THE AMERICANS: “A Little Night Music”

It’s the female characters’ chance to show off in this week’s The Americans, and they’re all up to the task.

“My soul is fine… how is yours?”

-Elizabeth, to Claudia

Beware of the dangerous women. Whether it’s Elizabeth Jennings smashing an attacker’s head in with the trunk of her car, Martha adding Philip’s fake information to an official government form, the return of the ever evasive Claudia or Paige’s brush with Christianity (what?), each of the women in this week’s “The Americans” represents a threat to another character. The only woman left out is Nina who’s left mostly in the background this week, but fear not! Her two men, Stan and Oleg are there to fill the gap. Let’s get into it.

We’ll get the men out of the way first. Stan’s under a lot of pressure. Last week they were promising him an accommodation for eliminating an assassin intent on murdering several leaders of the World Bank. This week it seems like that action is only going to earn him and his superiors trouble. His boss is getting unwanted oversight, and he at least claims that he doesn’t want to pull Stan down with him. But who knows, really? It’s the spy game. Add in his disintegrating marriage, and Stan’s got a lot on his mind. Maybe that’s what leads him to admit his affair to Philip as they have drinks one night. He leaves out the part about his mistress being a Russian woman converted into an agent, (and turned back into a double agent, unbeknownst to him) but the secret’s out there now. As far as I can remember, Philip and Elizabeth have never met Nina, but I have a feeling that will change this season. If Stan feels over his head now, just wait until both his lover and his neighbors have him cornered.

Nina has other things to worry about than just Stan revealing his affair. She, too, is caught in the middle. On one side there’s Stan and on the other is Oleg, her new coworker at the embassy. We’ve heard about his family connections before, but this is the first time that we get to see him use them. Stymied by Arkady Ivanovich in his efforts to learn more about a project involving an expatriate Russian scientist, Oleg uses his connections to raise his security clearance and gain access. It’s a move that both undermines Arkady and puts Nina at risk as Oleg now has access to her reports detailing her relationship with Stan. That’s embarrasing enough, but how much longer before he pulls a few more strings and has access to the files detailing her admitted betrayal of the Soviets before turning double agent? Oleg’s one of this season’s wild cards, – Chekhov’s gun just sitting on the mantle waiting to be fired – and his undermining of Arkady mirrors the way the rug was pulled out from underneath Stan’s boss. Organizations have all sorts of problems, no matter which side you’re on.

Meanwhile, Elizabeth also has her plate full. First there’s her daughter, Paige. Some parents have to worry about their children getting into the wrong crowd and messing around with opiates. Elizabeth has to worry about her daughter’s sudden fascination with the “opiate of the masses,” religion. Paige’s new friend, Kelly, is an active Christian who keeps inviting Paige to church events. When Elizabeth finds her with a bible, she freaks out as though she caught her daughter with hardcore porn. Her children are being seduced by this American lifestyle. Who will teach them to avoid consumerism and religion? Kids these days, right? Elizabeth nearly loses it when Paige says grace at the dinner table. It’s a pretty funny moment in a show that’s often tense and harrowing. While Elizabeth is busy lying to and attempting to seduce a navy seaman who can get her access to files on a target, she’s worried about her daughter’s interest in religion. Oh, the irony.

Elizabeth’s target is a navy man, Andrew Laric, who the recently murdered Leanne and Emmett were attempting to blackmail into working for them. She’s using another sailor, Brad, to try and steal her some government files on Laric. She tries her normal seduction routine, but can’t quite get it into motion. How much of it is her act as a reluctant victim of a sexual assault that she uses to play Brad into avenging her “rape” by the target, Laric? How much of it is real reluctance? She and Philip are closer than they’ve ever been. Are her real world emotions now stopping her from fulfilling the sexual component of her mission? Too bad Brad is too much of a pansy to pull off the file theft.

Leading Elizabeth and Philip to Andrew Laric is the sudden reappearance of Claudia, their former handler. She’s convinced Laric could be behind Emmett and Leanne’s murder, and she wants Elizabeth and Philip to investigate it, OUTSIDE the parameters of their normal missions. On the surface it’s a kinder, gentler Claudia. She, too, is grieving over the Connors’ murders, and she comes to the Jennings’s for help. But I can’t help but feel that it’s all an act. I’ve been highly anticipating Margo Martindale’s return to the series. She was phenomenal as the always unnerving, quietly menacing Claudia in season one. Elizabeth never trusted her, and the threat that she may have had a hand in the Connors’ murders is lying just under the surface. Could she be leading the Jennings into a trap with these new extracurricular activities? Is it wrong to say that I kind of hope so? It seems like I was right on my prediction about Martindale’s return to the show. It wasn’t that bold of a prediction, but it feels good to be right.

Philip has a full plate, too. His sham “wife,” Martha, has been pushing back all season. She wanted a gun. She wanted a job transfer. Now she just wants a romantic morning, but “Clark” isn’t having any of it. Philip has places to be so he picks a fight so he can slip out, but the once meek Martha stands her ground well. In her defense, “Clark” is acting like an a-hole, and it suddenly makes her wonder about everything she’s risking for him. They rarely see each other, she can’t tell anyone about him, and he has her spying on the FBI. Can’t he not be a jerk and spend a romantic morning with her? Still steaming and a few glasses of wine deep later that night, she can’t get him to answer the phone at his “other apartment out of town” (it’s surely a dummy line). She’s put a lot on the line for a man that she really doesn’t know all that well. In her frustration, she leaves a message telling him that without a call back, she’ll put his name down as her spouse on an application. It would be a disaster for Philip for the government to have his fake alias, but it wouldn’t be great for Martha either once the FBI realizes she’s been passing him information. She’s unintentionally staring down her own destruction.

Finally, Elizabeth and Philip attempt to kidnap a Soviet expatriate scientist in the episode’s closing moments (remember that project Oleg wanted to know more about?). He’s allegedly the key to America’s development of stealth technology for plane radar evasion. As they attempt to put the drugged scientist into their trunk, they’re suddenly attacked by two assailants, a man and a woman. Maybe it’s her frustrations with Claudia and Paige that lead Elizabeth to bash her attacker’s head in repeatedly with the roof of her trunk. She’s got some anger to let out, and she does so on the male assailant. A shocked Philip doesn’t see the female assailant hop into the front seat and drive off with their scientist. The Jennings are left with nothing but their disabled attacker and a lot of questions. Who were the attackers? Could Claudia be behind it?

Dangerous women, indeed.

Grade: After some discussion with my editor, I’ve decided that grading individual episodes doesn’t really work. It’s too hard to keep them straight week after week. There’ll be a grade for the entire season after the finale. Suffice it to say that The Americans hasn’t delivered a bad episode yet, and this week is no different.

Theories:

My Claudia theory is making solid headway.

Martha’s glasses of wine might put the kibosh on my theory about her being pregnant, but we’ll have to see. Maybe she just doesn’t know yet.

It seems inevitable to me that Elizabeth and Philip will cross paths with Nina this season. Their combined knowledge could really ramp up the pressure on Stan.

I won’t be shocked if Martha ends up getting that gun that she mentioned wanting a few weeks ago. If so, I’d expect her to confront “Clark” with it in the event that she comes to understand that her marriage is a sham. I’d love to see Philip, wig askew, staring down it’s barrel. Then he can use it to dispatch Martha at the end of the season once she’s outlived her usefulness.

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