Six episodes in, and things have gotten complex and deep. This is the episode where things got kicked up a notch, centered around our two big relationships--the Jennings, and then Stan and Nina--with an interesting little side story about Henry and Paige.
Philip getting snatched and tied up in the warehouse smacked of other espionage shows (ahem, Homeland), and I was pretty sure that we were about to see Philip fully converted to the American way of life as a double agent. That's not what happened, though. Things took another turn when Elizabeth was tossed into the rough-housing, and she and Philip were brought face to face. And then Claudia lets them go and Elizabeth LOSES IT. It’s interesting that this “marriage” keeps being tested from multiple directions; did Elizabeth’s fit of violence come from rage at her superiors questioning her loyalty, or the idea that her burgeoning affection and bond to Philip might be the item of incredulity? Then again, the idea that Elizabeth pretty much came out unscathed and Philip was pulped hits the first point home—the two of them had prepared the entirety of their adult lives for the possibility of capture and torture, and they were ready to die for it. But the idea that their own masters would do this…yeah, I get Elizabeth’s freak-out.
As with the previous episode, we get a FBI v. KGB counterprogramming story, in the form of Vasili, Stan, and Nina. The Russians now know they have a mole, and Stan made a smart move in shifting focus to Vasili to keep Nina safe. I still find it sort of funny and creepy how sexual politics work in this show, and maybe in the spy world in general; Nina’s only option to build a trusting relationship seemed to stem from oral sex. Somehow, I just want there to be a moment where she and Elizabeth compare notes about how two nice girls have to be a little skanky to get ahead in this world of shady black ops. It’s not going to happen, but I’m going to be rooting for that scene just the same. Anyway, Nina’s safe, and Vasili is shipped back to Russia, presumably to be executed—which is a shame, because I can think of about six cool ways someone like him could really complicate this series in intriguing ways…
Then there’s the third story, and maybe the most interesting new development brought forward via this episode: Henry, and Paige, and the skeevy guy who picked up our two li’l hitchikers. I kept hoping, somehow, that the guy giving them a ride was somehow tied into Philip and Elizabeth’s kidnapping, and it was a decoy to somehow keep them away while the Russians did their thing. That wasn’t what happened, though, and it ended up being a well-put-together story of innocence lost that draws parallels between the kids and their parents, in terms of how they used violence to escape when the knife came out, and the kids now have a secret. And they feel a little betrayed at being left alone by their parents. Maybe, just maybe, the secrets and violence and lies are genetic; it was a great side-story that reminded me of some of the best Sally Draper plots from Mad Men, and that’s high praise, indeed.
I like The Americans because its stories feel small and quiet and yet explode into these bigger moments that are shocking and often picked up again later; it dupes you into thinking each episode can stand alone as it builds a mythology gently and subtly. At the end of the day, this is definitely a family drama about two households, as we saw with the Jennings’ dual plots and Stan explaining how a bad day in his office works to his wife.
Good job, The Americans. See you next week.