Given a lot of the dark elements that made up this episode of The Americans, it is a little strange to say that so much of it revolved around the notion of Love. That said, sometimes love comes with darkness. Putting the poetry aside though, “Behind the Red Door” continues to weave a tricky web involving Philip and Elizabeth, as they dig deeper into the murder mystery that began this season, which has now involved them in the events leading up to conflict involving Contras. That is a fun bit of history to look into on Wikipedia for those who need a refresher, but for now, while the series has fun linking itself to actual history again, I am going to bring my focus back to what I watched in another terrific episode of this season of The Americans.
I am going to start with Claudia, as the episode begins and ends with her. While I hope this is not the last we see of Margo Martindale, as she is wonderful on this show (as well as most roles she has the opportunity to play), it certainly seems like this could be the last we see of her character for a while. Claudia addresses the age of her new handler, before getting down to business, which re-emphasizes how important it will be for Elizabeth and Philip to establish a good cover, as they begin to question Laric. This whole operation leads to the new assignment involving a plan to locate and expose secret Contra training camps on U.S. soil, which will be an interesting development, given how interested I am in Lee Tergusen’s performance as Laric so far. Still, Claudia has a lot to say, beyond establishing the importance of the mission.
The reveal that Claudia believes she may have been responsible for compromising Emmet and Leah, leading to their deaths, is something that makes a lot of sense, given how we have seen her act in this season. The cold and calculating nature of her character in season one has been shifted to a warmer presence that now serves as an attitude based around how much she cares for those she feels responsible for. Given that her emotions led to her revealing information, it is fitting to find her expressing how much she really cares for Elizabeth in a way that is perfectly suited to what it is that Elizabeth needs to hear. Claudia states, “I was wrong about Philip, you’re lucky to have him.” Those words certainly echo a lot of what is dealt with in this episode, as we find a lot of characters dealing with that someone they actually “have” and may not want to lose.
As far as the spy stuff goes, Philip and Elizabeth do their job as effectively as they can. They meet with Laric, who proves to be a worthy adversary that may soon be learning who the “Americans” really are. There is also a lot of interaction between Elizabeth and Lucia, which I will get back to. When the spy stuff is not factoring in though, it is the physical and emotional relationship that Philip and Elizabeth have that is focused on heavily this week, with a dynamic that plays around with the humor that only so often finds a way into this series, before shifting tones in a split-second to reveal a much darker side of how one gets answers to questions they wrestle with asking.
Last week featured a curious conversation between Martha and “Jennifer”, where Clark’s sexual prowess came up. It was odd to see a wife and a sister-in-law discuss such things, but it pays off in this episode, as Elizabeth brings up the conversation, while she lies on a bed naked, yet confident. This dialogue carries over to a kitchen scene later on, as Keri Russell has fun addressing her concern about what her husband does to his other wife. This comes from a place rooted in jealousy, but that does not stop her from essentially daring Philip to be the man he is for another woman. There is some tricky territory being explored in these scenes, which held my interest based on how well I know these characters and my understanding that this could only lead to disaster, despite the best efforts of this setup to feel so mildly comical.
The big moment comes when Elizabeth and Philip have their own form of role-playing in a hotel, as Philip puts on his Clark disguise and attempts to give Elizabeth what she wants. Seemingly not convinced, she pushes Philip to really be the “animal” Martha claims him to be, which forces Philip’s hand, resulting in an ugly act that both parties regret. Given what we know of Elizabeth’s past and how she just used the story of a sexual assault to help rope in Brad from the previous two weeks in an effort to help her mission of getting Laric’s records, there was clearly an effort to have a result of bringing this memory back into the viewer’s minds, as we see Elizabeth break down, with a wonderful camera shot from above that mirrors the earlier minutes of a naked and confident Elizabeth, but now with a curled up and devastated Elizabeth.
Elizabeth and Philip dealing with the lives they lead as far as having to sometimes sleep with others for the sake of their mission has become more complicated this season, given how firmly established the love they have for each other is, but we get to see this concept from a more naïve point of view in the form of Lucia. While not married or in love, it is clear that Lucia is approaching something new to her, as she mixes her exciting assignment to help Elizabeth with the feelings she has for Carl, the nice enough aide to a Congressman. Of course, Carl is also a drug user, which is how we were introduced to Lucia a couple weeks ago, but that does not make things any less unfortunate when Lucia is tasked to kill Carl in an effort to keep all the loose ends tied up. I like seeing the budding relationship between Elizabeth and Lucia, as we get scenes like the one leading up to Carl’s murder, where Lucia has plenty of confidence with regards to the cause she believes to have taken up, but quickly changes the expression worn plainly on her face, as Elizabeth explains why the inevitable has to happen and how this is nothing new for spies like them.
Speaking of spies, the Stan-Nina-Oleg triangle gets plenty of play as well, with Stan’s plotline really heating up as he is forced to deal with computers (technology!) to retrieve files in an effort to contain the dilemma he has found himself in with regards to Oleg blackmailing him and Nina. While I am sure there will be plenty more to say about Nina next week, once she deals with this polygraph business and further acts on her new desire to “get out”, Stan’s love for his informant certainly continues to erode the life that Agent Beeman could have once classified as ideal. While devoted to America, he is now looking like an alien in his own home and is at odds with his former superior, when it comes time to addressing his indiscretions. I can only continue to wonder what the ultimate result of this plotline will be, but I still want to know more about what Oleg’s ultimate goal is.
“Behind the Red Door” is a nice mix of plot and character, which I could say about nearly every episode of The Americans, but given how things will likely become more action-oriented in upcoming weeks, I am still happy to report on how appreciative I am for the way this show is happy to take its time and balance the weeks involving high-level tension, the relationship drama at play, and the nature of the missions we see. Strong performances continue to prevail overall, but even with the darker outcomes that emerged for some this week, the power of love is definitely a major factor, which will only continue to play a part in this season.
Other Things Behind The Red Curtain:
- Paige quite volleyball you guys, but it’s okay, she’s invited her parents to check out the church meetings!
- Seeing “Clark” rip off his wig was fascinating from a mechanics standpoint.
- John Belushi’s death was addressed this week by the long lost son of the Beemans. He has returned and he loves Animal House!
- Lots of shots of President Reagan this week. I have no real point to go with that, but I wrote it in my notes, so there you have it.