How Will I Know That It’s the Truth?
A Television Review by Akash Singh
NOTE: SPOILERS OCCUR!!!!!!!
The slow burn of The Americans, which is a phrase I’ve been using quite a bit this season, became a ghastly pun as Eugene Venter was necklaced in front of a screaming Todd this week. But while that extreme method of execution, which was summarily used in various circumstances throughout South Africa during the apartheid era, was the holy hell moment of the episode, Divestment’s real strength lies in its narrative structure that consistently finds two individuals pitted against each other whether they are aware of that or not. Duality is arguably the central thematic structure of The Americans and this episode brings it to the absolute forefront as two people repeatedly try to search desperately for something, more often than not answers to the pressing questions bombarding them at every moment. There is no simplicity within these scenes, but instead the script has been imbued within a considerable understanding of the competing natures within individuals that makes them the exceedingly complex beings that they are. Elizabeth, Nina, Paige, these are all characters who are confronted with the dualities of who they are, their circumstances, and even the world around them. And then they have to make a choice.
The most startling choices of the week came from none other than Elizabeth, who makes two decisions based not in the logic of the mission but from a place of empathy. First, she goes to Gabriel and asks for something that he, at least from what his expression read, never expected. She asks him to keep Phillip’s son Mischa safe in Afghanistan. From what I could read into Gabriel’s reply about him trying to help, I’m afraid that Mischa is already dead and has become sick leverage against the father he never knew. But whether or not I’m right about that is irrelevant for now, what matters more here is that Elizabeth went to bat for Phillip without asking for anything in return – for now, anyhow. That semblance of compassion is evident in her expression and Phillip’s when Ncgobo necklaces Venter, setting him ablaze as the rubber tire around his neck sticks to his upper torso, slowly making him lose the ability to breathe. There is some semblance of justice considering who Venter was and what he was symbolic of, but there was no mistaking the expressions on the Jennings’s faces as they heard Venter’s last, rattled breaths. Todd in absolute terror tells them everything, providing the proof of his honesty with the bomb Venter had instructed him to place at an anti-apartheid grouping. Elizabeth suggests that they let the terrified Todd go since he can’t recognize them anyway. Ncgobo disagrees but they abandon Todd in the middle of the road, seemingly free to go back to his dorm. Yet as Elizabeth pushes for caution, there is something increasingly ironic about her simultaneously pushing her own daughter into this world where she just saw a man be burned to death. The consequences of this dichotomy are real, as are the potential consequences of her acts of mercy.
Nina, from the very moment in the pilot when Stan noticed her walking into a stereo store, has been a pawn thrown from one situation into another with absolutely wanton despair. But she has been the consummate survivor, no matter what that takes. Evi confessed (huge surprise, that one) and as a reward, Nina’s sentence has been dialed down to ten years from life. She reacts with muted joy, even though her new hotel suite certainly looks nicer than the jail cell she was encumbered in. There is a new offer on the table for her along with the suite, however. Suspicions are being aroused by the slow work of the scientist Anton Baklonov, whom Phillip and Elizabeth had heartbreakingly kidnapped last season and sent back to Russia. There’s suspicion that he’s working far slower than normal in order to delay his work or worse, even sabotage it. If she could break him successfully, then freedom would be hers. Nina accepts the offer, as if she had any choice in the matter to begin with, but to her extreme displeasure, the little operation is being run by Vasili, whom she had so wonderfully screwed over at the end of season one. That meeting between the two is understandably tense and throughout their fairly uncomfortable meeting, there is the untold understanding that even if Vasili says he will be professional, there are all the chances in the world that he will allow his emotional hatred to overwhelm him.
The Americans as rarely shied away from controversial social topics, such as Elizabeth’s multiple declarations of how organized religion is nothing more than an opiate for the masses. With the apartheid storyline and the introduction of Agent Aderholdt, the issues surrounding race have come to the forefront. The interrogation conducted by Taffet in this regard are enlightening. His interrogation of Martha was downright sexist and condescending (at least to me) but she held her own fastidiously, which was impressive considering how personal this investigation is to her. With Agent Aderholdt, the entire conversation was teeming with racial subtext that almost enveloped the actual text itself. Taffet’s thesis was that Aderholdt was perhaps feeling resentful of how he was being treated in the agency because he was black and that resentment fueled him to turn to the KGB. At every moment he inserted the word “new” for “black”, but the meaning was lost on no one. “I don’t see myself as the victim,” Aderholdt says firmly and the conversation reaches its natural end but the air of quietly simmering horror reverberates, helped significantly by the cutting of the episode to the Venter/Todd sequences.
The episode’s MVP may very well be Alison Wright, whose breakdown in front of Clark could easily supplant her work last week in terms of an Emmy submission. A fascinating yet tragic realization entered Martha’s mind and when she utters the words “He’s you,” the walls around Phillip’s façade come crumbling down with a mighty roar. Martha’s question that arrives to those two fateful words is asking Clark who Walter Taffet is. In a logical sense, Clark would of course know who Taffet is considering that theoretically they’re both supposed to be overseeing the FBI. That was how Clark got Martha to put the pen in Gaad’s office in the first place, by claiming that he was overseeing the running of the department. If that was true, then Clark would be stepping into the shoes of Taffet and investigating the office openly and personally or at the very least he would be well aware of who he is and what he is doing. In that one moment, Martha’s face crumbles completely crumbles as the war between the dualities within her comes to the forefront. There’s a part of her that wants the compete truth and the part of her that truly wants to believe Clark’s pleas that he truly loves her. Wright does exceptional, incredible work with her expressions during the sequence when her world completely breaks apart. She grasps that last straw of hope, but if the camera lingering on her staring away from Clark while the two lie in bed is any indication, there is nothing left there anymore.
Great Moments Not Mentioned Above:
+“Something big is going on.”
+“You already have your country, you can’t understand.”
+Paige’s researching Gregory was a nice subplot. She’s happy about his activism, but disturbed at his drug-related arrests. When she asks Elizabeth what to truly make of everything, the only true answer is what her mother tells her. Life is complicated, and be as that may, how do you know who you’re fighting against? And when you figure out, how exactly do you fight back?
++“He never stopped fighting for what was right.”
++“Was he a criminal or wasn’t he?”; “Things aren’t that simple.”
+“Being married and being at war do not always go together.”
+“Did you consider installing cameras in your office?”
+“But you’re not prepared to say it didn’t.”
+Gaad and the Mail Robot
+“Who are you?”
+“We are what’s real.”
+“I have a favor to ask.” Simple words, profound meanings.
*Thank you for patience, dear readers. I’ll be back to scheduled reviews from this Sunday on until further notice.
Written By: Joshua Brand
Directed By: Dan Attias
Image Courtesy: The Young Folks