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This has been hard for me for a long time. You know that, right? – Philip Jennings
Until last night, the emotional resonance that helped propel Season 4 had been missing from this newest set of episodes. Time was spent in some unfamiliar locations, which can take an audience out of the story as the viewers attempt to settle into opaque and translucent places. Last year, Martha’s storyline, plus the conclusion of Nina’s run on the show both added a layer of oozing dread throughout the series. This has never been the happiest of shows, but as much as food contamination and crop shortages are difficult situations, neither are instantly dramatic. Compare something like Christopher Nolan’s Memento to his Interstellar. Both are good, but one hits much harder. More importantly, it does so earlier.
This week, The Americans hit the audience with a gut punch, and as Ben revealed what he does for a living, the thought went to the Oklahoma City laboratory and the death of an innocent man. I thought about that man, someone who simply showed up for work, had never questioned his orders (which turned out to be innocent and actually laudable), and died due to bad information. Not only did he die, he was murdered in cold blood. His neck was snapped. He wasn’t around family or loved ones. It was a dimly lit, empty lab. That’s where this man drew his last breath.
As hard as it was for me to think about, it struck Philip Jennings even harder, and it brought back to life a plot point that hasn’t been prevalent over the last year or two, but used to be a primary part of the show as a whole. This guy, while he may love Russia and believe the United States government is filled with evil, also has grown to appreciate the life he’s afforded in America. Further, he realizes the citizens of this new land are given much of what they need by a limited, hands-off federal apparatus run by Ronald Reagan. That’s not to say he’d be a Republican, but it is to say he does recognize the value in a republic, rather than a totalitarian state.
In Washington D.C., Henry Jennings can be a math whiz whose teacher wants to move him into Algebra II during the middle of the year, for the sole purpose of continuing to push his creativity and interest level while it’s strongest. In that same town, Paige Jennings can go to an activist church, learn about Karl Marx, participate in protests, but also return home safely to a warm meal, unlike the memory of his father bringing home the bare minimum, while giving his all to bring home the absolute maximum. Stan Beeman can date an incredible blonde woman with a knockout personality to match her knockout body, and he can work for a livable wage and provide for his family. Philip and Elizabeth can work at a travel agency, can go out for drinks or a night on the town with friends and neighbors, and can retire for a wonderful night of love making without wondering from where the next meal will come.
And none of them, except the Soviet agents, are fearful of what their elected officials will do to them. It may not be true today, but it was true then for MOST.
While that’s not the case for every American, Philip doesn’t see bread lines as he walks the streets in the District. What’s always been intriguing about The Americans is how we’re conditioned to both cheer for the Jennings family, while also understanding their fight is misguided and wrong. Capitalism and free enterprise, the ability to choose a path, to pursue happiness, all of it can be painted as nefarious, but if applied properly and carefully, in most cases it works.
When Elizabeth speaks the following words, everything crystallizes for Philip, who has fought his conscience and his desire to enjoy the fruits of his labor and to take advantage of the conditions in which he lived for quite some time. Romancing the Stone on a Saturday afternoon is a major improvement over moldy toast.
“We got it wrong. Stobert isn’t looking to poison us or our food. He wants to save people. He wants to develop a wheat that can grow anywhere. He wants to feed the world, so the bugs in the lab were there to test the crops for resistance. To make sure they could survive anything.”
Elizabeth tries to tell her husband they weren’t at fault, that they didn’t know, but even she doesn’t believe that. She says they’ll be more careful in the future, to which he stares at her as if she has 17 heads. Careful? This was a man’s life. It was someone trying to make the world a better place, to help end famine. He was doing a job. It cost him everything, and they were mistaken. It isn’t forgetting to check your work on one of Henry’s math tests. It’s life and death. And it was shoddy, incomplete, and incorrect. Philip wonders what it’s all for, and whether it’s worth it.
Earlier, we see him wary of the vivacious Renee, because she almost seems too perfect. He knows the reports he’s given the Center about Stan, and he knows his superiors are aware Beeman is lonely and has had a rough last few years. He believes they would think this woman immediately attractive to him, and is concerned she isn’t for HIM, she’s from THEM. I am so hoping he’s wrong, because Stan needs a win. Philip follows her not just to figure out if he’s right, but I think because he legitimately likes Stan Beeman as a man, even if he can’t support what he does for a living. We still don’t know if she’s a plant. Fingers crossed for Stan. I really dig Renee, and Laurie Holden is even more likable than usual here.
We also found out Dennis Aderholt is a good guy. Stan walks away, leaving Dennis with Renee, and while he’s using the restroom, Aderholt does nothing but reassure her he’s a good guy. Work has been stressful for him, but he’s someone she can trust, and perhaps someone she can love. He shows he’s a good friend in this moment. There was absolutely nothing to gain here, except doing something nice for someone he cares about. That’s important, and it’s not often the way things are depicted on screens of any size. I immediately thought he might try to hit on her, and when he didn’t, I felt as if society has corrupted my soul. He might be a little weird about some things, but he’s also making sure Stan’s happiness has a chance.
In the conversation with his daughter, Paige tries to understand why she feels bad when she’s around Matthew, and the look on Philip’s face is someone that feels he’s wrecked his child’s life. Maybe the real bad guy is the one at the dinner table and not the one on 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Add to it the shock with which both parents react to the news that their son is bright, and you see people so caught up in work that they have little connection with people under their own roof.
Or, even worse, any connection at all with a son Philip didn’t even know he had until recently. Poor Mischa. Gabriel tells him he can’t see his father, even after dealing with the death of his mother and somehow managing to defect and make it to the United States. It would put his father in jeopardy, and perhaps down the line the two could meet, but not in America, and certainly not now. As sad as Mischa looks in both that scene and the one a few minutes before, walking in the rain alone down a dirty street trying to use a pay phone to reach the Center, I felt worse for Philip.
This episode was largely about him, but it was used in a way to bring Elizabeth’s defenses down as well. She says she could take on the tougher assignments going forward, but he tells her it’s about “us,” and not just one of them. He loves her and she loves him. It may have been arranged initially, but it’s grown into something genuine and real. She tells him she misses him on the road and he agrees. When she arrives home from Topeka, the two embrace and seem content in one another’s arms. She isn’t quite the assassin we’ve seen at times in the past. It isn’t that America is wearing on her. It’s that her family matters to her, and she too sees the flaws in what she’s being asked to do.
She’ll always be the more aggressive of the two, and she’s still very anti-American, but it’s not quite as pronounced. Philip has been the one to waver on more than one occasion, but while she may originally have seen it as weakness, I believe she not has more of an understanding and sympathy for it. He hasn’t been intoxicated with materialism. He just wants a normal life. He wants his daughter to be able to fall in love without qualification or fear. He wants to play real football with Henry, rather than appearance pigskin with Tuan. It’s the way of life, not the stuff.
He can still bang a loud orgasm out of Deirdre, but does so with vacant eyes. It’s just another assignment, even though she too might not be a bad person. So why call the episode “Lotus 1-2-3,” other than it being the program she mentions would help him in his work. I’m old enough to remember that piece of software, and in fact along with WordPerfect, it was one of the first I ever had on my family’s home computer. We didn’t get a PC until I was around 14, and even then I felt blessed, though most of my friends had one long before. I helped my dad enter some of his purchasing orders and spreadsheets, and also introduced him to Scrivener, and used it as a word processor.
According to Mental Floss, Lotus was most successful because it was good at multitasking and because it was fast. Deirdre is suggesting something efficient, but also accurate to Philip. It makes mathematical computations easier, helps predict a business future, and eliminates mistakes when combining large numbers, percentages, or other statistical information. Use that and think about the episode. A mistake led to a death, and it took several blind steps to even get Mischa to America. Is Renee part of a plan to get to Stan? How much is calculated before the fact on this show, and what’s missed in translation or intelligence gathering? How often do Elizabeth and Philip fly with a mask over their eyes, sans parachute, doing what’s asked of them? How many times have they questioned it, and how much damage have they potentially done while pulling their hair out? Lotus takes some of the guesswork out, and provides a hub for many different operations.
Even for Oleg Burov, who sees through his father’s attempt to find him a woman, he’s doing something he doesn’t want to do. He’s helping to strong arm grocery stores and various departments, listening to his colleagues threaten one man’s son, because the Russian government doesn’t like the backroom dealing taking place. He knows his dad could at some point be in the crossfire. He also worries about the CIA and whether Stan Beeman has sold him out. He only knows part of every story in his life.
So many television shows create drama and tension using the strategy of characters holding secrets from others. These revelations would eliminate so much heartache and pain, just the way Lotus 1-2-3 revolutionized home computing and information processing. If this person told this person this piece of intel, this mission never would have happened. That’s how it works, more often than it should, and some shows do it constantly. Shonda Rhimes, I’m looking in your direction. My explanation might be a bit of a reach, but there’s one other factor here. Lotus 1-2-3 wouldn’t exist in 1980s Russia, but it does in America. Tools are there to be used, without supervision, and with expectation of benefit.
Remember back a few weeks to the talk about Russia having similar land and resources to the United States, yet its people still going hungry and crops failing quickly. Soviet soil and technique need a version of Lotus to change things, and to speed up the healing process. There are too many human errors. Just something to think about.
I’m @JMartOutkick and reachable at firstname.lastname@example.org. I already have entries in my file that don’t look good.
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