A Television Review by Akash Singh
NOTE: SPOILERS OCCUR!!!!!!!
The Americans presents one of its classic hours, brimming with a quiet, methodically-paced tension as everyone begins to buckle under the pressure their lives are overflowing with. It’s a necessary toning down of the series considering the thunderous execution of Nina that closed out last week’s terrific hour, but the tension itself is no less threatening. The magnificent, late David Bowie’s terrific “Under Pressure” closes out the hour on a montage, a bit on the nose as a reference but one that succeeds in how keenly it settles into the setting without calling too much attention to itself. The camera from returning actor director Noah Emmerich is vested intensely within the intimacy of its characters as they try to come closer to those around them so they can, at the very least, alleviate some of the burden threatening to crush their very chests. Oleg and Stan feel the crushing pressure of Nina’s death, their guilt bubbling over and mixing with an unperturbed sense of deafening loss. Oleg’s father feels the pressure of burying one of his sons, a casualty of war his government won’t even recognize and the burden of Oleg’s shifting loyalties. Elizabeth feels the pressure of Phillip’s feelings for Martha and even though she may not necessarily be able to lip read, her expression made it clear that she knew what Phillip had told her. Phillip feels the pressure of ensuring that Martha isn’t, as Hans thinks, compromised. The two of them are concerned with the pressure of Paige, whom in turn is trying to relieve the pressure of mistrust she had garnered from Pastor Tim breaking her confidentiality. I’ve used the word “pressure” now more times in a single paragraph than is ever required in about six months of actually existing or so, but it is the singular word that makes the most amount of heft for the hour.
The Americans may have committed its greatest killing at the end of last week, but her presence is keenly felt by the three men who knew her the best, her death weighing on their consciences, bringing back the memories of their past and the consequences they never assumed would actually come about. Oleg in particular has a difficult hour, resulting in Costa Ronin’s finest performance in the series thus far. The show peels back the curtain on the elusive, forlorn resident of the Rezidentura to reveal his family dynamics back in the Soviet Union, dynamics that are as much in shambles as the Cold War politics of the era. Oleg’s father Igor understandably laments the loss of his young son Yevgeny in the theater of war but his grief at burying his own child is, whether or not he wants to admit it, matched by his anger that his surviving child is so distanced from his family, that he mourns the love of his life more than his brother. That may not necessarily be true, but that’s what Igor’s expression reads when he reveals to Oleg that Nina was executed, that she had been given an assignment and she interfered. Oleg’s grief rubs the most ostensibly irritated wound in Igor’s armor, the anger that his son would grieve for a traitor over Yevgeny’s heroic death in a war the government won’t even acknowledge. That reality weighs heavily over Igor’s conscience as he remembers his own return from World War II where he was hailed as a hero. He wants the same for his own son and the death of that honor for his child destroys him. The sight of him firing his own gun into the air to mark his son’s death is a terrible sight to behold, another reminder of the futility of war. It’s a note that the episode’s thoroughfare of war is presented with such an appropriate darkness despite older men noting the heroics of war or at the very least the meaning of it. Igor finds weight in what his son died for, but arguably what Nina died for was just as important, if not more. President Reagan in a telecast calls out to young people understanding the importance of war and fighting for one’s country. He didn’t place soil upon Yevgeny’s grave.
Martha’s quandary is becoming the most consternated by the moment, her life becoming significantly more claustrophobic as she reckons with the rolling consequences of her life with Clark. Hans notes that she was being followed, but he wasn’t firmly convinced. However, that’s enough to put Phillip on significantly tremulous ground with regards to Martha and he’s sure that they have to do something to protect her soon. Gabriel notes the significance of the work that Martha does for them but Phillip looks beyond the copies Martha makes for them and towards her as an individual. Throughout the entire hour, Martha is suffocated by the direction her life has taken and she is ostensibly receiving only one night a week from Clark in return. It’s what she was promised and as Martha noted to Agent Aderholdt, what she expected from her relationship was a notable understanding of expectations themselves. She knew what she was getting with Clark (to a certain degree, anyway) but now that certainty has faded away and Martha feels trapped, squeezed out of every ounce of assuredness she had with Clark. “I can’t live like this anymore,” she notes ruefully and Alison Wright conveys that sense of despair and simmering anger perfectly but she’s not sure if there’s any other aspect of existence left for her. “I love you,” Phillip notes to her quietly at night. “Tell me Tuesday,” she notes ruefully, an underlying portend of doom hanging about in the air. Elizabeth, meanwhile, watches Phillip from afar, her expression reading an understanding of what he had just said. As the strings of David Bowie ring throughout the air, Elizabeth approaches Phillip and initiates sex. The world is crushing around them, the pressure might prove to be too much, but in that moment, there’s a release through intimacy and in more ways than one, that’s the most they can hope for.
Great/Not So Great Moments Not Mentioned Above:
+The framing of Martha isolated by a pillar from her front door
+“Why would I expect to keep anything?”
+“I don’t know why I expect anything.”
+“The whole country’s going to shit.”
+“It’s not what I fought for. And it’s not what your brother died for.”
+“Wow, you really know how to kill a party.”
+“May the soil feel as soft as feathers.” Holy hell,
+Elizabeth on Reagan: “He looks like a clown.”
+“I have friends, wise-ass.”
+“Your country pays for the death squads.”
+“You think that guy’s really a priest?”
“I don’t know.”
+The framing of Oleg seemingly walking through the portrait of Lenin
+“They don’t execute people for nothing, Oleg.” Arkady’s reaction here is an interesting one, rooted perhaps in anger and a sense of guilt.
+The duplicity of the mirror
+“You’re all so sure of what I’m supposed to feel.”
+“[They love me, told me the truth, maybe that was a mistake.]”
+“We are people of action.”
+“You two care about people.”
+“She thought maybe she had been too hard on you.”
+“Is that a good thing?”
“Then it’s fine by me.”
+The sequence between Phillip, Elizabeth, Pastor Tim, Alice, and their presumed fake El Salvadorian priest was riveting. The futility of war once again was coming to light, becoming arguably one of the strongest continuing themes of the series and one it does incredibly well.
Episode Title: Clark’s Place
Written by: Peter Ackerman
Directed by: Noah Emmerich
Image Courtesy: Spoiler TV