At the end of the very first episode of the TV series Justified, another FX drama produced by Graham Yost, a character tells Timothy Olyphant’s Raylan Givens character that she think he’s the angriest person alive. In this week’s episode of The Americans, we are given a glimpse of what could be one of the angriest spies in D.C. Matthew Rhys’ Phillip has always been the more emotional, between himself and Elizabeth, but this week has him at his limits. The quiet nature and internal thoughts of this character start to bleed out and it shows a man who has a lot of rage within him and issues that cannot be simply resolved by burying it. This episode also provides the setup for the end game of this season, but it really is the Phillip show this week.
The episode begins with the kind of sequence that would be saved for the end of a show more devoted to depicting action. Phillip and Elizabeth formed a plan last week (which would have an unfortunate death revealed to them later on) and this week we saw the results right away. Operation Martial Eagle takes up the first 15 minutes of the episode and then it’s over and done with, but leaves a bitter aftertaste for our Americans. The plan is basically a success, as Elizabeth kills her target, but Phillip is forced to kill three soldiers (one in brutal fashion) who are in the wrong place at the wrong time. This is largely true of most of the deaths that have occurred on this series, but this week the results take a toll on Phillip, who has already shown signs that he is succumbing to the pressures of being a ruthless assassin, when the time calls for it.
As we follow Phillip throughout the rest of the episode, it is clear that he simply needs to recharge. Not that I am personally condoning his method of doing what it takes to complete his assignments, but if it comes to speaking up about what this TV character needs in order to get back in his preferred zone, clearing out the stress of killing many innocents, dealing with the murder of his friends, the “other Americans”, and keeping things more clear and open with his children may be enough to relieve some of the pressure on him. As it stands, the murders he has committed in recent weeks, the death of the man he had mercy on, the ruining of the life of a scientist that he kidnapped, and now the irritation he has from Paige’s acceptance of Christianity and the youth group that goes with it appears to be too much.
We have seen some glimpses of Phillip’s past, but Elizabeth’s past has had more shading thus far. With Phillip, I get that he has had a rough go of it and has good reason to “try and enjoy” what the life of an American has to offer. Seeing him blow up at Paige over the $600 she gave to the church and come inches away from beating up Pastor Tim (which evokes the series premiere, where Phillip did beat up a guy who looked a little too closely at Paige), gives the notion of a man with a lot going on within himself and likely hides that side behind even his most basic of his disguises. Seeing that man come out in this week’s episode is the kind of thing that could prove to be scary for those who really do deserve Phillip’s wrath.
Enough about Phillip for now though, we also have Stan to deal with. While he may be getting the access he wants to learn more about the various programs that the Soviets are involving themselves in, everything else is falling down around him. We have known for weeks now that Stan is in hot water, given his relationship with Nina and what Oleg has forced him to do, but now Stan is losing his marriage, just as he approaches some new leads that could put him on the positive side of the good guy scale again.
On a day where Stan investigates matters within the Department of Defense and interrogates John Carol Lynch, he comes home to find his wife packing up, with the eventual realization that he has disregarded her for too long. I have talked about Stan seeming like an alien in his own home for a while now and it only makes sense that Sandra is ready to jet. She admits to be going away with another man (whom she met at EST) and has a wonderful way of cornering Stan about the affair she knows he’s been having. Susan Misner has not had a ton to do, since being promoted to a season regular, but her scene in this episode was great, which was only followed by another great Noah Emmerich facial expression to cap it off, before a commercial break.
Elizabeth had somewhat of an offshoot to head to this week, as we saw the beginning of what will turn into a new development soon enough, I would imagine. After attending an AA meeting, Elizabeth has a conversation with a former alcoholic. I was waiting for the other shoe to drop and while Elizabeth certainly knows how to bring out her own drama in ways that open up her marks, sure enough, the truth comes out and a connection is made that I will get back to as soon as the shows does. That said, Elizabeth also has a fine scene this week, as she finds a way to punish Paige in a fitting way, making her do late night chores and act like a real grown up. Paige certainly has a lot to deal with in terms of balancing her mixed feelings regarding her parents’ secrets and what she has found in religion, but her naivety has found a way into this series that does not feel manufactured and instead keeps the show grounded in the reality of parents dealing with family drama (with extraordinary circumstances serving as a catalyst for new dramatic dynamics).
Speaking of naivety, poor Martha has to deal with drunken Clark aka Phillip in raging emotional mode this week, which leads to a horrible scene in which she hears the manufactured recording that Phillip mercifully did not play last week. Martha may not know what Clark has involved her in in the same way that Stan was forced to do some dirty work, but coercing her to provide details on stealth come as a result of Phillip focusing his anger and sadness on a new way of manipulation. The fact that Phillip leaves Martha that night in her sad state that comes from a falsely created piece of material used to shatter her self-esteem is brutal in its own way as well, this episode certainly does a fine job of making us feel the weight of the ugliness that these characters experience.
Feeling the weight of the circumstances that The Americans present is something the series has always done quite well. While it has its share of action, it is one of the rare shows to make the deaths that occur really matter. It is not due to us knowing the deceased characters very well, but instead due to the understanding that it is not easy for Phillip or Elizabeth (even if Phillip thinks it is for his ‘wife’). While we can explore the marriage and spy stuff all we want, it is interesting to see these consequences of their actions take a toll as well. Obviously Phillip is not about to off himself due to stress, but at the same time, it is only a matter of time before he truly does something that threatens the family he is trying so hard to protect.
Other Things Behind The Red Curtain:
- Gaad has a meeting with Arkady this week that involves potential blackmail. The mini Gaad arc in this series has been very interesting to check in on.
- Henry’s magic impresses no one…so it’s Poor Henry this week.
- “You respect Jesus, but not us!” – Matthew Rhys does tremendous work in this episode, not just because he loudly emotes, but because he is able to sell all of the different states we see him in tonight. It is Emmy-worthy stuff.
- Brief check in with Larrick tells us that he is not happy. Uh-oh.
- I should note that Oliver North received a co-story credit this week. North is a former US Marine Corps Lieutenant Colonel and NY Times best-selling author. I would imagine his contributions all surrounded Operation Martial Eagle, but this is a fun fact regardless