The Americans: Arpanet

“You must lie to tell the truth.”

Human beings lie. They lie to protect themselves and they lie to protect others. Machines do not lie, because they are not sentient. Neither can a machine determine who is lying and who is telling the truth. It takes another human being to ferret out the truth of any situation. Although the various stories were different, everyone in this episode was trying to detect the lies others were telling. The machine was fooled; the humans were not — unless he wants to believe the lie.

Although it was the title of this episode, the arpanet was only half the story told. Philip has to work with Charles to bug the arpanet, the forerunner of the internet. Charles is a mess and Philip is angry that he has to work with someone who has an addictive personality. While the scene where they are in the lab was tense and the stakes were high, the emotional stakes were all around Charles’ drinking and Philip's lack of trust that he had actually quit. Of course Charles was lying about giving up the booze, but the way that Philip discovered the truth was deceptive in its own way.

Elizabeth and Lucia’s relationship has been intriguing to watch. Lucia is desperate for a big sister, or at the very least, a friend. Elizabeth does not trust anyone and is in no hurry to share secrets with this young woman. The scene in the diner was a great example of this dynamic. Lucia talks about her father and keeps pushing Elizabeth to talk about hers. She does so, but extremely reluctantly.

This distrust turns out to be right when Elizabeth discovers that Lucia has an ulterior motive for the latest mission. Lucia, quite rightly, wants Larrick dead and is willing to take matters into her own hands to ensure it happens. Elizabeth, who is better able to remove herself from her emotions, understands why this can’t happen. Yet, Elizabeth is not that dissimilar to Lucia, a fact that Philip quite wryly points out to her.

The scene with the most truth, ironically, was the meeting between Larrick and Elizabeth. Both knows and understands the other. Both use cryptic language that reveals that the other is aware of exactly what is being said. Larrick knows Elizabeth is not alone and looks right at Philip when he says something to her about it. Elizabeth doesn’t meet his eye, proving him right.

Even Henry lies in this episode. While Paige has been the more prominent of the two Jennings children this season, Henry’s story was interesting. How like his parents he is. He spies on the neighbors and then breaks into their house to play with their video game, lying to his parents in the process. We have seen Philip and Elizabeth do similar things many times. I will be interested in their reactions when Henry is discovered.

The biggest liar award this week goes to Nina. She may have “no armor, nothing to protect [her] except [her] wits, [her] courage, and [her] beauty,” but she is using them effectively to play three powerful men against each other. Each of these men could order her death, yet each of them has fallen so far under her spell that they have become her pawns in her game. She tells the three what they want to hear, but her primary concern is herself.

The first is Stan. This poor man. I felt sorry for him during and after the polygraph test. The way Nina looks at him when she answers the question about Vlad’s murder was murderous in itself. He is so in love with this woman and so pleased that she passed the test that it never occurs to him that Nina has manipulated the machine. I can see why; if she can manipulate the machine, she can manipulate him. Rather than even consider that possibility, Stan chooses to believe the lie, in effect, lying to himself.

The second is Arkady. While he is the only one with whom Nina has not slept, he is still under her spell. She pretends to be honest with him and to need his support. He allows her to do so.

The third is Oleg. The training scene was brilliantly done and I could feel the emotional connection between these two happening. Even so, I was surprised by the fact that they ended up in bed at the end of the episode. I didn’t expect that to happen quite so soon. That final scene is a wonderful coda to this episode. Here are two people, naked and vulnerable, yet I didn’t believe a word either was saying to the other. Oleg trained Nina to be an even better liar; they would both do well to remember that.

A tense episode that showed us just how deceptive this world really is. Three out of four vodka cranberries.

Observations:

— This week’s episode started with Nina saying “Previously on The Americans” in Russian. A clear signal who was going to be at the center of this week’s episode.

— I find it interesting that the Russians tend to use both names when referring to each other.

— I still can’t figure out Kate, but that may just be that I miss Grannie. Kate doesn’t have the same gravitas.

— Professor Rosenbloom’s description of the arpanet was interesting. I am not a technological genius, but I was able to follow it. OK, most of it. What I loved was the camera shot up to The Beast as Rosenbloom talked about heaven.

— Similarly, Oleg’s metaphor as the polygraph as a wasp was wonderful. He also has great taste in music.

— I’m a bartender. You pour the booze before you pour the juice. Always. Oh, I see, they were ramping up the tension. Whatever. It’s still very wrong.

Voices on Tape:

Elizabeth: “Keep a tiger as a pet, it’s still a tiger.”

Rosenbloom: “… on an endless ribbon of virtual highway.”
Philip: “Going where?”
Rosenbloom: “To the future.”

Larrick: “We’re going to mine Managua harbor.”

Elizabeth: “Larrick may be a monster, but he is our monster.”

Elizabeth: “She’s young and impetuous.”
Philip: “She’ll get over it.”
Elizabeth: “I’m not so sure about that.”
Philip: “What do you mean?”
Elizabeth: “She burns hot.”
Philip: “That sounds like someone I know.”

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

4 comments:

Josie Kafka said...

"I find it interesting that the Russians tend to use both names when referring to each other."

All of my knowledge of Russia comes from Russian novels, mostly from the nineteenth century. In those books, it's standard to refer to a good acquaintance, coworker, etc. by their first name and patronymic (i.e., middle name that translates to "Son/Daughter of Whoever"). If I'm getting the nuances right, you and I would probably use first name + patronymic with each other, but I would use a nickname and no patronymic for my little brother (for instance).

It's part of what made The Brothers K so hard: everyone had a full name, a first name + patronymic, a nickname, and another nickname. In my edition, the translators made a list of each character's various names.

I liked this episode, in no small part because of the utterly useless metaphors used to describe Arpanet and the polygraph. I laughed throughout those scenes: it's a brain, in heaven, which is one floor above, and a highway, and a camera, and a wasp!

sunbunny said...

Josie - "It's part of what made The Brothers K so hard: everyone had a full name, a first name + patronymic, a nickname, and another nickname." Isn't that basically ASoIaF? (particularly ADwD where everyone went through like seven aliases)

Josie Kafka said...

More or less, but imagine if the names weren't just weird variations on common English names, but superlong and hard for idiots like me to say. :-)

sunbunny said...

And that's why I'm not big on Russian literature right there lol. (no, seriously, that's why)