THE AMERICANS: “New Car”

An American muscle car: Innocently awesome? Or a symbol of the callous American system?

You want to go after their stealth planes now? How do we know they won’t fall out of the sky?

-Arkady, to Oleg

What, exactly, is The American Way? And what does it mean to a family of Soviet spies? One of the differences between Philip and Elizabeth Jennings is their approach to life in the United States. Elizabeth has always kept a strong focus on her ideals. To her, the consumerism of America is just part of the cover. She has to have a certain amount of clothes and shoes, a nice house, and a reasonable car in order to fit in, but she’s never been seduced by those things. They’re just a means to an end, and she’s as much a Bolshevik idealist as the day she left Mother Russia. Philip, on the other hand, has no problem indulging in his commercial desires when the mood strikes. He and Elizabeth have dangerous jobs, and they’re constantly placing themselves and their family in harm’s way to achieve the KGB’s goals. Why not go a little wild occasionally? Those comforts of American manufacturing are just a small reward for their troubles. It’s a theme that’s lingered around since the show’s first episode: Is Elizabeth more devoted to the cause than Philip is? And have his ideals been subverted by the allure of life in the United States? So when Philip goes to buy a new car (the old one must not feel so welcoming anymore after it’s been stolen a time or two and the trunk has been host to numerous restrained, unconscious bodies) and purchases not just any vehicle, but the Chevrolet Camaro Z28 – a red-blooded, all-American muscle car – it’s just one more reason for Elizabeth to question if he’s lost sight of his goal. And when new information about the U.S.’s counterintelligence activities arises, it’s enough to make even Philip wonder if his new car is symbolic of the processes, or The American Way, that’s fighting – and killing – his countrymen.

In the continuing battle of family vs. country, Elizabeth again finds herself confronting her rebellious daughter – the symbolic one (Paige is nowhere to be seen in this episode). Lucia takes it upon herself to surprise Larrick at home and shoot him with a tranquilizer gun. Despite Elizabeth telling her that Larrick is a valuable target who’s not to be harmed, she just can’t seem to get past the idea that her revenge against him for training the people who tortured and killed her countrymen and family is more important than his value to the mission. But Elizabeth has been warned time and time again that Larrick is dangerous man who’s not to be trifled with. He struggles with Lucia for control of the reloaded tranquilizer gun before he passes out, and he manages to fire a dart into Lucia’s leg. Both spies collapse and enter into a dangerous game of Who Will Wake Up First. The larger, stronger Larrick is the winner, and he gets a message to Elizabeth to come pick up her bound and gagged coworker at his house. What Larrick wants, he says, is to exit the spy game and go back to his life. He’s willing to release Lucia and give Elizabeth the information she needs to get onto the Martial Eagle training grounds if it can be his last assignment. Elizabeth agrees, but Lucia again attacks Larrick when she’s untied. Now Elizabeth is left with a choice: Kill Larrick for Lucia’s safety or let Larrick Kill Lucia and get the information she needs for the mission. Family or Country? Lucia’s been too much of a wild card for too long. She’s proven that she can’t be trusted, and that she’s prone to putting her desires before the goals of her missions. Elizabeth lowers her gun and Larrick strangles the life from Lucia. Elizabeth sacrificed her symbolic daughter for the sake of the mission. Can’t Philip at least sacrifice a sports car? She acknowledges that life may be easier here, but that doesn’t mean that it’s better.

When Philip goes to meet with their handler Kate, he seems wont to leave his prized vehicle. He parks it far away from the road so it won’t get accidentally dinged, and he trails a hand over its curves as he walks away. It’s an almost wistful departure. But Kate has information. Remember the propeller that Philip and Elizabeth stole manufacturing secrets on for the KGB? It was retrofitted for a Soviet submarine, and it shattered during use killing all 160+ men on board. The KGB believes that it was purposely faulty technology that was intended to be stolen and implemented. Now the Soviets have to be on constant alert for purposefully bad information while the Americans scored a valuable military defeat against the Soviet submarine corps. The significance isn’t lost on Philip who can’t help but look on his car differently when he walks back to it. Now it’s a product of those people and their sneaky, underhanded ways. It’s a symbol of American manufacturing and the same system that just helped kill 160 of his countrymen. This news and Lucia’s death hit the Jenningses hard, and Elizabeth can’t help but seethe venom while watching Ronald Reagan give a speech on defense spending. “Look at him,” she says. “He’ll do anything. He doesn’t care. Kids, nuns, journalists. He doesn’t care.” Elizabeth, ever the idealist, only sees Reagan as a cold blooded killer – the kingpin of this American system. Funny how Reagan is a heartless murderer, but those fighters on a nuclear submarine? Those were just “boys.” What about the uninvolved septic system worker whose cover they’re stealing for the upcoming Martial Eagle mission? Philip has to stop Elizabeth from killing him once they get the information they need. I guess innocence can be ignored when you have a mission to fulfill.

The submarine propeller information also has ramifications for Oleg and Arkady. Oleg had just prepared a report on American stealth technology and notes that Anton, the forcefully repatriated scientist from “The Deal,” has the knowledge to build similar planes for the Soviets. But how can the KGB trust this information now? Arkady doesn’t care that the Soviets rushed the submarine’s testing phase and put the propeller on a sub four times the size of the one it was designed for. They were tricked, cold and simple. They have responsibility here. Oleg doesn’t seem to agree. He’s on a hot streak. Arkady applauds Oleg and Nina’s work passing the polygraph test and getting Stan Beeman into the fold after Stan gave Oleg the documents he requested in return for Nina’s “safety,” but he also cautions Nina to be wary of Oleg. His family has connections that can certainly help her, but those same connections could ruin her if things turn sour. When Oleg invites Nina out dancing at an American disco, Nina has to wonder if he, like Philip, has been somewhat seduced by this American culture. He already smokes American cigarettes, loves NHL hockey games, and told Stan that he views himself as a student of capitalism. She’s put everything on the line for the cause. Do Oleg’s continued shady dealings indicate that he’s just in it for himself?

Our final scene puts the focus back on family again. Henry was caught breaking into a neighboring family’s house while they were on vacation, and his parents come to his room to have a talk. Before Philip and Elizabeth can even say anything Henry launches into a series of apologies. He knows what he did was wrong, but it seemed so easy. Now his conscience is torturing him. Don’t his parents know that he understands his mistakes? Don’t his neighbors know that he’s really a good person who just went a little astray? “I’m not bad, I’m a good person,” he pleads over and over while Philip and Elizabeth can only look on in silence. It’s a perfect monologue for what must constantly be playing out in Philip and Elizabeth’s heads when they’ve been confronted with the heinous acts they’ve committed over the course of their spy work. “Can’t you see I’m good? I’ve just gone astray. Can’t you just see that? I’m not bad, I’m a good person.”

Elizabeth had a chance to save Lucia’s life but didn’t for the sake of the mission. She would have killed the septic system worker if Philip hadn’t stopped her. The American way or the Soviet way, it doesn’t matter. This kind of work can’t be done without some collateral damage. Who can you even trust when it comes to information? The info you’re killing yourself to get might just as likely kill your countrymen on the back end of the mission. How can you tell when it’s the “right reason” to kill someone? There’s grey area everywhere. These characters need some redemption, but that doesn’t seem likely with the Martial Eagle mission looming. Sure, you can afford an American muscle car. Spy work may be good for the wallet, but it’s hell on the soul.

Theories/Stray thoughts:

-Stan has entered full sad sack mode. He’s always got a weary “I’m in over my head” look. He’s passing information to Oleg, but seems completely ungrounded. He can claim that he and Oleg aren’t in anything “together,” but he’s just lying to himself. Even the Department of Justice won’t bite on his attempts to get Oleg. He’s obviously learned nothing from Gaad’s warning that he should make sure he’s not the one being played.

-I can’t help but feel that whatever information is contained in the FBI’s files on Oleg will have large ramifications. It’s been dangled out there for so long now.

-Only one Jennings child can appear in any episodes. It’s the law. Or so it always seems.

-Martha hates feeling pulled between Clark and her job! Again! Who cares at this point? Do something and move it along.

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