A review of tonight's The Americans coming up just as soon as I know who Howdy Doody's brother was…
“Maybe we should take a break.” -Elizabeth
Philip and Elizabeth never met Nina, and their work was only occasionally impacted by what she was up to with Stan, Oleg, and Arkady. But even if they couldn't pick her face out of a lineup, much less know that she was shot dead in a basement back in Mother Russia, her execution last week underlined the fundamental danger that any KGB or FBI asset can be in at this stage of the Cold War. Her death hangs over all of “Clark's Place,” whether we're seeing the men in Nina's life learn one by one about her death, or simply witnessing Philip and Elizabeth dealing with their increasingly fraught relationships with Paige, Pastor Tim, and Martha.
Let's start with the direct fallout from Nina's death, which not only sends Oleg back to America, but appears to have shaken him altogether from absolute support of the motherland. As Soviet operatives go, Oleg is more of a spiritual twin to Philip than Elizabeth: he believes in the cause, but he cares about other things, and especially people, more. Even Arkady, who went out of his way, at some personal risk, to protect Nina over the years, feels nothing but disappointment with her that she would have forced the government to take this action. He cared for Nina, but he's a true believer, and his sentiments wind up driving Oleg to find a more sympathetic ear from Stan. Never mind that Agent Beeman is the reason Nina was sent back to the USSR a prisoner in the first place; he's the only man Oleg knows who will feel the same level of grief. Stan has been trying to turn Oleg for a while; maybe this will be enough of a lever to finally make that happen.
Meanwhile, Nina's death casts a very ominous shadow over the business with poor Martha, who's been the subject of death speculation among Americans fans going even farther back than Nina Sergeevna. I'm not saying she's going to die soon – Fields, Weisberg, and company seem to view major character death as an avenue of last resort, rather than just another tool in the box (which is why Americans is the only show to emerge from last week's massacre of female TV characters with its rep intact; no one was happy to see Nina die, but all seemed to recognize that it was where the story had to go) – but her story has come to a very bad place right now, and one where at a minimum I could imagine her never seeing Clark in person again. The danger is too great now that Philip knows Stan is working with Aderholt to tail his second wife. Even though the two neighbors have patched things up over the Sandra/est issue, no amount of good vibes in the world would keep Stan from recognizing his good buddy – in or out of the Clark disguise – from having a meeting with his favorite FBI secretary. The sense of things – this phase of Martha and Clark's marriage, if not her time on the show – coming to an end was palpable for so much of the hour, particularly as Alison Wright's performance stayed just on the right side of panic for most of it. Elizabeth has to listen to her husband comfort his other bride, but she still has the much better end of the deal: while Martha is in terrified limbo, Elizabeth and Philip are having passionate sex out in the suburbs.
The danger of this life was a big part of Philip's refusal to recruit Paige, and after last week's near-death experience with Glanders and the antibiotic, it's hard to blame either parent for wanting to limit the flow of intel to their daughter for a while. (But only for a while, given that Gabriel warned them the cost of keeping Pastor Tim alive would likely be continued efforts to recruit and train Paige.) The problem, as we are reminded throughout this episode, is that honesty is a big thing with Paige, to the point where she's arguably saying more than she should in front of both her parents and Pastor Tim, because complete candor is the only way she can cope with this mess. The gambit with “Father Revis” seems to have cooled the Pastor Tim situation down for the moment, but if Paige feels her parents are shutting her out, she may go back to Pastor Tim as her confidante, and perhaps heat up his suspicions once again.
Really, anything can happen with anyone at this point, and very little of it good. (Even Stan is more or less ruined whenever it comes out that his neighbor and best friend was a KGB illegal.) I can't predict the future on this show, but Nina's death has once again reminded us of the stakes of it all.
Some other thoughts:
* It's remarkable – and a testament to both the writing and the performance by Tony winner Ruthie Ann Miles – how quickly I've grown attached to Young-Hee, and how excited I get each time she pops up to hang out with “Patti.” At this point, I almost don't want to know what reason Elizabeth has to get close to this woman, because their encounters are as much a light respite for the viewer as they must be for Elizabeth herself.
* Because Oleg's brother couldn't be buried with full military honors, it's up to Oleg's father to do the gun salute himself, which evokes a similar scene from one of the later seasons of The Shield.
* The President Reagan speech that Philip and Paige are watching was delivered on March 23, 1983. (Here's the full transcript.) It was part of Reagan's pitch for the Strategic Defense Initiative (aka “Star Wars”) missile shield, which Philip and Elizabeth spent much of season 1 investigating (and, ultimately, learning that the technology was useless).
* Though Elizabeth occasionally has lighter moments when undercover, it's been startling the last couple of weeks to have her making funnies when she's not wearing a wig, first with the fake Russian accent with Paige at the bowling alley last week, here with her perfectly delivered “I dunno” in response to Philip's question about whether their priest was really a priest.
* Interesting to see Matthew Beeman get a look at how close his father has become with Henry, in a way he clearly hasn't been with his own son in a long time. Also, while Henry and Matthew might enjoy Max Dugan Returns, which was Matthew Broderick's movie debut, they might get more pleasure out of waiting a few months to see Broderick's second movie: a little Cold War techno thriller called WarGames.
* Queen and David Bowie's “Under Pressure” is among the more famous songs this show's ever put on its soundtrack, and the sort of thing best saved for a big and appropriate moment. I would say that Philip and Elizabeth realizing just how bad the Martha situation has gotten qualifies.
What did everybody else think?
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at email@example.com