Keri Russell has been getting a lot to do on The Americans in recent weeks and she has been pretty terrific. This week Elizabeth only gets so much to do though, as it is more the Nina hour, with a special appearance by janitor/bass player in a rock band-disguised Philip. Last week set up the events for this week’s polygraph-heavy episode and it was quite tense to watch, as was a whole caper sequence, which was almost a clean getaway, and adding even more tension this week was a simple conversation between two people sitting on a bench. While the actors were as effective as always, this week did plenty to entertain based on the actions taking place on the screen and it continued to support what has been a very strong season.
The Nina portions of the episode were very strong and I want to begin there. Last week the notion was brought up to test Nina to make sure she is on the level in Stan’s eyes. This week we see how that turns out. It begins with lots of preparation, as Nina is given plenty of advice by the chameleon that is Oleg. Oleg provides a lot of insight of what needs to be done in order to lie to a polygraph machine and not get caught. Nina is accepting of this insight and it is all put on display in a scene full of tension, as we watch her sit in an empty, dimly lit room, while Stan and an administrator watch her answer questions, while strapped to a machine.
Annet Mahendru does fantastic work in this episode. All of the actors are consistently good on this show, but given how the Nina character functions in a way that is the most disparate, it is fascinating to watch her play against all these men that surround her. While Philip and Elizabeth deal with their actions and whatever other drama, they still serve a particular master, to put it simply. The same can be said for Stan. Nina is playing everyone against each other and while she may not have a goal clearer than eventually being free from everyone, she certainly finds a way to manipulate everyone around her, even when getting in over her head.
Watching a scene where she battles a polygraph test is about exciting as it can be and I mean that in a good way. The camera work utilized to build tension is great, as it does not rely on any tricks, it simply features close-ups and visual cues to let us know we are inside Nina’s head and can assess how she is going about lying as well as throwing something like the death of Vlad plain into Stan’s face. This whole scene is great and it does not stop at Nina either, as Noah Emmerich does terrific work by simply sitting and letting his facial expressions do all the work. By the time this scene ends, hearing that Nina “passed” is great for the character, but only leads to another surprising twist later on, as we find Nina and Oleg hooking up.
While Nina is untethered in terms of her true allegiances, Oleg is still a mystery. Between his weekly announcements regarding the types of music, activities, etc. he enjoys in America, the heavy involvement he has decided to have in Nina’s life, and his very forward nature in general, Oleg might as well be an undercover Eskimo, with some crazy bomb he plans to set off. I don’t know what his ultimate goal is or even if he really cares for Nina. The fact that they end this episode by sleeping together does nothing to really inform me on whether either of these two are really into each other or have grander plans in mind. With all that said though, I am intrigued, rather than annoyed, because it has been a solid evolution of these characters thus far and this is just another stepping stone to some sort of exciting reveal.
Moving on, Philip sure got his hands on some fun disguises tonight. With his mission to plant a huge bug on this pre-internet device known as the “Arpanet,” there was plenty of caper-centric spy activities taking place. Philip had to bring in an associate, the drunken Charles; go on a recon mission, where the stakes would be set; go through with the operation, while dealing with some improvised changes; and kill an unfortunate soul, because sometimes shit happens. Even with that dark little bit at the end, which was followed by a cool little discussion with Charles about what Philip’s line of work can sometimes lead to, this whole caper plot had a fun vibe to it. The score was notably lighter in these segments and even with tensions high, there seemed to be an understanding that compared to the role-playing mishap from last week’s episode, this was The Americans smoothing things over with a less complicated and less emotional plotline.
Speaking of mishaps, being involved with Larrick is likely going to get someone killed. The man has bad news written all over him, even if he is working with our “Americans” for the time being. Elizabeth meets up with Larrick, with the comfort of Philip pointing a sniper rifle from a distance, which is good, because Larrick has an unpredictable energy of his own. We now know that he is heading to Nicaragua, which does not help the Jennings’ as far as their assignment goes, but that does not stop discussion surrounding his involvement at all from being an issue.
While Larrick only has one very tense scene, there are scenes surrounding his presence, which keep this storyline simmering. Lucia wants Larrick dead, given the things he is responsible for and his general persona, which suggests some kind of crazy monster contained by a cordial man suit. Elizabeth does not like what Lucia is expressing, but Philip is quick to call out the similarities between the two. I can only imagine how things well play out when all of these players are together on a mission, let alone what it would be like to see them attempt to hang out or something, but for where we are right now, it is working very well for me to see the general attitude had by all in regards to the guy possibly responsible for the main thrust of this season, as far as Philip and Elizabeth go.
We are right in the middle of the season, leaning on the downhill side at this point, meaning that more and more events could start to take place. Whether it revolves around this show synching itself with actual history, more developments with Larrick, as far as his involvement in the murder of the “other Americans” goes, or having a stronger idea of what Oleg is up to, this show has done a fine job of keeping all of its plates spinning and I continue to be excited to see where all of this goes.
Other Things Behind The Red Curtain:
- No Paige this week, but we did get to check in with Henry, who has his own stealth mission, which involves breaking and entering into the neighbor’s house to play video games. Little scamp.
- I love that shot where the camera moves upwards and through the floorboards to reveal “The Beast”. Some slick camera work is always nice to see on this show.
- “What’s the difference?” “The Color” – Not a lot of Philip and Elizabeth together this week, but they have their moments.
- “Squeeze your anus.” – Oleg could be a wonderful motivational speaker, magician, or physical therapist.