A Television Review by Akash Singh
NOTE: SPOILERS OCCUR!!!!!!!
Noah Emmerich’s directorial debut provided the best episode yet of this season of The Americans. There was an almost unholy amount of tension as the walls began to close around Martha and Clarke, as the KGB just nabbed two intelligence units of the apartheid government in South Africa, and most importantly, as Henry used the word “discourse” in a conversation. But as awkward as Stan Beeman himself might be at this narrative juncture, Emmerich’s direction is anything but. The Americans has had a long tradition of stylistic, gorgeous shots that simultaneously are imbued with a stunning amount of atmosphere and depth. Emmerich brings those strengths to the table with aplomb and few could note that it was his first time behind the camera. It was also a fairly tough episode to get handed for a debut director. Walter Taffet had an extraordinary amount of tense, lack-of-breath sequences, especially in comparison to the rest of the season and the sequence the episode ended on must have been on the onset a directorial nightmare. But Emmerich pulled it off and as the episode came to a close, we were just as awestruck as Hans was.
The centerpiece of the hour belonged to poor Martha. By stroke of fortune, Agent Gaad opened up one of his pens in order to refill the ink I presume and when the cap fell to his desk, an odd rattle ensued. Aderholdt, Stan, and Gaad paused for a moment before Aderholdt began to dig around the pen. A small chip rattles to the ground. The bug has been found. Martha is terrified down to her very bone as the seemingly invincible nature of the pen bug suddenly crumbled around her. Quickly she makes her way to the bathroom to destroy the recording device in her purse in a nail-bitingly tense scene that lasted for two minutes but had the righter of a sequence that had taken eons to complete. Alison Wright nabs what is sure to be her Emmy submission as she wordlessly makes the absolute terror of what awaits her if she is indeed found out palpable. Every inch of her face is an acting phenomenon and Emmerich as director gets the best mileage out of the sequences. But while the suspense of the metal detector search and the introduction of Walter Taffet from the Office of Professional Responsibility (which sounds like something whose name is so tame that it must be equally, if not more, ominous) is intriguing enough on its own, this is a point of no return for Martha and Clarke. A nagging suspicion about Clarke that Martha has always kept hidden inside of her suddenly comes to the forefront and she demands to see Clarke’s apartment that very night. It’s ready, but it’s hard to believe that Phillip will always be able to suddenly have an answer ready for all of Martha’s questions, especially now that they’re set to suddenly become a lot more ominous.
The question of Paige that was raised in the season two finale and indeed has been laid out meticulously since the pilot (A friend of mine is getting hooked on the show and seeing the little nuggets of narrative dropped throughout is a joy). It’s a little surprising that we haven’t gotten anywhere near the final reveal (which I am going to assume is a season finale thing until I’m proven wrong next week or something), but the show with the kid-turned-spy-massacres-his-entire-family plot line laid the groundwork for just how acutely a sped-up conversion process for Paige could go wrong. So Elizabeth taking it slow is logical with that in mind, but it’s still astonishing as to how much mileage the writers are managing to extract from this. The hints of where she might go have as noted been laid quite thickly and Elizabeth’s visit to Kenilworth yielded some significant results, as underlying as they may be. Paige’s activism is admirable, considering the decent amount of “I don’t give a damn” attitude that generally dominates teenage story lines and realities. But her hesitation last week was evidence of how little she’s actually seen. There’s a real depth in her disquieted voice when she’s asking Phillip why he and Elizabeth stopped their activist activities. “D.C. still has ghettos, dad,” she notes in a somber undertone. With the Center now asking for weekly updates on Paige, the clock seems to be ticking faster than ever before and when it strikes midnight, Phillip is going to need more than pizza with anchovies and pineapple (which, why?) as ammunition.
The South African storyline has moved surprisingly fast, especially considering how much The Americans enjoys its slow-simmering tensions. Hans’s introduction was an interesting wild card, especially with little obviousness as to where his narrative direction truly lay. Todd (described lovingly by Hans as being a privileged, self-centered bastard) is now very much in play for the Jennings and a quick plot to grab him is hatched with their contact Ncgobo. In a disguise that I am from now on am going to refer to as “Punk Phillip and Punk Elizabeth” whenever their different disguises come up (I cannot emphasize how much I loved that look), the two of them wait with baited breath to see if their risky bait would pay off. And it did, big time, accompanied by the tune of Fleetwood Mac’s “The Chain” no less. In what can only be described as perfect synchronization, the trio pull off a seamless caper in broad daylight, nabbing not just Todd-the-privileged-college-spy but also a key South African intelligence agent Venter. The sequence stretches some bounds of credulity for sure, but I can’t say that I wasn’t at the edge of my seat and losing a bit of my breath from the moment Elizabeth shot the very obvious spy who stupidly used her native accent to the moment the van sped away on the street as if nothing had happened. The greatest takeaway is how great Phillip and Elizabeth are as a team, ironically juxtaposed during a juncture when they are standing at the precipice of the sharpest fork in the road less traveled, wondering which pathway(s) to take.
Great Moments Not Mentioned Above:
*Fleetwood Mac’s “The Chain” is included below for your pleasure.
+“I can’t believe you had a friend that got killed by the police!”
+“Paige is just going to tell me that she knows who we are?”; “Honestly, I don’t know.”
+“We trust him why? Because he’s a Communist?” The amount of foreign policy fiascos a careful analysis of this question is astounding.
+The Phillip and Stan scene was a nice, quiet moment
+“Your kids have no idea what a badass their mom is.”
+“They know not to ask.”
+We haven’t forgotten about our friend Lisa yet. I wonder if she’ll ever find out that a literal murder gave her her promotion.
+“It’s horrible, but admirable in some ways, brave…” For Ncgobo, perhaps. But as Phillip points out, his circumstances are wildly different.
+“I’m not your wife anymore.” Stan’s expression then was heartbreaking.
+“Were you scared?”
+My interpretation of Stan’s answer to Matthew was that he never personally killed someone with his own hands, but he certainly was complicit in several deaths.
+“Do you think we’re ever going to have a normal life?”
+The conversation between Elizabeth and Phillip where she apologizes for not telling him about her conversation with Paige and he tells the truth about Gabriel informing of his twenty-year-old son in Afghanistan was beautifully done. Elizabeth’s face softens as she realizes Gabriel’s blackmail (that was my reading, anyhow) and the camera goes upwards as she turns to face him. It’s a quiet, beautiful moment for the two of them made all the more ominous by their darkened silhouettes threatening to engulf their actual selves.
+“Discourse? That’s a good word, Henry.”
+The shot of Taffet standing right behind Martha
+Did Phillip pay for his coffee? I’m honestly not sure why I thought of that particular point.
+The God Bless America mural behind Punk Phillip as he descends on his prey
*As odd as it may seem with all of the material I cover, I somehow find the time to be a novel writer with deadlines, do political work, and be a college student at the same time. Since finals are arriving next week, all of my reviews for the next few days (The Good Wife, The Mindy Project, The Flash, The Americans, and Reign) will be published the following Friday. Thank you so much for reading and commenting, folks!
Title: Walter Taffet
Written By: Lara Shapiro
Directed By: Noah Emmerich
Image Courtesy: Collider