the first time I’ve realized just how tiny Keri Russell is height wise as in the wide shot you can see she is on bare foot tippy toes. But real life is coming for them and later these disguises turn from romance to just another day of an operation not quite going to plan and someone else paying the price.

Philip and Elizabeth’s relationship instantly improved when they were finally open with each other and the same can now be said for how they are with Paige; even if this burden is huge and it comes with a new set of worries. Those worries do not extend to where exactly Henry is and I have a feeling that Henry’s absence is going to bite them in some way this season. All of their focus is on Paige and Henry is getting the classic teen son in a prestige drama treatment right now. Chris Brody says hi BTW.

Meanwhile, Philip’s other son continues his long journey to meet his papa stopping off at an address in Yugoslavia where he finds his contact has been arrested and so the cost of crossing the border into Austria has gone up. Oh, Mischa.

And while we’re over in that part of the world; Oleg has started his corruption investigation while also finding out that he really should’ve gone to that secret meeting. Now he has a tape of the conversation with Stan and a map and it looks like Stan is not the one behind this attempted contact as I suspected. When Oleg walks through the supermarket with its barely stocked shelves – despite all the amazing produce out back – the camera lingers on someone looking at a can. It is none other than Martha! I’m very excited to see Alison Wright again. Will she somehow cross paths with Oleg?

All the pieces are slowly coming together and as crisis looms the Jennings family could be getting even closer – well, not Henry – but at what cost?

Outfit I Would Wear in 2017Very much in love with Elizabeth’s plaid jacket and considering my go to outerwear at the moment is a red and black Levi’s jacket this comes as no surprise. Great sweater game from Elizabeth this week in a purple turtleneck and the teal number you can see below.

Felicity Flashback

This isn’t Keri Russell’s first rodeo.

Bonus Wig Cave!

I love it when we see their place of disguise prep so I was very pleased to see their post Tuan dropping off changing back from Dee and Brad to Philip and Elizabeth.

Bonus Song Choice!

The musical moment of the episode is quite clearly the country slow dance, but I was also thrilled to hear the dreamy Roxy Music’s “More Than This” playing over the opening bowling scene and as things go to shit at the lab and they have to clear up their mess. It is also interesting to note that while this plays Philip goes to check on the woman keeping watch – their Hans replacement? – to make sure she was okay after seeing them bring out the body. She says she is, but the look as she sees them with her would suggest otherwise.

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

15 Mar

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Outfit I Would Wear in 2017

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

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

The Americans 5.01 “Amber Waves” Review: Protect Yourself

8 Mar

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

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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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

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

Outfit I Would Wear in 2017


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

The Americans Season 5 Key Art and Dining in Disguises

15 Feb

The Americans returns next month and talk has already centered on the very different political landscape we’re now experiencing than when the show debuted in 2013. Season 5 might be set in 1984, but right now The Americans seems more and more relevant and it will be interesting to see how/if this alters the viewing experience and how the creative team/stars will discuss these aspects while promoting the new season.

For now we can let the series of trailers FX has released focusing on “Best Show on TV” aspects (I concur) speak for themselves, about what we can expect from season 5 and if they are any indication then somehow the tension and stakes are going to be raised even further.

The first full promo focuses on Paige and how she is being brought further into the family business with self defense classes from her mother and the boyfriend who happens to be the son of Philip’s FBI Agent bestie. And here’s another of Philip and Elizabeth in full disguise playing a different couple at dinner discussing how they got together.

You will never suspect them. Beware of #TheAmericans when the new season premieres March 7 on @fxnetworks.

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Now for the key art and every season takes on a new color palette. This is no exception and it is as bold as it is fabulous.img_0606A color scheme that will standout on billboards/taxis/buses/subway stations and as per co-showrunner Joel Fields the inspiration behind this season 5 poster comes from Rosie the Riveter.

Yellow is such a striking and often ignored color when it comes to marketing unless there is something that points to the sun in the title; see It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless MindLittle Miss SunshineOr if the main characters are also this color; see Minions.

Combining it with two other primary colors is an immediate way to take notice and it is also somewhat jarring visually using such a cheery palette for a show that is this steeped in darkness. But it is also super effective and like a lot of Americans artwork it does read as propaganda and techniques from both countries have been utilized over the last five years (hence Rosie).

There is a sense of unity here and it is impressive that the FX marketing department has found ways of bringing out something different each year – season 2 is still my fave – even though it is always just Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys that feature on these posters.

This also strikes me as a smart idea as rather than throw in Paige training or Stan lurking there is always a sense that at the center of The Americans it is Philip and Elizabeth as spies and husband and wife.

Guns tend to feature making sure you never forget the nature of their work and there is always a sense of unity between them. Here in his hand clasped around her wrist – wedding band clearly on display – which could read as an act of control, but we know this to be sign of togetherness/partnership and their unbreakable bond. Plus Elizabeth is the one holding the gun.

To hammer (accidental USSR related pun) this point home they are dressed in matching blue and the blue of their eyes has been enhanced to complete this mirroring/togetherness. And even though they were physically apart in the final scene of the season 4 the look they share and everything that came before it reinforces just how strong they are as a unit. As does this poster.

The Americans returns Tuesday, March 7 on FX.

 

 

The Americans Season 5 Trailer: Gonna Need a Training Montage

8 Feb

The Americans returns for season 5 next month and somehow things look tenser than ever before. I don’t know how they manage this every year, but the threat levels look higher and also there is some training to be done.

After seeing her mother take out two dudes – including killing one of them – at the end of last season Paige has even more questions about what her parents do and she’s ready to help with the family business. This includes her relationship with Matthew Beeman in The Americans version of Romeo and Juliet and getting self-defense lessons from her mother.

The net continues to close in around Philip and Elizabeth and there is concern that their position is more precarious than ever. Here is the trailer and the ticking clock does a very good job of setting my frayed Americans nerves on fire. Great music timing with the punches too.

Prepare for the all new season of TV's most acclaimed drama. #TheAmericans returns March 7 on @fxnetworks.

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And here is my breakdown of some notable moments.img_0460Henry is still excluded from all important family conversations for obvious reasons. Costume wise Elizabeth is back to silk blouses and not worrying about hiding Keri Russell’s IRL pregnancy. Philip still does dad sweaters better than anyone.img_0488Disguise cave! It is always fun to take a sneak look at their getting ready process and even more so when they’re discussion domestic issues. Philip has concerns with regards to Paige and I don’t blame him tbh.img_0489Maybe all Stan needs is some red string to connect the dots. Or the Carrie Mathison color coding method.img_0466Mischa Jr. is coming! His voyage to the US is far from first class with the trunk of a car providing the non-luxury conditions. I had to double check this wasn’t Matthew Rhys so good casting guys!img_0486Philip and Elizabeth tend to have their most intimate conversations in the bathroom (for anyone who has read my teen TV pieces they will know how happy this makes me) and Philip is also great at miming the clusterfuck they are now in.img_0490Getting every Buffy/Alias training montage vibe.img_0491If this was 2017 Paige would probably be wearing an Ivy Park hoodie. As it is 1984 she is in ESprit. And it is also worth noting her cross necklace is still on display.img_0492A very proud mama.img_0501Stan has very strong concerns about Oleg’s safety as he is still giving the FBI information and this is probably wrapped up in the fact that he already got one informant killed. Oleg looks every level stressed. img_0478This is a tad on the blurry side as this shot is very quick, but here are two new disguises. The last time Philip wore a hat like that it did not go wellimg_0494A gentle stroll in the park or really a difference in opinion about Philip and Elizabeth; Claudia thinks that nothing scares them, Gabriel believes the opposite.

Considering how broken they were at the midpoint last season I am definitely inclined to side with Gabriel on this one.img_0495They definitely just did something bad. Bonus points for the eerie mist and pensive stares.img_0496A brief look at the new flight themed disguises which debuted in Entertainment Weekly at the end of last year.img_0498And I am always thrilled to see Elizabeth in huge frames.

The Americans returns Tuesday, March 7 on FX.

 

Best of TV Costuming 2016: The Americans, Vulnerability and the Jennifer Disguise

14 Dec

Welcome to TV Ate My Wardrobe’s “Best of 2016” costume series and rather than doing a straightforward countdown we’re going to do a variety of posts that look at which costumes and shows have made a huge impact this year. From items we want in our own wardrobe to pieces that got everyone talking; we want to celebrate the work of television’s best costume designers.

Kicking off with the show which would be top of my list (and has been for the last few years) and The Americans continues the impossible task of somehow getting even better each season and upping the stakes/tension levels. In previous end of year essays about this show we have discussed wigs, the marriage disguise and the act of removing and revealing the truth.

This year is a combination of all of those things as we take a closer look at costume designer Katie Irish’s work with a focus on Elizabeth Jennings, the Jennifer disguise and where we find her at the mid-point of season 4 in the episode “Travel Agents.” 

Performance wise it doesn’t get much better than what Keri Russell, Matthew Rhys and Alison Wright are doing this season (and the ones before) and this episode showcases the best of this very complicated dynamic.

the-americans-4-07The implications of Philip removing his Clark cover in the penultimate episode of season 3 (discussed in detail here) are huge; for whom Philip and Elizabeth are as partners in both the professional and personal. By showing his real face he risks the identities they have crafted and lived over twenty years and this act could be read as one of betrayal. It doesn’t help matters that Elizabeth finds out what Philip did when she turns up at the safe house all dressed up as Jennifer (Clark’s sister) – lovely Jenny – and sees her husband without his disguise on.

What he did was an in the moment choice, but he could’ve at least given her a heads up rather than reveal it in this bombshell manner. Three weeks is a long time to be sitting on this secret and Philip’s sheepish reaction is very much their version of getting caught in the act.

Without Clark, Jennifer is nothing and it becomes apparent to Martha that their relationship is definitely not brother and sister; but the Jennifer disguise stays on because they can’t risk her face being seen by someone who has no love or loyalty toward her. It is a humiliating moment for Elizabeth and not just because the Jennifer cover isn’t entirely flattering.jennifer-the-americansAs the seasons have progressed Elizabeth’s tough exterior remains tough, but through falling in actual love with her arranged suitor she has become emotionally vulnerable and the Martha situation brings all these feelings of jealousy to the surface. This isn’t a conventional love triangle and the last time Elizabeth showed outward signs of Martha curiosity/envy was back in season 2 when Martha referred to Clark’s bedroom prowess (not a good conversation point with a sibling or as it turns out in this case his wife) and yet this is about more than just sex. They have both slept with so many other people as part of their job and this goes much deeper than that.

Sex does play a role and it is a form of communication when the words are hard to find or speak; Elizabeth does attempt to stamp her position as wife (and give them both a much needed release) and yet there is a nagging feeling that can’t be subdued.

The thing about the Jennifer look is that she is meant to be unassuming and like a lot of the spy costumes she is meant to be unmemorable. The glasses swap her face and her clothing is pretty ‘Plain Jane’ and she is very much the original Barb. These granny frames are all kinds of endearing, however there is no glamour here; which is in strong contrast to Elizabeth’s other main cover from this season as the super ’80s stylish Patty. The Americans 4.08 Young Hee and ElizabethAlso RIP to this look as Patty ‘killed herself’ and I am looking forward to whatever new creations costume designer Kate Irish comes up with for the forthcoming season (check out Irish’s Instagram for shots of her research and more BTS from The Americans).the-americans-4-07-travel-agentsSo not only does Elizabeth have to watch her de-wigged husband interact with this woman who he also calls his wife, but she has to do so all while dressed in a confidence crushing appearance (Keri Russell talks about the Jennifer disguise as part of 92Y Americans panel and explains that it is a “little rough” on her self-esteem).

Plus she gets questions like this from Martha “Are you sleeping with my husband?” and rather than go for an “Actually” truth response she takes the much easier road of lying to prevent a figurative gut punch. Quickly followed by a literal one.The Americans 4.07 ElizabethEmotional devastation comes in many forms over the course of this season and The Americans level of romance isn’t one coated in chocolates and flowers. However as a show about marriage it nails the ups and downs of romantic love with Elizabeth uncharacteristically laying out her fears for Philip to see, all while dressed as Clark’s sister Jenny. She is so exposed and it doesn’t matter that her mane of hair is stuffed in that wig (another amazing feat).

The glasses are removed because you don’t want to have a conversation like this with half your faced covered, but the wig and ill fitting pink coat remains (the coat and layers is pure Jennifer, but also act as an IRL bump concealer). Elizabeth poses a hypothetical question where she wonders if Philip would go with Martha if he could; she dreads he’ll say yes because he wants the easier life with a more emotionally available woman, but of course this couldn’t be further from how Philip actually feels and he responds with a hint of confused anger at such a thought.

So much gets said with a look and one of The Americans’ strengths is economy of words; this scene delivers on the complexities of this marriage, how hard it is to show this level of vulnerability and how you can be mad that the person you love could even consider such a thought. Ending with a passionate embrace as Elizabeth still clutches her glasses and the realization that he needs to stay cements what we already knew; these two are made for each other and there is no hypothetical situation Philip would be happy with that doesn’t involve his wife. The first one.The Americans 4.08 argumentIt is also fun viewing this scene in juxtaposition to the very honest marriage discussion (okay screaming match) in the following episode. Here Philip is reassuring his wife that this is the life he wants and she is the one he loves, cut to their big hallway blowout which brings up the names of betrayals and former lovers they haven’t forgotten. The Martha situation is a sticky one, but this has nothing on Gregory or Irina. No wigs or glasses present in this trip down romantic rival memory lane.

This episode directed by Matthew Rhys is the best of the season, but this scene in “Travel Agents” is the one which is the true standout for me; the fact that it involves Elizabeth dressed as Jennifer answering a question she won’t be able to take back and Philip is so emphatic with his answer underscores how good every level of The Americans is from the acting, writing, directing to the costuming and hair/makeup.

Watch the scene below and The Americans returns for season 5 next year and if I had to guess I’d say March again, but I’m sure we’ll find out the date next month during TCA.

For more essays on The Americans by me in other places from 2016 check out:

Big Coats, New Disguises: Secrets From ‘The Americans’ Costume Designer

Personality Crisis: How ‘The Americans’ and ‘Orphan Black’ Blur Identity

Born to Run: What TV Characters Reveal While Working Up a Sweat

‘The Americans’: Motherhood, the Motherland, and Elizabeth Jennings

How ‘The Americans’ Portrayal of Teenagers Puts Other Dramas to Shame

‘Stranger Things,’ ‘The Americans,’ and Why Cold War Fears Are Making a Comeback

An Evening with The Americans: Panel Highlights

31 Oct

The Americans has just started shooting its penultimate season, but it won’t be back for at least a few months. To fill the wig and complicated relationship void showrunners Joe Weisberg and Joel Fields joined stars Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys at the 92nd Street Y as part of The Hollywood Reporter’s TV Talks panel series to discuss all things The Americans.

Regular readers will know how much I enjoy a good panel/roundtable (movie award season is coming!) and as this one has the bonus of being about my favorite show.the-americans-panelWeisberg and Fields are both very cautious when revealing anything that could be considered a spoiler so if you want some season 5 secrets then you might be disappointed. Instead what follows is a fascinating chat about the process of making this show from a writing and acting standpoint. It is also very funny at times with Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys displaying the kind of back and forth ease/humor that you would hope to expect from an IRL couple.

This includes Rhys joking about how he directed Russell during her big Paige confrontation scene in “The Magic of David Copperfield V: The Statue of Liberty Disappears” explaining that it was a “very simple scene to direct because Keri was pregnant at the time, so I just said pretend like you’re talking to me.” He also made Holly Taylor cry for real during this scene and he seems to feel very bad about this.

One of the most revealing aspects of this scene discussion was the behind the scenes debate in the editing room about whether to CGI out the vein which grew more inflamed on Russell’s face as Elizabeth’s anger at Paige increased. Joel Fields fought the corner of keeping it as it was and Russell loved that her face naturally looked like this as “You’re mad. Why would I want to be a pretty version of that? Like I want to be mad, but I want to be pretty.”

Russell also mentions that she understood why this conversation took place; “In everyone’s defense they were just trying to protect me.” It really is a stunning moment and physical performance from Keri Russell’s face parts so I am thrilled they didn’t alter it in post.matthew-rhys-and-keri-russellWhile talking about what it is like to work with the person you also go home with Rhys a little hesitantly at first takes the lead referring to the duality of it all “it’s amazing and it’s difficult. And it’s challenging and exciting. It’s everything.” And that so far they seem to be getting away with it.

One of the answers that surprised some of the audience was when Rhys responded to ‘Did Philip love Martha?’ with a quick “no.” In the way he played it (and I read it) his feelings for her were intrinsically linked to guilt rather than love and there is an aspect of caring, but not being in love. There were lots of Martha questions from the audience – all audience Qs should be done on cards as it really speeds up the process – and she is an important character.

Of course this being Joe Weisberg and Joel Fields they didn’t reveal whether they have plans to bring her back. The only new S5 info was that Philip and Elizabeth would have some different operations to deal with as most of their old ones wrapped up in S4. And there are some theories from the actors about how they would like to see the show wrap up including a dramatic interpretation by Matthew Rhys that has him going out in a blaze of glory.

It wouldn’t be an Americans panel without a little bit of wig/disguise chat and Russell and Rhys were asked to name their favorite disguise the other has worn. This resulted in a Margo Martindale anecdote that is worth clicking on the link below (and comes just before the hour mark).

Praise for Holly Taylor (and whether she has a real tattoo or not) was scattered throughout and how the Paige reveal scene is one of the hardest they have ever shot as it was a lot more heartbreaking on a personal level than Russell expected. This also allows Rhys to gift us with a Monty Python impression and for how serious this show is the set life sure sounds like a lot of fun.

 

Watch the whole panel here (and click ahead to 9 minutes in if you want to skip the clips).

The Americans 4.13 “Persona Non Grata” Review: Auspicious Beginnings

9 Jun

Home or the idea of returning back to Russia has been humming away in the background throughout season 4 of The Americans as the risks keeping stacking up and the chance of getting caught increases with every move. Gabriel tells Elizabeth and Philip that they have always been in danger and yet when they get this offer to return home they are both stunned into silence rather than action.

At the start of the year when Philip’s inner voice was telling him to “run, run, run” he knew this wasn’t an option because Elizabeth didn’t feel the same way and even with everything that is going on with William’s arrest, Pastor Tim and managing Paige there is still something holding them back. The Americans 4.13 Elizabeth and PhilipWe’ve found out a lot more this season about Philip and Elizabeth’s origin story; the places they grew up and the hardships they faced. Elizabeth tells Philip about her Smolensk chat with Paige and her wistful pondering about how much has changed. Philip is far less romantic about the state of home suggesting that it probably isn’t that much different from how they left it; despite this slight rebuttal it is a really nice moment between the pair as they contemplate their home that once was.

Everything about Russia in the present is an abstract to them and later on as they contemplate Gabriel’s offer they both struggle to picture their kids in the USSR, which is hardly surprising considering just how American they both are. Paige underscored a lot of the issues a couple of weeks ago when Russia was on the table with the language being a primary concern. Despite their loyalty to their country they are accustomed to this American way of life and the idea of moving is hard to fathom; what exactly will they do when they get home?The Americans 4.13 Paige and ElizabethPhilip and Elizabeth are not the only ones who the Motherland is calling back for one reason or another and they might end with Oleg and Arkady as seatmates. Oleg is choosing to return to his family because his mother is still in a bad way after the death of his brother and he is told twice in “Persona Non Grata” that he is a good son. First by Arkady, then by Tatiana. The pull of America has always been strong for Oleg and as with Philip there are certain pop culture and lifestyle aspects he is drawn to.

Unlike Philip, Oleg had a comfortable upbringing and lived in relative wealth but when he returns he will also have to find a position for himself in a place with fewer resources. Arkady’s reasons for departing are not his own and he is given 48-hours to leave thanks to what happened to Gaad. Even though there is no proof he had anything to do with the hotel room tragedy Gaad’s replacement still has the sway to get him kicked out. Perhaps we will see Oleg and Arkady working together from Russia next season. Here’s hoping as both characters are vital to the Russian portion of The Americans.The Americans 4.13 Oleg and TatianaThere is someone who will be making the trip from the Motherland to the United States as Philip’s other son Mischa is on the hunt for his American travel agent dad. We first meet Mischa locked up in an institution because he has been saying some anti-Soviet things about the war in Afghanistan; a war he fought in. Luckily for Mischa he has some powerful friends and his release is secured and he heads to his grandfather’s home.

Irina’s father has a low key looking Jason Bourne package of passports and money for him from his mother and it turns out Irina is also in prison. She ran, but they don’t know why. We learn that Mischa’s grandfather didn’t meet Philip, but he did see him with Irina once and they looked happy; this idea of auspicious beginnings runs throughout this Americans finale in a season which has been looking back and dealing with consequences.

EST has helped Philip explore his feelings about this line of work and it is worth noting that this season began with a vital moment in Philip’s journey; the explosive act of violence at the age of 10 that sent him down the path he is now on. The versions of his stories are of course edited and yet the feelings are still the same. So in the first one the bully moved away rather than “oh I killed him” and this week we see him telling the group about how much he hates his job as a travel agent, but can’t quit. The sentiment is still the same as he describes the ‘sick feeling’ in the pit of his stomach that he experiences every morning and how he has commitments and responsibilities to the people he loves. The Americans 4.13 Philip and ElizabethThe difference between most careers and the one line of work Philip has found himself in is how consuming it is; he isn’t just a KGB agent from 9-5 and this job is his entire life. It is why he married Elizabeth and had two children and his family and work are forever entwined. So while the EST coach suggests that he can quit, it is far from the simple “you ain’t that important.”

Philip also focuses on this idea of picking a job before you know who you are and while Elizabeth has remained steadfast and unquestioning of her commitment Philip has long been staring into the abyss. Gabriel notes his heart hasn’t been in it for a long time (while highlighting Elizabeth’s length of service as a way to get her to quit) and despite his reservations there is no way Philip is quitting without Elizabeth.The Americans 4.13Change and the way things can turn in an instant is something Philip has long been concerned with; when they were fighting about Paige getting pulled into this world Philip argued that something always changes and he doubles down on this sentiment here. Over the last four years we have tracked these changes with the most significant coming in the central relationship as they have fallen in love for real – or rather Elizabeth fell in love with Philip because he was already there – and the impact this has had on everything.

Their relationship is unique in this world which seems to drive everyone else into being alone; Gabriel discussed this last week with Philip and all season we have seen William watch Philip and Elizabeth with a mixture of wonder and envy. William ends up in the custody of the FBI, but before he is caught he infects himself with the Lassa virus sample that he was going to pass onto Philip. The KGB has no idea that William has sacrificed himself in this manner and the concern for the Jennings cover comes directly from William’s capture.The Americans 4.13 Stan and AderholtAs with Philip we get to hear about William’s changing opinion about the job he took on years ago; at first it was exciting and this commitment to something drove him. William also talks about being invisible and how special this made him feel at first, but his secret power became his curse.

It is a sad tale of a lonely life and this absence of closeness meant that all he had left was his commitment; this is why Gabriel knew to target this last week when he convinced him to do this one last job. The unnamed friendship William had with Philip is one he views as at a distance and that there was always a barrier between them.The Americans 4.13 WilliamLater as the oozing begins – Dylan Baker’s delivery of what will happen to him is a thing of wonder and I’m going to miss him – and William starts to slip he reveals the relationship he had long ago; that they were always fighting and how he wishes they could have been like them. In the vaguest of terms he talks about Philip and Elizabeth; “she’s pretty, he’s lucky” and how with their two kids they are living the American Dream. Will Stan equate this to the couple who have been on their radar since season 1?

For now they are safe from arrest as Elizabeth notes the lack of FBI cars when Stan finally comes home after days at work and all is as it was and yet this sleepy suburb is no longer the refuge it once was and their house looms like a warning as Philip marches Paige back home after finding out she has been smooching Matthew while Henry has been left to watch the Super Bowl by himself (making this January 22, 1984). Poor Henry.The Americans 4.13 StanIn a very awkward dad to dad moment Stan is kinda giddy about Matthew hooking up with Paige. Ew, Stan. But this shows the difference between a dad of a son and a daughter in this situation and also everything else that Philip knows so good job laughing off the father of the bride joke that Stan makes. Philip is angry at Paige because of just how complicated this whole situation is already as he forbids her from seeing Matthew. When she starts to sass back he simply tells her “you have no idea” and let’s just see what happens if he mentions the move to Russia considering the shit fit she threw last time.

Relationship wise beyond the one they have with each other Philip, Elizabeth and now to some extent Paige are likely to understand exactly what William means by the barrier he felt when he tried to reach out to people. Paige asks Elizabeth how long it was after she gave birth before she wanted people to come visit and she answers that she didn’t really have any friends. Bleak.

The same can be said for now and even the friend she made this season was built on a foundation of lies and torn down by deception. I’m still super bummed out about Young Hee. The same goes for Philip as Stan might be his BFF on the surface, but he is always holding back and withholding and he sure does not want Stan’s son to date his daughter. For reasons. Paige talks to Matthew about trust and this idea that parents are just people and here she is also unable to completely be herself. The same goes for when she held Pastor Tim and Alice’s baby as her smile soon shifted to sadness as the strains of Leonard Cohen’s “Who by Fire?” plays.The Americans 4.13 Paige and babyThe season ends not so much on a cliffhanger, but with this feeling that everything is somehow going to get harder. There is no vacation coming the Jennings way and even if they keep up appearances the net is closing in. Dealing with consequences both on a grand scale and the personal toll has made this season the best The Americans has done yet and with every move the knots in my stomach get even tighter; the following of William in tandem with Philip going to his drop location involved very little action, but it is sequences like that that elevate this from other spy shows.

Everything that has gone on in the core relationships this season including Paige’s evolution which has led to junior spy like actions – this week she also asks her mom for some self-defense lessons – has strengthened what was already incredible. Philip and Elizabeth continue to grow as a couple even when they disagree and it has been the emotional changes in Elizabeth that is the true standout for me this year. The bold moves with Martha and her devastating arc has been another high point in a season of highs.

Performances have been incredible across the board with Holly Taylor delivering wide eyed horror and confrontation in equal measure and Alison Wright giving off far than just Poor Martha as she took her fate with strength and resolve. Come Emmy nomination day I would love to hear both Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys’ names getting called out for the acting masterclass they have delivered on a weekly basis and there is so much they say even when there is no dialogue.

There are two more seasons to follow this one and it definitely feels like we are approaching the final act. And I cannot wait.

Shot(s) of the WeekThe Americans 4.13 Arkady Going for three shots this week; first up is Arkady contemplating his return home while looking up at the bust of Lenin.

Last week I mentioned how well the painting of Lenin is utilized in the Rezidentura for dramatic effect and I’m glad to see them playing on this theme with this different imposing version of Lenin.The Americans 4.13 Philip and Elizabeth bedroomMirroring the end of season 3, but Elizabeth is in the seated position and instead of contemplating a murder she has just committed as Philip did at that point they are instead weighing up their running options.

They are very much on the same page rather than at a distance with Ronald Reagan delivering a grand speech.The Americans 4.13 houseThis looks straight from a horror movie.

Disguise of the WeekThe Americans 4.13 Philip ESTA repeat of the Philip disguise which reminds me of my dad has led me to a non-disguise disguise with Philip wearing his travel agent hat and a giant name badge at EST. It was also fun hearing Elizabeth describe EST to Paige as she attempted to be non-judgmental (and failing) of her husband’s outlet.

Outfit I Would Wear in 2016The Americans 4.13 kitchen tableOne final shout out to the Coach trench Elizabeth has been sporting all season and the ultimate in the roll call of coats from this year. Also shout out to Keri Russell for wearing stiletto boots while this pregnant or any time really because while they look amazing this would be incredibly perilous if I was to wear them in any condition.

 

Thanks for joining me on this season 4 Americans adventure and I will be back to talk about the show later in the year.

The Americans 4.12 “A Roy Rogers in Franconia” Review: “Did You Have to do That?”

2 Jun

It is hard to hide who you are on The Americans when confronted with a moment of danger and when Elizabeth’s protective motherly instincts kicked in with her training last week there was only going to be one winner against the two would-be muggers/rapists. Elizabeth was not only quick in her methods; taking out both guys in a matter of seconds, but her calm demeanor after the incident also has Paige questioning the few non-specific bits of information her parents have given in regards to their work.

There are only so many vague and repeated phrases a girl can take before she demands a little more and seeing her mom in full self-defense mode has sped up this process. The Americans 4.12 ElizabethQuestions and doubt are seeping through the ever growing cracks and it isn’t just the threads on the Russian containers that are unstable. Paige is in shock over what she witnessed and Elizabeth is doing her best to keep her queries to the minimum. Yes she had to do that and no this is not the first time. The conversation about ‘how many?’ is never a fun one, but on this occasion it is even more problematic (don’t even ask Elizabeth or Philip the more common and often contentious between couples ‘how many?’ query) and even if Elizabeth did know the number (and I can’t see her keeping a tally of the dead) it isn’t going to offer Paige any comfort. They’ve also told Paige that they’re not going to lie to her and so going with a non-committal “I don’t know” is the safest option.

Paige is pushing back in a big way this week as we have seen her do on a number of occasions and part of this includes a common grumble from a teenager; they’re treating her like she is 12. The difference here being that anything they do tell her could severely impact their safety and how she sees her parents. When Elizabeth tries the “I wanted to serve my country” party line Paige calls her out on this and so we get a deeper insight into Elizabeth’s motivations for joining the KGB beyond her mother.The Americans 4.12 Philip, Elizabeth and PaigeMirroring Paige’s conversation with her father about his background we find out more about the city of Smolensk and how like a lot of Russia it was torn apart during WWII and the years that followed involved a lot of hardship. In essence what Elizabeth took from this experience was seeing a community up against it surviving and fighting. This is all she wanted to do and it didn’t matter whether it was dangerous or not. What this does is reinforce Philip’s proclamation that it wasn’t about what you liked growing up because they grew up in a war ravaged and poor climate worlds away from where they are.

Danger still exists, but it is the cloak and dagger variety. Although it is worth noting that this season opened with a mugging turned murder in Philip’s flashback and a version of this has happened in the present; danger lurks beyond their work. The difference here being that it is Paige who is new to this killing business and she will also need therapy. EST probably is not the answer.

Elizabeth’s explanation works on a couple of levels as it deflects Paige from some of the more insidious answers she could give about the work they do (multiple murders for example) while also giving Paige the connection to her past and family that she craves. Elizabeth mentions how much she would love to go back home with Paige to see how much has changed and this is the first time Russia has been discussed by either Philip or Elizabeth in a way this season that hasn’t been tinged with the notion of having to return home as a last resort.The Americans 4.12 groceriesThrowing a spanner in the works is Philip having to leave for work during these conversations with Paige as it just prompts more questions they’re not inclined to answer. However, Paige keeps pushing and in these pauses Philip and Elizabeth do the wordless communicating with their eyes thing that is so incredibly effective; these silent agreements to tell Paige a little bit more coupled with the way each of them takes part of the info dump reinforces the notion that the Centre matched well when they paired Elizabeth with Philip. It doesn’t matter how much they differ in their opinions on matters such as the bio-weapon plan, when it comes down to their family they will present a united front. Luckily for them the op Philip is leaving for is William and not Kimmy and I’d love to see them explain away why he needs to go hang out with a 16 year-old and smoke pot.

Fear, intrigue and wonder all cross Elizabeth’s face as she watches Paige with Matthew; Paige is becoming exactly what the Centre wanted and yet there is something a little disturbing about seeing her in this role. Another place where the pauses are loaded with meaning is when Elizabeth tells Philip about what happened prior to the violent incident and this is the thing she can’t stop thinking about; Paige was reporting what Matthew had told her about Stan and Martha (Gabriel follows through on his promise to contact Martha’s parents to Philip’s satisfaction).

They don’t need Paige to spy on Matthew for them and they are concerned as to what her motivations here are especially as Elizabeth has witnessed a little bit of flirting between the pair. Little do they know that Paige just had her first ever (?) kiss with him and it is hard to read exactly what Paige is doing here as we do know she used to have a crush on him. Philip and Elizabeth are fine with her being friends with him or whatever (I would love to see exactly how they would be with Matthew if they start dating), but as long as it is on her terms and not for them. Paige is concerned about what Henry might have been saying to Stan and I’m with Paige on this one, particularly how they shut Henry out after the ‘mugging’ incident.The Americans 4.12 Henry and MatthewThis is where Paige really digs her heels in and she wants to know what Philip is doing beyond a meeting as she now knows they lied to her about the lack of danger. She has a point when she mentions that her mom killed someone in front of her and she might as well know everything, right? Well Paige, let me tell you a few stories. Regardless, they do relent and reveal the weapon part, but not the gory details of ‘squirting yourself out your anus in liquid form.’ The way Holly Taylor responds with “Great” to this secret is ultimate teen disdain and The Americans continues to get their teens so right.

What Philip doesn’t know is he is walking into a trap and so is William. William has been resistant to getting those codes ever since Philip and Elizabeth first approached him and his concern is about how fucked up this weapon is. William doesn’t want to be part of something that could cause this much death, but Gabriel works his Gabriel convincing magic laboring the points about home and duty.

The Americans 4.12 Philip and Gabriel

Philip is surprised that William was that easy to convince, but Gabriel knows what it feels like to be alone and he taps into that part of William we have been seeing. As with soaps like General Hospital it is “not logical, it is emotional.” Side note – there is nothing funnier this week than seeing Elizabeth trying to ‘get’ an American soap opera.

Connections are important and Elizabeth and Philip’s partnership is the rarity in this business of so many people working and ending up alone. No matter their differences they are the spy equivalent of #RelationshipGoals.The Americans 4.12 Elizabeth and Paige GHOleg has been grappling with his position and what this whole war means in a way that parallels William and the death of his younger brother has had a huge impact. When Tatiana jokes about killing half the population of the Eastern Seaboard he takes this joke seriously as he understands that while they have brilliant scientists they also have terrible resources.

One such example is the near missile miss when a glare of sunshine read as a weapon and here he sees himself as the steadfast hand that didn’t leap to conclusions. Oleg does what William cannot and warns their enemy of this bio-weapon plot putting Philip in danger of being caught. Philip knows that Stan hasn’t been home from work for two days and this might be vital in reading the William situation even if his instincts have been all over the place this year.The Americans 4.12 The VaultMail Robot comes into play in a secondary sting operation as the FBI discover a surveillance device within it and catch the person who has been switching out the tapes. The title of this week’s episode “A Roy Rogers in Franconia” is also where this woman met the so-called mobster who offered $500 a week to swap out the tapes and it sounds like the most run of the mill location there is. Just how they like to do these dead drops. The key is to not draw attention. While the William op takes precedent, a car with a video camera has been left to watch this drop and I’m worried about what might happen to Hans as he seems like the number one most likely person to take the fall for this.

Everything is amping up for next week’s season finale and it is incredible to think just how much has taken place this year from the first half of the season with Nina’s sad demise and the Martha conclusion to every development in Paige’s somewhat unintentional junior spy training. Feelings have come into play far more this season than any before it with Philip’s earlier spiral and Elizabeth’s new found vulnerability reinforce this idea that it is emotions and not logic that drive things. Even when you are a spy.

Shot(s) of the Week

The Americans 4.12 Oleg and Tatiana The Americans 4.12 olegThe Rezidentura set is great for a number of reasons including how it feels like a completely different country – which it kind of is – and the huge portrait of Lenin which pulls focus. In the first shot he stands over Tatiana’s shoulder and is the constant reminder of where this version of the USSR started.

Oleg is to the side of him in both these scenes and it suggests the resistance he is currently experiencing. He is feeling a duty to something bigger because of how shitty their resources are and there is real fear in his mind. I also love that he is using his coat in the first shot in such an expressive way that would imply he is also hiding an IRL bump (he is not).The Americans 4.12 Elizabeth fridgeSpeaking of which – best use of a kitchen appliance so far this season. Also A+ reaction face from Elizabeth as Matthew tells Henry how to hook the computer up to the TV.

Disguise of the Week

The Americans 4.12 PhilipOnly one disguise this week and it is Philip’s standard William attire as they don’t know when the surveillance teams will be on him and it really weirds me out how much this version of Philip looks like my dad in the 1980s.

Outfit I Would Wear in 2016The Americans 4.12 Elizabeth and PaigeI’m going the easy route this week with the classic plaid shirt and jeans option and once again the costume department is doing a terrific job in concealing Keri Russell’s bump. And not just with an endless supply of coats. Excellent wardrobe repeating with Paige’s choice of pajama shirt too.

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