The Americans: Behind the Red Door

… in which Elizabeth and Philip uncover intelligence about a top secret U.S. operation while continuing to investigate the murders of Emmett and Leanne.

One of my favorite things about The Americans is the way it puts you into the mindset of a spy. Constantly questioning what’s real, what’s true, and whose loyalties you can trust. Not an episode goes by where I don’t find myself questioning character motivations and actions. Why is that person saying that? Is he or she telling the truth, or half truths? Is this guy pushing a solo agenda, or is this play part of a larger scheme?

It’s particularly hard to get a read on the Soviet players. I’m constantly questioning nearly everything we see with Oleg, Claudia, and Nina. The surface is almost never the truth with them. Last week, we were left wondering if Oleg was trying to manipulate Stan for his own ends. “I speak only for myself. I have my own needs, my own problems.” But now it seems he is pushing Stan at Arkady’s behest, as the latest move in their efforts to turn him to the Rezidentura's ends. Using him as a reluctant asset the way Emmett and Leanne used Larrick. Nina’s reaction at the end seems to support the idea that she’s in on it. “You don’t trust me. I would never betray you! I have never betrayed you.” But who knows? Maybe Oleg is only half working with Arkady, and is also pushing some kind of side agenda. And maybe no one bothered to tell Nina what they were up to and she’s truly terrified. I suspect her “quitting” is just another move to push Stan into compromising himself, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it was something else.

As for Claudia, I simply cannot take anything she says to Philip and Elizabeth at face value. She’s just too slippery a character to pin down. This openly weepy, remorseful Claudia just doesn’t ring true to me, and I find it hard to believe she would tell anyone the truth about herself. I do believe that she wants to protect her agents, but I’m not buying her self-recrimination here. Perhaps she’s being blackmailed, and her commentary that it “seldom leads to happy conclusion” was a reflection on her own situation, and not a reference to the Larrick business. Maybe Claudia did pull the trigger on Emmett and Leanne, but because she was being blackmailed. And now she’s desperately trying to pin the deed on someone else to cover up her involvement. Man, I’m so suspicious!

At the same time the creators are using all these unreliable narrators to put the audience into an overly paranoid mindset, they are continually showing us how awful it would be to actually live in that world. This week we see how constantly carrying the burden of not knowing “what’s real” complicates Elizabeth’s and Philip’s effort to treat their marriage as genuine. Martha’s reveals about Clark’s sexual prowess have left Elizabeth feeling both curious and insecure. She can’t help feeling like Philip is giving some part of himself to his other “wife” that he’s not sharing with her (perhaps because she uses her personal experience to manipulate her targets, as we saw with the Navy guy and in a small way with Lucia). She wants to know Philip completely, to feel like there are no secrets between them. She doesn’t understand that the way he is with her is his “real” self. Clark is a just a role that Philip has to play as part of his job --- “She’s not my wife” --- and he doesn’t want to put on a wig and a fake personality to be intimate with Elizabeth, the person he really loves. He just wants to be himself with her. Unfortunately, Elizabeth allows her insecurities to override her ability to read the clear signals that Phillip doesn’t want to “play Clark” with her, and things take a decidedly upsetting turn. That sex scene between them was just brutal, and Keri Russell played Elizabeth’s emotional reaction beautifully.

I can’t help wondering if Philip went that aggressive with Elizabeth because he knew it would traumatize her. (There’s that viewer paranoia again.) He wanted her to stop asking him to role play, so maybe he pushed it far enough that she’d never ask again. Or was he really just trying to give her what she wanted, even though it wasn’t what he wanted? He was obviously upset with himself afterwards, but was it because he hurt her by acting on his frustration or because he made a deliberate choice to hurt her? Whatever the case, both seemed willing to move past it later, with minimal resentment (which was sort of refreshing). It will be interesting to see how the encounter affects their dynamic going forward, if at all.

Other Thoughts

Claudia: “How’s your new handler? She graduate high school yet?”

Lots and lots time period references this week. The Columbia space shuttle. Soviets in Afghanistan. U.S. involvement with the Contras in Nicaragua. And ARPANET, the precursor to the Internet.

Records Guy: “Pretty soon, all our records will have duplicate presence on the computer.”
Stan: “And that’s a good thing?”
Records Guy: “Less redundancy.”

The sound of that printer took me back. It triggered a weird sense memory from my youth.

Kate (re: the Center): “You know nothing is more important to them than your safety.”
Elizabeth: “Sounds like something is.”

The glimpse into Gaad’s home life was really interesting. “In search of perfect understanding, Agent Beeman, or are you hungry?” The glimpse of Stan’s, on the other hand, just made me feel really bad for Sandra, even though her Tomato Tango door is a “happy” red.

Gaad: “I’m about to be called to testify before a closed-door Congressional committee, thanks to the shit you pulled. Don’t tell me anything more, that I can’t hear.”
Stan: “She’s in way over her head, sir.”
Gaad: “Well, before you do anything you can’t undo, has it occurred to you that you might be the one in over your head?”

I like how Lucia gives us a different glimpse into young, idealistic Elizabeth, and highlights how much she’s changed since the beginning of the series.

Elizabeth (somewhat mocking): “A world without exploitation, and dignity for all.”
Lucia: “You think it’s a dream?”
Elizabeth (world weary): [Shakes her head a bit.] “I’ve been ready to die my whole life for it, Lucia.”

Claudia: “I don’t care if people are motivated by ideology or money. Money can be cleaner, less complicated. Blackmail, however, seldom leads to happy conclusion.”

Claudia: “I was wrong about Philip. You’re lucky to have him. Goodbye, Elizabeth.”
Yikes. Even without the slightly creepy music, that sounded ominous.

Final Analysis: Another unsettling look into the less than fabulous lives of spies, and the terrible toll it takes.

Image credit: Spoiler TV

Jess Lynde is a highly engaged television viewer. Probably a bit too engaged. More of Jess’s musings on her favorites.


ChrisB said...

Your paragraph about Claudia sums up perfectly what I was thinking while I watched this episode. Something is really going on, both with her and with the new Claudia. Kate struck me as almost pro-American and she set my spidey senses tingling.

The scene between "Clark" and Elizabeth was really intense and really hard to watch. It reminded me of Elizabeth's rape. I'm wondering if one of the reasons both Philip and Elizabeth responded so emotionally was that it reminded them of it as well.

The sound of that printer took me back as well, only for me it was my first job. It was a background noise that occurred throughout the day.

Paul Kelly said...

I wish they'd rain Claudia's new personality in a little. If they'd been more subtle with her new-found spy-peeps concern, maybe we all wouldn't be so damn suspicious. I'm with you on not buying it, Jess. Things are never what they seem on this show.

I see Philip's rough sex with Elizabeth him giving her exactly what she asked for. I see his sexual style with Martha symptomatic of the male version of 'lie back and think of England' syndrome. He has no real love for Martha, so it makes sense that the sex between them would be detached, quick, and a bit 'wham bang thank you Ma'am'. He has to screw her in order to maintain the illusion that he cares for her, but he's certainly not enjoying himself. At least, no more than he absolutely has to. And, now his relationship with Elizabeth is growing, he doesn't want to have that kind of empty, perfunctory sex with his wife. Hence his dissatisfaction.

You have to feel for Martha. That she interprets Clark's functional, dehumanizing knobbing as something to be amazed at speaks poorly of her own past sexual experiences. Or maybe she's just only ever been with boring men and finds Clarke's approach somehow new and exciting. Poor bastard, either way.

Paul Kelly said...

I meant 'wham bam thank you ma'am', although 'wham bang' would do at a push. DAMN YOU AUTO-CORRECT!!!

Jess Lynde said...

I'm glad to know I'm not alone in my Claudia suspicions. I read some reviews that said, "Well, now we finally know why she's been acting weird," and I was like "Really? We're taking her 'confession' to Elizabeth at face value?" Her earlier desperation to have them conclude Larrick was guilty and take him out read more to me like "cover up" than "guilty conscience/desire for revenge." I guess we'll see.

Paul, I like your take on the rough sex. I didn't like thinking that Phillip would purposely hurt Elizabeth just to get her to back off. And I agree that this is one more reason to feel bad for Martha. Poor, poor Martha.