The Americans 5.03: “The Midges” Review

Tangerines

A Television Review by Akash Singh

NOTE: SPOILERS OCCUR!!!!!!!

“The system destroys everybody who tries to make change.”

The world of The Americans is a world of systems at war, even if the historical understanding of those systems is simplistic to a fault. What is consistent regardless of the system at play here, however, is the idea that those at the top of the system ensure that they remain there, that their power is strengthened, be it may at the expense of the system itself. Alexei’s bitter verbiage is a response from a man who tried to change the system but found that those attempts ended up turning around to destroy him instead. The Soviet system was not one that was created to be flexible, to progress with the times. It was an intransigent system designed to keep the Soviet oligarchy in power and any attempt at undermining that was met with a swift reprisal. Alexei positions himself as this rebel with a cause and based on his pompous demeanor alone, it makes perfect sense to doubt him and his self-professed rebellious streak. Even if Alexei truly is too holier-than-thou to be truthful in these circumstances, he does have a point. The irony is that he has found himself within the enthralls of another system that works in a similar fashion. One of the greatest flaws in the simplistic analysis of the Cold War is that one side promised tyranny while the other side promised freedom, an analysis that simply removes the inherent injustice present in the Western, capitalistic model of governance. Alexei simply seems too distracted, enamored by the material niceties promised and provided to him by his American handlers to look at the inequities hiding in the system he so readily espouses, a new convert if one will. A part of that conversion is understandable, as the appearance of material goods does have a considerable amount of power. A part of it is less so, as he seems so eager to consume every food item from Bennigan’s that he seems to be simply oblivious to the shock of his wife and son finding themselves in a strange place that was the antithesis of everything they had been told was righteous in the world. That Alexei brought them to America without their prior consent isn’t likely to help matters. It’s likely that Alexei as a seemingly straight, white man doesn’t see the inherent inequalities of capitalism and doesn’t see a system whose espousal of “free will” is in service to the system and not the self.

There is a degree to which Paige is able to see that, even if she found that pathway through religion. That pathway at the onset terrified Elizabeth, bringing forth the possibility that Paige was consuming the opiate of the masses and thus would become entrenched into the system of American capitalism. It ended up having quite the opposite effect and Elizabeth was smart enough to take advantage of Paige’s social consciousness awakening to shift her towards their ideological viewpoint. Realizing that Paige needed to feel as if she wasn’t being lied to, wasn’t having secrets kept from her, Elizabeth and Phillip realized that it was imperative to give some details about the work they were doing. Conveniently leaving out the less savory aspects of their work, Elizabeth and Phillip begin with describing how they espouse different identities in order to create contacts and garner information. It’s the most palatable part of their work and the most logical answer to Paige’s reasonable question about how people don’t recognize them on their espionage “tours” for lack of a better phrase. Paige’s next question is just as reasonable, where she wonders if her parents have to form friendships to gain the trust of other folks so they could then garner information from them. Elizabeth and Phillip nod curtly, toeing the ethical line with an explanation of how sometimes it was necessary to befriend people in order to get information from them. Perhaps understanding that thin ethical distinction, Elizabeth and Phillip suddenly touch upon what they discovered with the crops, that the United States was deliberately tampering with Soviet food supplies. Smartly they manage to add that they know that their country was far from perfect, but tampering with food supplies was an evil they couldn’t understand. It’s an evil Paige couldn’t understand either and she tries to pair that reality with everything she had been taught about the seeming binary system of geopolitics, but she understandably is quite conflicted about the entire affair. Elizabeth may not even have to worry about Matthew, either, as his nonchalant “There’s nothing we can do” attitude jars sharply against Paige’s activism and the feelings she has towards him.

The shortages of foodstuffs looks to continue being a major narrative player this season. On the Soviet side, Oleg largely ignores his possible entanglement with the CIA and instead focuses on his job overlooking possible avenues of corruption. He begins at a supermarket where there is a “suspicious amount” of selection, a jarring assessment considering how empty the shelves are as Oleg is walking through them. Oleg rightfully assumes that there is some sort of black market deal going on to ensure that Ekaterina’s supermarket has a higher degree of quantity and variety than her competitors. She is visibly uncomfortable and nervous about the entire affair and not even a bag of fresh, tasty tangerines was enough for Oleg to calmly back away. He wasn’t rude or macho about it, either, which added in its own distinct layer of tension. In the States, Phillip and Elizabeth make their way to Oklahoma, where they discover a scientist who had been engineering some of the bugs used to destroy the crops. Before that, however, Phillip notes to Elizabeth that the giant wheat fields of the state reminded him of the vast swaths of grain fields that were back in the Soviet Union. “Why can’t we grow enough grain ourselves?” he wonders out loud and Elizabeth’s reply of every country having its problems seems to settle the matter for that particular moment, even though the question lingers uncomfortably. The scientist in question, however, inadvertently adds further fuel to a fire that Elizabeth and Phillip feel on a deeply personal level. He has been engineering midges, which can help destroy grain, but for him it’s simply an assignment he never questioned and in all likelihood wasn’t allowed to, either. Elizabeth and Phillip don’t care if he was allowed or not. He never asked, he simply performed, and that was enough to ensure his complicity and his death. In the past, Elizabeth and Phillip have often displayed remorse at killing (Elizabeth in the phenomenal episode “Do Mail Robots Dream of Electric Sheep?” comes to mind), but here Phillip snaps his neck not just without a thought to spare, but also with a keen sense of absolute, righteous fury.

Great/Not So Great Moments Not Mentioned Above:

+“If we stop this, then a lot of people won’t have to suffer.”

+“Is it hard, pretending to be other people?”

+Martha at the supermarket!

+“You hold back what you need to.” Elizabeth’s dating advice.

+Mischa in Ljubljana

Great

8.5/10

Episode Title: The Midges

Written by: Tracey Scott Wilson

Directed by: Stefan Schwartz

Image Courtesy: IGN

Musings:

Every review from now on will have links to organizations who are in need of resources. Please contribute if you are able:

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