The Americans: Ep.2 and Ep.3

I was off on a mission on the west coast last week so I will have to combine my reviews of episode 2, Tchaikovsky and last night’s episode, Urban Transport Planning.

Episode two left us with a cliffhanger in the form of Elizabeth’s meeting in the state department cafeteria under one of her long-term guises. Pretty tricky stuff even for a veteran like Elizabeth, “I keep asking myself what the odds are.” she tells Claudia in an admittance of her anxiety about the risk levels. But, she is a good spy so she does it any way –– such is the life of Elizabeth Jennings now-a-days.

This episode, titled Tchaikovsky in an homage to the Soviet composer that Paige, Claudia, and Elizabeth listen to during the episode, deals with the relationship between Paige and her mother. Much like Tchaikovsky, Paige is pretty much doomed to a tragic story. Though the composers mother died when he was younger than Paige is now, the odds are not in favor for Paige to have her mother for all that much longer. The episode introduces Paige to some of the more seedy operations of her burgeoning career, mainly honey-pots and seduction techniques. Elizabeth brushes off these all too real aspects of her life by telling Paige “there is a lot of bullshit” out there and to consider the truth of these books she is reading. What still-innocent Paige doesn’t know is that in her own way Elizabeth is trying to ensure that Paige has an easier time of this life than she had. She is hiding the reality of this lifestyle with scorn and an increased hostility toward American life.

Though she cannot protect Paige from reality forever, and the end of the episode finds Elizabeth with her informant’s brain matter all over her face. This tense face-off between her and the air force general who chose to be death for patriotism was a harrowing scene. It went from Elizabeth pleading for her life, even going so far as to say she was a mother, to her snake-like attack that resulted in a fatal gun-shot that could be seen as a suicide. Paige ran-up concerned just in time to see her mother’s crime-scene of a face, only to be harshly admonished for leaving her post. That is the job, though and Paige lost some of her innocence in that moment.

The confrontation continues into the next episode Urban Transport Planning as Elizabeth scrubs the most recent death off her face in a dingy warehouse. That scene exemplifies the atmosphere of this season. Gone is her support, she isn’t being helped into the safe-house by Phillip anymore like in the premiere episode. She is alone, facing the violence and impending end of the Cold War on her own. Although, how easy to forget she isn’t really alone. She still has Phillip at home, Phillip who comforts her about Paige, and listens intently as she lets her walls down and discusses the details of her failed mission. Lest we forget that Phillip was approached by Oleg to gather information on Elizabeth –– and stop her if he must. That scene was approached beautifully by the writers and actors, in true Americans fashion we don’t know if we should treat the moment as sincere of deceptive.

The divide between Phillip and Elizabeth widens in this episode, and shows why at the heart of this spy thriller, The Americans has always been an analysis of marriage. Phillip loves America, he line-dances in a cowboy hat, gives motivational speeches to his employees, and participates in both sides of capitalism, debt and profit. Elizabeth is leaning the other way, watching movies from home, listening to Tchaikovsky, making  zharkoye in between mission briefings from Claudia. A captivating, tender moment in this episode occurs when Elizabeth brings home the leftovers and offers some to Phillip, hoping to evoke from him that same wistful feeling for their homeland that she had. Her face visibly falls when he confesses he just had Chinese take-out (super American!) and only has a bite out of pity and love for her.

Elizabeth pines for the her home, even though as Phillip points out, she hasn’t talked to any one in over twenty years. There’s talk of a Pizza Hut in Moscow he says, relishing the thought of an advancing, Americanized Soviet Union. Elizabeth’s reaction is harsh and vitriolic, “I hate them, I don’t want to be like them.” The lines have been drawn. While Elizabeth searches for weaknesses in the United States government, Phillip dons a disguise to meet with Oleg.

Oleg also has a stirring moment in this episode. He finally meets with Stan, and they discuss motives, pretenses and their painful shared history. Stan and Aderholt have just had to give their only pawns in the Cold War political asylum, but their end goal of stopping further Soviet influence is stronger than ever. In a cryptic warning Stan tells his Oleg, “Whatever you’re doing here, don’t.”

That could be a warning delivered to every player in this ever dangerous game, as they told us the stakes and risks are higher than ever before.

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