The Americans Review: Munchkins

What do you think we kidnap people and what, that we kill them? – Elizabeth Jennings

Seriously, taking notes as I watched tonight’s episode, I used an expletive in my description. It was such a weird event, in an episode filled with uncertainty and loaded with questions, that I was shocked by it, even though it was telegraphed in the seconds before it happened. At the halfway point of “Munchkins,” I was still reeling from Alice’s come to Jesus moment with Elizabeth and Philip, but had no idea what was coming with Frank Gaad. But his death resulted in a, “Holy Shit” from me, and I’ll bet many of you thought the exact same thing.

We’re now down to three episodes left in the stellar fourth season of The Americans, and tonight the show threw out several enormous showdown-style sequences, all but one fully reliant upon the strength of the words, with zero action or violence. And, because of it, when Gaad’s face and body went through the glass and we watched him bleed out, it was a jolt of electricity.

If Tim doesn’t come home, or if anything happens to me, that tape goes to the Justice Department. – Alice

Pastor Tim goes missing in Ethiopia and Alice is about 4,756 steps past “over this” as she storms into the Jennings living room and lays down the law. It was an awesome few minutes for Suzy Jane Hunt, who sold the hell out of the panicked rage of that character. She knows who they are, she knows what they’re capable of, and she’s recorded a tape that will expose them as Russian officers. It’s a direct threat to two Soviet operatives, and it shows that the wife, if not the husband, understands that these people are likely pure evil. She cares for Paige, which might be the only reason she hasn’t run to the authorities and instead is using leverage to keep her husband safe. It also proved she truly loves Tim, because this took blind guts – the name brand kind – where no price is too high, including staying alive.

As all of this was taking place, my immediate thought centered around the joy Elizabeth will have as she strangles the last breath out of this woman at some point in the near future. She might be ready to call a halt to the Young Hee screw job, but this Alice chick is in trouble. Unsurprisingly, Tim was fine, just lost after he and Wood’s jeep ran out of gas, but the hilarity was in the Russian nesting doll syndrome that took place stateside.

Alice threatens Elizabeth and Philip, subsequently leaving after saying her piece. Next, Paige begins to wonder if her parents had something to do with Tim’s disappearance. She makes a good case, because there’s a good case to be made. She exits, and then mom and dad have a brief conversation, as they too were unsure if something was done without their knowledge. Nobody was 100 percent secure with the innocence of the Soviets in Tim’s apparent absence from the planet.

Well, nobody except Elizabeth, who seemed positive the two of them would have been in the loop if the deed was done (or even in the works) in Africa.

Before Tim is found, we get another strong scene as Paige embraces Alice, who first comforts her, before melting and becoming the one in need of consolation. Holly Taylor and Suzy both played that moment beautifully. No show nails raw emotion like this one.

Just promise me this, promise me you won’t give up. – Mr. Hanson

Many episodes of The Americans could be described as a series of “Oh No” circumstances, but we might have broken the record. Here’s a brief list.

– Oh no, Martha’s dad is now in Washington.

– Oh no, Alice, what are you thinking?

– Oh no, Young Hee is crying on the phone.

– Oh no, this megadeadlynastygetawayfromme liquefy your organs disease mission is a go.

– Oh no, James is back hanging out with Kimmie, who knows her dad works for the CIA.

– Oh no, Matthew actually IS crushing on Paige…but

– Oh no, who the hell is Zach?

And finally…

– Oh no, Gabriel just boat raced Philip with that 37-point word in Scrabble. That’s embarrassing, P. You’re better than that.

Speaking of which, do you ever wonder if Gabe just sits around enjoying steamed broccoli and playing Scrabble by himself? I’m not sure we’ve ever seen him do anything for fun, except Scrabble. In that way, he and my folks would really get along well, especially if he also doesn’t mind doing the occasional jigsaw puzzle.

Levity aside, two immensely serious things happened tonight external of the Pastor Tim situation. First, Frank Gaad was murdered after refusing to listen to the Russians and then attempting to flee from Soviet heavies. Second, Elizabeth may for the first time have realized how difficult it can be when agent and mark get too close.

An operation didn’t go as planned. – Arkady Ivanovich

We don’t know where the Gaad story goes, but what it will do is push Stan, Dennis, and everyone at the FBI even further away from any thought of diplomacy with Russia. Once it’s determined – and it will be revealed – what happened to his former colleague and supervisor, Beeman will likely go on the warpath. He’s still reeling from the destruction of his marriage, the death of Nina, and even though he’s showering love down on his son as well as Henry Jennings, he’s pretty empty.

Dennis may help ground him, but we haven’t really seen angry Stan outside of the short problem with Philip and Sandra, so we’re due for an explosion. Considering the point of the season where Frank Gaad took his final bow on the show, the FBI probably just became much more formidable and focused on the anti-Soviet goal. Following The Day After and the revelations about Martha, the Bureau is already teetering on the brink. Usually when it feels like you’re down and out, the “nothing to lose” philosophy becomes increasingly viable.

Just call. I really want to talk. – Young Hee

Elizabeth can barely stand to hear her friend break down and cry, as Young Hee can’t understand why her husband has suddenly become so standoffish and anxious. This is one of Keri Russell’s best scenes of the entire show, as she leaps between being the embodiment of Philip’s description of his life in Tobolsk and the human that feels pain when Young Hee is in psychological agony. In the opening minutes of the episode, Philip tells Paige that the mentality in Siberia was that life and every action was about hard work and protecting the family and rarely about what one likes.

Elizabeth then deals with that very scenario, as Young Hee’s (and Don’s) happiness isn’t the mission, and thus isn’t best for the family or the work. Patty is supposed to get those codes by any means necessary, and decimating this marriage is the way to get that job done. But, she likes this woman and, as she said last week, will miss her when she’s gone. So, in yet another patiently executed scene, Gabriel sees the despair, and as handler, he offers to ask the Centre to find another way to get into the building. Elizabeth makes the call, as he leaves it up to her, and the simple word, “yes,” is one of the most powerful of the season.

However, I do have one question. Don still thinks he betrayed his wife and slept with Patty, and the only way that could change is if she came clean and told him of the scheme. I’m fascinated to see how this plays out, because in The Americans, maybe above any other program in recent memory, Elizabeth’s heart might end up putting her in a bad spot AND she still may lose the friendship. Plus, there’s also the possibility the Centre gives her the Spassky-Bishop block (look it up) and tells her to woman up and finish it.

Matthew Beeman is a fan of redheads, not unlike myself, but in this case, a specific one that lives across the street from him. She’s a complicated lass, and she might actually have a thing for a friend of hers at church. I’m not sure she recognizes that young Matt fancies her, or that the feelings doubled when she requested coffee instead of juice. There wasn’t much time to get into it this week, but there’s more coming from that story. I’d call it an unnecessary side plot, but there’s a tremendous level of potential in tying the son of FBI agent Stan Beeman with the daughter of two KGB parents. The Americans has found a way to turn a teenage romance angle into something crucial to the development of the larger story.

Speaking of romance, Oleg and Tatiana continue their relationship, and Burov finds out that his gal pal is pretty damn important. She has a purpose for being in the United States, and she’s one of the KGB agents most Russians don’t even know about. Yeah, she’s one of those. He’d better be careful, but as it stands now, the two seem to be a perfect match, though the neighbors might disagree late at night.

While at church, we find out Pastor Tim is scheduled to touch down in D.C. the following day, and you’d have to imagine Alice will let him know what happened while he was off the grid. I’m still attempting to convince myself Joe Weisberg is going to continually tease Pastor Tim’s death and then find a logical reason why they can’t kill him. I enjoy Kelly AuCoin’s contributions to the show, so it’s not a bad thing from an acting standpoint, but you just know Elizabeth wants to drown him in the baptismal pool.

No William this week, but we now know the next time we see him, he’ll be even more depressed and terrified than at any point previously, because he now has to “trust us with it.”

We’re amidst The Americans in peak form, Emmy-winning form, and clear best show on television form. One thing I haven’t done is ask for your thoughts on the season. While I bloviate each week, I’d love to hear your takes. Hit me up @GuyNamedJason and we’ll rap about it. We’ll talk about coffee, daughters, you know, no big whoop.

And yes, I am @GuyNamedJason. And no, you can’t understand America without trying a Twinkie.

Written by Jason Martin