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

23 Apr

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shot(s) of the Week

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

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

Disguise of the Week

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

Outfit I Would Wear in 2015

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

The Americans 2.04 “A Little Night Music” Review: “You’re Afraid. Too Afraid”

20 Mar

Since the season 2 premiere of The Americans Elizabeth’s abilities to compartmentalize has shifted and she doesn’t have the ability she once had to switch everything off. The deaths of Emmett and Leanne have further impacted her ability and while she’s claiming everything is fine, it’s clear that it’s not. The timing is problematic as they have orders from the Center and a separate off books mission to find out who killed Emmett and Leanne. Plus Philip’s long running Martha situation, their cover job and day to day parenting. There are many plates spinning and it looks like they’re all going to come crashing down if they’re not careful; the episode ends with a series of mishaps.

The Americans 2.04 goateeMission 1 – forcefully repatriating Anton, a Jewish scientist who is very glad to be living in the US away from a country that turned him into a non-person because of his religion. Philips first disguise of the week is a simple goatee as he watches him talk in a synagogue and he tells Elizabeth that he is non-recruitable. This doesn’t matter to the Center and Oleg is showing just how much of a pain he’s going to be as he goes above Arkady’s head to get the security clearance he needs. This is one of the many us and them chats in “A Little Night Music” as Arkady points out what a Western move it is to use family connections to get ahead. We’ve already seen Oleg discuss Rod Stewart and scalping tickets; he’s acclimatizing himself to this world but he’s also questioning authority to get what he wants. There’s also the question of Nina and he seems far too interested in her and what she is doing with her undercover work.

The Americans 2.04 Elizabeth recordMission 2 – seduction of Brad to get files on Emmett and Leanne’s potential killer; a gay naval officer they were blackmailing. Claudia is back (!) and despite frosty feelings she wants what is best for Elizabeth and Philip, this means protecting them by finding out who assassinated Emmett and Leanne. Not an easy task, especially when there is so much going on in their lives. I really love the framing of this shot of Elizabeth in the record shop booth as she watches Brad, there’s something quite church like about the window pane in the reflection. More on religion and how Elizabeth feels about it later.

The Americans 2.04 beanieMission 1 involves beanie hats and reading newspapers and this is what costume designer Jenny Gering refers to as “light disguise.” In the final moments of the episode Philip and Elizabeth are rocking dark clothes, baseball caps and beanies as it’s a quick snatch and grab. That is until they get jumped by another couple and their simple plan turns into a giant clusterfuck. Elizabeth takes it too far (something Claudia can attest to) and uses the trunk as a weapon long after she has subdued her attacker. This gives the female accomplice the distraction she needs to steal the car with the unconscious Anton inside. Who is this mystery protection detail?

The Americans 2.04 collegeBonus Philip disguise as he follows Anton to the college he works at to get some more information on him – it turns out he has a mistress – and Philip’s rocking tweed and a blonde wig to blend in. It works and no one spots the one guy who is interested in everything on every notice board. Or maybe they did and that’s why there is another pair watching Anton.

The Americans 2.04 booth seductionElizabeth’s initial scene is the most Felicity I have seen this character be so far. This statement might sound a little ridiculous as Keri Russell does play both characters and I have been watching a lot of Felicity recently, but the way she delivers herself as they talk about music gave me instant Felicity feelings. This is Elizabeth playing the innocence card to get close to her target and it works. The problem here isn’t the cover, it’s Elizabeth and she’s hesitating at getting intimate. This has never been a problem in the past and at first I was unsure whether the rape story was always part of her plan to get Brad to deliver the files she needs. It’s clear this isn’t the case and it shows how Elizabeth is quick to adapt to her own shortcomings; later she physically recoils as she is given Brad a handjob to help with his tension issues. The story she tells Brad is fake, but we know she was raped when she was at the academy so it’s not entirely fabricated; she’s using her experience rather than compartmentalizing it.

The Americans 2.04 ElizabethElizabeth wears a top that mirrors Brad’s naval uniform with a bib like front and everything she wears with Brad is feminine but safe. There’s very little makeup and the wig isn’t fussy or over styled. From all accounts Brad is a good guy and I feel bad that he’s being duped in this manner, he hasn’t managed to deliver the files yet and his hesitation could be problematic.

The Americans 2.04Claudia has concerns and they center on Elizabeth; she thinks she came back too soon and her fear levels are too high. There doesn’t appear to be an ulterior motive and Claudia simply states that she doesn’t want to lose anyone else. The green of Claudia’s coat with Elizabeth’s maroon complement each other; they have more in common than Elizabeth would care to admit.

The Americans 2.04 concernThere’s a lot of laundry getting done in the Jennings house this week and Philip doesn’t buy Elizabeth’s declaration that Brad is a “piece of cake,” Philip’s giving a lot of concerned face in the direction of his wife this week. Last season their marriage was a fractured mess, this year they are stronger and this is causing problems for Elizabeth out in the field. It’s why she’s hesitating with Brad and I also think it’s making it hard for Philip to play his Clark role as well as he did previously. Elizabeth practically scoffs at the idea of Philip’s “lazy morning” with Martha; she’s not masking her unhappiness with this situation very well.

Philip manufactures a fight with Martha as a way to get out her apartment quickly – why would you wash your hair in the kitchen sink?! – as he has a meeting with the plumber (for the travel agency) and because it’s a betrayal against his real relationship. Well his real relationship that is built on a foundation of fakery – remember Philip and Elizabeth aren’t actually married.

The Americans 2.04 marthaPhilip needs to be paying more attention as Martha could be their greatest undoing. Martha is playing with a recording device in bed and she’s applying for a job that asks what her marriage status is. When Martha leaves Clark the voicemail telling him about the application she is wearing the most amazing lilac silk snakeskin print blouse. Pastels are a prominent part of the female wardrobe this week with Paige and Elizabeth also wearing this color scheme; mother, daughter, wife, mistress.

The Americans 2.04 bar confessionsAffairs are a theme of this week from the sanctioned ones that Elizabeth and Philip are committing, to the more regular kind like Anton and Stan. Stan confides in Philip about Nina, well he leaves out the whole Russian element, simply saying that she is someone from work who is also married. Stan refers to their relationship as doomed and also lays out how home life with Sandra is pretty much an empty shell as they lead separate lives. It’s really depressing and it is shot in an appropriately dark manner with only the alcohol behind them bathed in light.

The Americans 2.04 video gamesLightening the mood of the episode is Henry as he pleads his case for video games – “but it’s good for your brain and you’re not just sitting there, you’re doing something” – don’t ever change Henry. This links back to Arkady’s Oleg concerns about him being too Westernized and the Jennings’ have got one kid who wants all the things and the other who has fallen in with the wrong crowd.

The Americans 2.04 graceAh yes, Paige and in this case the wrong crowd isn’t doing drugs, well not the kind you would normally find. Instead they are partaking in the “opiate of the masses” and that’s religion as Elizabeth quotes Karl Marx at Philip. Elizabeth’s reaction to Paige’s Bible reading and this youth group is hilariously over the top as it’s an affront to her personal values. Elizabeth practically spits the word “praying” and she talks about it coming into their house as if it’s the plague and end of times. Paige of course doesn’t know why they are so bothered by it and she’s definitely getting her rebellious kicks from this. Oh and it also looks like my Kelli theory was wrong as the Center has called off the protection on the kids and there’s no way someone from the Center would introduce Paige to something like this, it’s more likely they would go the actual teenage rebellion route of smoking and drinking. Philip is less concerned than Elizabeth and he suggests they eat later as she’s less likely to want to pray if she’s hungry. Elizabeth can’t understand why he’s being so reasonable and I love how this show switches between conversations about parenting and missions in a heartbeat.

Things Elizabeth and Philip have to worry about at the end of this episode: getting files from Brad, Elizabeth’s fear and control issues, Martha’s job application, Paige’s religion phase, Henry wanting video games, getting a new car and who has taken Anton. Philip is spot on with this assessment “There’s been kind of a lot going on.” One thing that is relatively solid is Philip and Elizabeth, she just needs to open up to him. The other relationship that is steady and blossoming is between Philip and Stan; he does have a real friend after all. Well, as real as they can get in this business when it is someone from the other team.

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