A Television Review by Akash Singh
NOTE: SPOILERS OCCUR!!!!!!!
“O beautiful for halcyon skies,
For amber waves of grain,
For purple mountain majesties
Above the enameled plain!
God shed His grace on thee,
Till souls wax fair as earth and air
And music-hearted sea!”
-Katharine Lee Bates, “America the Beautiful”
The Americans returns with a quiet, eclectic hour that begins its penultimate season. “Amber Waves” is a confidently paced season opener, assured that the story it is a part of will receive the proper time to wrap in what is likely to be a satisfying manner. The simmering moments of tension where anything could erupt at any given moment have become a staple of the series and this season opener is no different. The title alone gives a significant indicator of where the series is going this season, taken from the opening paragraphs of Katharine Lee Bates’s famed “America the Beautiful.” Considered by many to be a more appropriate national anthem than “The Star-Spangled Banner,” “America the Beautiful” as a song is a perfect encapsulation of the patriotism that becomes so intertwined with nationalism that it becomes almost impossible to tell them apart. The song describes the natural majesty of America, the great and pristine lands that give the country its color, its natural heritage. It describes the grace of God that has shown itself in the beauty of this country. Most important for the purposes of this episode, however, are the amber waves of grain. The immediate picture that is conjured is one of a vast, golden field where the amber stalks of wheat rise mightily into the halcyon sky, basking in the warmth of the golden sun. The idea behind the amber waves is, of course, that America is a land of abundance, of wealth that can feed all of its citizens. That was often contrasted quite harshly with the lack of agricultural wealth in the Soviet Union, the empty shelf lines that served as a stark reminder of realities and great propaganda to ensure that countries choosing between Washington and Moscow, for example, would choose the former. The realities of the world, however, were considerably more complex and the circumstances within the United States themselves were far from rosy, something that stings the Jennings’ as they begin the next part of their journey.
“Amber Waves” begins with a stark contrast between the farm workers harvesting what they could in Soviet wheat fields and KGB officers being served with several different types of pastries with their morning cup of coffee. The scene transitions to a young Russian high school student Pascha, clearly at odds with his surroundings. He feels increasingly out of place, the clichéd fish out of water who luckily finds himself with a charming Vietnamese friend Tuan. It’s one of those Americans scenes that immediately gives the feeling that something is significantly off and within minutes, Tuan is revealed to be the adopted son of Mr. and Mrs. Eckert, a fabulous airline pilot and flight attendant couple. Pascha just happens to be the son of a Soviet defector named Alexei, who happens to be knowledgeable about agricultural paradigms, programs, and techniques. Suddenly the opening focus on the food shortages in the Soviet union click into place. While Mr. and Mrs. Eckert are sporting their fabulous hair, Tuan’s notes as a spy come chillingly to the forefront. He’s quite sharp and volatile in his emotions, noting that a man such as Alexei was “a piece of shit” and that it was frankly ridiculous that a man like that was ever allowed to leave the Soviet Union in the first place. A bullet should have been put into his head, he argues bluntly and Philip and Elizabeth look at their espionage-trained associate in a moment of quaint quietness, wondering perhaps if their associate’s righteous fury was perhaps a tad bit too much. Tuan is certainly a sharp distinction from, for example, poor Hans, who descends quite literally into a hole he helped dig.
The Americans is known for its subtlety, which the final sequence does notably lack. While it lacks that subtlety, however, it makes a perfect metaphor nevertheless of the challenges that await Philip and Elizabeth at nearly every juncture ahead. The hole they were digging was to garner material from a deceased William, a difficult task as he had infected himself and was thoroughly contaminated. Hans, a man whom Elizabeth had trained with such painstaking patience, slips after the hole was dug and becomes contaminated. He understandably panics before Elizabeth manages to calm him down. Hans sighs with relief, but it’s a sigh that is imbued with an inherent understanding that one was fucked. He sighs and turns his back and Elizabeth quickly shoots him in the head, a deployment of what she considered to be mercy. Paige is quickly going down the hole of falling in love with Matthew, a prospect that understandably terrifies her parents, but to note it’s not a hole that she dug. She just sort of fell in it as many of us do, at times in spite of our best efforts and for her to be held back because of her parents is undeniably frustrating. Oleg finds himself caught in an unspooling bureaucratic mess of corruption, corruption that looks likely to travel to the footsteps of his own parents. Oleg looks and behaves as if he is extremely uncomfortable in his old surroundings, perhaps because his conscience is dogging him after he gave Stan critical information last year and or because he might be back home to do more of the same. They just all have to watch their steps with extreme caution, or they just might find a bullet in the back of their head.
Great/Not So Great Moments Not Mentioned Above:
+The contrast of ideas on communal living was fascinating
+“It’s not as bad at home.”
+Mischa leaving the country
+Paige gets physical defense training
+“Maybe he’ll get a stamp.”
+Elizabeth’s Mrs. Eckert wig is on fire
Episode Title: Amber Waves
Written by: Joel Fields & Joe Weisberg
Directed by: Chris Long
Image Courtesy: TIME
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