I am aware that The Americans is not the most popular show on television, but for those who have been keeping up, it’s been a good number of weeks for this series, with “The Deal” serving as one of the best episodes of the series to date. While the season two opener, “Comrades,” may have grabbed the attention of many casual viewers looking to see if The Americans is still worth a look, based on its shocking climax, this week’s episode succeeds immensely, as it is the result of solid character building, many interesting developments, strong performances all around, high tension, and more. All of this and The Americans still has plenty to deliver on in terms of eventual fallout, which will likely be portrayed with much more actual action than we saw in this excellent episode.
Picking up from immediately where last week’s episode, “A Little Night Music,” left off, “The Deal” is basically an episode based around one 24-hour period, where we see the results of the botched mission leading to the escaping of a target and the abduction of an assassin. Philip and Elizabeth lost their target, Anton, due to an ambush. It turns out they were ambushed by Mossad Agents, which makes sense, given that Anton is a Jewish physicist, who has fled Mother Russia. While one agent was able to escape with Anton, the other was beaten to a pulp by Elizabeth and has now been taken to a safe house, where Philip will spend the majority of the episode on guard duty. It is here we meet Kate, Claudia’s replacement, who I am sure will have more to do in the future. In the meantime, scenes with Philip revolve around the tense scenario where he and the Mossad agent tolerate each other, while their governments figure things out. We’ll get back to Philip later.
Anton’s disappearance brings Stan into action, as this missing man triggers an alert at the FBI. Noah Emmerich is slowly getting more to do and this episode introduces a whole new angle for him to begin playing, which I’ll get to, but he has remained a solid presence. I love the way he handles a scene that allows him to duck out on Mrs. Beeman, who would love to have a night with her husband. As Stan, Emmerich is required to navigate this tricky area of seeming pleased with his normal life, despite enjoying the thrill of his work and the love he appears to have for his Soviet mole, Nina.
As this is an episode bent on keeping many plates spinning at once, we get to deal with Stan more so, but it is based on what is going on at the Soviet base of operations in Washington. While the higher ups are dealing with the issue involving what to do about Anton and the Mossad agent, Oleg’s anxiousness manages to get him talked down to, only to find him pushing his interest on Nina. He reveals to Nina that he knows there is something clearly not on the record in regards to her files on Stan, which leads to Nina making a move of her own, by giving information about Oleg to Stan. This is such a tangled web that has been expertly woven, based on what has been setup in previous episodes.
The FBI eventually focus on tailing Oleg due to suspicions raised by Nina’s clever deception created to help herself, leading to Stan eventually being the one to presumably corner Oleg. The twist then comes when Oleg plays a new hand involving his knowledge of what is going on between Stan and Nina, the dirty details that come with it, and the proposal that he can keep her safe, if Stan goes along with what this “budding student of capitalism” has to offer. Oleg has made himself an effective fly in the ointment and I am truly excited to see where it goes from here and how far Stan goes along with him.
As all this is occurring with the FBI and Philip is on guard duty, Elizabeth is left cleaning up problems that still exist from last week’s episode. Well they are not “problems” per se, but she has business to attend to, which includes making a visit to Martha’s place. Poor Martha has continued to enjoy her wine, while also filling out her application, which puts Clark’s name on a government form. Elizabeth arrives as “Jennifer”, Clark’s sister and has a bit of fun establishing how she was supposed to meet up with the happy couple, before realizing that Clark “pulled a Clark”. Now it comes down to girl talk, as a drunken Martha goes into how Clark has pleased her in ways that a sister would likely not want to hear about.
This is just a great way to utilize a majority of the cast. To bring in an outside example, Justified is one of my favorite shows on TV. Something of an issue has always revolved around how that series does not make a whole lot of use of its supporting cast, beyond Walton Goggins, who is practically the co-lead, next to Timothy Olyphant. The world of The Americans is not necessarily as expansive as Justified, but they have done a pretty solid job of utilizing their cast members and “The Deal” is a great way to see pretty much everyone in action. Having a team up of Elizabeth and Martha for an episode was a fun divergence in an episode that mainly stayed tense and cold in terms of how other characters were treated.
Speaking of which, Elizabeth also had to contend with Brad Mullen from last week’s episode, who managed to get her the files she needed. This fits into the bigger mystery of the season involving the murders of the other agents, but this episode closed off the first part of what was set up last week, involving Elizabeth’s cover as a woman who was raped and how that story hit a little close to home for her. The result was not only a successful retrieval of information but a well-acted farewell (for now, perhaps) to the minor relationship established between her “fake” persona and Mullen.
The Americans has been doing a fine job of keeping the series interesting whether Elizabeth and Philip are together or not. This week finds them split apart for the majority of the episode and it really plays by the end, given what Philip has gone through and the state that Elizabeth is in. It is something I found interesting given that “The Deal” is a fantastic episode, yet it puts the “spy stuff” in the main spotlight this week, despite how initially interested I was in this season, based on how it positioned itself as a family drama that happens to revolve around covert operatives. Paige, for example, gets a little to do this week (continuing to make her character apparent, but not annoying or tagged on), and it is enough to keep Elizabeth’s concern for her family a conscious element of this season, but it does not weigh over the rest of this episode. This week may have been an extended episode, but it was still tightly focused on the essential plotlines, with only a little room to effectively breathe outside its main bounds.
Moving back to Philip now, Matthew Rhys is awesome. It is amazing to see how he can go from being the biggest source of humor, as far as main cast members go, to being as cold as ice. He may be the more vulnerable of the two Jenningses, but this week really pushes him to stay as detached as possible, despite how on the edge he may have been concerning what to do with the men in his custody. While never revealing personal information to the Mossad agent, he does just enough conversing to be put in a state of reflection, as discussion of one’s homeland comes into play. This does not stop Philip from beating up the agent, during his one escape attempt (which is brushed off as something that needed to be attempted, so no harm no foul, right?), but you get the sense that there is plenty of thought being given to how far Philip has come and how to consider his status as a man with Soviet blood.
Once the agreement between governments is made and Philip trades the Mossad agent over for Anton, lines are blurred even more, despite Philip’s heavy efforts to remain resolute. As Philip drives Anton to the harbor, where this man will then be sent back to the place he tried so hard to escape from, the pleading begins and it is very effective. Regardless of what these people do and even how clear the direction of the scene may be, listening to Anton explain how he does not want to miss his son’s Bar Mitzvah and be viewed as a father/husband who simply disappeared off the earth is rough and Philip simply keeps his face blank, despite some cold stares and eye movements. It is the kind of scenario that made me very happy to have the wonderful ending to this episode that we got.
After a long night spent away, Philip finally returns home and curls up next to Elizabeth on the couch. He takes a bit of time to bring up possible things he remembers from his childhood. The idea is to dig into whether or not Philip misses his homeland or is finding himself further and further away from it and “The Deal” does nice work in having him share a nice moment with his “fake but not really” wife, after a long day of unceremonious work that he is supposedly proud of doing. It is nice to have that break…that is until the two are then called back into duty by their children.
Other Things Behind The Red Curtain:
- I wonder if Martha will remember “Jennifer” asking about what Clark is like in bed… #Eww
- “Sorry, you know I had to try.” – I love the decorum amongst spies.
- “You’ll get home for Passover after all.” – The episode pushes Philip, but his dedication to a cold persona makes him sound so badass.
- “Clark has some explaining to do.” – Ah, the inside jokes traded between a spy couple.