THE AMERICANS: “Stealth”

The Americans is busy moving pieces into place for the fast approaching finale, but there’s still a few secrets to uncover along the way.

You got kids? Leave them something other than heartache.

-John Skeevers

Even before he appeared onscreen, Claudia warned Philip and Elizabeth Jennings that Andrew Larrick was a dangerous man, a man not to be trifled with. Larrick is a career covert operations military man. He’s menacing. He’s cold. He’s not afraid to kill when necessary. The Soviets got their hooks into him by threatening to reveal his homosexuality to the American military, but you have to wonder if they won’t live to regret it. He told Elizabeth that all he wanted was to get out of the spy game and move on with his life, but ever since he returned from Nicaragua intent on hunting down Philip, Elizabeth, and anyone else responsible for the deaths of his friends at the Martial Eagle base, Larrick’s been a one-man Soviet spy ring wrecker. In his handful of appearances he’s eliminated more spies than the FBI has this season. Last week he uncovered and compromised the Soviet phone web, and gained Kate’s phone number (and, thereby, her address) in the process. In some ways it feels like it had to come to this. The show has alluded to Larrick’s dangerousness too many times for him to leave the show without becoming a real threat, and Lee Tergesen has been way too good in the role. He presents an imminent threat to our resident spies, and he looks to be the looming peril awaiting Philip and Elizabeth at the (fast approaching) end of the season.

Forcibly repatriated scientist Anton Bakalov is working to develop stealth technology for the Soviets, but he’s at an impasse. He can calculate the necessary radar deflecting angles for the plane design on his own, but the project can’t move forward without radar absorbing material (RAM) to coat the plane in, and the Soviets can’t test the design’s viability without the US’s Echo visualization software. The Jenninges get the call to head the RAM side of the project, and Philip quickly meets with Frank to look for an angle to approach his search. Fred directs Philip to John Skeevers (Zeljko Ivanek), a cancer-ridden shell of a man who helped the US government develop the SR-71. Philip (in his best Rubeus Hagrid/Grizzly Adams disguise) meets Skeevers at a cancer clinic and ingratiates himself to the former government worker by paying for the balance of his medical bills. Skeevers is little more than a ghost, a small, raspy-voiced man with a grudge against the government whose stealth materials he blames for his malignant cancer. When Philip questions the UFO tabloid he’s reading, Skeevers responds “there’s a lot out there you wouldn’t believe.” But this frail man is still the key Philip needs to understand RAM, and his resentment towards the government makes him a more willing participant. When Skeevers asks Philip who he really is, Philip responds “Does it matter?” No, if you’re convinced that your government poisoned you, denies you the care you need, and someone shows up at your door looking to help you undermine the bastards responsible and offering huge wads of cash, it probably doesn’t matter what their other interests are. Over soup and some ethereal rambling about his cancer, Skeevers reveals that RAM is comprised of iron balls mixed into the plane’s paint, but warns that the process killed a number of bats in the painting hangar, and likely gave him his terminal brain cancer. It’s a somber, but emotionally resonant scene. Skeevers, like Philip, kept secrets for his government while working on classified projects. And now, Skeevers is dying as a result of his work and the responsible organization isn’t there for him anymore. He’s Philip’s mirror in many ways, and he raises some thematic question to the audience: If Philip got sick or injured during his work, would the Soviets be there to care for him in his last days? Or would Philip, too, find himself alone, abandoned, and willing to share his secrets with someone who had a warm smile, food, and a stack of potentially life-easing cash?

The other piece of the missing stealth information, the Echo program, goes through Stan via Nina. Arkady knowingly lets it slip to Oleg that the KGB will withdraw Nina to Moscow and try her for treason for her past crimes unless she can use Stan and his FBI position to get to the Echo program. Arkady notes that the time to finally turn Stan is now, reasoning to Nina “His personal life is in shambles and he’s in love with you.” He’s right, of course. Stan’s relationship with his wife, Sandra, continues to crumble after her return from her weekend excursion with her new therapy boyfriend, but Stan isn’t the only one with a complicated personal life. As Nina’s relationship with Oleg has grown, so has her reluctance to continue her relationship with Stan, and now she’s staring an uncomfortable choice in the face. She can either continue an unwanted relationship with Stan in hopes that he’ll quickly betray his country for her, or she can be sent back to Moscow to stand trial. Even if she chooses the first route, what if she can’t convince Stan to give the Echo program software for her? What if even he can’t get it? Oleg advises Nina to run if she doesn’t think she can get the information from Stan, but ultimately leaves the choice in her hands. It’s not much of a choice, but at least Nina gets to make her own decision for once. Even so, her choices are still largely defined by the men in her life. When she presents her impending trip back to Moscow to Stan (minus the “I need you to betray your country” part, naturally), he swears that he’ll do whatever he has to in order to protect her. Stan seemingly swallows the bait that will lead to him betraying his country, and the writers hammer it in by inventing a subplot where Henry Jennings interviews Agent Beeman for a class project. The scene seems to exist only for the opportunity to have Henry ask Stan what it’s like to be a hero so that Stan can heavily respond, “I’m not a hero, Henry.”

Hearing that Stan recently re-interviewed Jared Connors, Elizabeth decides to also see him again while disguised in her CPS uniform. The disguise makes Elizabeth look exactly like one of the photo sketches that Stan showed his last week – a fact seemingly not lost on Jared – and coupled with Elizabeth’s unexpected visit to ask questions about his meeting with an FBI agent, it’s hard to wonder why Jared doesn’t turn her over to Stan Beeman. But his motivations become even more confusing when Elizabeth follows him to a diner where he meets with none other than Kate, Philip and Elizabeth’s KGB handler. Why in the world would those two be meeting? If Kate has any information to enlighten us on the matter, she won’t be sharing it because she’s captured by Larrick on her return home that evening. After tracking down her address via the phone number he gets via the Soviet phone web, he’s been laying in wait, hoping to get info about Philip and Elizabeth’s whereabouts. He wants revenge on the people who killed his friends at the Martial eagle base, and when Kate refuses to give up any information he snaps her neck. First Lucia the Sandinista, then George the head of the phone ring, and now Kate. Larrick is piling up the bodies. It turns out Claudia was right. He’s not a man to be trifled with. Tergesen has been great in this role all season, maintaining a quiet, menacing danger all season until it was his time to shine. His creepiest moments are when he’s just talking calmly. You can feel the threat in his voice lingering just under the surface. He’s an incredibly complicated character, and he even mentions that he created many of his biggest problems himself. But Larrick isn’t the type of man to turn and run. He’s a man who identifies his problems and deals with them, and right now his problem is Philip and Elizabeth Jennings.

The KGB begins to get spooked when they can’t get a hold of either George at the phone center or Kate, and they dispatch Philip and Elizabeth to investigate Kate’s sudden silence. At her place they find some small evidence of a disturbance, but not her or a body. While hiding from Larrick, Kate unspooled all of the toilet paper off of the roll in her bathroom. This seemingly innocuous act must be sign for Soviet spies because Elizabeth immediately latches onto it and finds a code written inside the empty toilet paper roll. When they unscramble the code it contains a three word message from Kate: “Get Jared out.” Philip and Elizabeth stare at each other in disbelief and the show cuts to black.

The Americans isn’t as big on cliffhangers as you might expect from a spy show. Most episodes end with a moment of emotional catharsis for our characters, but this episode is an obvious exception. “Stealth” is a noticeable attempt to get all the pieces in their right places before the final two episodes of the season, and if one of those important pieces is Jared Connors, this is the writers’ way of letting us know. But how can it be? Jared has been hanging around in the background all season, but he’s also been largely ignored. He was the only member of the Connors family to survive the hotel room murder simply because he was away at the pool. But isn’t that a little convenient? If he’s just an innocent survivor why doesn’t he immediately call Stan about Elizabeth’s visits? He knows Stan is looking for her, and that connection could be the key that finally helps solve his family’s murders. And why was he meeting with Kate? Is it possible that he’s been involved this entire time and we’ve just never noticed it? Could Jared possibly have flown that far under the radar? But, after all, isn’t avoiding detection exactly the definition of what stealth is in the first place?

Stray Thoughts:

-There’s the usual Jennings home life subplot this week. Paige is fighting for her right to believe whatever she wants to even while she acknowledges her parents’ right to get to tell her what she can do until she’s 18. It all culminates in Elizabeth relenting and allowing Paige to go on a church trip to protest at a US Air Force base. At least hating the US military and weapons programs is something they can agree on, but Elizabeth’s sudden “She’s more like me than I ever realized” revelation is the most facepalm/yell at your TV moment of the week.

-Hopefully, with Kate out of the way (and, adieu to a mostly shoehorned in, mysterious character that was never really developed, BTW) Claudia will get another appearance before the season is out. I think she was contracted for 4 episodes this season, and I don’t think we’ve seen her that many times. Whatever happened to her lover that she supposedly spilled the beans to?

-I’m starting to wonder about the organization of the spy ring in the DC area. Is there really no one else for Elizabeth and Philip to share the load with? They seem to have a “super important” mission every week. How are they supposed to ever blend in if they’re constantly doing missions?

-Fred has always reminded me of the bumbling Kevin from The Office, and his statement this week that he’s just the numbers guy didn’t really help things.

-HUGE shout out to an episode of great guest stars. Lee Tergesen has been great for weeks, and Zeljko Ivanek was just as great in a short appearance this week. Add in Margo Martindale and The Americans really knows where to go for its guest actors.

-Big ups to the show for their handling of Larrick’s sexuality. Sure, he’s a gay man who’s also trying to kill our protagonists, but he’s never been someone whose sexuality was the cause of their evil. He’s not an Evil Gay Man. He’s just a gay man who’s currently playing the antagonist role. I’d be all for a spinoff where he hunts down Soviet spies.

-What’s Martha been up to the last few weeks?

-It’s worth noting that the season finale is titled “Echo.” Keep that in mind with the stealth Echo project floating around out there. It’s where we’re heading for the season closer.

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