Busy and Irritated
A Television Review by Akash Singh
NOTE: SPOILERS OCCUR!!!!!!!
The Americans in its penultimate season is a series deconstructing the realities of ruminations and the difficulties they present when reflecting upon one’s life and the choices made within it. Consequently these two installments of one of television’s best dramas are heavy with emotion, keeping up with the espionage but remembering that ultimately, what matters the most to the narrative are the characters and their respective places within this tumultuous world. Joshua Brands’s script for “Lotus 1-2-3” is the sharper of the two in that regard, bringing forth emotional heft from a plethora of junctures, but there’s plenty of sharp breaths that burrow deep within the Jennings’s and those around them in “Crossbreeds” as well. The primary plot catalyst that drives forth so many of those aforementioned ruminations is the revelation that the man whom Elizabeth was under the impression was helping kill Soviet crops was instead doing something quite different. Elizabeth’s original impression and mine was one of assuming the validity in that assertion, coming from the cynicism that geopolitics could validate deplorable behavior of any magnitude and depth of inhumanity. In this particular instance, however, the wandering traveler of a scientist was instead exposing crops to a multitude of pests in order to derive the most formidable of grains that could withstand as much as naturally possible so world hunger could be abated. The immediate ramification in Phillip’s and Elizabeth’s mind is the scientist they killed in the greenhouse, who was doing the exact opposite of the work they assumed he had been culpable in. In one instant, the Jennings’s once again arrive at a precarious precipice but with more of a somber, haunting reflection upon their past and what it ultimately means.
Phillip is coming to a sort of reckoning as to how his life has reconciled with the paradigm of fatherhood. As the guilt over killing the innocent scientist continues to seep through his mind, he has flashbacks to his childhood and the small bits of food that were available to him, compounding that guilt even further. Phillip has generally been the more reluctant partner in crime at times, the one whom the audience was sure had a far higher chance of defecting to the Americans than Elizabeth. That gives his character a germane window into his emotional turmoil, which surely wouldn’t be helped by him realizing that his previous emotional disconnects from the ideal spy cost him the opportunity. Gabriel informs a fairly cold-hearted Claudia that Mischa had arrived in America and Claudia immediately shuts the idea down, even though, as Gabriel points out, that really is Phillip’s call to make. Claudia, however, instantly makes a note that Phillip is weak, is more emotionally compromised than a man in his position ought to be, and thusly didn’t need any more opportunities to lose sight of the work he needed to be doing. Phillip’s nonexistent relationship with his other son, Mischa, provides the episode with it’s most emotionally wrenching sequence as he realizes that in spite of the sheer painstaking work it took him to come to America, he wouldn’t be able to meet the man who was partially responsible for his creation. He looks upon Gabriel with a quiet, understated heartbreak. “I want to see Father,” he whispers quietly, unaware of all the audience hearts that were simultaneously breaking. But Gabriel couldn’t, wouldn’t allow him his heart’s deepest desires and as he makes that arguable necessity known, Frank Langella’s eyes quietly reveal that he believed depriving Phillip of this connection of fatherhood was wrong. Perhaps it’s the catalyst that makes him decide to leave.
Elizabeth’s torturous moment arrives at a seemingly innocuous moment. The doorbell rings and Paige opens it to a Mary Kay saleswoman who swears on her creams like there’s no tomorrow. Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys’s acting prowess should have given both of them a closet bursting with Emmys and Russell is no exception here. Elizabeth often makes a note of hiding her emotions behind a certain veneer, but here Russell opens up her inner emotional turmoil to the audience and the effect is tremendous. It doesn’t take more than a second for the audience to understand that Elizabeth’s pain is coming from the true friendship that she had formed with Young-hee, a friendship whose betrayal at her hand still haunts her, as it should. The moment sticks with Elizabeth and she decides to drive by the house where Young-hee and her family used to live. She pauses and watches the family that lives there now waltz in with a relative abandon and an indescribable mixture of anguish plays itself across its face. The Americans in part is defined by the question of what people would sacrifice for what they believe in or as is often the case, what they believe they should believe in. Elizabeth and Phillip’s critical dinner table conversation understands just as much. The optimal conditions for Elizabeth and Phillip would be to detach themselves as much as humanly possible from every scenario, every assignment, even from one another because irrational emotional connections as we all understand make things significantly more complicated. The rationality of the irrational paradigm makes that impossible, however, and the Jennings’s are keenly aware of that, to a certain extent anyhow. Elizabeth and Phillip not being in love with one another would make things easier in some capacity, but that’s certainly not the case, even though the distance that remains between them is, at least for the moment, inescapable.
Great/Not So Great Moments Not Mentioned Above (Lotus 1-2-3):
+Henry moving up to Algebra II
+“I was hoping that he would make me feel better.”
+“Maybe I’m meant to be alone.”
+Mischa’s quiet “Why?” was devastating
+“It’s us, Elizabeth. It’s us.”
Great/Not So Great Moments Not Mentioned Above (Crossbreed):
+“I feel like there’s something wrong with me.”
+“I feel like there’s a whole other you I don’t know about.”
+Elizabeth doing tai chi
+“I don’t think he’s particularly happy.”
“Has he ever been?”
+“I’ve never lied to them before.”
+Elizabeth’s eyeroll as she left the psychiatrist’s office is everything
+Phillip’s father used to be a prison camp guard
+Elizabeth and Paige discussing Marx was a phenomenal sequence, as Paige unknowingly brings up the dichotomy of the equity Karl Marx spoke of and whether or not those ideas meant something in their execution.
+Elizabeth and Phillip bringing Paige to meet Gabriel
Episode Title: Lotus 1-2-3
Written by: Joshua Brand
Directed by: Noah Emmerich
Image Courtesy: Vox
Episode Title: Crossbreed
Written by: Stephen Schiff
Directed by: Roxann Dawson