The Americans: A Little Night Music

“There is no changing what was.”

Our lives are a series of choices. We make those choices, some small and some large, and then live with the consequences. These consequences can sneak up on us, leaving us reeling as the full impact of what our choices mean becomes clear only after it too late to change the initial choice. This episode showed us that choices made are beginning to come home to roost.

The biggest choice that both Philip and Elizabeth have made recently, and it took them all of last season to make it, is to commit to each other. We have already seen some of the consequences of this choice, but this episode showed us that this commitment is beginning to affect their work. Using sex to get the information they want has been part of their game since they came to the US.

Yet now, both of them struggle to use it. Philip picks a fight with Martha rather than stay and have a lazy morning with her. The timing of this fight is bad. Gaad is on his way out and Philip is unaware of the change. Even worse, Martha has put Clark’s name as her husband on her employment application. Although she nobly says that she is unwilling to commit perjury for her husband, it feels more like a passive-aggressive way to get her husband to pay attention to her. These two choices, fueled by anger and self-disgust, are clearly going to resonate as the season continues.

For Elizabeth, Brad should have been an easy get. Young, naive, a loner, she should have been able to manipulate him very easily. But, she can’t bring herself to sleep with him. While using the rape as a good excuse, it is clear when the two of them are in that hotel room that Elizabeth wants to be anywhere else.

It is interesting to watch Philip and Elizabeth as they interact and talk about their various missions. Neither wants to admit that sex is still a factor; each is clearly aware that it is. The jealousy on both sides is palpable.

The biggest choice that Philip and Elizabeth have made together is to have children. Paige and Henry are American kids; as far as we know, they have no idea who their parents really are. Henry is all about consumerism. Enthusiastic about a new car and trying to push his parents into allowing him to buy a video game are typical of kids of his age, American kids anyway.

Paige, on the other hand, is entering the throes of adolescence and is trying to discover who she is. Unbeknownst to her, she couldn’t pick anything more foreign to her parents than religion. It wasn’t just the Jews like Anton who were persecuted in the Soviet Union. Anyone who dared to worship at an altar other than that of the state was dealt with swiftly and severely.

As an American, it is interesting to see Elizabeth’s complete distress at the idea of her daughter becoming involved in the “opiate of the masses.” On the scale of what Paige could be doing to assert her independence, religion seems to us to be fairly benign. She is not choosing to do drugs and ride on the back of some bad boy’s motorcycle. She is going to church, singing peppy songs, and saying grace. From our point of view, it could be a lot worse. From Elizabeth’s, this is about as bad as it gets and is a sign that she and Philip have failed, or are failing, as parents.

Oleg is an interesting addition to the world of the Russians. Using his family connections to get what he wants seems to me to be shortsighted. Whether or not he understands what he has done, his choice to go above Arkady’s head and to poke his nose into Nina’s affair is going to come back on him. It is clear that these two now see him as a threat, something that neither of them takes lightly.

We see the other side of Nina’s affair as Stan confides in Philip. Listening to him talk was real insight into the reality of the situation. Stan is in deep, too deep to see what is happening. While he understands that he and Nina have no future together, he does not understand that he is now the one being played.

The other thing this scene did was show us the similarities and differences between Stan and his wife and Philip and his. Both men sleep with other women, each in furtherance of his job. Stan loves Nina; Philip, even as Clark, does not love Martha. Stan talks about separate lives; how he is unable to share anything with Sandra and how he doesn’t want to. Philip shares everything with Elizabeth, even to the point of each of them hurting the other. Neither seems to be a particularly pleasant way to live.

Even the most minor and peripheral of characters are shown making choices. The episode opens with Anton Baklanov, a Russian Jew and scientist who has become too Americanized to be recruited. Although this man praises his “beautiful wife” in public, he cheats on her. This affair provides an opening for those trying to get to him, a consequence that would never have occurred to anyone contemplating cheating.

No discussion of this episode is complete without talking about the reappearance of Claudia. I love this character because she so intrigues me. I don’t trust her a bit, yet I am fascinated by how manipulative she is. We have seen this woman display emotion in the past, yet her grief over Emmett and Leanne felt played. I struggle to believe that she cares about the agents in her charge that much.

I liked the scene between Elizabeth and Claudia in which she expresses her belief that Elizabeth chose to re-enter the game too quickly. The last scene tends to confirm this. Elizabeth goes crazy on her attacker, resulting in her car and Anton being driven away. Not good.

Does Claudia really believe that Andrew Laric killed the Jennings’ friends, or is there some other reason she wants him found? In spite of everything that has happened in the past, Elizabeth and Philip continue to trust her on some level and do as she wishes. This choice, I have to believe, is going to be one that stings.

A very good episode. Three out of four diner confessions.

Observations:

-- The album that Brad is holding when he meets Elizabeth made me smile. There were a series of Great Performance albums that were released in the ‘70s and ‘80s, all of which were meant to be an introduction to classical music. They were mine.

— Listening to Elizabeth talk to Brad, it is interesting how much of her life she uses. Her description of the rape was a direct callback to the time she was, in fact, raped by a stronger soldier.

— Watching Martha fiddle with her recorder was similar to the idea of the gun. Either, or both, are going to come back later this season. Neither are going to work out well for Philip.

— The looks that Philip and Elizabeth exchange while Paige says grace make me smile.

— Who were those two at the end and which side are they on?

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