Tag Archives: Frank Langella

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

19 Apr

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Book Club

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

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

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

12 Apr

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Outfit I Would Wear in 2017

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

Shots of the Week

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

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

The Americans 3.01 “EST Men” Review: ‘Have to be Objective to do the Job’

29 Jan

It is hard to separate the personal from the professional on The Americans when Elizabeth and Philip’s family life is so intrinsically linked to their roles as KGB officers. Their marriage and children are a by-product of the work they do and season 2 ended with a bombshell; the KGB now wants to recruit their daughter Paige into the family business and not of the travel agency kind.

When we first met Philip and Elizabeth their ideological differences were quickly established as Philip revealed he would choose their family over country. Since then the pair have broken up and come back together with their union turning from more than just work into something far deeper. Falling in love wasn’t part of the plan, but it’s hard not to forge some kind of emotional bond over a period of time this substantial. So how do you stay objective when your child could end up becoming part this dark and murky world?

The Americans 3.01Honesty is also a huge topic in “EST Men” from the meeting Philip and Stan attend to Annelise’s decision to spill the truth to Yousaf with tragic consequences. The lies that are told and whether someone deserves to know the truth weaves its way through The Americans. Paige is of course a focus of this debate as Philip so vehemently stated at the end of “Echo” that it would break her if she knew the truth. He talks of her age and how she is so close to going off to college and living a life of her own. We actually see very little of Paige in this episode and yet the Paige question simmers under the surface throughout. The church activity shows Elizabeth’s bonding attempts as well as observing Paige’s slight flirtation; Elizabeth is a lot better at fake smiling her way through it but she’s had a lot of practice. This has been a regular mother/daughter activity and much to Philip’s dismay he thinks Elizabeth is using this opportunity to assess her.

In part I think he is probably right because while it is a hard life, Elizabeth sees the sacrifices they make as means to an end to protect the Motherland. I also think Elizabeth wants a close relationship with her daughter even if she isn’t sure how to engage in this kind of behavior. The flashback we see at the start of the episode – and I think it is important to note that Elizabeth is absent in the family photo the camera focuses in on – shows Elizabeth taking a different approach to Paige’s swimming fears going for the sink or swim approach. There’s no mollycoddling here and I wonder if Paige has fond memories of that time her mom taught her how to swim. Attempts to bond have always been rather fumbling such as the bra shopping question in the pilot and Elizabeth can come across as stiff and awkward when dealing with real relationships of this nature. She is so good at fake forging a connection but when it comes to letting her guard down and experiencing actual emotions it is difficult for her.

The Americans 3.01 churchThis brings me to her relationship with her own mother and considering how guarded Elizabeth is we actually know a whole lot more about her pre-Elizabeth life than we do about Philip’s. This focus makes sense considering what is going on with Paige right now and Elizabeth’s joy at receiving a tape from home is short lived when she finds out her mother is dying and this time she isn’t around to nurse her back to health. We know it was just Elizabeth and her mother from an early age and it is likely this is playing a role in how she is dealing with this current Paige situation; even if she isn’t doing it on a conscious level coming from a single parent home is probably impacting how she views her role as a mother. Philip thinks she has been spewing lies since they found out what the KGB had in store with the second generation program and she probably has been using this time to assess Paige, but I do think she does want to be close to her child.

In a way it mirrors the argument Stan has with Sandra after his attempts to woo her back by going to an EST meeting. Sandra can see straight through his weak praise for his experience. She points out how he has been yessing her for years to avoid conflict and this sounds like Elizabeth has been doing the same to Philip up to this point with Paige. When it comes to different ideologies at least Philip and Elizabeth are pretty much on the same page (except for when it comes to the actual Paige) and I can’t see a reconciliation between Stan and Sandra as they are so distant from each other. More Philip and Stan hangouts as a result of this would be most welcome.

The Americans 3.01 GabrielSeveral new characters are introduced with the most significant being Frank Langella’s Gabriel as their new handler and unlike Claudia or Kate someone who they know and are fond of. Their history is evident from the moment they step through the door and from the way he playfully shoves Philip in the face it is clear they are very much like family. This whole setup plays like catching up with a relative from the quips to asking about kids. I fear that Henry loses points with Gabriel as he is apparently now more interested in baseball than hockey. Henry isn’t who Gabriel wants to talk about and what goes from sharing a traditional meal and pleasantries turns contentious when Paige’s recruitment is raised. Matthew Rhys delivers his best Philip pissed off face (there are several variations of this) which boils over into full contempt when they return to their car. Elizabeth claims she is just saying what they need to hear, but she sells it far too easily to Gabriel as it is something she is deeply considering.

Food plays an important part later on as when they are in a post-fight funk Elizabeth reaches out with the brownie apology that doesn’t win Philip over and then she opens up by telling him about her mother. This doesn’t automatically solve their bigger parenting differences and yet the hand hold shows all is not broken; they are still united on certain fronts.

Feelings have a way of messing things up; Stan is still pining for Nina who has been found guilty of espionage and treason. Oleg is also at a loss without Nina and he’s getting a little too cocky about his negative feelings about the war in Afghanistan and Arkady warns him not to speak so freely around those they don’t know well. Arkady also asks if Oleg has tried to use his father’s connections to help Nina to which Oleg replies that he begged, but his father isn’t into using his position for personal reasons. All hope at this point seems lost for Nina and I wonder what Oleg hopes to achieve by spying on Stan; to get some intel that might save her?

Annelise finds out the hard way that professing love when you have been playing someone might not have the best conclusion as Yousaf reacts with violent and deadly force when she reveals she has been passing on his bedroom chatter. Philip refers to this situation as ‘awful’ and while he has been intimate with her on countless occasions (including in this episode which prompted Annelise to mention her feelings of love towards Yousaf) she is ultimately a means to an end. Philip drafted in Annelise so Elizabeth wouldn’t have to do it and no matter how Philip feels about the women he uses for information he will always choose Elizabeth first. Martha also makes an appearance this week learning how to shoot with Stan and working her way through the Kama Sutra with Clark. It is a reminder of everything Philip is juggling and that as with Annelise there is potential for it to go wrong at any time. In fact they are both balancing so much that it is going to get increasingly hard for them to keep on top of everything, let alone being parents to their children.

And then comes the big news that is going to have an impact on the Cold War as the Russians are floundering in Afghanistan and their leader Leonid Brezhnev has just died. This is shown to us not through Arkady or Philip and Elizabeth finding out, but with Paige flicking through the channels and not sticking around to watch anything more about this news story. At this point it means absolutely nothing to her. Paige and Henry are surprisingly good at sharing the TV and I think this is something their parents will be very pleased to see.

Stunning Shot of the Week

The Americans 3.01 ElizabethThere are a couple of new things I want to add to these reviews and as this is one of the most visually exquisite shows on TV I want to highlight specific moments like the one above. Framing Elizabeth in the doorway emphasizes the distance that has been growing between the pair before they circle back together as a result of the news she shares about her mother. An amazing shot from director Dan Sackheim.

Disguise of the Week

The Americans 3.01 blonde scooby doo wigThe blonde Velma wig returns! And even though Elizabeth ended up with a very close call I did enjoy her attempts to distance herself from the person she looked like in the bar by turning her coat inside out and removing her glasses.* Some quick thinking allowed Elizabeth to end up the better off even with a super bruised face, shoulder and busted tooth. Agent Gad can’t quite say the same.

*A trick similar to when my friend couldn’t get into a bar after we got ID’d (She didn’t have ID and I did), which involved switching coats adding glasses and tying hair back. Yes it worked.

Outfit I Would Wear in 2015

The Americans 3.01 OOTWI have an ongoing 70s style obsession and as this is the early 80s the previous decade is still playing a big part with the style we see on screen. I sadly couldn’t get a better shot of this ‘family’ dinner attire, but Elizabeth’s calf length skirt and blue wool tee (of which I currently have a very similar looking grey one) paired with boots (her favorite shoes) is simple and super stylish. While this isn’t a fantastic view of the outfit, it is another beautifully framed shot. I am also glad to see Elizabeth’s turtleneck game has started strong this season.

Julie Hammerle

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