Last night’s episode of The Americans was both one of the series most dramatic episodes and one of its most illogical. The series lost its first somewhat major character, and while that offered a lot of action and tension, the circumstances that put that character’s life in jeopardy didn’t make a lot of narrative sense. For a show that at least provides the illusion that a lot of thought goes into the storylines, the characters, and their motivations, “Safe House” felt like a stumble on the way toward the season finale, which is set to arrive a month from now.
At the end of the previous episode of The Americans, we espied Chris — Stan Beemer’s FBI partner — lurking around Martha’s house, having discovered that she was sleeping with another man. I wrongly assumed that Chris’ stalking would lead him to discover that Phillip was a KGB Agent. Turns out, the only thing that Chris was interested in was why he was sleeping with Martha, and when Chris confronted Phillip about it, he inexplicably threatened to arrest Phillip. On what charge, I have no idea. Is it illegal to sleep with a woman another man is crushing on? The threat, however, led to blows, and bing, bang, zoom, Chris has a knife to the gut. He’s bleeding out, and Phillip did what any KGB spy would do in the situation: He threw him in the trunk and took him to an undisclosed location to pry some information out of him. The information Phillip and Elizabeth needed, however, arrived too late, Chris died, and Phillip and Elizabeth had to add the needless death of a FBI Agent to their conscience, all in service of the Motherland.
Meanwhile, Stan and the FBI have made up their minds to get their revenge on the murders of the American scientists by going on a rogue mission to kill Arkady. Cold War vigilantism didn’t feel exactly right to Stan, which is why he initially opted out of the mission. However, once Chris went missing, Stan signed himself up. Unfortunately, they nabbed the wrong guy. Instead of grabbing Arkady, they got his second in command, Vlad. What do you do with a guy who had nothing to do with the disappearance of Chris, nothing to do with the death of the scientists, and had absolutely no information? Feed him a hamburger and blow his brains out, of course. Did it make much sense? No. Was it satisfying? Not really. Plus, the poor guy didn’t even get to swallow his bite.
But what it did do was to put Stan — who was already sleeping with his Russian embassy mole — firmly into the grey area. The white hat has been tossed into the mud. The FBI and the KGB are both playing dirty. There’s blood and guilt on both of their hands. On a certain level, it makes sense given the Cold War paranoia. Everyone hates each other, and everyone thinks both sides are out to get each other. According to Stan’s way of thinking, apparently, the only good Russian is a dead Russian, unless she’s a hot Russian who is blowing you.
Meanwhile, there is also the matter of Phillip and Elizabeth’s separation, which feels rushed, forced, and unnecessary this early in the series, especially when we know they will end up back together. There’s too much back-and-forth in their marriage; they need to let it sit and stew for a few episodes because the way it’s going right now, they’ll be back together and Elizabeth will be pregnant with their third child by the season finale.
“Safe House” was a sloppy episode, but while I’m decidedly down on the show this week, I have little doubt the series will pull it back together for the home stretch. I’m not sure why the series took a week off last week, but I’m wildly speculating that the show was behind on production. When the pilot had aired, The Americans has only filmed four episodes to that point. I think maybe the show is being rushed through production, that they didn’t find their end point until late in the season, and that they’re adjusting right now to arrive at it. Hopefully, last night’s episode was a one-week stumble toward greatness, and as long as Graham Yost has his eye on things, I suspect it will steer itself back onto the road.