A Television Review by Akash Singh
NOTE: SPOILERS OCCUR!!!!!!!
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich can appear to be deceptively simple. It is a thin volume with a long title and even the subject matter of a man’s existence in a gulag could be glazed over. But within those thin covers lives a volume of terrifying power, brimming with a ghastly account of a man’s odyssey through a single day within a Soviet gulag. Denisovich upon its publication caused an uproar as books who reveal state cruelty often do. The details in the book were beyond shocking to some people, even if the surprise factor was decidedly low. The existence of the gulags was well-known – such settings could hardly be kept a secret for a long time, after all. But what shocked readers was the grueling reality of what a single day in one of the Soviet prison camps could look like. For someone, let’s say myself, a typical day would include going to class, Starbucks, class, Starbucks, work, and then a pub at the end of Friday night. For Ivan, a single day in his surroundings felt more like an eternity, an eternal hell that would never come to an end. The power of that hell’s description came from the raw humaneness that Solzhenitsyn’s verbiage was able to provide. But that rawness didn’t simply appear out of nowhere. That germane emotional heft was the result of Solzhenitsyn himself being imprisoned in a Soviet gulag from 1945-53 as a result of writing material critical of Josef Stalin’s conduct during the Second World War. It is a testament to the power of irony that the words that condemned Solzhenitsyn to imprisonment would come to be to be credited with the beginning of an information war that would eventually bring the Soviet Union crumbling to the ground in 1991.
The most literal application of this week’s title can be attributed to Anton Baklanov, who carries the title this week in the vein of Mail Robot from the seminal ninth episode of this season. Anton is in a literal prison of Soviet walls, although his situation is a far cry from that of Ivan’s. But he’s ensnared within walls that are never going to let him go and in walls as frigid as those (metaphorically and literally), isolation can become just as powerful of a prison as an actual one. The Soviets are sending him multiple women to sleep with in the hopes of speeding up Anton’s work and initially their calculation was correct. But after a period of time, he became tired of waking up to a stranger every morning. He misses his family back home, evidenced by the letters he wrote to his son but keeps hidden underneath the mattress. Nina finds those letters without much difficulty, choosing to let him know that she has, indeed, found them. Anton is at first surprised and in his eyes there appears a smidgen of fear. But Nina quietly lets him know that she hasn’t let anyone know about the letters. “Why?” he asks quietly. “I don’t know,” Nina shrugs simply, quietly and perhaps honestly laying an inadvertent trap for Anton to fall in. The prison of isolation is crumbling slightly around him, but one of trust is quickly being constructed to take its place.
Each character on The Americans is stuck in a sort of prison, but Anton isn’t the only one whose prison is formed by some foundation of trust. Martha’s world was completely upended when she realized that Clark was far from what she had imagined – almost the opposite, in fact. The presence of Walter Taffet within the office has only exacerbated that extremely difficult situation she finds herself embedded in. Whether or not Stan’s question of where Martha is has fed into Taffet’s request for additional time to interview Martha is of yet unexplained but the effect is what one would expect. Martha is utterly terrified of her interview the following week and her fears aren’t unfounded. Taffet, for all of the annoyance he so ardently espouses, has an uncanny ability to make one feel as if they’re entrapped and the only way out is for them to be as truthful as possible in their answers to his questions. Clark sees it a bit differently, calming Martha down and convincing her that it was she who wielded more power than Taffet – she, after all, knew far more about the realities in that office than he does. “Just look at the tip of his nose,” he says quietly and that’s exactly what Martha does in that tense prison. But I fear that Clark may not entirely be right in this situation. The name dropping of Agent Amador in the line of questioning seems to be far from an accident and Taffet peering into Martha’s personal life doesn’t seem destined to end well for anyone.
The most significant thread this week is appropriately the fallout from last week’s revelation to Paige that her parents are KGB spies. Paige is asking more questions than ever, doubting every moment her parents had ever shared with her. Now that the prison of trust around her had been shattered there’s instead the walls of absolute doubt are slowly building up. Elizabeth and Phillip answer every question with the appropriate amount of honesty, saying their Russian names Mischa and Nadezhda without any expression. But Paige in all honesty doesn’t know what to believe. Is it true that she had a grandfather who fought in the Soviet army in World War II? Is it true that Elizabeth and her mother grew up with three families in a single apartment? Is it true that that very mother is dying in the Soviet Union and Elizabeth can’t see her? Elizabeth and Phillip have to let Gregory know that Paige knows the truth, a revelation that was necessary but is surely not going to help make anything easier. The conversation slowly turns away from Paige as Gabriel hands Elizabeth a tape recording of her mother, somberly adding that it might be one of the last ones she receives. Phillip in a moment alone wants to arrange a trip for Elizabeth to meet her mother in the Soviet Union, but Elizabeth is bound within the prison of her mission. Phillip is furious, noting with a seething sneer that quite a lot is being asked of him and Elizabeth but they are getting little in return. “Phillip,” Gabriel asks in a dangerously quiet tone, “Are you falling apart?” He’s certainly not the only one whom that question could be asked of. As the third season of The Americans comes to a close, several characters are standing at the precipice of a cataclysm, wondering if they’re going to survive the fall.
Great Moments Not Mentioned Above:
+“I’m just kidding… I was born ready.”
+Maurice wanting in on the Lisa consultant plan that Elizabeth has been drawing up. As soon as Lisa is out of the room, he looks quietly at her and comments that she is the real head of this operation. Pace yourself, Maurice. You may find yourself pressed beneath a car.
+“How can you do this, John? The things you have to do.”
+“Some of the mujahideen are reasonable, but none of the ones they’re sending here.”
+Langley being unaware of the medieval torture
+Paige remembering their “spontaneous vacation”
+Paige not pronouncing “Nadezhda” correctly
+Henry’s obsession with Eddie Murphy continues
+“That kid’s nuts.”
+“Is everyone at the agency a spy too?”
+“It’s his job to see if I’m lying.”
+I read Elizabeth’s sex scenes as her enjoying it but feeling guilty about it before she goes home to Phillip? I could be reading it wrong. Any thoughts are welcome down below.
+The shot of Elizabeth alone in the car was well-done
+The camera framing on the tip of Walter’s was perfect
+“People I thought were my friends traded me…”
+“You forget what it’s like to have your own life.”
+“I’m not letting them do that to me.”
+“Jacob would be proud. You should keep writing him.”
+Betsy the computer
+Gaad in his vault.
+Operation ZEPHYR so far:
Are you falling apart?
At least we know the vending machine is broken. And that they need more toilet paper in the men’s room.
+The last shot of Paige coming back and closing the door
Title: One Day in the Life of Anton Baklanov
Written By: Stephen Schiff & Tracey Scott Wilson
Directed By: Andrew Bernstein
Image Courtesy: Hitfix