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The Americans 4.10 “Munchkins” Review: How To Earn Someone’s Trust

19 May

It was at this point on The Americans last year when Paige found out the truth about who her parents really are, but it has taken this amount of time for Paige to finally feel like she can trust them again and they have Pastor Tim to thank for this. Trust is a fundamental part of a spy’s job; getting someone to open up to extract the information needed without looking like that is all they are after and there are many ways of achieving this.

Building up relationships is important and sex is one method. The other is friendship and as we have seen with both Philip and Elizabeth they have to really commit to make a convincing agent. With Paige they have used some of the same somewhat emotionally manipulative techniques to try and get her on side, but faking it with feelings is much harder when it is your own daughter.The Americans 4.10 Elizabeth, Philip, PaigeOne of the points of entry and really one of the reasons why Paige initially started to question everything was the lack of extended family. Taking her to Germany to see Elizabeth’s mother was meant to bring them together; instead it caused her to spiral further and confess to Pastor Tim about their Russian nationality. Paige didn’t think she could convincingly lie and yet we have seen her gradually get much better at faking her way through things. Elizabeth going all tough parent on her a few weeks ago certainly helped underscore exactly what is at stake and the disappearance of Pastor Tim coupled with the suggestion of having to leave if things did go south have further cemented this notion.

In terms of parenting Elizabeth is the tougher of the two and has been since the pilot episode; her relationship to her own mother is something I discussed in detail over at Collider and it provides the foundation for everything Elizabeth feels about duty to country. With Philip, details about his childhood have been sparse with the odd comment about icicles and the fully fleshed out version of his milk story that we saw at the start of this season. In “Munchkins” we finally get to hear about Philip’s relationship with his parents after Paige asks whether his mom was a good cook. We find out that like Elizabeth’s mother, Philip’s was also tough and so was his dad. This is not unusual for post-war Russia and Philip explains it wasn’t about what you liked; instead hard work and protecting your family was what mattered. Both are values Philip and Elizabeth adhere to now. The Americans 4.10 Philip kitchenThis bonding session is much like last week’s Philip and Paige scenes; intercut with Elizabeth and her soul crushing Young Hee operation. It goes a long way to explaining exactly why they do the terrible things they do and a word like ‘tough’ could easily be assigned to Elizabeth when thinking about what kind of mother she is. Philip mentions his dad was often tired and this again could describe his state when returning home from work at all hours of the day.

It is pretty magical seeing how Philip’s face lights up when he thinks about his childhood and this in stark contrast to his other most recent memory from his past; Paige’s curiosity opens up this part of him that has been sealed off for over twenty years. These father/daughter moments are lovely and the chemistry between Holly Taylor and Matthew Rhys gives off these nurturing warm and fuzzy feelings. Philip was the one who appealed to Paige last season based on their family history with photos from her childhood and his relationship with his daughter is much warmer than Elizabeth’s is.The Americans 4.10 Young HeeWithout the KGB the Jennings family would not exist because Philip and Elizabeth are only together because of this assignment. Paige and Henry are part of their cover as Americans, but unlike a lot of the relationships they fake their way through the bonds here are very real. “Feelings matter” as Gabriel later tells Elizabeth and this certainly became the case when they committed to each other at the start of season 1. Now these feelings are seeping into every crack like a warm and gooey poison. Elizabeth is no longer the stone cold agent and this is most likely not down to one thing, but an accumulation of everything that has taken place over the last four seasons.

There is nothing fake about Young Hee and her family; they are loud and love each other very much. Elizabeth is about to destroy all of this. If the seduction scene was hard enough to watch last week, well then this family dinner with a super awkward Don is even more excruciating as he can barely look at Patty. It gets even worse when Elizabeth listens to Young Hee’s tear filled phone message and her instance at completing this mission only wavers when Gabriel pushes her.The Americans 4.10 kitchenDiscussions between children and parents or about children and parents run throughout the episode and as the father figure in her life Gabriel holds a lot of sway. He has changed his handler tactics and instead of admonishing or simply pushing her to complete the mission he offers the chance of a way out. There are no guarantees, but they can always ask. Elizabeth pauses for what feels like an age as she contemplates this suggestion and you know there is a big part of her that feels like a failure for letting her feelings get in the way; her feelings don’t or shouldn’t matter. But they do and Gabriel now has a much better read on who his agents are and how to work with them. It is a really touching scene and watching Elizabeth peel away her cold exterior continues to be one of the highlights of this season. Insert my weekly Keri Russell is amazing comment here. Same with Matthew Rhys.

The core parent/children conversations take place between Philip, Elizabeth and Paige over three scenes. First comes Alice’s surprise arrival after family dinner and before her bombshell we see they are now at a place where they can joke about getting Paige to mop the kitchen floor. The news that Pastor Tim has disappeared in a country which is a Soviet client state does not go down well and Alice has a whole contingency plan if anything happens. Paige also questions her parents and doesn’t think she can believe anything they say on the matter and storms out of the kitchen once again mirroring that big reveal from last season. In a hilarious moment Philip waits a beat and then ponders whether they did have anything to do with it.The Americans 4.10 AliceElizabeth has zero time for this line of thought pointing out that they would have been told if a plan like this was going ahead. It would also be incredibly sloppy if this is how the Centre decide to deal with the Pastor Tim problem months after the Epcot aborted plan. Paige doesn’t know anything about that though and so this version seems plausible.

Later on when Paige returns from seeing Alice a tense conversation in the kitchen is peppered by the sound of Henry banging a tennis ball against the garage door, which adds an unsettling tone to proceedings. It is pretty funny that both Paige and Elizabeth make the same ‘break the garage door’ comment independent of each other; like mother, like daughter. This is where Paige gets to act like her most teen as she flips out when she finds out that a move to Russia will be on the cards if things go south. Paige tells them that everything they say is crazy and then lands a blow asking them who they are going to lie to and kidnap? This might be a good moment to sing the praises of Holly Taylor who shows the conflict Paige is feeling in numerous ways including wide eyed confusion, anger and fear at what might happen to both Tim and her family.The Americans 4.10 Elizabeth and PhilipWhen Pastor Tim shows up unhurt – they ran out of petrol and got lost, way to go Tim – Paige realizes her parents have been telling the truth all along. Well about this anyway. Getting to a place of trust is hard and sometimes it needs something big like this to earn it. Closing ranks is important and Elizabeth explains that “the one thing dad and I have is we tell each other the truth.” The one time Philip didn’t was when he slept with Irina and as the blowup argument proved a few weeks ago this is still a deep burn. But other than that they are golden and now Paige is also part of this. They can’t tell her everything, but they promise not to lie to her. This is what Philip did with Martha too and that definitely made her more willing to go along with things like the Moscow move. Martha did not have a shit fit like Paige threw.

What they also find out is Paige is starting to think like them as she explains the reason why she didn’t ask for the tape straight away was to make sure Alicia knew that she cared about Tim being found and not just to save her parents. There is now an immense amount of trust between Alice and Paige; their plan is working. The girl who didn’t think she could lie is now becoming quite the little spy.The Americans 4.10 Paige and MatthewWithout even knowing it Paige has also gathered some vital information from Matthew as he tells her that Stan has been opening up a lot more about his work at the FBI. My first thought when he told her about the Martha stuff was for her to run and tell her parents, but at this point Paige doesn’t know the goldmine she has stumbled upon. This conversation is also important for another reason as Matthew is the other side of the Paige coin; Matthew wasn’t privy to Stan’s work life and had a strained relationship. Now Stan is being more open with him things are a lot better. I also love that Paige used to be super nervous around Matthew as she had a crush on him. Now she has so much other shit going on these nerves have gone and she isn’t concerned with looking super cool going so far as asking him for a lift and taking him into her church. They can be like the KGB/FBI version of Romeo and Juliet except both houses are seemingly friends right now.

There is another teen in this equation (not you Henry – go back to listening to your Walkman) and this week marks the return of Kimmy! Julia Garner it is so good to see you again especially now that Kimmy has a boyfriend and Philip is much more of a surrogate father/big brother type rather than someone Kimmy is launching herself at. Thanks show for making this a lot less uncomfortable. Kimmy tells Philip that her dad told her who he really works for and suddenly everything to do with her dad makes so much more sense. The Kimmy storyline ran parallel with Paige’s last season and it does so once again here. Philip tells her she shouldn’t have told him this big secret as it breaks her father’s trust (much like Paige did) and it will bring her closer to her father if she does keep his trust (also see Paige). We also find out that Kimmy thinks Philip has the best pot and that he is a pot connoisseur. Maybe it is time for Philip and Elizabeth to get stoned together again.The Americans 4.10 Stan, Aderholt, Martha's dadOne more father/daughter relationship makes an impact this week and that is the one between Martha and her dad. We know Martha was super tight with her parents and it makes it all the more heartbreaking that they still don’t know where she is. Her dad has traveled to DC to meet up with Stan (who drags Aderholt along for this beer and awkward chat) and he tries to convince them how good his daughter is. In the most polite way Stan explains that they target people like Martha and they assure him they won’t give up on looking for her, but probably not for the reasons he hopes for.

The new boss at the FBI is no Gaad and is what Stan would refer to as a “Munchkin” (like the episode title) and is someone who is a carbon copy of the director with no out of the box thinking. A rule follower if you will. Gaad is on vacation with his wife in Thailand and nothing bad could happen to him there, right? I thought we had seen the last of Gaad, but now we definitely have. A visit from some shady looking Russians who want to talk ends with Gaad impaling himself of the glass pane door and bleeding out. This all made me pretty sad. Why they wanted to talk is unclear, but Arkady had something to do with this mission. Stan takes the news as you would expect it and at the moment he doesn’t know the how/why. When he does I think he might be more inclined to step up his Oleg op.

Oleg meanwhile is still enjoying some out of office time with Tatiana and she tells him what department she works for. I still don’t trust her in the slightest and this opening up seems pretty calculated to me.

Shot of the Week

The Americans 4.10 Elizabeth side eyeThe side eye from Elizabeth coupled with the excellent use of counter top props to cover Keri Russell’s IRL pregnancy bump is pretty wonderful. And just think if they had written her pregnancy into the show then she would have got to wear the Princess Di inspired (costume designer Katie Irish confirmed this) maternity wear. Cute collars make a tent dress almost bearable.

Disguise of the WeekThe Americans 4.10 Kimmy and JimThe return of Jim Baxter and his leather jacket definitely warrants a mention here. Also Patty is making me too sad.

Outfit I Would Wear in 2016

The Americans 4.10 Philip tneckA black turtleneck is a classic for a reason and Philip always wears it well.

The Americans 4.10 PaigePaige takes after her dad in the fashion stakes this week, but pairs her tneck with a sweater and even though the weather is getting warmer (although not as warm as May usually is by this point) I am getting a hankering for knitwear.

Next week we have the ominously titled “Dinner for Seven” and it sounds like we are in for a culinary accompanied hoot.

The Americans 4.09 “The Day After” Review: Never Enough

12 May

After everything came to a head for Philip and Elizabeth on The Americans last week the pair were granted a vacation of sorts with no new missions and just the low level intel they had been gathering from Kimmy and whatever the Young Hee friendship has been leading to. Their breaking point was almost hit and it looks like the war between the US and USSR is reaching a similar stage albeit 7 months later and on a much more global disaster scale.imrs.phpLast week’s pop culture milestone was all about hope and recognizing freedom with David Copperfield’s Statue of Liberty spectacle and in “The Day After” we see everyone gather to watch the ABC TV movie event of the same name. This is wonder of a different kind and instead tracks the very real possibility of nuclear war as twitchiness levels grow. Oleg tells Tatiana of a case a few months prior where sunlight was mistaken for a missile launch from the US and luckily for them the person behind the controls didn’t go into full panic stations.

The Day After aired November 20 and just a few weeks prior to this a 10-day NATO exercise by the name of Able Archer 83 ran in Europe and had some convinced on the Russian side that this was actually more than just an exercise. I am glad I have seen Deutschland 83* as it not only gives a slightly different perspective on these events, but it also adds to the background of what was going on in Europe and why Russia was feeling a little on edge about their substandard technology in comparison to what the US had in their possession.

*It also means I am very familiar with one of the two standout song moments from this episode as Tom Schilling’s “Major Tom (Coming Home)” is Deutschland 83’s theme song (for the subtitled version – New Order’s “Blue Monday” is the theme song for the version shown to German audiences).

Everyone is on edge so while Elizabeth and Philip are feeling well rested there is still much work to do and the broadcast of The Day After underscores the importance of the Young Hee operation. Philip sides with William’s way of thinking in that if they tell the Centre about this brand new terrifying biological weapon it is only going to keep getting worse. The Lassa virus sounds even more horrific than Glanders as this one liquifies your organs and causes blood to seep through your skin. Thanks for that image and TV certainly teaches. William explains to Philip that nobody needs something like this in their lab and while he doesn’t really trust the Americans with it he also doesn’t trust his own people; he has seen how terrible the threads of their containers are first hand.

This level of escalation can be matched in the other kinds of weapons each country is producing and nervous fingers on buttons makes for nervous operatives. All you need is for one person to overreact and you’ve got farms in Kansas getting obliterated and Steve Guttenberg trying to stay alive (I watched some of The Day After prior to this episode and it is easy to see why people might have been even more terrified of nuclear war after).

Elizabeth views things differently to Philip as is often the case when it comes to these matters and she sees it as the US making this virus to use against them and their people; she does have a good argument as she points out the bombs they have dropped in the past. So while they are comfy and on ‘vacation’ there is this very real threat and they can’t just sit idly by while all goes to shit. This is why they are the perfect team as they come at things from very different places and ultimately they balance each other out. We saw this early on back in season 1 after the Reagan assassination attempt when Philip held off on giving some information over to the Centre so not to cause possible WWIII and his instincts turned out to be spot on.

With this he doesn’t argue against Elizabeth and her decision to go ahead and find out if there is anything they can use to blackmail Don. Don it turns out has access to the dreaded Level 4 (as I saw some speculate on Twitter) and this is why Elizabeth befriended Young Hee in the first place. This friendship goes way beyond anything we have seen with Elizabeth and any of her previous assets. Philip knows why this mission is hard for her and suggests looking for an alternative way. It is also worth noting they have gone around Gabriel with this meeting and it is like the next generation of Russian operatives are starting to show some level of disobedience to their elders. But pulling an agent out is not the same as concealing information and ultimately they only steer a tiny bit outside of the lines.

Young Hee has given Elizabeth something she has been lacking since who knows when (I guess her last real friend was Leanne and she was a colleague as well) and that is friendship. There is also a strong nurturing element which I discuss in this piece for Collider regarding Elizabeth and motherhood. The entry point to this relationship wasn’t real and neither is the way Elizabeth looks as Patty (who is wearing SO many amazing outfits this week including her purple seduction number), but everything else is. This is a lighter Elizabeth; one that doesn’t look burdened by everything so it is really hard to watch her come to the conclusion of what she must do in order to complete the mission. She offers to watch Young Hee’s kids while she and Don enjoy a romantic night away. This gives Elizabeth plenty of time to find something on Don, but as Philip posited he is pretty clean. The only vaguely incriminating thing Elizabeth finds is a porn video, but that is not enough to blackmail him with. As the hours tick by and nothing is found the grim look on Elizabeth’s face is telling.

It is a heartbreaker for us to watch too because we know how unlike Elizabeth it is to become attached to an asset in this way and Ruthie Ann Miles is so charming as Young Hee. Plus her relationship with Don is solid and Elizabeth’s attempts to seduce Young Hee’s husband are met with a hard drunken pass on his side and then a hard drunken passing out so Elizabeth can stage a hook up. This is an evergreen remark but once again Keri Russell crushes the emotional devastation and elevates her performance with how disgusted Elizabeth is at herself for the things she has to do; I don’t think we have seen Elizabeth look this conflicted. Even when she has had to kill someone she hasn’t looked this broken before and it rivals last week’s post-Lisa kill for self-loathing. No extra vacation time now.

Also I really would not want to get on the wrong side of Elizabeth when it comes to fucking up a booking and it was fun seeing her taking out her stress with something travel agent related. This is when Philip notes that she doesn’t have to go through with it; not because of him but because of how this will impact her. This comes back to strength in numbers and his support here is vital. Philip has her back no matter what and this is why William comes to him with his dilemma as he has no one to talk these things through. Philip opened up to him both about what he would want from life if this job was not in his way (Elizabeth) and with the Martha situation (we find out here that Martha made it to Moscow) and my desire for these two to become besties is happening.

William questions the notion of the freedom Martha now has and also scoffs at the idea that they get vacations, but at the moment Philip is all he has. He also likes Philip’s new disguise (and one Keri Russell discussed on Late Night with Seth Myers). I am more partial to Elizabeth’s raspberry beret and glasses combo (pictures to come).

Speaking of friends and Philip has some much needed bro time with Stan over racquetball. Here we get to see excellent early 80s gym fashion such as Philip’s Dunlop tee and some short shorts. Stan wonders why Philip is so on fire at the moment and he explains about all that extra sleep he is getting and the clients they have ditched, ahem. Stan meanwhile tells him about his shitty time at work and his new boss who refers to as a Munchkin (also the title of next week’s episode) because he is very much by the book and way more than an kiss ass. Sad Stan is still sad because he has broken up with Tori, but hey him and Matthew do come over to the Jennings house for the TV event of decade (the viewing figures for The Day After were over 100 million and Super Bowl levels).Philip and StanOne relationship in focus this week is Philip and Paige with some bonding over driving lessons. This injects some humor into proceedings and this season continues to deliver on the funny front in these unexpected places. First of all this gives Philip a chance to brush off some dad jokes and it is also quite possibly the most petrified this character has looked. Sure he has been involved in knife fights and exposed to deadly viruses, but nothing prepares you for sitting in the passenger seat next to your teenage daughter. It also shows just how good he is at teaching and when he tells her to relax and blink he could also be talking about the spy side of their life.

After The Day After Paige is understandably worried considering how close this all feels to home and it gives Philip not only the opportunity to sell what they do a little more, but also gives him the chance to be honest regarding his own fears. Paige wants them to be together if something like this does happen and at the moment they don’t have to worry about her going against them. Pastor Tim is a different story as despite her best efforts and fake smiles, he has been getting sadness vibes off Paige and he wants to have a sit down with them all when he gets back from his Ethiopia trip. Alice is looking very Princess Di in her maternity frock and she would have just given birth to Prince Harry so this influence would have been strong at this time.

Philip takes on what Pastor Tim says and treats Paige to a spin in the Camaro and this is the second time in this episode where a Paige/Philip sequence is intercut with Elizabeth’s Patty/Don mission. The first track used is “Winter Kills” by Yaz and this band will forever be connected to Kimmy and I wonder if this is another reminder we will be seeing her again. The second track as I have already mentioned is “Major Tom (Coming Home)” by Tom Schilling and it underscores Paige’s fear and then thrill at driving. The joyous high five juxtaposed with Elizabeth’s completed mission is pure Americans happiness intercut with something terrible. And Elizabeth can’t fake too much enthusiasm for Paige’s triumph when she gets home; instead crying off with a headache and going upstairs where Philip joins her.

“Major Tom” is replaced by the strains Philip and Elizabeth’s melancholic theme and it is heartbreaking when as he takes her hand she tearfully tells him “I’m gonna miss her.” Me too Elizabeth, me too.

Meanwhile in other relationship updates Oleg and Tatiana are very much doing it and I still don’t trust her. Her motivations seem to be all over the place and she definitely seems to resent his comfy circumstances growing up. They do watch The Day After together and it is sad to see that William and Arkady are the only ones watching alone. Maybe they need to be pals too.

Even with the brief moment of respite which for these characters is the lengthy 7 months and for us just a week, tension continues to build as the threat goes from small scale to global.


Julie Hammerle

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