A Television Review by Akash Singh
NOTE: SPOILERS OCCUR!!!!!!!
David Copperfield made the Statue of Liberty disappear on April 8th, 1983. The national feat was telecast across the nation on CBS, wowing audiences of all walks of life in ways they never imagined feasible. For a few moments, that dominant figure on the shores of New York whose message is keenly unforgotten and forgotten in equal measure, simply disappeared from the sky. She stood there one moment, her green façade illuminated by the fiery torch she held in her hands, beckoning the immigrants American politicians have used as tools to incite fear and hatred. Then she was gone the next, replaced by a blank slate of darkness and nothing else. A few stars were glittering but that was it. The curtain that had descended ascended quietly, rippling through the air until it reached its zenith. Then it simply dropped once more, revealing the lady standing there as if she had never left. And David Copperfield takes a bow. Espionage, one could argue, is the perfection of the art of crafting an illusion, raising and dropping curtains from one end to the next. Phillip and Elizabeth certainly do so throughout this magnificent hour, trying to straddle all of the various parts of their existence while closing certain segments in brutal, bloody fashions. Each wig is a new illusion. Each name is an effort to give that illusion a semblance of reality. Each curtain rises and at the behest of the magicians at the Center it is dropped. There is this understanding, however, as Gabriel sits down in front of them before the episode makes a time jump, that the number of illusions the Jenningses are trying to juggle are simply unsustainable. There are too many disguises, far too many names, an immeasurable number of curtains to rise and fall. The Americans of course is a drama and as such takes several liberties with the amount of danger a couple like the Jennings’s would take but the acknowledgement from Gabriel that they simply had to let a few curtains go transitions into the irony of raising another curtain, but this time it can’t conceal everything hidden beneath.
The first illusion that breaks is that of any hope for Martha. Alison Wright as usual knocks it out of the park with a tremendous performance that I truly hope garners an actual Emmy, especially since it’s fairly clear (despite my objections) that this is the curtal call for Martha. Martha was a character slated to die from the very beginning, since the audience realized the duplicitous nature of Clark and her’s relationship but she survived through the necessity of the story, a narrative that at each juncture built up seemingly fastidiously built walls only to crash them one by one until she was standing in front of a plane whose final destination was terrifying in every way and enthralling in none. David Copperfield V opens with Martha lying next to Mischa, the illusion of whatever relationship had existed between the two seemingly broken. She walks up quietly to go to the bathroom, washing her face. In the corner of her mirror she sees Mischa standing quietly, waiting for her departure. When she gets into the car, she expects Gabriel to drive, but the seemingly broken illusion of a relationship is there somewhat as Phillips gets quickly into the driver’s seat. They share a glance before the car takes off into the awakening streets. As Martha walks towards the plane, she turns back around for the final time. “Don’t be alone, Clark,” she whispers quietly. “All right? Don’t be alone.” The illusion of their relationship couldn’t break the reality of the love she had for him and even in the moment where she could have hated him with all of her might, she had the fortitude of character to wish him well. It’s a tragic farewell tinged with the worst of ironies. Martha spares one more quiet glance to the man standing outside before the plane flies off into the darkened sky, darkening out the lights in its wake.
Martha’s departure, as it very well should, weighs heavily upon Phillip’s conscience. He weakens through the episode, his face sinking into a gauntness of grief. Every step of his looks as if it weighted down by the weight of an entire world that was thrust upon his shoulders. Each movement is thusly bogged down, his expressions betraying a deep sense of loss that he can’t bring himself to truly express. He’s like an illusion to his own life, wafting in and out and nothing Elizabeth does or says cuts into that despondency to the length she wants it to. She can see quite clearly how much Martha’s departure is eating into him, pushing him into the arms of EST instead of hers. Seeing Elizabeth try to cheer Phillip up is always slightly disconcerting, but it’s a genuine attempt from her side to cheer him up in some way or another. She slips, however, when she notes that Martha was simple. What exactly she meant by that is likely to be a combination of a myriad of feelings about the character, but Phillip takes the suggestion as well as someone would imagine he does. “She wasn’t simple,” he says quietly and those three simple words (no pun intended) are immensely loaded and they’re in their sum quite true. Martha wasn’t simple, she wasn’t easy and it’s perhaps eating away at Phillip that that was the quality that made her such a target for the KGB but it proved over time to be so completely wrong. Elizabeth responds sharply to Phillip’s protestations over Martha’s character, her attempted illusion of camaraderie escaping in about three seconds. But that illusion remains throughout Elizabeth going to EST, where the speaker goes to a very pointed message about how people love being in prisons they craft for themselves. She comes home to a still despondent Phillip, declaring that she went to EST. Then all hell breaks loose.
Elizabeth finds EST to be the prime product of American capitalism, where you get snippets of a product or at least a product with the promise of a better version in the future. It’s in her mind a design to extract as much profit out of someone’s pocket as possible, ensuring that the product goes just long enough to where the consumer is satisfied yet leaves them wanting more and more and more. It’s hard to argue with that logic in the strictest sense and Phillip and perhaps even more so Stan, in their earliest trips, would certainly agree with her. But EST has become something quite different for Phillip, something far more akin to what Sandra was getting out of those meetings. Sometimes there isn’t anyone to talk to, sometimes there simply isn’t any understanding of where to go from where one is in their life and things like EST may help. Elizabeth’s juxtaposition that Phillip feels more comfortable in his own skin in front of a hotel room completely full of strangers is an understandable one from her point of view, but it is equally understandable that what she views as a manipulation is something Phillip finds much easier to cope with. Sometimes it’s simply a lot easier to talk about one’s feelings and inner turmoil with a complete stranger or even a group of them. They don’t completely know you, they don’t have an acute understanding of whom you are as an individual or what you are for that matter. The stranger has no expectation of you as a person so you likewise have no reason to walk around those barriers that prevent you from telling the truth about whom you are or what you’re feelings. You can just say and that can be one of the most liberating feelings in existence. There’s also the understanding from the stranger of authenticity. They, once again, have little at stake in that particular instance and theoretically there is no need for them to not give their honest, unbiased reading of what one is suffering through. That’s what Phillip gets from EST and what Elizabeth, by virtue of being a fairly different individual on an emotional basis, simply doesn’t.
Their hallway fight is brilliant in how tense and condensed it is. Elizabeth finds the weight of despondency Phillip feels for Martha alone to be fairly ludicrous, a notion Phillip retorts with “Isn’t that enough?” The curtains of the past are dropped fastidiously and the ghosts of Gregory and Irina burst forth like magic tricks the audience had been expecting but never really seeing coming back. Neither of them are living without their demons, their ghosts of the past and if either of them thought the other was capable of doing so (in this case, the dichotomy is obvious), that illusion is broken resoundingly. The tension boils before a phone call snaps it off but the understanding that there are simply too many curtains rising and falling for Phillip and Elizabeth rings clear. When she comes to Gabriel’s place and sinks into a chair, shaken after her murder of Lisa, Gabriel sees the time for a reprieve and the camera pivots brilliantly towards a miniature Statue of Liberty (the illusion from the camerawork there is fantastic) on a mini-golf course. The story in that moment pivots back towards Paige, as a montage of pleasantry and some sense of accrued happiness. It’s a smooth transition if an alarming one in how utterly calm everything seems, but a brilliant trick that is exposed the moment that Paige exits the car of Pastor Tim and Alice. The expression on her face is nothing but resignation, her having come to terms about what her existence meant from the moment Elizabeth had burst upon her for skipping Bible Study with Pastor Tim. She coldly recites what Pastor Tim and Alice were like, what they had said, and what they thought. For a brief few minutes, it seemed above everything else that The Americans had struck something resembling a happy family, one that watched David Copperfield perform his magic trick in front of an entire nation. In an episode full of illusions both metaphorical and literal, that may be the best magic trick of them all.
Great/Not So Great Moments Not Mentioned Above:
+“Start getting used to more Dad.”
+“You know what Mary Kay said about that?”
+“Skincare isn’t just something you buy. It’s something you learn.”
+Elizabeth and Young-Hee sneaking into The Outsiders
+Phillip visiting Eugene’s grave
+“Things can be arranged, Gabriel.”
+“Every one of you here has the opportunity to lead an authentic life.”
+“You love your prison. You love the prison you’ve made for yourself.”
+Tatiana’s brother called up. This may be the most I’ve felt for her, but it still isn’t much.
+“You can control what you do.”
+“That is all that stands between us and this family being destroyed!”
+“We did what we had to do.”
+Elizabeth murdering Lisa as a means of efficiency. That camera drift towards the window before the scene cut off was chilling.
+“Things have to change.” True, but will they?
+“Take the kids to EPCOT.”
+“Your conscience is bothering you.”
+“You can’t lose sight of who these people are.”
+Matthew Rhys directed tonight’s episode and what a debut it was. I look forward to more of his work.
Episode Title: The Magic of David Copperfield V: The Statue of Liberty Disappears
Written by: Stephen Schiff
Directed by: Matthew Rhys
Image Courtesy: FX Networks @ YouTube