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Tag Archives: 6.05

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

26 Apr

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Costume wish list

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

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

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

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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.

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