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The Americans: Cardinal

… in which the authorities investigate what happened to the Jennings’ murdered colleagues, while Elizabeth and Philip stress about the dangers to their children.

‘Cardinal’ is a nice transitional episode that continues the fallout from last week’s major events, and starts setting more things in motion. At this point, no one seems to know anything about who may have killed Emmett, Leanne, and their daughter. The Rezidentura is sending frantic cables to Moscow and having high-level, closed door meetings about the event. The FBI has no idea the poor family murdered in Old Town were super-secret Directorate S agents. Emmett’s asset, Fred, didn’t purposely or accidentally expose them and is devastated by their deaths. The Center has no information for Philip and Elizabeth.

All of which has left the Jennings in a high-alert tizzy. They are absolutely terrified that they’ve inadvertently put their children at risk, leaving Philip blaming himself and pushing Elizabeth into full-on Mama Bear mode, scanning for potential threats in every seemingly innocuous passerby or utility truck. It was very interesting to see their loyalty to The Cause already starting to fray a bit, when their kids' lives may be in danger. Philip choosing to skip a night with Martha --- even knowing she had a new recording from Gaad’s office --- after hearing the strain in Elizabeth’s voice wasn’t too surprising, of course. Nor was his self-flagellation over dragging Henry into “this,” or his acknowledgement that he did have a choice in the matter. Philip has always been shown to have far greater loyalty to his family than The Cause. It was, however, a bit surprising to see Elizabeth stop recording the signal from Moscow to hover over her children. And though she didn’t ignore the new agent’s distress call later in the hour, she first rounded up her kids, ditched any potential tails, and then took the kids to a place she perceived to be safer than the house. Protecting her family first, then getting down to the business of “beautiful revolution.”

Elizabeth tells Philip that she never really considered the danger to their children before, from enemies without or within --- I’m guessing the notion of the Center “taking care of” Paige and Henry, in the event she and Philip are killed, isn’t helping to ease her worried mind --- but now it’s completely consuming her. How long until she’s forced to really choose between duty and the welfare of her children? (Particularly with Paige making inquiries into Elizabeth’s absence. If she discovers the truth, and becomes a perceived threat to Directorate S, what will the Center do then?)

The upshot of all this “focus on the (murdered) family” is that “time-sensitive information critical to the science and technology mission” of the Motherland has gotten a bit lost in the shuffle. The drawings that Fred passed to Philip last week relate to a machine, which has a connection to some kind of propeller-driven technology, that the Soviets are very keen to read the settings on. “The plant where they’re grinding the propellers is moving. It’s the one chance to get in there and read the settings on the machine.” Oleg, the new guy posted to the Rezidentura, is pretty eager to get this intel from Arkady’s agents, but seemingly no one feels it is prudent to inform him that said agents are now dead. “My best guess is there’s something going on in there that’s more important than your very important report.” Worse, even after Fred informed Philip that they are running out of time to get access to “the machine,” it doesn’t appear that Philip has yet bothered to pass along the intelligence because he was in such a rush to get home to Elizabeth. Looks like those brilliant embedded cover identities are starting to become a bit of a liability for the Soviet cause.

Other Thoughts

So who or what is CARDINAL? At the very beginning of the episode, when Arkady was trying to track down information on what might have happened to his agents, he sent a cable to Moscow stating “Request all operational reports from CARDINAL immediate,” which I believe was the only reference to Cardinal in the episode. Is that a code name for something linked to the Center?

Nina: “You seem prone to forgetting who works for whom, Oleg Igorevich.”
Oleg: “I’m a feminist, Nina. I only work for Mother Russia.”

Henry: “You’d rather play Life than watch Raiders of the Lost Ark? Are you insane?”
Seriously. Get that girl some psychiatric help, stat!

Elizabeth: “Things can go wrong. They usually do. That’s part of the job. But we get through it. You’ll get through this.”

The walk-in, Bruce Dameran of the World Bank, is a new plot bit that will presumably turn into something more down the line. I’m mildly confused about whether Arkady instructed Nina to divulge information about the walk-in to Stan or not. Is he setting up code names for the asset and the operation with knowledge that the FBI may be on to them? Nina’s report said that her “subject” was very interested in the Resident’s activities and whereabouts, and was fairly explicit about their engagement, but it didn’t seem to specifically note that she told him about the walk-in. Merely that, “as instructed,” she told the subject that she would try to push harder for further details on the Resident’s activities, and that she believes his feelings for her are deepening. (Unless we are supposed to assume that the flashback to her telling him was also being transcribed in the report. True Detective has made me overly sensitive to potential incongruities in what we hear versus what we see.)

So was telling Stan about the walk-in “as instructed” also? Or did Nina overstep? I found her expression hard to read as she was typing and going into Arkady’s office with the report. Was she hiding something, or just disgusted by her whole situation? It has to suck being forced to foster a loving, intimate relationship with someone you loathe --- someone who murdered your friend and bald-faced lied about it! --- then having to write detailed reports about your liaisons, and then having to discuss said reports and activities with your boss. Nina is in such an awful situation. I’m back to wondering who I feel worse for: Nina or Martha?

Speaking of Martha, when she wasn’t feeling well at the beginning of the episode, I was concerned that she’d turn out to be pregnant. I was very relieved she seems to just have the flu. A baby would really complicate that already seriously messed up situation. Plus, Martha wanting a gun for protection is likely going to create enough problems in the future. “Clark. I don’t want to be a victim.” Poor, hopelessly deluded Martha.

Elizabeth: “How’re we gonna live like this?”
Philip: “We’ll get used to it. Just like we got used to everything else.”

Philip: “I can’t believe I pulled Henry into that. Into this.”
Elizabeth: “You didn’t have a choice.”
Philip: “Yeah ... I did.”

Final Analysis: Lots of interesting little connections and tidbits that are hopefully laying the groundwork for some major conflict down the line.
Jess Lynde is a highly engaged television viewer. Probably a bit too engaged.

1 comment:

  1. All I could think about when Martha started talking about a gun was Chekov. I can see that gun playing a vital role later in the season.

    I'd love an episode told from Paige's point of view. She is obviously so suspicious of her parents' activities, it would be really interesting to see what she suspects and what she already knows.

    As I watched this episode and read your review, I kept thinking of the inherent tension between the Jennings' job and their children. If push came to shove, would there really be a choice to be made? I hope not.


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