The Americans: Echo

“He was willing to sacrifice Himself for the greater good.”

Oh, the things we do for love! Love of family, romantic love, love of country—even love of intangibles, like honor and duty. The Americans has always been about hybrid existences: Russian/American, family/spy, spouse/lover. Everyone’s hybridity got a little twisted this week, as each person encountered their own personal crucible.

Stan’s situation is perhaps the most straightforward (which is saying something). His marriage broke long ago because of his devotion to the job and his devotion to Nina. Now, presented with the choice to save Nina and betray the US’s stealth technology computer code (on a floppy disk, tee-hee), Stan, once again, could not put romantic love over love of duty. The difference, though, is profound. Stan watched Nina led to her death, her makeup imperfectly concealing the bruises that were both real and for show. That’s a bigger set of stakes than Stan’s wife meeting a nice guy at EST and moving in with him.

Nina, on the other hand, had the chance to run. Both Sergei and Stan gave her the tools she needed to flee, but she held out the hope of…what? That Stan would come through for her? That Sergei would, despite the sadness in his eyes as he gave her an envelope full of money, manage to get his family to pull enough strings to save her? Nina, in her own way, put it all on the line for love. Or at least, for trust. And now she is, apparently, headed to her death in Russia.

[If you want a picture worth a thousand words on the subject of the greater good vs. individual human dignity and worth, check out the screenshot above. We all know Lenin's name, but Nina's will be forgotten. She's just one sacrificial lamb out of the gigantic herd, a living and vivid reminder that when ideology trumps humanity, it's those without power who wind up being marched to their deaths for a "tangled" series of events that began with some utterly negligible caviar smuggling.]

Nina, Stan, Sergei, and even Arkady aren’t the only ones for whom the personal intersects with the political. Philip and Elizabeth’s disastrous attempt to get the stealth-technology paint chips was shot in an intentionally chaotic manner, with awkward 80s rock song in lieu of a score, interspersed with clips of Paige realizing that police don’t like protestors. Fred’s fate was sealed, narratively speaking, the moment that Philip and Elizabeth asked him to do more than he could. In Philip’s mind, that was someone “sacrific[ing] himself for the greater good today.” But it’s also someone whose vulnerability was exploited by master-manipulators who are willing to sacrifice almost everything for this mysterious “greater good” that keeps getting people on both sides killed.

And keeps getting people on both sides horribly confused. Since the season premiere, Philip and Elizabeth have attempted to puzzle out the mystery of who killed Emmet and Leanne. The answer turned out to be the simplest one: Jared killed his parents because they stood between him and Kate, between him and “the greater good.” For Jared, adolescent lust got tied up with ideological fervor. Lust and ideology led him to betray his parents, just as Elizabeth seems to be mixing up her devotion to the cause and her desire to be a good parent to Paige.

The revelation that the Centre has been planning a second-generation Directorate S campaign is interesting. And horrifying, of course. But mostly it just seems weird: it went so horribly wrong with Jared, whose actions led to such a long string of deaths (including Larrick’s). I can’t see it going much better with Paige, who is looking for something to believe in, but seems to have a deep-seated hatred of exactly the sort of secrecy and lies that an effective spy would have to cultivate.

We often go into a finale expecting a slam-bang cliffhanger. Last season’s shoot-out, which left Elizabeth wounded, is a good example. This season’s cliffhanger, though, emphasize the show’s real focus. Sure, there was copious violence and blood in the woods; Larrick and Jared both died. But the real cliffhanger is the twist on the question of whether or not Philip and Elizabeth can keep their family safe: now, they’re asking if safe is what they want for Paige. For Elizabeth, maybe not. Maybe fostering her devotion to the greater good will be good enough—and that presages consequences not just for the spygames, but also for the emotional core of this story, Elizabeth and Philip’s marriage and family.

KGBs and FBIs

The Americans is not the quippiest show that we review, but I love Philip’s line: “If I hear one more thing about non-violent resistance, I’m going to punch her in the face.”

• I also loved Arkady’s advice about how to withhold affection from Russian women: “Don’t tell her ‘I love you’ so much. Russian women don’t like that.” Arkady revealed some real kindness in that line, although he also revealed how much he knew about Stan and Nina’s relationship. I like Arkady.

• Stan’s dream sequence included a shot of Martha putting a bunch of files from on top of the “mail robot” into her bag. Does Stan’s subconscious realize Martha is a mole?

Josie Kafka reviews The Vampire Diaries, True Detective, Game of Thrones, and various other things that take her fancy. She is a full-time cat servant and part-time rogue demon hunter. (What's a rogue demon?)


Anonymous said...

I believe the boy's name was Jared, not Jacob.

ChrisB said...

The revelation that Jared had killed his parents shocked me. It does, however, go a long way towards explaining why he was so calm in the previous episode.

The emotional stakes in this show keep getting ramped up. While I hate the idea of Paige getting involved in all this, I am convinced it has already started. It wouldn't surprise me if it turns out that the pastor of her church is involved.

Philip's threat to Arkady worries me. For one thing, the power is not with these two men. For another, it assumes that Elizabeth and he are on the same page. I'm not sure they are.

Josie Kafka said...

Thanks, Anonymous. I fixed it.

(I spent the whole episode thinking of Jared as "the kid who looks like Connor from Angel," and that made it nearly impossible for me to remember his real name.)

dyslexius said...

Chris B: wrote: "While I hate the idea of Paige getting involved in all this, I am convinced it has already started."

I believe it has already started too, but not with Paige, with Henry. His off-the wall, pleading breakdown a couple episodes ago "I'm a good person. I really am a good person..." suddenly looks in context after Claudia's information about the 2nd Gen program. And are his breakins of the neighbor's house a sort of "practice" or "conditioning"?

I adore this program, and I'm racked with apprehension after reading a suggestion that its ratings are not where they should be in order to sustain it.


ChrisB said...

Bob -- what a great point about Henry. I think you might right, but what if the Centre is hedging its bets and working on both of them? Now, that might be an interesting story to tell.

Luckily, we have at least another thirteen episodes as FX has renewed the show for a third season. After that, I guess we'll have to see how the numbers hold up next year.

dyslexius said...

Yes, that is a potential twist by the writers isn't it, Chris. The Centre claiming both kids would seem to be a dramatic blow to the Jennings. (ref the clandestine ambush of Arcady by Philip) ... Or would it? We do think Elisabeth has already rationalized the notion of Paige-as-spy. It may be the only way she herself will be able to continue serving the Motherland ("I've always seen much of myself in Paige").

One of the main things making this show so gripping is the frequent drifting toward, then a little bit away from absolute allegiance to the Motherland's priority over the family. This plot element appears to be headed toward even greater heights. Yay!