I have not been doing a whole lot of research regarding the ratings for The Americans and how this season is comparing to last season, but it seems likely and very fitting that a series about Russian spies is secretly becoming one of the best shows currently on TV. “A Little Night Music” is not a standout episode, necessarily, as it is more or less a setup for new storylines next week and down the road. With that said, it still features the best things about this series; superb work by Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell, along with the dual plotting approach that fans enjoy (spies and family life), and even a kick ass fight scene that ends the episode on a cliffhanger.
There was a lot to enjoy about this week’s episode of The Americans, but let’s start with something wonderful: Claudia returned! Margo Martindale is back and in fine form on this week’s episode, portraying the Claudia character in a bit of a different way, in light of recent events. Whether or not she is simply being manipulative is unknown as of now (though very likely), but Claudia is behaving in a more concerned, motherly way, while alerting Philip and Elizabeth about the possibilities regarding the murders of Emmet and Leanne. This ultimately leads to Claudia handing out a mission to scope out a suspect, Andrew Laric, by using another person, Brad Mullen, to get to him.
This setup works based on the performances of course, especially when it comes to Martindale’s presence. A real nice aspect was the early conversation with Elizabeth and how Claudia believes she has come back to the field too soon. Layering in this thought certainly comes back multiple times during this episode, let alone allowing one to consider how Elizabeth has behaved in the previous episodes this season, as we find her digging into some deep emotional places in order to better establish her cover for Mullen later on. There is also the big fight at the end, which finds Elizabeth going overboard on an attacker, as she is one to use pain and tense situations as fuel for really messing people up, as we’ve seen before in the pilot episode, among others.
Let’s stay with Elizabeth for a bit, as Keri Russell has been pretty stellar this season. Beyond just looking adorable as a naïve classical music enthusiast for the sake of gaining the trust of Brad Mullen, the way she works at him is really effective. I am not sure what sort of dramatic acting program spy school had for Elizabeth, but it has paid off, as she is able to wear a good wig, play up a personality type, and tell a really sad story (with lots of true elements), which leads to the exact results she desires, all without going a step too far for what I can assume is her stronger commitment to Philip. Of course, when the going gets too tough for Mullen, she acts as a “stress reliever”, so Elizabeth does end up having to go the extra mile and does not feel great about that, but it is a fine plotline to watch, which still has places to go.
Meanwhile, Philip is not up to a whole lot this week, though he does get to do some spy work that will lead to events taking place at the end of the episode, as well as interact with Stan and Martha. Stan is apparently good enough friends with Philip at this point to have a drink and talk about stopping an assassin and having an affair. This is great for Philip, as he basically gets to learn more about a potential threat for the price of a beer. It doesn’t hurt that Philip also has some nice advice to share about keeping a marriage together, but it is a nice scene all around.
With Martha, Philip (as Clark) basically has to get out of the house, so he creates a fight out of nothing, which is both darkly humorous and fairly sad, because, y’know – poor Martha. Ultimately this could lead to bad things for Martha though, as her confusion over Clark’s behavior leads to some wine drinking and job applications being filled out. As she can’t reach Clark and is still upset about things, she decides that filling out Clark’s name on a form and disclosing the fact that she is married is the best way option, which could be her ultimate undoing down the road. Martha has only been around so much this season, but one hopes that she doesn’t come into harm’s way, because, y’know – poor Martha.
Nina also gets some office action this week, as her reports have been turned over to Oleg, who has been working on receiving this information. We still do not know where this is going, but it is still very clear that Oleg is very curious about Nina’s work. That said, he is not aware of the more incriminating red on her ledger yet, so we still have some time to learn just what may come of these crazy kids. Still, with Nina already dealing with Stan being in love with her, finding time to deal with creepy Oleg may not produce ideal results for him.
Paige has a little story as well this week. While last week gave her plenty of sleuthing to do, as she attempted to discover anything about her parents, this week is focused on her acting out by way of a church group. No real harm done, except for how uncomfortable Elizabeth is at witnessing her daughters breathe in the “Opiate of the Masses.” It does lead to some humorous moments as well, but it is interesting to see how Elizabeth and Philip respond to their daughter taking in activities fitting of an American society and reflecting on how good of a job they are doing as parents who have to hold a level of normality, while attempting to teach their children how best to proceed in life (which is of course reflected in a discussion with Henry about video games in the house).
The final scene in this episode is great. While I do not need action all the time on The Americans, as the show is about so much more, it is great to see it done so well, which was the case here. While attempting to kidnap a KGB asset, Elizabeth and Philip are ambushed by two unknown assailants. Elizabeth goes into rage mode on her attacker, distracting Philip, which leads to his attacker hopping into the Jennings mobile and racing away, with the asset still in the trunk. Who were these people and where will this lead? I am not sure, but it is the kind of cliffhanger that seems to signify that an increase in more energetic tension is on the way.
Again, this episode feels like table-setting for future plotlines, but it was done very well. Rhys and Russell continue to show their excellence in this series. The show is at a point where the setting is not playing as much of a role as it could, based on the nature of the plotlines, but I am excited to see how actual history may or not play into some of these upcoming episodes. That said, even if the show does not embrace this aspect as much as it did last season (which was still fairly minor), I can at least hope that people like Margo Martindale step back in to add even more to a series that I find myself loving more and more in this very confident second season.
Other Things Behind The Red Curtain:
- Stan’s office life didn’t amount to much this week, but a shakeup in management may lead to something new in the future, I hope.
- Paige praying at the dinner table lead to a few moments of much-needed humor this week and I approve wholeheartedly.
- Martha washes her hair in the sink? C’mon Martha!