Baby, Don’t Hurt Me
A Television Review by Akash Singh
NOTE: SPOILERS OCCUR!!!!!!!
The Americans returns for its third year with a long but fantastic cold opening. We see Elizabeth quietly at work, turning an embittered CIA agent who is disgusted with the plethora of sexism she faced despite being more competent than her male counterparts. It’s a steely, competent turn from Elizabeth right before everything begins to go wrong. It is a bit obvious that her contact is suffering from some semblance of guilt. Daniel Sackheim’s camera closes in around her and you’re sure that at any moment Elizabeth is going to stick a knife or bullet through her head – perhaps even both. But no, she turns Elizabeth in instead, waiting with baited breath as she attempts to bait Elizabeth herself into being captured. A knowing Elizabeth quickly escapes, but not before running into Agent Gaad and one of his associates. Brutally she takes them both down, pushing the associate into the pathway of a motorcycle before walking over to Gaad. He takes a good look at her face, hidden in the darkness, before she slams him in the head with a gun. Cue the extended credits and we’re back. There’s a simultaneous sense of brutality and carelessness pervading throughout this scene, laying the groundwork for what is sure to be a testing season for the Jennings. The ground is quickly running out from beneath them and the chase, more than ever, promises to be as enthralling as it is dangerous.
Parenthood has been one of the key tenants of The Americans from the very beginning. The simple reality of the lives they lead led to consistent storm clouds over the Jennings’ existence every single day. What would their children, in essence, be like? Would they follow in the footsteps of their parents? Certainly not, one would assume. The constant danger that Philip and Elizabeth live in would naturally be a cautionary tale for what they would want their daughter to be. An excellent college, a nice career, a good quality life; these are all things every immigrant parent wants for their child. But if Paige and Henry didn’t follow in their parents’ footsteps, then who do they become? Every immigrant parent has an intrinsic fear that their children will delve so deeply into their new culture that they will forget their roots and the heritage their parents brought with them. In the era of the Cold War and in cases like the Jennings’, to whom do their children espouse loyalty? To the old traditions in Moscow or the America they had called home their entire lives? The Center taking the second generation of their illegals seriously is threatening in and of itself, but the divide between Phillip and Elizabeth threatens to make the situation far, far worse. For Phillip, there will never be a connection between Paige and the Center while Elizabeth seems far more open to the idea. In this tug of war, ironically Paige is the one who is the most threatened with breaking apart.
Spies more often than not live in a world of mirages and not just towards themselves. They project an existence onto others that can be so fastidious in its deception it could rarely be seen for the duplicitous deceit that it truly is. Phillip and Elizabeth had their rough patches but at this moment in time, they are perhaps as normal as any couple could expect to be. To a man like Stan, who lost both of the women he had loved, there’s a deep desire to have what he sees opposite him and that desire is so powerful that he’s blinded to the isolation that is uncovering before his very eyes. The title arrives from Phillip and Stan arriving at an EST meeting, a sort of self-help group that according to Sandra runs on a principle of complete and utter honesty. The irony that the two men sitting side by side are as far away from that principle as possible is hardly lost on anyone. A duplicity is embodied in both men, so close without realizing who each other truly is. That duplicity exists outside as well, in the grand scheme of things on a global stage. There’s a quiet moment where the Soviets inside their Washington embassy look at a television screen and see a news feed where the mujahadeen are executing a Russian hostage. The timing isn’t lost on anyone, nor the irony of the United States funding extremists to destroy their enemy nation’s efforts – extremists whose guns would turn towards their benefactors quickly enough. Arkady looks on in a quiet despondency, noting how terrible it would be for the Soviet Union if Afghanistan became their Vietnam.
The Americans has an additional benefit of analyzing the concrete past, much like Mad Men. The Cold War for all intents and purposes is a closed chapter (the current geopolitical tug of war with Moscow is another issue entirely), so the show has an apt idea of the moments it needs to hit. Simple things like Oleg saying that the Soviets need to get out of Afghanistan are given extraordinary weight, simply on the back of reality. Afghanistan does become Moscow’s Vietnam and the impending horror looming gives the scene a hefty quantity of pathos. Leonid Brezhnev passes away this episode and no one on The Americans seems to give a hoot about it just yet, especially Paige, who finds The Jeffersons to be a far more entertaining pastime. It’s a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it shot, but within that nanosecond the questions of Paige’s future becomes even more murky and certainly far more so than that scene would ever suggest at first glance. Paige has found a calling for activism, within a theological setting no less. She finds the world to be an unjust place and she wants to inflict change, real change. It’s thusly quite difficult to see her even remotely accepting the true identities of her parents at any point in time. Far from spousing clean consciousness, the viciousness of what her parents have done is at this point anyhow not going to clearly resonate with their child.
It is no mistake that it is in this very episode that Phillip committed one of his most heinous acts to date. Annalise grew closer to Yusuf, the guilt within her growing at the realization of her quiet betrayal of the man. She had fallen in love with him and it took Philip mere seconds to realize that her loyalty was wavering. True enough, she confessed her treason to Yusuf, whose hands quietly close around her throat despite all of her protestations. Phillip enters the room, betraying no sense of emotion as he looks upon the scene. How coldly he stood there, calmly looking at Annalise’s dead body and a broken Yusuf standing at the end of the room, his hands cloaked in proverbial blood. There was rarely a question, honestly, of how far Phillip and Elizabeth are willing to go for the sake of their own brevity and mission. They might have wavered from their path at certain moments (certainly Phillip more than Elizabeth), but their brutality and viciousness when required has always been present. Nor is it that either of them are devoid of emotion, the show certainly has gone to the length to remind us of that. Nevertheless, the line they drew was at their children and now even that door has been opened, at least on one side. Whether or not that door is ever closed remains to be seen and is perhaps an irrelevant question at this juncture. But time is running out, isn’t it?
Great Moments Not Mentioned Above:
+Elizabeth throwing a young Paige into the water
+“I’m doing something terrible.”
+Elizabeth and Paige in the church
+Elizabeth’s heartfelt connection to the voice of her mother
+“Ideologically, she has the right ideas.”
+“You’re assessing her.”
+Martha at the shooting range (her taking her glasses off to see more clearly was a nice metaphoric touch)
+Oleg trying to help Nina avoid execution
+The Kamasutra scene
+Soviet defector arriving on the scene
Title: EST Men
Written By: Joel Fields & Joe Weisberg
Directed By: Daniel Sackheim
Image Courtesy: Hitfix