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It’s easy to see things as very black and white, but the world is complicated, and the more you get that, the better off you’ll be. – Elizabeth Jennings
The hour ends with the blood-soaked face of Elizabeth just after her only daughter walked up to see what had just happened, only to discover her mother had murdered someone. She didn’t freak out, because it’s a life she’s chosen to embrace herself. That’s a perfect microcosm for the episode as a whole, and what was notable was how different “Tchaikovsky” was from “Dead Hand” last week.
Whereas the season opener was artistic and filled with style and sound, this week’s installment went heavy on desolation and despair. In fact, on the surface with no context, you could make the argument “Dead Hand” would have been a better title for this episode and “Tchaikovsky” was more appropriate for last week, where the music played such a pivotal role.
But, Joe Weisberg and Joel Fields have always been consistent in how we would view this series once it concludes. We won’t forget about the Mail Robot, which made another appearance this week as Stan had to wait for it before exiting a room, and we can dig the soundtrack and the occasional lighthearted moment, but it’s never been a secret that The Americans pours on the dread, not the Bobby McFerrin.
This week, it poured on the lithium-based radiation sensors. “I’m so happy, because today I’ve found my…nuclear blast information circuits.” R.I.P. Kurt.
Even when things are good, they’re not that good. We saw one fairly happy week for Philip Jennings at Dupont Travel, and now he’s lost a key client and his teenage son is making all the sense in the world when he basically says…yeah pops, that was actually your fault. This man didn’t want to deal with Stavos after you’d handled his account for 15 years. You goofed, and so he went to a budget option.
As for Stan and Dennis, well, we knew Sofia was going to be a problem. She was always a little flaky, and now she and Gennadi are on the rocks, with both possibly cheating on the other, and the former hockey star getting too comfortable at her house with beer and “the games.” She wants a divorce, Stan knows how big an issue this could become, and also there’s the danger that she says too much to an unknown third party. Gennadi, for his part, is meeting with Stan and hugging him, calling him a good friend for listening. He’s then working at the airport, passing diplomatic packets between stalls using technology. But he, just like his soon-to-be ex-wife, is going to lead to extra Maalox for Beeman and Aderholt.
Or more Miller High Life.
This is the second straight week of a Talking Heads tune making its way into the proceedings, not that I’m complaining. Keep that streak alive as long as you wish. Incidentally, this week’s was “Slippery People,” which just made me want to listen to Stop Making Sense (or watch it) again as soon as possible. The live version trumps the studio release in every way.
Elizabeth is busy yet again, this time meeting with Patrick McCleesh (Reed Birney) and using his affinity for her to try and get information on the Summit. What she comes up with is potentially immense, as Ronald Reagan is starting to show signs of mental instability. McCleesh recounts one official close to the President suggesting he “might be going senile.” Claudia is taken aback, even more so than Elizabeth herself, but considering the implications of the potential agreement and some of Reagan’s inner circle, it’s a a concern.
McCleesh also mentions in the “impromptu” bookstore meeting that some believe the Summit will lead to the United States winning and ending the Cold War. Just what Mrs. Jennings wants to hear, or the exact opposite. The stakes just keep growing, which only adds to the stress on every character we’ll encounter from here on out.
She’s also keeping close tabs on Glenn Haskard (Scott Cohen) as she plays nurse to Erica (Miriam Shor), which may well include helping the afflicted woman end her suffering and misery. If you go back and watch the scene where Elizabeth discusses euthanasia with Haskard, there’s talk of ending something terrible that’s robbed this lady of everything she is, just finally saying no more pain. Think about it in terms not of a disease eating the physical body away, but Elizabeth Jennings’ LIFE eating her soul away, and that sequence has even more meaning, even if it was coincidental. Who would be better off dead at this point?
Finally, Paige is doing the spy thing, and she’s “pretty good,” but as she walks up to see what her mom was forced to do when the General Rennhull (Viktor Slezak) refused to betray his country. And now I have to admit something I didn’t expect that entered my mind during the scene. I was actually hoping, knowing how this would end, but I was legitimately hoping for him to pull the trigger and kill her. It seemed he had indeed been used and had been foolish, not unlike many others on The Americans through the years, but this was the first time a part of me was rooting completely against Elizabeth. It was fleeting. But it was there.
Again, the world isn’t black and white, as Elizabeth mentions, and sometimes people have to do ugly things for what they believe in. Rennhull ended up giving his life because he wasn’t skilled enough to understand his killer was acting before she lunged at him and began the struggle for the gun. Elizabeth has given up almost everything for her country, as has Philip, though he’s currently trying to escape that life. Watching Paige run up, I couldn’t help but think she “looked” like a spy or some kind of underground figure from a movie, but didn’t appear to really BE a spy.
To me, it made the scene that much more effective. Yes, we can listen to Tchaikovsky in Claudia’s home and we can watch Russian comedies and even visit the country, but there comes a time where we have to stab a Naval officer in the side of the neck or blow a soon-to-be retired Air Force General’s brains out. This life isn’t glorified, and even those that buy into the cause have to sacrifice much of their own humanity in order to be the operatives they need to be to do that job. Is Paige ready to do that, or is she just having fun buying books on espionage at a Capitol Hill bookstore?
Although we didn’t get more than the reveal, Stan Beeman now knows Oleg Burov is at the Potomac Inn, so we’re nearing that reunion scene. Boy do these two have a lot to catch up on, huh? But, “Teacup” and Sofia got in the way, so we’re going to have to wait a week or two before it advances. Still, that storyline is relentlessly fascinating, and Aderholt has no clue (at least compared to the audience) how tight those two are. Thick as thieves…that operate on opposite sides.
The cover story for Burov is plausible and logical, as the idea is he’s taking a class at George Mason that would benefit his new life in Russia, outside the KGB, which the CIA believes he’s been clear of for three years. So, he’s not exactly an antagonist in their eyes as much as he is a person of interest who happens to be in Washington D.C. at a curious time.
It wasn’t quite as satisfying as last week’s episode because it had work to do and we already said hello to everybody again during “Dead Hand.” But, it was another good hour, a more intense one that drew us a little closer to the end. We’re in October now, as we see for sure when the camera catches a shot of Philip’s office calendar. Remember, the Summit is in mid-December, and it’s going to be the climax and culmination of the entire six year journey we’ve taken with The Americans.
Based on the first two weeks, and the overall quality of this show, we’re going to enjoy (and subsequently need therapy after) every minute of it.