Review: ‘The Americans’ – ‘Baggage’: The suitcase

02.04.15 5 years ago 80 Comments

A review of tonight's “The Americans” coming up just as soon as I enjoy a Milky Way…

“What do you want, Philip? A guarantee life's gonna be easy?” -Elizabeth

The last fifteen years of cable drama have offered us so many different creative methods of corpse disposal that it would seem all but impossible for a new one to feel shocking. But dammit if I didn't squirm and groan throughout that sequence of Philip, Elizabeth and Yousaf methodically breaking the limbs of Annelise's body(*) so they could fit it into a suitcase. That Annelise is already dead doesn't make it any less cringe-inducing, and the swift, silent efficiency with which Philip and Elizabeth go about the task suggests this is not the first time they've had to do something like this.

(*) Played, at different phases of the scene, by a dummy, a contortionist, and actress Gillian Alexy herself. I also hope the sound effects team wins many awards for the crunchiness of that scene.

That sequence provides value well beyond the shock level, since it's yet another reminder of the cold, brutal realities of life as a KGB sleeper agent – a life Philip is desperate to keep Paige far away from, even as Elizabeth is edging closer and closer to it. What the Centre is asking of Paige isn't the same as what her parents have to do, but it's also not hard to imagine that at some point down the line, she might be called in to some hotel room to provide an extra set of hands for some post-mortem chiropractics. And even if she's never called upon to be in the same place as a dead body – or worse – this is still a world that Philip understandably wants his daughter as far away from as possible.

It's also interesting this week to see the return of Paige's understandable questions about her parents' odd work hours, which for the moment she's assuming are signs of cracks in their marriage. She's right on the larger issue, but wrong on the details – among other things, one could argue that if Philip is having an affair, it's with Elizabeth, not Martha – but it feels right for Paige to be wondering about all the oddities in her parents' lives at a time when they're debating whether they want to raise the curtain on who and what they really are.

This week's other big developments revolve around Nina, who remains a part of the show even though she's in a prison cell back in Moscow. Not only do we get a glimpse of how spartan and unpleasant that life is, but we see how her arrest continues to have emotional resonance for Stan, Oleg and even Oleg's powerful father, who comes to take the measure of this woman who nearly destroyed his son's life and career.

Oleg's simmering rage over Nina's arrest – and Stan's role in letting it happen – leads him to confront our friendly neighborhood G-man, who acts tough in their encounter, but is deeply shaken afterwards. Noah Emmerich was tremendous in the scene where Stan leaves a message for his son – desperate to find a loved one he can connect with only moments after he almost died, but also mortified that his wife and son now live in another man's home – and that awkward encounter with Sandra was yet another reminder of the damage done by Stan's infatuation with Nina.  

The spy game is a cold, inhuman business, as demonstrated by the folding and packing of Annelise's corpse, and not one with much room for love. As Philip and Elizabeth wrestle with their parental desires, and as Stan and Oleg grapple with their leftover feelings for Nina, we're reminded that the spies themselves are so often terribly, vulnerably human.

Some other thoughts:

* Stan's other big development of the week is being made the bodyguard for the defector from the U.S./Canada institute. It's interesting how in those scenes, and most of the rest involving the officers at the Rezidentura, Brezhnev's death isn't suddenly thrust to the forefront, but just treated as one more complicated development both sides have to deal with. (Also, the news footage of Reagan at the memorial was very hard for production to acquire the rights to, as Fields and Weisberg explained to me.)

* If you were paying close attention to the scene at the bar, one of the place's patrons was none other than “Pardon the Interruption” co-host Tony Kornheiser. He apparently had lines at one phase of the episode, but all that survived the final edit was that glimpse of him as Philip stops at the bar to take a few more photos of the Afghan group.

* The closing scene at the travel agency reminded me of a question I often have: how much time do you think Philip and Elizabeth have to spend actually performing the duties of their cover job?

What did everybody else think?

Alan Sepinwall may be reached at

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