THE AMERICANS: “Yousaf”

A few old faces drop in to the party. Just remember to stay out of the pool!

He was a 23-year-old first year officer. He’d been here three months. Would have washed out in a year. Didn’t have the stomach for the trade. He wanted to be a doctor.

-Arkady, on Vlad

He should have been a doctor.

-Gaad

Sometimes The Americans forces you to remember a character that you’d long since forgotten about. Even if you’re an ardent fan of the show like I am, it can be disorienting to remember who these people are, and their motivations. And since these characters are spies and duplicitous by nature, that makes things doubly hard. We already had to play the recall game when Charles Duluth showed up in “ARPANET” — I barely remembered the Soviet-sympathizing journalist before he was suddenly thrust into a major role in that episode. It’s the same thing for this week’s call back, Annalise. Remember her? I don’t think she’s appeared in an episode since Season 1’s “The Clock,” and that was nearly 20 episodes ago. It would be nice if the show would give us a quick rundown on these people during the “previously-on” segment before suddenly shoehorning them back into the plot (come on, showrunners! Throw the people who want to love your show a bone)… Anyways, here’s the lowdown: Annalise is an underling for the Secretary of Defense. She knows Philip as “Scott,” an operative for Swedish government’s spy services. They previously had a fling, and Annalise offered Philip the chance to run away and start a new life together in Sweden – an offer that he declined. Got it? Ok then. Let’s get to it!

Philip is regretting his trip to Pastor Tim’s last week. It’s funny how a night ruminating on your mission to beat a pastor’s head in can change your perspective on things. This week he’s doing his best to be a loving family man. He tries a lame April Fool’s joke on Henry, and softens his approach towards Paige. When she tells him that she wants to spend the summer at a Christian Camp as a counselor in training, Philip is at least a little receptive to the idea. At least she asked his permission this time. Elizabeth, however, is a different story — she still views this as an ideological battle. When Philip points out that a church camp is a better option than drinking and doing drugs in rebellion against her parents, Elizabeth retorts that she’ll take her chances with the drugs and alcohol. If Paige wants something to do over the summer she can babysit or get a job at the movies. Her line doesn’t soften any when she finds a shredded piece of paper in the trash that proves Paige was practicing forging her signature for the permission forms. A confused Paige protests that she’s being punished more for wanting to go to church than Henry was for breaking into a neighbor’s house (she’s got a point, after all). It’s just another example of the differences between the somewhat Americanized Philip and the hard line Communist Elizabeth. Philip is willing to give and take on religion, and the uncompromising Elizabeth is not.

Family time can only last until a new mission comes along, and Kate soon has work for our spy couple. A delegation of Pakistan’s intelligence service (the ISI) is in town, and Kate wants the Jenningses to turn the delegation’s number 2, Yousaf, into a contact for the Soviets. Remember, the USSR is in the middle of its own Vietnam-style quagmire in Afghanistan. Having a contact in the intelligence services of a neighboring Middle East country could be a great asset for the Soviets. Elizabeth is willing to seduce Yousaf, but Philip recommends his DOD contact Annalise instead, claiming that her connections make her a more plausible confidant for Yousaf to maintain a relationship with. Kate demurs, but Philip is steadfast. Several episodes this season have already dealt with the interplay between sex and the spy business, and each time the show’s aim was to show that sex for The Cause takes an emotional toll on the spies who do it. “Yousaf” begins with Elizabeth embracing Philip in the kitchen after he returns from his trip to Pastor Tim’s, and marital relations are implied. So, now that Elizabeth and Philip are actually forming a romantic bond and developing a real marriage rather than just a state sponsored one, it’s worth wondering if Philip’s preference for Annalise is about the mission or about protecting Elizabeth from the emotional entanglements of on-the-job seduction.

Elsewhere, Stan Beeman is busy trying to piece evidence in the Connors murders together. While he and Gaad go over the Connors’s personal effects, Gaad notes that a briefcase is present even though the Connors family was supposed to be on vacation. Inside they discover a hidden pocket (and a very well done one, too). It’s the first evidence the FBI has that points to Emmett and Leanne Connors as spies, and Stan visits their lone surviving son, Jared, to interview him about his parents’ behavior. When Jared balks at the insinuation that his parents were hiding secrets Stan assures him that everyone has secrets, and figuring out theirs may be the key to solving their murders. The scene ends with Stan asking Jared if he can identify two people from a set of sketches – Philip and Elizabeth in disguise. Stan hopes to tie the murders to Oleg so that he can eliminate Oleg as a threat, but I can’t help but laugh at Stan’s inability to recognize his own neighbors from a police sketch, disguised or not.

We also get another meeting between Gaad and Arkady. After last week’s blackmail showdown in a coffeehouse, the two opposing leaders meet on a snow covered street, and Arkady informs Gaad that his government (read: Arkady himself) is willing to accept Gaad’s version of events pertaining to the murder of Vlad back in season 1. Gaad was about to lose his job over the murder, but Arkady’s reversal (albeit under duress) saves him. Afterwards, Arkady tries to guilt Gaad over young Vlad’s death, but the FBI leader isn’t having any of it. They’re playing a dangerous game. Sometimes collateral damage happens. I love the scenes featuring these two men. They’re both played wonderfully by actors who portray them as reserved company men hiding vast concealed knowledge. They’re the two kingpins of their respective operations, and a perfect metaphor for the Cold War stalemate between the US and USSR. They’ve both got enough knowledge to destroy each other, but each restrains himself knowing that doing so would lead to his own demise. They’re operating under the principles of Mutually Assured Destruction just like their respective countries. I’d venture that Gaad and Arkady have an unspoken respect for each other, but they’re each too deeply committed to the Cold War to ever say it.

When they realize that Yousaf doesn’t have access to any information that could be of use, the KGB decides to change the trajectory of its attack. If Yousaf isn’t a useful number 2, they’ll just have to make him the number 1 by killing his superior, Javid. Philip sets Annalise up to seduce Yousaf (for the good of Sweden and all of Europe!) and seal the deal. Both women pull off their ends of the operation as Elizabeth poisons Javid in the hotel pool with a toxin that mimics the appearance of a heart attack, and Annalise gets Yousaf under the covers, but the mission is barely finished when Philip gets an angry knock at his hotel door. A furious Annalise accuses Philip of pimping her out for his work and not caring about her (like Paige, she’s not wrong), and Philip has to calm her down by assuring her how much it kills him to have to use her in a mission like this. Though she shot down Philip’s advances earlier claiming that she was trying to save her real world marriage, Philip claims that he still loves her and it kills him to use her this way. He assures her that he values the sanctity of marriage. He just doesn’t mention that the marriage he values is his own – that’s why he used her rather than Elizabeth in the first place.

All of this is fine, but “Yousaf” retreads a lot of old ground. “Behind the Red Door” did a better job with the sexual nature of the spy game. “New Car” did a better job with Philip and Elizabeth’s opposing views on the American system. “Martial Eagle” flawlessly covered the Jenningses vs. religion. Furthermore, nothing in “Yousaf” really does much to advance the season’s plot. Thankfully, another old friend from a past episode returns to save the day: Andrew Larrick is back. Last week we got one quick shot of him in Nicaragua receiving word that several murders had gone down on the Martial Eagle base, and he looked pissed knowing that Philip and Elizabeth were probably responsible. Now he’s returned to the states under the guise of a family emergency, and he wants to make sure there’s hell to pay for the Martial Eagle operation. On one hand this doesn’t make a ton of sense because he’s the one who got the Jenningses the intelligence they needed to access the base, but Larrick’s always been a bit of a lone wolf, working both for and against the Soviets. Back in the US he’s able to track some suspicious phone calls all the way back to the basement call center where Philip and Elizabeth’s instructions have been issued all season. Larrick puts a bullet in the call center operator’s chest and sets out repairing and tapping machines in the call center. Before long he’s able to identify a single number and place a call. And who picks up the other end? It’s Kate, Philip and Elizabeth’s handler. He plays the call off as a wrong number, but Larrick has the beginnings of the KGB’s spy network phone tree. Will he continue until he finds the Jennings’ number? Will he go after Kate? Will he turn the whole thing over to the FBI? We’ll have to see, but he’s got the ammo to wreak havoc on the DC Soviet spy network.

Both Larrick and Stan are drawing closer to the Jennings family. With only three episodes left this season, it’s time to start wondering who gets there first. My money’s on Larrick. He’s certainly the most dangerous threat. Stan would come to the Jennings’s door with handcuffs, but Larrick would come with a gun. Elizabeth and Philip have had their ups and downs with Paige and Henry this season, but this season’s theme that I come back to time and time again is Cause vs. Country. Philip and Kate continue to put their children in harm’s way through their covert activities whether Henry and Paige know about it or not. Not knowing didn’t save the Connors’s daughter when a dangerous threat came knocking, and if Larrick shows up at the Jennings’s house I can’t help but wonder who will ultimately answer the door.

Theories/Stray Thoughts:

-Nina was again relegated to being a side character. Stan stopped in on her for less than 5 minutes, and she had a scene cuddling with Oleg. Even she admitted that she seems kind of lost at this point. It’s not her fault. The show’s writers have almost completely abandoned her.

-What if one of the numbers Larrick finds is Martha’s? How much trouble could he stir up with that information? I think that would be great. PLEASE let it happen.

-Thrilled that Gaad seems to be sticking around for now. He and Arkady are two of the show’s most interesting characters.

-Stan, no matter how shocked buy your wife’s affair, you shouldn’t bring it up with your mistress.

-It’s a Paige episode. You know we can only focus on one Jennings child each week. We’ve got a quota!

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