A review of tonight’s “The Americans” coming up just as soon as it’s a duck holiday…
“How could they do that to us?” -Phillip
“Trust Me” is perhaps the most uneven episode of “The Americans” to date. It features three intertwined stories: one terrible, one gripping, and one that starts off problematic but concludes with some of the series’ very best moments.
Let’s take them in order, starting with Paige and Henry getting to re-enact one of the less-remembered Very Special Episodes of “Diff’rent Strokes.”(*) I understand the points of it – that the show has to deal with the danger the kids are placed in by their parents’ work, and also to show how Phillip and Elizabeth’s kids start keeping secrets just like their parents – but it didn’t work at all. First, Henry and Paige barely exist as characters on the show at this point, let alone ones we want to be watching in lieu of seeing what’s going on with both the Americans and the Soviets. Maybe down the road, after we’ve had a few more storylines where the kids are interacting with their parents and they feel like more substantial parts of the show, it might work; not now. And second, even with the ambiguity about whether creepy Nick was going to hurt them or not, it still played too much like an Afterschool Special, compared to the nuance the rest of the show works with.
(*) I was at least amused because this show takes place in roughly the same time period as that two-parter – which you can watch here, here, here and here. The last of those four links is quite remarkable in how many jokes they packed into a scenario where the cops are trying to find Kimberly before she can be sexually assaulted by her captor. ’80s sitcoms, everyone!
Stan’s protection of Nina, meanwhile, worked like gangbusters, not least because it plausibly kept her alive when the last few episodes practically had an anvil hovering over her head at all times. I still fear for her long-term safety – if only because it seems like Stan is due for this business to become very, very personal – but the plot here with the diamonds and the spy camera played very, very well. I suppose you could question why the resident didn’t immediately think of Nina (who had frequent access to his bedroom) once he realized he’d been framed, but it may have been a case where he knew he was doomed no matter what and didn’t need to drag in others.
As for Phillip and Elizabeth’s ordeal (which was responsible for the hitchhiking shenanigans), the place it leaves the two of them in regards to their marriage, their feelings about the KGB in general and their relationship with Granny in particular were all fascinating. The problem I had was how long it took to get there.
This is only the sixth episode ever of what its creative team presumably hopes will be a long-running series. Our leads are not going to be discovered and captured by the U.S. government this early; not even “Homeland” would move the plot quite that quickly. (In season 2? Maybe; not season 1.) There are ways in which the show could have continued with them being found out quite this soon – that they become triple agents, with both the FBI and KGB concerned about their loyalties – but they seem unnecessarily complicated given how much material there still is to mine from the current status quo. So it seemed obvious to me at least(**) that this was part of the mole hunt, as a test to see how loyal and strong Mr. and Mrs. Jennings remain. And as a result, I got impatient waiting for the show to acknowledge that – even simply telling us (say, by showing the lead agent stepping out to consult with Granny) while Elizabeth and Phillip remained in the dark – rather than saving it for a less-than-shocking reveal late in the episode.
(**) I imagine there will be much dissent on this point, but as always, I can only relay how I reacted. I’m curious how many people assumed it was the Soviets all along, how many figured it out at some point before Granny turned up, and how many were genuinely surprised when she appeared.
We had to see the two of them endure enough that they would be as mad as they were at the end – Felicity does not pound Mags Bennett’s face into hamburger over a mild, brief inconvenience – but I think it could have been just as effective – and perhaps even more tense – if we’d seen the wheels moving behind the scenes earlier.
But Phillip and Elizabeth’s rage and indignation at this betrayal was jaw-dropping even if I got frustrated waiting for the moment to happen. These two have given up their entire lives to this mission – as much of a mess as Stan’s marriage is at the moment, it’s at least real – and come through time and again, and still they are not only suspected, but treated this way? You can understand why they would be that angry, and Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell conveyed every degree of their fury, even before Elizabeth laid the smack down on her handler.
Their reaction – and then Phillip’s further rage and pain at discovering that Elizabeth had been warning their superiors about his attitude – feels like a genuine game-changer, and one that’s more dramatically and emotionally interesting than if they had been found out by the Americans this early. They’ll keep working for the KGB, but the relationship won’t be the same. Even if Granny maintains that same cordial demeanor, there will now be wariness and anger lurking behind it. And the Jennings marriage itself has now convincingly gone through a major reversal in only six episodes, from Phillip being upset by Elizabeth’s coldness to her being the one who wants to be closer while he (understandably) pushes her away. The two leads are playing the hell out of this completely unconventional love story (if you can even call it that), and the last 15 minutes or so of the episode really knocked me out.
Some other thoughts:
* Given that the show has already established that Rhys and Russell will play these roles in any scene taking place since the couple arrived in America (and some before), I really want to get an episode at some point dealing with the moment when they decided – or were they ordered? – to have kids.
* Meanwhile, things aren’t super sexy at the Beeman household. Even after Stan opens up to his wife about his fears (if not the reasons for them), they just wind up cuddling, rather than doing more. Stan’s too consumed with thoughts of work in general and Nina in particular, I would think.
* Gregory returns to help look out for the family, and to provide Elizabeth with some comfort in this difficult moment. Derek Luke just got cast in a pilot, and while the odds are against any one pilot going to series, it’ll be interesting to see how the show deals with his absence if it does – if, that is, Gregory makes it out of this season alive. On this show, I fear for any and all guest stars.
* Elizabeth not only gets to beat the hell out of Granny, but is in a position to make a better showing against her captors than Phillip, who’s taken completely by surprise outside the phone booth. I liked how the scenes in the house played at once like a slasher movie and a subversion of it, since Elizabeth is a trained killer in her own right. (And fits the stereotype of the male in her partnership with Phillip: he’s sensitive and needy and unsure of the mission, while she’s cold and tough and far more committed.)
* I know it’s not a real marriage, exactly, but asking your “wife” to give up some of her jewelry to give to another woman? Ouch, Phillip Jennings. Fair, but ouch.
What did everybody else think?
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at email@example.com