The Americans: The Clock

“They shouldn’t ask us to do impossible things.”

Faced with having to put surveillance equipment in the Secretary of Defense’s office, Elizabeth and Philip try to blackmail his maid into stealing and later replacing his clock. Thrown into the mix were Philip’s blonde bombshell asset, a caviar embezzling embassy employee, and the Jennings’ paranoid neighbor Beeman.

I wasn’t blown away by the second installment of The Americans. I think I was thrown by the change of pace. The pilot barely left its audience time to catch their breath, but things slowed down considerably this week and took a turn for the philosophic. “The Clock” is about limits. How far would you go for your family? How far would you go for your country? It’s risky for a show to pull an abstract morality episode this early, but it worked.

I kept expecting Elizabeth or Philip to weaken and save Grayson. They are parents, after all, and Grayson seemed like a perfectly nice young man. “Weak” turns out to be a word that does not apply to Elizabeth and Philip in any way, shape, or form. While Philip is more hesitant and questioning than his wife, when they carry out a mission, they do so flawlessly. Emotion and conscience do not inhibit them in the slightest. The term “goal-oriented” comes to mind.

The Americans is already engaging morality more than my all-time favorite spy show. I like it. Elizabeth and Philip aren’t excused for their actions, nor are they vilified. It would be easy for the show to take sides in the matter, but, from my perspective, it is so far remaining rather neutral. Directorate S is not “evil” any more than the FBI. Elizabeth and Philip were willing to kill an innocent young man for their country, but Beeman was willing to let his partner torture a man for information. There is no “right” side here.

Last week we saw Elizabeth exchange sex for information. This week was Philip’s turn. I was immediately thrown by the notion that Philip (a.k.a. Scott) would cheat on Elizabeth. Last week suggested that he cared for her more than as just a partner. I suppose it’s just another instance of how far the Jennings will go for their country. Annelise is not my favorite character. She’s needy and annoying, not to mention stupid. I’m already sort of hoping she meets a messy end.

My favorite part of the episode was the exploration of Elizabeth’s complicated relationship with her budding mallrat daughter Paige. I like the generational conflict between mother and daughter. It is of course complicated by cultural differences that Paige does not even know exist. Elizabeth referred to Paige this week as “delicate somehow.” Last week she dismissed Americans as weak. I wonder if she’s not a little disappointed in her daughter’s weakness/delicateness and her Americanness.

The ear piercing scene was, for me, the highlight of the episode. In piercing her daughter’s ears just as her mother pierced her ears, Elizabeth is endeavoring to bring her daughter closer to her. Paige is coming of age in the 1980s in the US, while Elizabeth grew up in the USSR. They likely have very few shared experiences. Now they have one. At least that’s all I thought was going on at first. Then Paige bled onto her bed. The blood on the bed sheet was a clear symbol of loss of virginity or, taken less literally, loss of innocence. By piercing her daughter’s ears, Elizabeth was in a way letting her daughter go and acknowledging her nascent adulthood.

Soviet Bits & Communist Pieces:

Elizabeth wore a blonde wig when she seduced that guy from last week. Annelise is blonde. The stereotype is clear. I take comfort in that both the be-wigged Elizabeth and Annelise are platinum blondes, while my hue falls more into the honey range.

I loved the opening credit sequence. It reminded me of True Blood’s.

The office Elizabeth and Philip were trying so desperately to bug belonged to Caspar Willard Weinberger, the second longest serving Secretary of Defense ever.

I was curious to see how much beluga caviar would cost today, but I discovered that importing beluga caviar into the US is illegal as the Beluga Sturgeon is critically endangered.

I love my mother very, very much, but I never would have let her pierce my ears.

Quotes:

Elizabeth: “You never said she looked like that.”
Philip: “Yeah I did.”
Elizabeth: “Not like that.”
In Philip’s defense, she is usually clothed.

Beeman: “Should we beat him senseless?”
Amador: “I don’t know. He’s kind of big.”

Philip: “Don’t start with the pie this time.”
Henry: “Why? You let me eat the pie first last time.”
Philip: “I know and that was a mistake.”

Paige: “Mom, things are different than when you grew up. People are like, freer.”
No kidding.

Philip: “Coming to you live, from the home of the Secretary of Defense.”
Elizabeth: “Still joking. That’s a good sign.”

Hi-Fi Guy: “You can’t do this.”
Beeman: “I can’t. You’re right. But him? He’s one of three minorities we have at our headquarters. They can’t fire him. He can pretty much do anything.”

Philip: “There’s been a misunderstanding between you and your Lord.”
LOVE this.

Beeman: “Well, that was the president.”
FBI Guy: “That wasn’t the president.”
Beeman: “It was the chief of staff, but still.”
So far Beeman is the only funny character on the show.

three out of four clocks

5 comments:

CrazyCris said...

I was particularly impressed that they aren't holding back any punches! No trying to sugarcoat Elizabeth and Philippe so we'll like them more. They're spies, they're fighting a war to defent their country and in doing that they will do whatever it takes!

But another sign of possible future unravelling was Elizabeth's confession at the end: "The shouldn't ask us to do impossible things"

PlatinumRosebud said...

Nice review, Sunbunny.

For a while there, I thought Philip is going to give Annelise her walking papers.
She's not just annoying and needy; she has the tendency to result to blackmail which she does soon so that her passport to oblivion gets to be stamped.
I sensed a bit of jealousy from Elizabeth upon seeing a less dressed Annelise. :)

I got my ears pierced by my Mom.
And I don't remember experiencing any pain while she did it.
She's a nurse, btw. :)

It was nice to see Richard Thomas again.

I, too, thought that the emotional aspect of being a parent would have made Elizabeth and Philip sympathetic and give Grayson the antidote.
That would have been a stereo-typed kind of result which I guess the writers of this show is trying to avoid to fall into.

I wonder what kind of "danger" the new FBI informant will bring in for the Jennings.


Jess Lynde said...

I didn't like this second episode as much as the pilot, but it still had a lot of fascinating elements. I particularly like the parallels drawn between Elizabeth's and Phillip's methods and Agent Beeman's. And I'm rather struck by how much I sympathize with and root for Elizabeth and Phillip, even though they are doing terrible things in service of "the enemy."

I also liked the slight parallel between Phillip's car scene with Annalise and his later car scene with Elizabeth. The contrast between Annalise's fantasy of romance and connection, and his actual connection with Elizabeth was very interesting. I particularly loved how much more intimate and close the simple act of Elizabeth holding Phillip's hand felt, compared to Annalise hugging up on him and kissing him.

I think Elizabeth was proud of Paige's mild reaction to the sight of the blood and her lack of squeamishness at having her mother pierce her ears. It was like she was discovering Paige is not as delicate as she suspected.

I really enjoy Phillip's dynamic with Henry. It feels so relaxed and genuine. Just a nice realistic touch in an otherwise heightened drama.

Billie Doux said...

I was also thinking about how interesting it is that our two heroes are people we shouldn't be rooting for, and yet I'm caring about them and their lives, their children. I was also wondering about why Beeman brought the caviar over to Phillip. It just seemed weird, like he still suspected him just a little. Although if he suspected Phillip in any way, would he tip his hand by bringing over a Russian delicacy? Hey, I don't know what it meant, but it was interesting.

Phillip is still talking about doing all this for nothing. Elizabeth is still deeply, strongly loyal to the cause. It's such an interesting dynamic.

Terrific review, Sunbunny.

ChrisB said...

Like so many others, I am struck by how well balanced this show is. Neither side is "good" and neither is "bad." They are both doing morally questionable things in service of a bigger idea -- their country.

I was struck by how pissed off Amador was when Beeman got the credit for bringing in Nina. I understood his frustration, but if I were Beeman, I would start watching my back.

I loved the ear piercing scene. In the past two episodes, we have seen Paige go through two rites of passage. Last week was the first period; this week was the first bra. It felt to me as though Elizabeth was accepting the changes in her daughter's life and is now helping her to become a young woman instead of fighting so hard against it.

Does anyone else think that Annelise is setting up Phillip/Scott? That whole scene in the car was just odd, and then she just walked away? It all felt hinky to me and it wouldn't surprise me if she has an endgame of her own.