A Television Review by Akash Singh
NOTE: SPOILERS OCCUR!!!!!!!
“Yes, let us pray for the salvation of all of those who live in that totalitarian darkness—pray they will discover the joy of knowing God. But until they do, let us be aware that while they preach the supremacy of the state, declare its omnipotence over individual man, and predict its eventual domination of all peoples on the Earth, they are the focus of evil in the modern world.”
The phenomenal third season of The Americans came to a quiet, tragic close with the inevitable end that in hindsight was the most obvious place for the story to go. The misdirection with Stan was incredibly well done, but in the end the show honored the most fastidious relationship that lay quietly in the background like a powder keg waiting to blow. This can only mean exciting developments to follow, although more so than ever before, making us wait until 2016 seems prohibitively cruel. March 8, 1983 is a quiet, tense episode of The Americans that suffers a bit from pacing and a key character omission but is a worthy capper to this emotional roller coaster ride over the past thirteen weeks. Allegiances are brokered, spies are caught, a firing becomes a promotion, and a potentially fatal secret is spilled. So, a routine episode in many ways. More than any other storyline this season, the Paige-as-a-potential-KGB-spy has caught everyone’s attention and rightfully so. It was the most tantalizing bit dropped at the end of the second season and for a moment it seemed absolutely incredulous that the Center would be pursuing such a potential disaster right after Jared had killed his parents for the Motherland. The Americans has been known to be a slow burner and sometimes that hurts the narrative effort, but Paige’s storyline demanded that quiet build-up. That quiet build-up paid-off amazingly in Stingers, where Paige finds out her parents’ real identities in a ruthlessly abrupt confrontation. It’s compounded tonight when she calls Pastor Tim and says “They’re Russians.”
It’s a consequence of irony, that reveal at the end. The direction was impressive, as the camera focuses ominously on the phone by Paige’s bed, but the narrative twist the script pulled off was even more so. Elizabeth and Phillip had both hoped that visiting Nadezhda’s mother in Russia would be a great move that would allow for Paige to finally begin trusting her parents again. The effect was completely the opposite. While the quickness of their travel stretches logic a little bit, the sequences in West Germany were stupendously done. As they’re walking through the streets at night, Elizabeth suddenly begins to look quickly around her as if they were being followed. It’s logical to assume so, even though Paige’s expression suggests that she has more than a little trepidation about the entire affair. The following sequence in this narrative trajectory arrived a little abruptly for my taste (did they ever mention meeting her mother in West Germany? If I missed something, let me know below), but my goodness was it an absolutely heartbreaking sequence. Aleksandra Myrna’s only appearance on The Americans as Elizabeth’s mother was a watershed moment for the series. Every little scene with Elizabeth tearfully listening to her mother’s voice on the audiotapes seemed to be a primer for this moment. “Nadezhda?” she whispers quietly, touching her daughter’s face as if to capture each and every single moment from the forty years she had missed with her child.
Paige is terrified, absolutely terrified during this sequence and Holly Taylor does a great job trying to mask the absolute horror of what she was seeing in front of her eyes. She holds her mother’s and her grandmother’s hands for the first and last time, trying to make sense of everything around her. It’s difficult not to empathize with everyone involved in that scenario. The grandmother who had lost her life to shame with her husband’s desertion and had given up her daughter so she could reclaim that pride and find a better life in the process. The mother who had given up her entire life for her country and her own mother. The daughter who had discovered that her life had been ubiquitous with lies and was now seeing those very dichotomies visualize right in front of her eyes. When she sees Nadezhda kneeling in front of her mother, she suddenly imagines her own future self meeting her mother for the first time in forty years. “Would that ever happen to me?” is the question she asks Elizabeth quietly afterwards. Would she ever find herself in a position where she would be separated from her mother for forty years and if that was a possibility on her horizon, she wants absolutely nothing to do with that future. “They’re liars and they’re trying to turn me into one,” Paige sobs into the phone before uttering the word of condemnation at the end of the phone call.
They’re not just liars, however. The true array of our protagonists’ crimes would send Paige into an assured apoplectic shock and could she truly have been blamed in that case? Just this week Phillip commits another murder. The target was in a fashion someone who in other circumstances would have been completely useless to the Jennings’. But after him revealing his true identity of sorts to Martha at the end of last week, Phillip needed to wrap up the Taffet investigation or at the very least slow it down significantly. And he does so, in the most brutal and sudden of fashion. Director Daniel Sackheim is superb in this sequence, seemingly idling a disguised Phillip before the camera suddenly jumps into the living room where he strangles an IT guy named Gene. He hangs him up as if he committed suicide, sending out a message of apology from his computer. Whether this tactic to sideline Taffet works or not remains to be seen, but never before has Gabriel’s warning question of whether or not Phillip is falling apart seemed more pertinent. “I feel like shit all the time,” he confesses to Yusuf, a sentiment echoed later to Elizabeth with “I guess… I just can’t.” But she has no ears for him at the moment, listening to the President Ronald Reagan speech that gives the episode its title. Her eyes narrow in absolute hatred as President Reagan blisters about the evil that the Soviet Union embodies. Unbeknownst to both of them, the real war in their lives just began on the second floor.
Great/Not So Great Moments Not Mentioned Above:
+Beheadings are cool for Henry. A Song of Ice and Fire is about a decade off in terms of print.
+“You wouldn’t have liked her.”
+CIA calls off the mujahideen meeting – for now
+“Was it worth it?”; “I don’t think like that.”
+The Centre shutting down lone-department/wolf KGB assassinations
+Zinaida arrested for espionage
+“You can’t see ten feet ahead of you.”
+Stan getting an override over Agent Gaad from the Attorney General
+“Do you give a shit about the bureau, Stan?”
+“Did you put the bug in my office?”
+“Why would I be stupid enough to trust you again, Stan?”
+The return of EST, this time focusing on the difficulty of separating sex from intimacy
+Is Phillip’s newfound friendship with Sandra going to continue?
+“I’m praying… for your mother.”
+The CIA asset more important than Nina
+“How you could say good-bye forever?”
+“Really knowing someone, someone knowing you…”
+“I’m not sure if anyone in my life has really known me.”
+“I – I can’t keep doing this. Buying my life.”
+“You don’t have to do it their way.”
+“That’s not who I am.”
+“But we’re telling each other the truth now.”
+“A woman like that… to put this on her conscience…”
+“They’re not who they say they are. They’re not Americans. I’m not supposed to say it. You can’t tell anyone. They’re… they’re Russians.”
+The cuts between Paige and Elizabeth and Phillip listening to President Reagan’s speech was masterful creation of tension
-The omission of Martha from this episode after this season and especially the cliffhanger from last week was a mistake.
Title: March 8, 1983
Written By: Joel Fields & Joe Weisberg
Directed By: Daniel Sackheim
Image Courtesy: Geek Binge