The Americans: One Day in the Life of Anton Baklanov

... in which we explore some fallout from last episode’s reveals and check in with the season’s numerous plot threads.

You know what I’m loving about this show right now? That even with all the balls they’ve got in the air this season, all the assorted threads, I never mind dropping into or out of any of them. When the Rezidentura folks pop up, I’m always happy to see them. When Nina drops in for a scene or two, I’m happy to have her. When Martha steps to the foreground, I like spending time with her. But I don’t necessarily miss them when they are gone, because so much else is always happening. Yet, it doesn’t feel like a jumbled mess to me. It just feels like a full world with lots of different corners and operations to explore, and whatever they want to focus on for a given week usually engages me completely.

Of course, when you have an episode that tries to touch on all the threads, things can feel a little less focused and cohesive. This week we checked in with most of the season’s plot happenings, getting at least some brief face time with nearly everyone who’s come into play this season --- except for Kimmy (though they did continue to spool out the CIA operation), the EST folks, and Zinaida. We even got some follow-up on the mail robot bug (now called Operation ZEPHYR)! And yet, the episode didn’t end up feeling that scattered to me because of the very strong focus on the nature and toll of the spy game. Yousaf, Gaad, Stan, Martha, Taffet, Anton, Nina, Paige, Gabriel, Philip, and Elizabeth were all dealing with the rules of the game and what it takes to play it. Philip, Elizabeth, and Nina, in particular, wrestled throughout with what the game asks of you, and how it can be a struggle to be okay with it.

The extremely complicated nature of that struggle played out beautifully for me in four moments in which it was nearly impossible to understand what exactly was going through the heads of the characters as they tried to process events or decisions. The first was Elizabeth’s silent moment in the car after returning home from her honey trap operation on the hotel manager. She was clearly distressed, but I couldn’t get a read on what exactly was troubling her. Was she feeling guilty because the sex was pleasurable? Was she feeling shame about the nature of her job? Was she feeling dread about going into the house? Perhaps she was pained by thoughts of her mother and her failed attempt to share some personal history with Paige the evening before. Maybe it was all those things. So many possibilities. People are complicated, and this world asks a lot of its participants, willing or otherwise. I love that this show never shies away from that.

I also had a tough time reading Nina, Philip, and Paige as their stories drew to a close this week. That’s a pretty typical state of affairs with Nina, of course, but I’m honestly not sure what to make of her final scene with Anton. Is her pledge to not tell anyone about his letters for his son part of her play, or does she genuinely not plan to use the information against him? Did her recognition that she’s been as badly used as Anton, and the things he said about not letting these thugs tell him who he is, steer her toward allying herself with this man instead of betraying him the way she did her cellmate? I hope so. Even if she’s not quite sure why.

As for Philip, I couldn’t tell what was going through his head when Elizabeth was pleasuring him. He seemed troubled and less than fully engaged, but why? Was he thinking her actions were a response to having to run the honey trap and that bothered him? Was he just troubled by her having to sleep with the other man? Or was he again pondering all the things the Centre asks of him? All those things he’s just supposed to accept, like his wife sleeping with other men for intelligence-gathering purposes. Perhaps it was the latter mostly. His insistence on getting her a visit with her dying mother suggests that he’s still feeling very determined to look out for his family, even if it means breaking the Centre’s rules. Maybe especially if it means breaking their rules. “I know it’s against the rules, and I know it’s hard, but we do hard things. That’s what we do.”

And, finally, there was Paige. Her reaction to Elizabeth so definitively saying that she can’t go to see her dying mother was really ambiguous. What was she thinking in that moment? Is she angry? Sad? Did it drive home for her the cost of their jobs, making her more sympathetic to her parents, or less? I’m leaning towards less. Her shutting the door on them felt rather symbolic. She’s trying to understand who they are and why they do what they do, but I’m guessing she can’t wrap her head around devoting yourself to a job so fully you would give up your family forever. It probably doesn’t make her feel overly secure in their love for her, no matter what they say. “How can I believe anything you say?”

Other Thoughts

The title seems a bit inaccurate. Perhaps the idea is that every day is much the same as the one before for Anton.

Gabriel (re: telling Paige the truth): “You did the right thing.”
Philip: “Let’s hope so.”

What is with the crabby older woman constantly giving Nina and Anton the stink eye? Is she monitoring Nina?

Anton: “I have a son. He doesn’t know if I’m alive or dead. That’s the one thing I can’t take.”

Maurice and Lisa want in on the money for information deal. Maurice seems wise to Elizabeth's game. “You’re the real head of this operation. Aren’t you?” That probably doesn’t bode well for him.

Yousaf: “How can you do this job? The things you have to do.”
Philip: “Yousaf, I’m --- I’ve been doing this a long time. It doesn’t get any easier. You make mistakes, a lot of them. And they weigh on you. But, you look around, you see what a hell this world is for most people, most of the time, and you think about what it can be. What you could do about it.”

Clark tutoring Martha on how to beat the “lie detector” was reminiscent of Nina’s tutorial last season. I'm happy to see the parallels between these two ladies continuing.

Philip: “Since you’ve been back, I hear a lot of things being asked of us. Of me. Like Afghanistan and South Africa and the future of my daughter, whether I like it or not.”
[...]
Gabriel: “We ask a lot of you. I know.”
Philip: “Don’t give me that. Don’t give me your understanding and tell me everything is fine. It is not.”
Gabriel: “No, it’s not.”

Philip (to Gabriel): “I’m fine. But I don’t want to keep hearing ‘no’ from you. One of these times, I’m going to need ‘yes.’”

Will Taffet’s questions about Amador’s death lead Martha to start wondering more about what may have happened there? I don’t think she knows that Clark had anything to do with it. Will she wonder now? Will this be the thing that breaks her loyalty to him? (More parallels with Nina and the Vlad situation.)

Nina: “They traded me, too. Back and forth. You forget what it’s like to have your own life.”
Anton: “I’m not letting them do that to me. I won’t let them decide who I am.”

Oleg and Tatiana laughing about the catalogued beeps had me laughing out loud both times I watched the episode. So funny. This is such an emotionally intense show, I think I end up enjoying the brief moments of humorous relief all the more.

Final Analysis: A come down from last week, but a good check in with all our plot threads and some very nice ambiguous emotional material.

Jess Lynde is a highly engaged television viewer. Probably a bit too engaged.

1 comment:

Scott Riggan said...

Right at the end of the scene with the beeps conversation, Oleg gave Tatiana a quick, surreptitious look. I think he was trying to assess whether he could charm (and manipulate) her.