A Television Review by Akash Singh
NOTE: SPOILERS OCCUR!!!!!!!
Loyalty is a virtue that portends a profoundly deepened, palpable thread of belonging, of trust, even of faith. Loyalty in that paradigm signals that there is a true investment on the behalf of an individual, be it towards another individual, an institution, or perhaps even a cause. There is an unwritten clause that loyalty signals a bond of equivalence that is expected to be upheld as a contract of sorts between the multiple parties in question. Yet those bonds, as we all know, rarely remain so intransigently beholden to one another. Circumstances, for one, simply change. People change. Relationships are formed and broken. Those changes often consequentially necessitate competing loyalties and one has to make a choice of which specific(s) loyalties matter more. Sometimes it becomes a question if certain loyalties are even worth keeping, perhaps because one begins to wonder if that aforementioned bond of equivalence even exists.
The world of The Americans is ubiquitous with characters who are loyal, whose loyalties change, and most critically, who are questioning their loyalties. The greatest feat of the series may be the germane, methodological mechanisms through which these characters have arrived at that juncture, how true their breakdown becomes regardless of their often extraordinary circumstances. I find myself harkening back to the brilliant pilot and how sure of herself Elizabeth seemed to be and to a lesser degree, Phillip. As Fleetwood Mac’s “Tusk” rang throughout the air, there was a sense of a morbid triumph even amongst the literal and figurative darkness surrounding them. That sense no longer exists. Even if Elizabeth’s and Phillip’s missions were going swimmingly at this current juncture, there’s a growing, gnawing feeling of tumult as things begin to crumble apart around them. The Americans is ubiquitous with a sense of denouement, a sense that Elizabeth and Phillip might truly be lost amidst the byzantium of treachery unfolding around them. As the series approaches its end, that sense becomes stronger.
Gabriel’s departure for the Soviet Union is a significant moment for The Americans, a departure that harkens towards the narrative archetype where the mentor departs and their mentee(s) have to traverse the journey forward alone. Frank Langella had become a significant presence in the lives of the Jennings’ and as the audience grew to know him more, they began to discover an underlying empathy in Gabriel that perhaps had not seemed to be in existence before. I had sensed empathy from Gabriel before, but as is often the case with characters in espionage narratives, there was always a hanging question of how much of his behavior and verbiage that gave birth to that empathy was genuine. But when he saw that Elizabeth and Phillip had brought Paige to meet with him, his visage broke into an expression of the most genuine, heartfelt gratitude he had yet expressed. Perhaps his meeting with Mischa in “Lotus 1-2-3” brought a new form of understanding as he interacted with another one of Phillips’s children. He sits down with Paige and tries to gain an understanding of who she is and perhaps ultimately to see if it was the right path for her to follow in her parents’s footsteps. Gabriel senses a courage in Paige, a courage that she cannot see in her own self. Paige doesn’t see that she had been particularly brave under any specific circumstance, but Gabriel assures her that she had asked for the truth and faced it. It was a difficult journey but Paige is traversing that journey and that takes courage. A rare smile breaks across Paige’s visage and as the Jennings’ walk away from Gabriel’s house, she realizes that Gabriel is like their family. Paige’s sense of loyalty is shifting, shifting away from Matthew but towards what or whom remains to be seen.
Elizabeth is questioning her loyalties in subtle ways. When she realizes that her honeytrap is cheating on her, she’s hurt and when Phillip notes that it is okay for her to feel that way, she sharply snaps that it isn’t. It wasn’t okay for her to put herself in a position where she might jeopardize her loyalty to the motherland. That loyalty was everything. But her conscience is becoming heavier, her sense of purpose is being diluted and even if she does not know why, she acknowledges that it does exist. She even confesses to Phillip in a rare moment of such open doubt that it would be a nice world if no one had to do the work they were doing. Just as revealing was her conversion with Paige that closed out “Immersion,” where Paige asks Elizabeth what she would have done with her life if she wasn’t a spy. Elizabeth laughs and pauses in the chilly autumn air as the ponders the answer to Paige’s question. She would be a doctor, she answered to Paige’s surprise. Paige’s note that Elizabeth has no bedside manner is astute but even with that in mind, Elizabeth would still be a doctor but one that went to impoverished regions and provided care for those who had no access to it. Elizabeth always senses a purpose greater than herself, but perhaps her honeytrap is opening a method is making her question the methods she had espoused to fulfill the goals her loyalty requires.
Phillip is unraveling far more quickly, in part because he didn’t have as austere of a loyalty to their mission as Elizabeth does. His conflicting loyalties have begun to steadily break him into several pieces. His honeytrap ends things and Elizabeth’s observation rings true. Phillip is afraid of another Martha, of another women who may have to suffer for their mission. That fear is augmented by how much he had cared for Martha in spite of himself. The paranoia seeps into Stan’s girlfriend Renee as Phillip wonders out loud if she was sent by the Center. Gabriel scoffs, questioning Phillips’s mental composure for a moment before dropping a note that might destabilize him even further, a note that when revealed to Elizabeth causes her to question her loyalty to Gabriel with slight hints of betrayal and anger. “You were right about Paige. She should be kept out of all this,” he says quietly before walking out of the door, leaving a thunderstruck, crumbling Phillip in his wake.
Musings (The Committee on Human Rights):
+“I have to know my son will be safe.”
+“I’m not like my Dad.”
+“She doesn’t think the world doesn’t owe her happiness, which is no small feat living in this country.”
+“Some were counterrevolutionaries. Some, some hadn’t done anything. Just people. I did it, too.”
+“I believed I was acting in the service of a higher purpose.”
+“He told you?”
+Elizabeth revealing her rape to Paige was a powerful scene
+Elizabeth doing tai chi
+“We’re not all as attractive as you, Elizabeth.”
+“I want her to believe in something.”
Episode Title: The Committee on Human Rights
Written by: Hilary Bettis
Directed by: Matthew Rhys
Episode Title: Immersion
Written by: Tracey Scott Wilson
Directed by: Kevin Bray
Image Courtesy: EW
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