The Americans: Comint

“I won’t say this job is twice as hard for women, but it’s something close to that.”

Very often, spy movies and shows revolve around the men who inhabit this world. They are portrayed as superhuman (Jason Bourne) and, more often than not, misogynistic (James Bond). In the world of The Americans, however, the women play as vital a role and their actions directly affect the men around them.

The recurring theme in this week’s episode was women using their sexuality, either overtly or covertly, to achieve their aims. Not all of these aims are intelligence gathering related; some are just intended to attract the man to whom they are attracted. In each of these situations, the men involved directly or indirectly did not always respond as the women expect.

Granny, who is older and probably not seen by many as a sexual being anymore, has used this technique in the past. The story she tells of the agent she ran in West Germany tells us a lot about who this woman is. She is able to take advantage of a man who was desperate for a friend and, when “many years later” the agent is no longer of any use to her, she lets him go. This agent commits suicide. While Granny is using this story as an example for Elizabeth about the value of one agent/one handler, clearly the memory of this man still upsets her.

Martha, who is not a spy, just has a crush on this guy who comes to her house occasionally. She buys a new pair of sexy pumps to wear for Clark/Philip. They do not go unnoticed, either by Amador or by Philip. Unfortunately for her, she is not attracted to Amador who wouldn’t mind continuing to date her and Philip rebuffs her. His kiss is sweet, but he effectively shuts down any other possible relationship with her. Of course, what we want is what we can’t have, so Philip is ensuring that she will stick around for a while.

Nina, a woman being forced to spy, uses sex to get the information Beeman is looking for, but she doesn’t see it as being her idea. She hears Beeman say that she will figure out how to get the information and she interprets this as his telling her to use sex. Beeman’s trying to learn Russian is a fantastic metaphor; these two literally speak different languages.

Because Beeman is well on his way to falling for this girl, he is shocked and visibly distressed when he learns what she did to get the information. Nina instantly recognizes what is happening and calls him on it. She doesn’t stop doing what she feels needs to be done, however. The second time she is with Vasili, she does so knowing that this act is not a requirement.

Elizabeth, a spy by choice, often uses her sexuality in her work, but we saw two very different sides to it this week. As she is testing Adam Dorwin, Elizabeth plays down her femininity and sexuality. In an ill fitting suit and hair pulled tightly back, she is able to approach Udacha as someone non-threatening. Her demeanor is also very restrained. Showing sympathy, compassion and a false sense of discomfort around the questions about sex, she nearly brings this man to tears. It works. Elizabeth realizes that the man is a liability and executes him, again in clothes that are all about doing the job on hand.

Elizabeth is also able to play the opposite side of the sexuality spectrum. Sleeping with Shultz to get the information she needs, the encounter quickly turns ugly and vicious. I found it very hard to watch this man beat her with a belt, but I was even more disturbed when it became clear that this was not the first time Elizabeth had been in this situation. She is incredibly brave, still gathering intelligence as she is getting dressed.

Elizabeth is able to compartmentalize better than anyone else we have seen so far. For her, enduring the beatings and the sex are just part of the job and she is willing to endure it because it enables her to be successful at what she does. This ability to separate, however, only goes so far. In the scene where Philip discovers that she has been beaten, every time he tries to touch her, she pulls away. While I am sure that there is an element of physical pain, there must also be an element of emotional pain.

Philip is simply unable to compartmentalize his wife being beaten; he is furious and wants to kill the guy who has hurt the woman he loves. The exchange between the two of them in the garage was heartbreaking. Philip is rightfully angry and set on vengeance. Elizabeth is hurting and does what we all do when we hurt; she lashes out in the way that she knows will hurt Philip the most. Keeping people at arm’s length is her default position.

She is trying to change that, especially with Philip. I love the scenes where she confides in him and the one in the car where she tells him that she always worries was moving. A constant state of worry would affect anyone. The best part of this conversation is that Philip was not only listening, he heard what she was saying. As he crawls into bed that night, although the news that there is a mole is huge and will have to be dealt with, it doesn’t need to be addressed in the middle of the night. He tells her not to worry and wraps himself around her. I got tears in my eyes.

Another episode that I loved. It shocked me, moved me and will haunt me for a while. Three and half out of four vanilla cream doughnuts.

Observations:

-- I learned a new word this morning. Comint [KOM-int] noun: the gathering of political or military intelligence by interception of wire or radio communications; technical and intelligence information derived from foreign communications by other than the intended recipients [syn: communications intelligence]. Source = Dictionary.com.

-- Nina’s conversations with Vasili seem loaded. Even when teaching her to make tea, he talks about loyalty and doing things his way. But, I loved his explanation of the word “jitters.”

-- Gaad’s defense of Martha to Amador is an insight into how this man thinks. He voices exactly what he is meant to say, but negates it all by rolling his eyes at Amador as she walks away. Hardly the way to shut down sexist behavior.

-- The bromance between Philip and Beeman is going to get interesting. I get the impression that neither of them has had many male friends in the past and that they are enjoying the racquetball games and the breakfasts together.

-- It is becoming very clear that Beeman’s time undercover has changed him completely. Even his wife in new lingerie is not enough to tempt him back into what once was.

Voices on Tape:

Beeman: “You’re a beautiful, intelligent, intuitive and... beautiful woman. I have complete faith that you’ll figure out a way to find out all you can.”

Elizabeth: “What the hell is wrong with you?”
Philip: “Somebody beat the shit out of my wife.”
Elizabeth: “I can handle it. It is my job.”
Philip: “I know, but you don’t deserve it.”
Elizabeth: “Philip, stop! You are not my daddy.”
Philip: “No, I’m not your daddy. I’m your husband, Elizabeth. What do you think husbands do?”
Elizabeth: “I wouldn’t know.”

Nina: “I sucked his cock, just like you told me to.”
Beeman: “I never said that. I… I never said that. Nina, Jesus… I… I… I wouldn’t.”

Granny: “Have you been following the sad progress of this country’s Equal Rights Amendment? Honestly, it makes me chuckle. These women here need to learn what you and I have known forever -- you can’t wait for the laws to give you your rights. You have to take them, claim them every second of every day of every year.”

Elizabeth: “You know what I wish as I fall asleep every night? That I’ll wake up and not be worried.”
Philip: “About what?”
Elizabeth: “Everything.”
Philip: “You can’t live like that.”
Elizabeth: “Show me another way.”

ChrisB is a freelance writer who spends more time than she ought in front of a television screen or with a book in her hand.

6 comments:

Unknown said...

It seems like this show becomes deeper and more intelligent every week. It never holds your hand through things; it lets the viewer figure things out on their own, just likes the spies have to here.

And I know everyone's pretty much said it, but I'm enjoying it so much that I have to reiterate it: the way they've intertwined this spy saga with the story of this very complicated marriage is fantastic.

I also loved the theme of sexuality in this episode and the different ways it appeared. As you mentioned, the conversations (and insights) with Grannie were a highlight. I'm glad Elizabeth stood up to Philip and didn't let him turn her into a victim. She's a fascinating character.

As for Nina, at first I actually interpreted Beeman's line (mentioning twice that she's beautiful) the way she did--that he was implying she use sex to get the intel. It was only when I saw his flabbergasted reaction (coupled with his lack of response to his wife) that I put together what you mentioned--that he said it that way because he's attracted to Nina.

Just reading your review makes me want to see it again and spot what else I missed the first time around.

One last thing... I find it interesting that for an episode called, "Comint" it revolved mostly around humint. But then again, that's every week on this show! :-)

Jess Lynde said...

I get the sense that Beeman is drawn to Nina because he understands what she is going through, based on what he experienced during his time undercover; and, therefore, she's someone who could understand what he's experienced, which his wife cannot. I suspect he also feels incredibly guilty for putting her in this situation. I loved the scene in the park when she revealed how she had gotten the intel. His insistence that she would be "exfiltrated" soon had so much subtext about his own experience.

Another great episode, all around. So many interesting layers, as has become usual with this show.

Billie Doux said...

What a disturbing episode. A very strong one, too. It made me think of glamorous spy movies. What these women had to do was the exact opposite of glamorous.

Terrific review, Chris.

CrazyCris said...

Great review Chris!

Another fantastic episode! The theme was very powerful, and the different women depicting it... brilliant!

This has quickly become the show I most look forward to each week! :o)

TJ said...

Another great episode. This show is really good at getting that "vibe" that was back then.

This was also another disturbing episode. And I don't mean that in a good way. I have been wondering what it is about this show that has putting me off a bit. I really enjoy it...but there's something.

I remember this cold war scenario clearly, and I was furious that the USSR and the US had the NERVE to play chess with this whole planet. Well, thank God the cold war is over, but the problem still remains...and we still have this incredibly dangerous problem today.

This show makes a great interpretation on that cold war back in the 80s. But, I think that instead of explaining it, and pushing forward for what is right, the show is just exploiting it.

I don't know, maybe I am just over sensitive, I like this show, but I want it to give me hope instead of a bad taste in my mouth...

sunbunny said...

This show is absurdly good. As much fun as it was watching Elizabeth get her Sydney Bristow on in the garage, the highlight of the show is the development of the characters. everyone is so layered and the dialogue (for the most part) is so subtle. I am really enjoying this show!

I don't know if this is a coincidence or not, but I watched this episode on Hulu and every single commercial was for Trojan condoms. Oddly appropriate.