Only disappointing due to its own high standards, there’s a lot of great pieces in “The Deal,” but it’s hurt by being ten minutes too long.
Is your face your face?
-Mossad agent to Philip
I’m glad I stopped giving individual episodes of The Americans grades last week, because, in all honesty, I’m not sure what I’d do with this week’s episode, “The Deal.” On one hand it had several fantastic performances and some wonderful plot movement, but I can’t help but feel that this week’s ten extra minutes of show were ten minutes too long. Like butter spread over too much bread, all the individual parts are delicious, but the whole thing is a little overstretched. Something needed to be cut out here even if I can’t put a finger on exactly what it was.
Philip and Elizabeth Jennings are still in the immediate aftermath of last week’s episode. Attempting to capture Jewish Russian physicist Anton Baklanov for forced exfiltration to Moscow, they were interrupted by unknown attackers. Philip and Elizabeth subdued one, but the other made off in their car with Baklanov unconscious in the backseat. Now the Jenningses are left with no car, no scientist, and a semi-conscious man in the middle of the road. Their attacker turns out to be a Mossad agent who was watching/protecting the Jewish scientist, and Philip is left to deal with fallout from the situation while Elizabeth heads home to notify authorities and put out other fires.
First and foremost is Girls Night In with Martha. Elizabeth gets a warning about Martha’s intent to put “Clark’s” name on her official transfer paperwork and heads over to her apartment to ease her tensions. In disguise as Clark’s sister, “Jennifer,” she (and a few bottles of wine) points out how spacey and poorly social-mannered Clark can be. Didn’t he even bother to tell Martha that Jennifer was coming into town? No? Well, that’s just how Clark is sometimes. It has nothing to do with his feelings towards Martha. He’s just a great guy with some ever-present social issues. There’s no reason to blow his career (and more importantly, his cover) just because he’s hard to get in touch with on the phone. Her nerves relaxed by Jennifer’s story and the wine, Martha launches into an uncomfortable conversation about what a tiger Clark is between the sheets. It’s a nice scene between the two women in Philip/Clark’s life, and it highlights the difference between the warm sexual reception he’s gotten recently with Martha and the cold treatment he’s gotten from Elizabeth ever since Emmett and Leanne’s murders.
But how much difference is there between these two women, really? Philip isn’t any more of a real name than “Clark” is, and neither of these marriages was founded in love. His relationship with Martha may only be the basis for a convenient ear into the inner workings of her FBI office, but his marriage to Elizabeth is just a convenient union for the KGB. The only difference is that Martha doesn’t know that she’s being played. I’ve suspected that Martha doesn’t have a long tenure left with The Americans, and her statements to Jennifer that she’s “dying” to know more about Clark could be a signpost of just that. Before season’s end she may find out the whole truth after all, but it may cost her life to learn it.
Elizabeth’s other project for the week is getting back in touch with her sailor, Brad, who was stealing government files on another navy man, Andrew Laric, for her. Claudia suspects that Laric may be involved with Emmett and Leanne’s murders and asked Elizabeth to get some files on Laric by seducing Brad last week. Brad, the meek knight in shining armor, finally comes through for with the promised files on Laric. Elizabeth, again in disguise as a rape victim, thanks him, but then ends their relationship since she still “isn’t ready” for anything romantic. This, along with Elizabeth’s quick discussion with Paige about her church activities, would have been what I would have cut from this episode. It only provides some quick plot resolution, and it doesn’t lead anywhere else. There’s really nothing else to say here. If we ever see Brad again it’ll probably be either in a pool of blood or an FBI office explaining his actions. Elizabeth got her files, let’s move on.
Philip’s time with the Mossad agent in a makeshift safe house is fertile ground for the writers. This man is the closest thing Philip has to a contemporary, and the interaction between the two men gets a good examination. Much of it stems from the Mossad agent’s attempts to forge a personal relationship with his captor – the same thing Philip did a few weeks ago with Emmett and Leanne’s contact, Frank – in an attempt to save his own life. He tries to ask Philip about his homeland, about his family, about the impact his work has on him – “is your face really your face?” – searching for cracks in Philip’s composure. He doubts that the deal to trade him for the scientist that Philip assures him in the works is really coming by pointing out the differences in their importance. The Mossad agent is bronze – he goes home every year for Passover. Philip is platinum. He hasn’t ever been back to Moscow since the start of his mission. “I hide what I do,” he says. “I don’t hide who I am.” Philip is in too deep. After so much time, how do you tell the difference between the man you are and the man you’re pretending to be? When the inevitable escape attempt comes, it’s only after he literally makes Philip wipe his ass.
The emotional barrage continues after the handoff between Philip and the Mossad agents. The Soviets do, indeed, get their scientist thanks to some behind the scenes dealing by Arkady at the Rezidentura. The scientist pleads and wails as Philip drives his to the docks for his exfiltration back to Moscow. Michael Aranov does some fantastic work in his limited screen time as Baklanov. He pleads to be released. He says he’ll switch sides. He swears he’ll go back to Moscow willingly in three months if Philip will let him go now. He asks Philip to think of his family. He wants to be around for his son’s bar mitzvah. He uses every trick in the book to bargain with Philip, and by the end he’s a man reduced to nothing but a mess of tears. It’s a sharp dichotomy between a man doing everything in his power to stay in America and an agent who, deep down, would love nothing more than to take his family back to Moscow.
There’s a showdown between Arkady and Oleg brewing at the Rezidentura. The two men disagreed about the plan for Baklanov’s exfiltration, and Oleg warns Arkady that despite what he may think, Oleg is very skilled at just this type of work. He tells Nina that Arkady thinks like a bureaucrat, and has no chance at beating the Americans with that mindset. Whatever Baklanov’s importance, it must be huge as the Soviets are willing to allow 15,000 Russian Jews immigrate to Israel in order to make the deal with Mossad happen. Even Stan Beeman and his superiors are stonewalled by the Department of Defense when they try to figure out what it is. Baklanov prattled on about radar and lasers while in Philip’s car, but the specifics are undefined. When Stan hears of the conflict between Oleg and Arkady he becomes convinced that Oleg is the key to infiltrating the extraction and sets up a chase team across Washington DC to follow him. Of course, Baklanov is already aboard a ship leaving for Russia, but Stan has no idea and follows Oleg to the docks where the two men confront each other. Oleg describes himself as a burgeoning student of capitalism in a world where people are merely things with value, and he asks Stan what he would give up to keep Nina safe before telling him that they will meet again. It’s a chilling moment. We’ve suspected that Oleg is a wild card, but now we finally get to see his intent. He’ll try to beat Arkady at his own game with Nina stuck in the middle. He can easily go around Nina’s reports to Arkady if he has Stan in his own pocket. The game is afoot.
The Americans excels at layering their plot titles, and I was thrilled to find that “The Deal” stood for more than just the negotiations between the Mossad and the KGB. Oleg urging Stan to make a deal with him for Nina’s safety is a wonderful play. Stan has long stood on the edges of this covert game, but he may quickly find himself pulled into the middle of it. Like I said, there’s a lot of great stuff here this week. I just wish they’d trimmed the fat around it. But even great shows are entitled to some down weeks. This week’s episode was only a little disappointment by The Americans standards because they set their own bar so high. They set the stage better than anybody, and I’m sure we’ll have some sharp, lean episodes before long.
-I think we can put a torch to the idea that Martha is pregnant based on her wine consumption this week. However, I still think she’s doomed.
-Another faltering idea is that Oleg has genuine romantic interest in Nina. Poor Nina’s been relegated to being a side character this season, and Oleg seems ready to sell her out. Unless Oleg’s playing this for a LONG con, I can’t see why he’d be willing to put her in harm’s way.
-I would hate it if Arkady is on his way out. He had some wonderful lines this episode: “Is President Reagan personally scaling our walls wearing his cowboy hat?,” and “We are better at vodka; they are better at cigarettes.” I’ve come to really like what he adds to the show, but I think the looming showdown with Oleg can only have one winner.
-I didn’t even mention the appearance of a new handler for Philip and Elizabeth. I have no idea what to do with that. Personally, I would never be comfortable if someone came up to me while I was hiding a Mossad agent and was like “Oh, hi. I’m your new handler.” That would be a bullet to the head from me.