The Plague in a Vial
A Television Review by Akash Singh
NOTE: SPOILERS OCCUR!!!!!!!
Trust. It’s a simple snippet of verbiage, merely one syllable long but it is incredibly loaded. In the world of espionage, there is no more valuable word. Everything, everything is related to the notion and concept of trust. Truth is course vital, the currency of efficient spy craft, but truth is only established if one has constructed a foundation of trust. It’s not an original thematic construction in espionage narratives but it is the one that rings the most germane and the effectiveness of any espionage story is how well it can espouse that understanding. The Americans, which was originally scoffed at at being a derivative of Homeland (a fairly stupid comparison, no matter how you cut it) has grown from a good first season to a great one in its second while setting new heights in its third. The fourth seasons arrives upon the most heightened expectations yet and if the quite but tense opening is to go by, it’s a season of revelations that awaits. There were news of The Americans perhaps going for five seasons and while that isn’t by any stretch confirmed, Glanders has a definite feeling of denouement, of a trap that is beginning to truly close in. Season three opened innocuously enough, but it became clear by the time the revelation about her parents came to light in Stingers that the season was always going to be anchored in Paige’s character. Season four’s opening is a lot more overt, with a heavy focus on the thematic unity of confessions, what they truly mean, and most vital of all, the consequences that follow.
The quiet start is sure to be eradicated by next week’s episode (the promos promise as much), but it is the sort of unsettling, tense quiet this show is so good at crafting. Glanders begins with a terrified boy running through what look like catacombs and it becomes obvious that this is Soviet Russia. Another young boy comes across and the first boy is beating him mercilessly. One, two, three, four, five beats with the stone and he keeps on hitting him, enthralled, perhaps, or even empowered. Phillip traces the beating motion with his hands as he lies in bed, the haunting memory from his childhood reverberating with him decades after the fact. Phillip wants to confess something, perhaps anything that would relieve something off of his conscience. That’s why he went back to E.S.T., an organization he derided as being vapid to the point to irrelevancy. As the questioning repeats itself as if on a cycle, Phillip’s mind goes back to within those catacombs and as each word comes out of his mouth, the corresponding darkness becomes subsequently heavier. When the question arises if Phillip had ever confronted the bully Confessing that he beat the boy too much was the closest he got to the truth. As Sandra pointed out, his conscience is an incredibly weighted one, dragged down from that first instance where he killed that young boy who bullied him down to each and every single moral compromise he’s made over the course of his existence. She of course knows very little about the amount of moral complexities that Phillip has entangled himself within, nor the sheer quantity of evil acts that he’s committed under the guise of his work, but she does make it quite clear that Phillip needs to include Elizabeth in the decision he made to continue going to E.S.T. He needed to confess that, otherwise it would be simply become another burden on his already weighted down conscience.
Telling the truth is a decent idea, but a remarkably difficult one to pull off at times. When there’s a decent amount of trust, there’s always a fear that the truth might cause a fracture in said trust or worse an irreparable crack. When there’s a bit of trust, there’s an urgency to keep it and build upon it and prevent it from falling. When there is no trust at all, theoretically it’s easier to tell the truth, but from what foundation does one approach doing so in the first place? With Martha, Phillip/Clark is occupying that tenuous middle ground. He enters her apartment complex as Clark but makes a note of taking off his glasses and wig before he enters her actual apartment. He’s trying to be as nakedly honest with Martha as possible, but there are lines he simply can’t cross and you can see each inch of those lines as he crashes against them. He still has some notable public relations training to go through, waking Martha up in the dead of night to tell her that her coworker Gene is dead without at least a box of nice chocolates or something. Jokes aside, Alison Wright knocks it out of the park as Clark slowly confesses that he killed him and made it look like suicide. Martha is terrified and horrified in equal measure and Phillip’s insistence that he did it to keep her safe so Gene would take the fall for the recording chip and she breaks down before recovering herself. For all of Clark’s secrets that spilled, this is an entirely new territory for Martha to find herself within. She comes to some term of a grip with it, but it’s a terrifying realization that she’s encased herself within. There’s one instance in Glanders where Phillip tells the complete truth and it’s notable that he does so while holding the most terrifying secret he’s ever held so close to his literal chest. Stan thinks that Phillip is having sex with Sandra, which is of course ridiculous, and he goes to the point of pushing him up against the wall. Phillip tells him that he goes to E.S.T. and there is nothing beyond friendship between him and Sandra. Stan, unsatisfied, reluctantly lets him down before walking off in a macho huff. Phillip closes the garage door in his wake, looking instead at the tiny vial of a bioweapon lying innocently in his coat pocket. The smallest things.
Great/Not So Great Moments Not Mentioned Above:
+The attention to detail always gets me on this show. Case in point: the constant framing of Phillip as a shadow behind Elizabeth, weakened because of his secrets. The most obvious framing, and understandably so, is when they’re both discussing taking Paige to East Germany with Gabriel.
+“Is it dangerous?” Paige making the understatement of the century.
+Elizabeth’s rationale: “[We’re making] the world a better place for everyone.”
+Paige standing outside the classroom when everyone’s reciting the Pledge of Allegiance
+Anton and Nina’s subplot is nicely paced, with him confessing to Nina his guilt about his affair and that that led to his capture.
+So Nina has a husband? Well, that’s news.
+Gabriel’s rationale of the Soviet Union developing bioweapons is kind of the Cold War in a nutshell: “Well, we signed a document saying we won’t do it, but the other guy is probably doing it, so we’re just going to go ahead and do it anyway.” (paraphrased, of course).
+“I am used to hearing secrets.”
+“Would your parents be open to talking here, before us, in confidentiality?” I really don’t think Pastor Tim gets the gravity of his circumstances.
+Henry’s cologne stinks, apparently. The memories of adolescence.
+“Anger is a concept. How do you feel, in your body?”
+Colonel Umametev keeping Arkady out. The Rezidentura is shaping up to be quite exciting and the more we see of Tatiana, the better.
+The scene with Stan approaching Martha at the photocopier was extremely well-executed. Alison Wright, as always, sell the hell out of it.
+“I know it’s morose, but after they finish with me, I picture myself as dust just ground up into the dirt.”
+“I guess you never really know a person, do you?” Thesis statement for the show right here and life in general, honestly.
+“This is to meningitis what the plague is to a runny nose.” Well, color me terrified.
Episode Title: Glanders
Written by: Joel Fields & Joe Weisberg
Directed by: Thomas Schlamme
Image Courtesy: Christian Today