The Americans: Open House

“They are hard to get!”

My God, but this episode was tense. From the distance in the Jennings’s marriage, to that slow, terrifying car chase, through the couple’s unique brand of dentistry, this episode grabbed us by the throat and didn’t let go.

The Jennings’s marriage is fascinating to watch. Here are two people who have only very recently come together in any real way. Theirs was not a romance; it was a job. Yet, over the years, they learned to love each other and trust each other. But now, they have hit a major stumbling block and they are regressing to the people they were when we first met them.

At least Philip is. Elizabeth is trying to break through his anger. He, however, is sulking and dismissive. She tries to interest him in sex; he chooses to read a magazine. She tries to make him smile; he literally turns his back on her. But, when the chips are really down, even Philip can’t maintain his distance. The way they look at each other as she walks in the door, the embrace they share, remind them and us of just how much they have learned to love each other.

And, trust each other. The scene with the pliers was one of the most disturbing, yet moving, things I have seen in a long while. It was horrible to watch. To be fair, the first time through the episode, I didn’t watch it. I literally hid under my blanket and waited for it all to be over. The soundtrack was enough to make me shiver.

The second time through the episode, I forced myself to watch. What a powerful scene. Without a word, Philip does what needs to be done and Elizabeth allows him to do it while clinging on to him. They may be struggling ideologically, but they certainly have each other’s backs. The close-ups were a brilliant directorial choice. Each says all that needs to be said just in the way they look at each other.

The other great scene was the extended car chase. It was the stuff of nightmares, being chased by something that you can’t see or quantify. The sheer number of cars involved; how organized they were; how close they got had me convinced that Elizabeth was finally going to get caught. Surprisingly, I found myself not wanting that to happen, wanting her to get away.

The tension didn’t let up until that final reveal. The daughter of the head of the Afghan unit is now in play. Let’s pause for a moment to consider the delicious irony of this. While the Jennings will do anything to protect their own daughter, my guess is that they will not hesitate to use a young woman only a few years older than Paige to further their aims.

It’s not just the Russians who will go to any lengths. The Americans have Zinaida bouncing from one talk show to another, decrying the actions of the Soviets in Afghanistan. Another astonishing irony is the fact that Stan is accompanying her. He tells Aderholt that he beat the white supremacists by telling them what they wanted to hear “over and over and over again.” “People love hearing how right they are,” he finishes. Isn’t that exactly what Zinaida is doing?

I said in my comment to Jess’s excellent review of last week’s episode that I might be done with this show. I felt as though both Elizabeth and Philip had passed my personal tolerance of what I could “forgive” and still care about them. I was wrong. This episode brought be firmly back into the fold.

Other Thoughts:

-- One of my favorite things about watching this series is the pop culture references. “All Out of Love” by Air Supply made me grin like a crazy person. Once upon a time, I listened to that song after a break-up as well. Fantasy Island? Ah, 1980s television.

-- Speaking of which, I figured the car ad that we heard had to be significant. Thanks to Eric Adams of the AV Club, I learned that it is for a Volvo dealership once run by U.S. Representative Don Beyer.

-- The Jennings are right to be concerned about Paige. She is growing up, too fast. It is she who is doing the laundry and it is she who discovers her brother’s picture. While the idea of Henry having a photo of his neighbor in a bikini is disturbing at best, it is a sure sign that he is growing up as well.

-- Frank Langella is doing a masterful job at portraying Gabriel. On the one hand a father figure, there is something about him that is scary. I pray the Jennings don’t get caught off guard by him. I am not convinced he is as loyal to them as he pretends to be.

-- Having said that, all kudos for stygian. Just once, I would love to have a Scrabble win like that!

Final Analysis: An episode filled with tension that didn’t let up until that final reveal.

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.

2 comments:

Jess Lynde said...

Every time I think I’m out … Glad to have you back in the fold, Chris. :)

You know, I completely overlooked the potential irony with them being all too willing to bring someone else’s daughter into this world. I was just thinking they were going to use her connection to the one CIA agent against him or her father, without her actually being dragged into it. But the Jennings targeting the daughter as an asset has so much more resonance with their own situation, I hope that’s the direction the writers take things. (At the same time I sort of hope they don't, because I don’t want any more kids getting dragged into this spy world!)

The “people love hearing how right they are” line definitely seemed to strike a chord with Stan as he was watching Zinaida do her interview. Does that mean we should wonder if she’s just telling them what they want to hear, and that she might not be what she appears to be? If she’s not actually a defector, then what is she trying to accomplish? Last week, Tatiana stressed to Oleg that propaganda is more important than anything. But how does what Zinaida is doing result in a propaganda win for the Soviets. I’m confused.

ChrisB said...

What a great point about Zinaida, Jess. I was taking her on face value. Knowing this show, that was probably a mistake.

I do enjoy watching her eat chocolate. It reminds me of a Russian woman I met in St. Petersburg. She was telling me about visiting the US in the late 80s when she was a teenager. The family with whom she was staying discovered she was hoarding chocolate to take home. They bought her a second suitcase and filled it with candy to take back with her. At the time, it was almost currency.

The things we take for granted...