Towards the end of this week’s episode of The Americans, we see two female characters strike up a cigarette, after completing their mission. While this is the kind of symbol that could suggest “job well done”, it comes at quite the cost. For Elizabeth, it meant coldly killing a man (in an awesome way, as far as stealthy assassinations go) and for the returning Annelise character, it meant sinking to a level she may not have been as comfortable with as Phillip pushed her into being. While we see several different women ‘at work’ this week, a lot of what transpires is due to how Phillip is attempting to keep everything working, despite having lots of trouble approaching his work as effectively as he may have used to have been able to. What does not help is the way some outside forces are slowly starting to constrict around him and Elizabeth, as this season is nearing its end.
Following a brief opening where we find Phillip basically calming down (a lot), after becoming so very angry last week, thanks to the clear cure-all that is making love to Elizabeth, the Jennings are basically handed a mission-of-the-week and some exposition by Kate. They need to get close to a man named Yousaf and turn him into a source of information. While Elizabeth feels she could easily pull this off herself, using her feminine wiles, Phillip deems it far easier to utilize Annelise (Gillian Alxey), who has not been around since the first season episode, “The Clock.”
Phillip makes his reasonings, which are somewhat understandable, but it is obviously clear to the audience that he just is not comfortable seeing his ‘wife’ use the same tactics she has in the past. To be fair, Elizabeth has had trouble with this herself, given what she went through in an effort to learn more about Larrick, earlier in this season. Still, it is interesting to see how the use of sex as a tool has certainly evolved over the course of this series, based on the fact that the Americans have complicated things by now being in love with each other.
Staying with how Annelise functions in this episode, Phillip does a lot to make himself look like the bad guy in all of this. While the intentions are clear, the objective is clear, and the devotion to his wife, which means trying to keep her out of harm’s way, is clear, he still ends up ‘pimping out’ another person, in order to accomplish a goal. Annelise, who has been working on her marriage, is understandably upset (while also making it clear that she is a bit different), but while Phillip tries to comfort her, it is clear that he is explaining things intended to be in reference to his own wife. Matthew Rhys does a fine job as always, but after the character has moved in a new direction from last week, I am curious what else he plans to contend with in order to both deal with bottled up anger and try and deal with all of the harmful variables that come with his line of work, which he has clearly taken issue with in recent weeks.
In comparison, Elizabeth handles her side of the episode with ease. While she could have easily handled the Yousaf mission in her eyes, which is teased with some recon work earlier on, she eventually had to deal with taking care of Yousaf’s superior, in an effort to make Yousaf a more valuable source of intel. This led to an ultra-stylish sequence, where Pete Townsend was played against the scenes of Annelise using seduction tactics, while Elizabeth murder a man in a pool. Singling out the production for a second, everything done to portray this pool assassination was rather excellent. Anyway, while Annelise was not proud of what she was put through, Elizabeth carried out an act that was just another day on the job, which happened to take place in the same day where she chastised her daughter for attempting her own tactics to accomplish a goal.
Paige makes a good point in laying out her confusion on the table to her parents, as she questions how Henry receives a slap on the wrists for breaking into the neighbor’s house, while all she is doing is finding and exploring religion and being met with questionable anger. This week she explains to her father that she wants to be a counselor in training (a CIT) for the Cedar Grove Fellowship Camp during the summer, which is met with an, “Ask your mother.” Knowing the likely results, Paige considers faking it, only to scrap the idea, but Elizabeth learns of the possible forgery of her name anyway. I am curious to learn what the end game for all of this is, as Elizabeth (and Phillip to an extent) basically has a rage directed at Paige’s turn towards Christianity that stems from the children taking up causes that associate them with being purebred Americans, despite having no real reason not to be. I am not sure if Elizabeth simply coming around to Paige’s mindset is the most appropriate resolution, which leads me to believe that there will be a runaway situation or (god forbid) something worse.
Speaking of worse, Larrick returns from Nicaragua this week and ends up killing the man handling the codes in a basement. While this unfortunately ends the journey of ‘man handling codes in a basement’ it does continue to set up the terror that Lee Tergesen has the potential to deliver in upcoming weeks, given how he has exposed a clear flaw in the secret Soviet communication network. Add to the fact that he has revenge on his mind and it is not a great position for the Americans to be in, were he to get any closer.
The same can be said for Stan, who is also starting to find himself closer to discovering Phillip and Elizabeth. While The Americans has not often focused on having the leads potentially be exposed to those they really would not want to be revealed to, the stakes are certainly being raised, given the presence of a deadly reoccurring character and the connections that a featured player is making. Stan questions Nina this week, but she has little to offer (and more to simply tell to Oleg instead). Stan also questions Jared, the son of the deceased other Americans (continuing to be an important plot thread), who may or may not have some information to share. Given that Stan and Gaad found new clues within a secret briefcase compartment, the chance that Stan has to really develop new leads on his suspect drawings make for more potentially daring results, if things do not go the right way for our Americans, who are struggling with family life and doing so-so on their missions, as of late.
“Yousaf” is an episode that comes pretty close to feeling like a standalone look at the show. While there are relationships that are obviously defined by what has led to this point, the plotting makes for an episode that some could drop in on and get the basic gist. It is neat to point this out, as the show is now in the final act of the season, as we are three episodes away from seeing how things all turn out for everyone. While I have my own suspicions on where things are going, finding a way for even casual viewers to be prepared is a nice way to set up the endgame. There have not been many fumbles so far this season, so we will hopefully see a positive final score.
Other Things Behind The Red Curtain:
- “Lego my Eggo”, “April Fools!” – Phillip sure does try to test the water with his kids.
- I like where things could be headed with Gaad and Arkady, as far as ‘mutually assured destruction’ is concerned.
- Larrick is completely creepy, whether he stalks through a house with vulnerable people in it or if he’s using a fake Texan accent to confirm something.
- “That was beyond expectation” – Yousaf: Master of Complements.
- I am become less and less assured that Kate is going to have much to do, beyond act plain and straight-forward as the new handler this season.