A Television Review by Akash Singh
NOTE: SPOILERS OCCUR!!!!!!!
Stan described the munchkins of the title as those running around the new director Webster, Agent Gaad’s replacement, hoping to curry the director’s favor as if them licking his boots were all the ambition they had left in their bodies. That may very well be the case, the irony of it being delicious if the as of yet unforeseen Agent Webster is fairly unresponsive to those bootlicking munchkins. Something tells me that he is not, which only serves to set the tragedy of the sad state of affairs at the FBI. Gaad getting canned because of his string of failures topping off with Martha’s pen and then her swift departure makes sense in terms of how these bureaucracies function, but the culture in the office after his replacement doesn’t bode well for their efficiency in any sense. Agent Aderholdt makes a morose note of how he would have left with Gaad if he had known what the office would devolve into, but simply quitting isn’t always an option. Munchkins as an episode is chalk full of sequence where characters are asking for the approval of others. They may not make it obvious and known, but the underlying desires for others to accept them for whom they are, for what they’ve done, for what relationship exists between them is hard to miss. Even Elizabeth, the one arguably who is the more hard-core of the two, arrives at that juncture in a simultaneously surprising yet unsurprising sequence with Gabriel. Munchkins is ultimately a quiet episode, but in a true The Americans tradition, that quiet arrives with a truly disarming sense of tension, the most tense of which involves Henry acting like a teenager and bouncing a tennis wall off of the garage door.
It’s the complete oddity with which that sequence arrives that creates the tension. The Jennings’s kitchen, the site of the best scene in the show’s history in last season’s Stingers, is seemingly about to erupt at any given second. Paige is trembling and Elizabeth and Phillip are doing their best not to disarm their daughter at a fairly turbulent moment. Then a clanging BAM cuts through the suffocating silence like a sharp blade and one can hear the shattering pieces clanging onto the floor. Paige is slowly awakening acutely to the reality of what her life may be, what her parents’s life may be when she is not around. When Elizabeth and Phillip broke the secret that they were in fact Russian spies, unbeknownst to them, she had found a reason never to trust them again. That’s not to say she could never trust a modicum of what they were saying or even the entirety of it. But no matter what circumstance arises in the future, there is this nagging belief in some part of her mind that constantly questions the authenticity of what her parents are telling her. What if there was little truth to what they about the work they do? What if they actually kidnapped and killed people? What if people were hurt by the work they did? When their doorbell rings early on in the episode, Phillip imagines it to be Stan but it turns out to be Alice, who storms in with fury and fear entrenched into every facet of her visage. Pastor Tim had gone missing in Ethiopia, a client state of the U.S.S.R. where there were even Soviet troops stationed. She threatens Phillip and Elizabeth that if her husband was not safely returned or if she were to befall any harm in any way that she would send a tape to a lawyer in the Justice Department. The tape happens to have a confession of what they’ve done on it. Pastor Tim is found by the episode’s denouement, but his momentary disappearance brings forth an even greater tension for the Jenningses.
When Alice leaves, something awakens within Paige. She doesn’t know. She doesn’t know what her parents are often truly up to. She simply has to buy their word for it but based on everything they’ve told her so far, what reason did she have to trust them? They could be lying to her as smoothly as they had lied to her before their confession and they could expect quite reasonably that Paige wouldn’t say anything at all, that she wouldn’t even bother thinking twice about whether or not her parents were even telling the truth. After all, Pastor Tim knew about them. Alice knew about them. Pastor Tim had gone to Ethiopia many times before but him disappearing on the first trip after he found out about their truth? She has every right to be suspicious and she shows it, but even with her acceptance at the end that her parents didn’t kidnap or kill Pastor Tim, there’s every logical reason to assume that she would find out something else entirely. The most unsavory thing Elizabeth has ever done is something that is certainly up for debate, but the mission with Young-hee is the one that is hitting closest to home. She sees a true comrade in Young-hee and perhaps not an ideological one, but a personal one. When Phillip descends from his commitment to the cause, it is Elizabeth who arguably has to pick up the slack. This is the first time when the weight of it is upon her bearing so much that she can’t completely bring herself to completely destroy the marriage of someone she truly cares for. Young-hee leaves her a voicemail about how Don’s behavior has changed so much and she comes to tears because she simply doesn’t know what to do. She wants her good friend Patty to be there with her, to be by her side. Elizabeth believes her feelings don’t matter, that they shouldn’t matter, but she simply can’t help it. “They’ll never recover,” she says quietly, knowingly. Gabriel does the unthinkable and offers to ask the Center to remove Elizabeth from the case, to find another way to their desired access codes. Elizabeth mulls it over for a second before a quiet “Yes” escapes her lips.
Great/Not So Great Moments Not Mentioned Above:
+The greedy guy at the collective
-How does Henry not hear everything?
+“You can’t understand America without a Twinkie.”
+“One of the departments we don’t talk about.”
+“It’s pretty good for you, that’s the thing.”
+“You’re worse than she is.”
+“I love you and Pastor Tim so much.”
+“People disappear for all sorts of reasons.”
+“You can’t be Russian spies in Russia!”
+Gaad’s death almost played like a piece of extremely dark comedy. Well done.
+James the Pot Connoisseur and Hello, Kimmy!
+“It could bring you and your dad closer together.”
+“Just the caffeine is good enough.” I hear you, Paige. On the caffeine note, do I detect some affection for Paige from Matthew?
+“I don’t think we should ask Alice for the tape right now.” Paige is becoming quite the spy and Elizabeth knows it.
+“When are you going to tell Henry?”
+“Maybe it never should have been planned in the first place.”
+“You sound like Phillip after an EST meeting.”
Episode Title: Munchkins
Written by: Peter Ackerman
Directed by: Steph Green
Image Courtesy: Vox