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The Americans 5.13 “The Soviet Division” Review: It’s Us

31 May

There are a couple of threads running through season five of The Americans that culminate in some big decision moments; first the idea of staying together and this applies to partnerships and the family unit as a whole. The other is the impact on the teenage characters of which this show has a number of extending way beyond just Paige and Henry.

In fact both of these threads have been important for some time now and back toward the end of season 3 I wrote about how teen girls rule the world on The Americans (they just don’t know it), but this has now been extended to several boy teens. Boy teens are typically ignored or just sit and wave (oh hey Chris Brody) on prestige dramas so this is going against the norm in making them integral.Let’s start with the scariest boy teen there is and if Elizabeth is trying to make Paige in her own image, well there’s already a spy version who is even more committed to the cause than even she is. Tuan is terrifying because like a lot of teens he has strong opinions and he’s also super impulsive. Yes his plan worked, but Pasha did almost die and they can’t ever know whether he would’ve survived if Philip hadn’t stomped over there.

He sees weakness in Philip and Elizabeth and he has the perfect one-liners to throw at them including their “certain petty [or petit] bourgeois concerns.” Those concerns on this occasion being whether a teenage boy is going to live or die. Not whether to get McDonald’s for dinner.Tuan admits his own weakness in his report and also points to Philip and Elizabeth’s failings, ‘failings’ which can be attributed to their experience and the fact that a) they have been working on multiple operations and b) they work as a pair. So despite Philip’s potentially rash choice to break protocol and head over to Pasha’s house while a CIA agent is posted outside, Elizabeth is by his side in an instant.

Early in the episode as they discuss Tuan, Philip notes how young he is and Elizabeth wishes she could take him with them back to the Soviet Union. Elizabeth sees a lot of herself in him and despite his hard exterior she knows that he needs someone. When she has her one-on-one chat with him after he has attempted to ream them out – the side eye Elizabeth gives is magnificent – Elizabeth points to his weakness.

Telling him he will fail if he stays by himself is a very on theme message for this episode and season as a whole. After all they were very young when they started this dangerous life and they have always had each other, even when they weren’t together together.I keep coming back to the conversation at the end of “Lotus 1-2-3” and the unifying statement Philip makes telling Elizabeth he can’t let her take over the whole thing because “It’s us,” but ultimately the point they come to by the end of the finale is that this is the path they are going to take. Kimmy’s dad has been promoted and he’s going to be the head of the Soviet Division.

This is the spy jackpot and everything they have been working towards; Philip considers getting rid of the tape and whether it is duty to country or knowing that he can’t lie to Elizabeth he refrains from doing this. I suspect it is more the latter and the ‘normal’ life they have been dreaming of disappears as soon as he tells her about the tape’s contents.

Family is important to Elizabeth and yet she is a soldier for her country first and there is no way she can leave now they have this goldmine opportunity. But hey this means Henry can go to boarding school now. Elizabeth understands why Philip yelled at their son in the same way she totally got it when he tore out the pages of Paige’s Bible; it is a culmination of so many things and fun dad is not always fun. Especially when he is slowly being ripped apart from all the shit they have to do.This brings me to another theme of the episode with Elizabeth’s reasoning as to why moving back home will be great “All of us together without all of this shit on our backs” and Stan telling Renee that he is “tired of feeling shitty.” They’re all at a crossroads and the parallels are hard to ignore; different sides, but the same awful side psychological side effects. They all have to manipulate and put other people’s lives on the line. People have got hurt and worse along the way and it is getting too much to handle.

Stan’s situation is also running concurrent to Oleg’s (who sadly does not appear in the finale) and they are both good agents trying to do the right thing. This is something Renee emphasizes to Stan as a reason why he should keep doing what he is doing and she is definitely a spy, right? Or the writers are throwing up another red herring.

Either way there is no confirmation about her status, but Philip remains suspicious and also has times for jokes pondering what it would be like if they ever had kids quipping that Paige thinks she has it bad.It is good that despite his soul being shattered into pieces, Philip can still see the dark humor in their dark situation but the pipe dream of getting away and living a happy life in Russia as a family is over by the end of this finale.

Also this fantasy of a happy life together back home is of course a fantasy because there is no way that Henry (and even Paige) would react well to this massive change. And it is not just their kids who would find it hard and as Elton John’s “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” plays we see Elizabeth looking at her wardrobe full of clothes and kitchen appliances. Their petty bourgeois concerns.

In fact this relates to a scene from season 2 after Philip bought the Camaro and he asked Elizabeth if there was anything that she liked about this life. She denied it at the time, but her wistful glances at her beautiful shoes tells another story. It would be a massive lifestyle shift for all and even when they’re talking about planning a European vacation as their cover there is an end of The Graduate like moment where they both look a little unsure about the course they have set for themselves.Ultimately this is all irrelevant by the end of the episode because they’re staying put and when Philip apologizes to his daughter about not having the normal things like a dog or a regular boyfriend across the street, it is because he already knows what his wife will say when he tells her about the tape. It is a heartbreaking scene for a number of reasons as he slowly welcomes his fate. There is no escaping this life.

Paige is embracing certain aspects and like Tuan she’s a risk taker; parking her car in the same place where she saw her mother spring into full on defense mode and this feels like a test. A test to see if she can defend herself or at least confront her fears about getting attacked. It is also pretty dumb. Later on she takes a smack to the mouth from her mother and she’s still got ways to go before she is as tough as her teacher. Although she takes it pretty well, this is very Elizabeth Jennings of her.Because Philip and Elizabeth lost their father’s at an early age, they both know what a loss like this can do and they are on the same side when it comes to this notion of keeping a family together. This is why they both fight for ensuring Alexei returns to Moscow with his wife and son. He’s too scared despite Tatiana’s earlier assurances and it looks like he will be staying behind. Part of their attempts at reversing his choice comes from guilt feelings at the things they have done – see Young Hee – and because they are tired of ruining so many lives. Philip’s concerns are impacting Elizabeth in this way.

One person who has seen positive growth since the spy world unknowingly entered her life is Kimmy and Philip as Jim emphasizes how much she has changed for the better when he reveals he is moving to Japan. Guessing Jim’s job is going to fall through now and if Elizabeth gets her way this will be the only operation Philip will be running from now on. The fact that Kimmy looked like she was going to get out of this whole mess better off, only to unknowingly become a bigger part of their scheme is pretty depressing. Can she remain unscathed? And will her friend ever get to Japan? Oleg and Mischa Jr. are absent this week, but there is one Russia thread that managed to shine a ray of light and not only is Martha’s Russian coming on, but they’re also making sure she isn’t alone as they’re giving her a super cute (or adorable) orphan girl. This feels like a good thing and after all it was what Martha wanted with Clark, but there’s also part of me wondering if there is something more insidious at play because intentions are rarely pure on this show.

So what about that big conversation at the end? In true Americans tradition the conversation itself is rather sedate and a quiet end to a mostly quiet and meditative season. If season 1 ended with Elizabeth telling Philip to come home in their native tongue then in this moment she is setting him free. It is still proclamation of “It’s us” but in telling Philip she will go it alone from now on she is doing her duty to both country and her marriage. Plus he’s still going to be some pretty important work (as well as running the travel agency) and if he can look a little less sad in season 6 well then that will be a victory for Elizabeth.

This being The Americans it is probably not going to be as simple as that and while this year has seen a less explosive season than one might expect for the penultimate outing getting to the point where Philip is bowing out while Elizabeth stays in is pretty huge. Especially as they’re doing it together. “It’s us.”

When Not to Make Jokes“My fellow Americans, I am pleased to tell you today that I’ve signed legislation that will outlaw Russia forever. We begin bombing in five minutes.” This is from the news item Paige is watching (and Henry is oblivious to, because of course) and it also gives us a date in time around when this episode is set; August 11, 1984.

This shot is also an appropriate time to once again to give a shout out to the production design department for the Jennings family photos.

The Return of My Favorite Philip TopStill on the hunt for a retro Dunlop tee and Philip is once again taunting me with this perfect version.

 

Until next year and the final 10 episodes of The Americans. It has been a pleasure!

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Best of TV Costuming 2015: Removing Disguisies and Revealing the Truth on The Americans

11 Dec

Welcome to TV Ate My Wardrobe’s “Best of 2015” costuming series and rather than doing a straightforward countdown we’re going to do a variety of posts that look at which costumes and shows have made a huge impact this year. From items we want in our own wardrobe to pieces that got everyone talking; we want to celebrate the work of television’s best costume designers.

So while there won’t be a Top 10 there is a show that would take the top spot without too much deliberation needed and The Americans takes that title; it is only right then to kick off our end of year coverage with this. The Americans is a repeat player in the “Best of” costume discussion with wigs (of course) and the ‘marriage disguise.’

Both detailed the key attributes in how Elizabeth and Philip mask their identities; one protects their overall cover while the other makes it possible for them to serve their country in the long term and costume designer Jenny Gering’s work is a vital piece of the spy life versus family puzzle. What season 3 did was take this and spin it on its head with the Paige problem; what do you do when your bosses want your daughter to become part of the program?

The Americans 3.10 Philip and Elizabeth - CopyThe threat of Paige finding out permeates its way throughout most of the season until it reaches a head when Paige directly asks what the deal is with their strange behavior. They may look like regular parents – okay maybe not regular parents – in their turtlenecks and office wear as they run their small business and they are anything but. They’ve still got almost everyone else fooled including their FBI neighbor and aside from a couple of close calls the spy biz is ticking along. Philip only had to kill one person this season and that is already an improvement on his high body count last year. I mean he has had to seduce a high school girl who is pretty much the same age as his own daughter so it hasn’t been obstacle free. Oh yeah and then there is the difference in opinion about what to do regarding Paige.

Elizabeth and Philip are both dedicated to the cause, but Philip is the one who often looks like he is on the edge of the abyss and could be persuaded to defect if the conditions were right (ie Elizabeth would have to agree, which ha). Elizabeth is more inclined to follow orders and so when they were dropped with the Paige bombshell at the end of last season she was the one who didn’t think it was so bad. For Philip all he can see are the bad things they have to do whether it is what they do to someone else – breaking up a body and putting it in a suitcase – or the lengths they go to get information. It’s not just about committing acts of violence and there is so much more they inevitably give away in the name of the cause.

The Americans 3.10 StingersIn fact the night Paige confronts her parents they have been out for work scoping out a hotel and working out which one of them is going to be on seduction duty. It falls to Elizabeth wearing a revealing white suit and black bob to perform this duplicitous task. A far cry from their travel agency office where Paige has visited earlier that day. When Philip and Elizabeth return home they are blindsided by Paige’s questions about who they really are as she begs them to stop lying. The conversation takes places in the heart of their family home; in the kitchen and at the table they share every morning. What makes this moment so spectacular other than the fact that the writers go THERE three episodes before the season finale is that Paige has agency in a storyline that has been all about her parents. She is the one that makes her parents finally figure out what the fuck they are going to do about telling her.

There is no separation of family and spy life in this case because they are so intrinsically linked and by having this conversation in such a communal space it hammers home this point. The time has come to reveal who they are and the decision to tell the whole truth (well a general overview) doesn’t involve dramatic wig removal (more on this later), but instead comes after a series of looks between Philip and Elizabeth followed by the smallest indicator of a nod. They still look like mom and dad and she didn’t have another experience where she should have knocked; however EVERYTHING about who they are from their names to their place of birth has been a lie and it is hard to get over this level of deceit. It’s why I can’t be too mad at Paige when she spills the part about their nationality in the finale and why for me she is exempt from the scorn that is normally poured over teen characters who meddle in dramas such as Homeland and Masters of Sex.

Paige is not the only one who is gets to find out who her nearest and dearest really are this season and she gets off easy in the how of this discovery. I mentioned how there is no dramatic wig removal when Paige learns the truth; for Martha she gets to finally see the person she is married to and he looks like a very different person to the one in the photographs. The shit has really hit the fan in the Martha assignment thanks to Agent Gaad finding out he has a bug in his office and oh yeah his secretary was the one who put it there. No one else knows this yet and Philip desperately tries to keep Martha on side pulling the ‘this is who I am really am and you can trust me’ card right at the end.

The Paige reveal was a full on HOLY SHIT moment in what it means to the entire show and yet I don’t think I felt more tense than when Philip slowly took off his Clark disguise; starting with his glasses, the wig pins and then removing his hair piece. He doesn’t utter a word as removes everything that makes him look like Clark and it feels like a horror movie. For Martha she is now looking at a man she doesn’t recognize and all she can do is react with teary eyed confusion.

The Americans 3.12 Clark The Americans 2.12 de-wigging The Americans 3.12 MarthaThe one major misstep The Americans made this year was by ending the penultimate episode with this scene and then giving no follow up in the season finale. It is so big that it needed addressing; is this the end of ‘Clark?’ Or is this a onetime only de-wigging and those glasses will never leave his face ever again when he is in her company?

Lack of dialogue can be just as effective as a passionate monologue and The Americans excels in the non-verbal. Martha can’t get any words out here because there aren’t any that can explain just what the fuck is going on and one of the best scenes of this season tells us everything we need to know through a series of looks. Philip and Elizabeth have come a long way from when we first met them; they’re still not all that great at sharing their feelings, but there is a deeper understanding and commitment. Trust is fundamental here and despite the conflict caused by the Paige problem it didn’t break them up as it might have done in the past.

No scene better demonstrates just how in deep they are with each other than the wordless tooth removal. It plays out like a sex scene and it is incredibly tender even if it involves pliers and some sounds I never want to hear ever again. Especially as I have a scheduled tooth removal next month. At least I will have something more effective than a shot of whiskey for the pain.

The Americans 3.03 The Americans 3.03 Elizabeth's eye The Americans 3.03 Philip's eye The Americans 3.03 Elizabeth eye afterPhilip and Elizabeth don’t need to tell each other who they really are because they already know (well some stories from their youth might still be required), but it is moments like this that really lay it all out there. It one reason why The Americans is so fascinating and the exploration of marriage and identity is consistently just as thrilling (if not more so) as the spy missions and disguises they wear.

The Rise of Sansa Stark: A New Cape and Purpose for Season 5 of Game of Thrones

3 Feb

The Game of Thrones season 5 promotional juggernaut switched gears from teasers to a full blown trailer and a whole batch of promo photos. There is a lot to unpack from the two minutes of new footage and 19 brand new shots, but I want to focus on one character who appears very briefly and that is Sansa Stark.

Sansa and LittlefingerFirst a disclaimer – I haven’t read the books so everything that follows is pure speculation as I have no idea where the story is going to take this character. And now some background with my feelings towards this character; when Sansa is first introduced she is a social climbing brat who at the first glimpse of Joffrey’s proclivity to picking the harshest punishment possible doesn’t run in the opposite direction. This seems dumb and therefore everything that follows could be seen as Sansa’s fault for wanting to marry the boy who would become king. But hold up, as age is a factor that should be considered and despite how fresh faced Sophie Turner looks during the first season it is easy to forget how young Sansa is meant to be. Later on when Tyrion asks how old she is, her reply of “fourteen” is incredibly shocking.

In any other show her actions would result in the usual teen punishments and the consequences would be less severe; in this world she has to witness the very brutal death of her father and then she is subject to various emotional and physical torments all at the hands of the boy she naively thought would be ‘the one.’ This is no fairy tale and the would-be queen sure doesn’t get her happy ending.

Cut to the last time we saw Sansa in “The Mountain and the Viper” and while this character has cried plenty in the past (and I’m sure there will be tears in the future) she responds to her current situation with all the knowledge and lessons from the women she has been surrounded by. Sansa has spent time with those who have all learned how to use what strength and skills they have to survive in a world where women don’t tend to have a lot of power; Catelyn, Cersei and Margaery are all very different of course but each has imbued valuable lessons. Margaery is on the surface the kindest of the three, but she is also using manipulation to stay ahead and this will be an important tool when it comes to Sansa’s current companion, Littlefinger. To me Sansa is the Blair Waldorf of Westeros (a theory I will expand upon one day) and I’m hoping season 5 will see her reaching the levels of scheming that would make Blair proud.

Littlefinger was in love with Sansa’s mother and there is definitely an element of transference here. What happens when the master manipulator is confronted by a vision of the woman he loved? And Sansa’s new steely darker look makes her resemblance to her mother even more uncanny giving her an advantage over Littlefinger. He really doesn’t have a lot of weak points but the Stark women – remember he didn’t sell Arya out to Tywin – have a way of reaching into the dark depths of Littlefinger and finding what little compassion he possesses.

[Source]

Okay let’s talk about one of the costuming highlights of season four as Sansa switched up her floral muted pastel color frocks for the Goth feathered approach, complete with new pointy jewelry (to mirror her sister’s sword). Most teens have a moment where they dramatically change their look but this is not a moment of rebellion, instead it is a visual battle cry to show Sansa as far more than a victim. This is her taking charge of her fate and if she has to align herself with the super slimy Littlefinger then so be it. The way he looks at her with thirst in his eyes is of course incredibly creepy and I am hoping she doesn’t have to compromise herself too much to stay in favor.

A new cape and a style that mirrors Littlefinger’s dark attire keeps up the appearance that they are in this together; maybe Sansa will go all Stockholm Syndrome on us and Littlefinger’s hold over her will go from necessary survival tactic to something deeper. This is a scenario I want Sansa to avoid and if she can keep a piece of herself free from his clutches then this will be a small victory. In the promo (which you can see below) he puts his hands on her face imploring her to “avenge them” in the promo and he should add his name to the long list of Stark wrongdoers as he kick-started the whole thing; there is so much blood on Littlefinger’s hands you can’t even see his actual fingers.

The Stark children keep missing each other for reasons which include death and other missions they are taking part in; one of the most heartbreaking is how close Arya and Sansa were to seeing each other again. Now there is a sea between them and my hopes for an Arya/Sansa team-up have been dashed. So much has happened to both of them and if they could put aside previous grievances I think they would be a formidable team. Alas, now they have to go it alone and while they are better equipped to deal with the harsh realities of this world it would be much better if they were together.

And here is the very exciting and action packed season 5 trailer with plenty of conflict and a very beardy Tyrion.

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