Review: ‘The Americans’ – ‘Yousaf’

Senior Television Writer
04.30.14 74 Comments

A review of tonight's “The Americans” coming up just as soon as I take a briefcase with me on vacation…

“What kind of man are you?” -Annelise

The fever of rage and guilt that consumed Philip in last week's episode has largely broken by the time “Yousaf” begins. Whether it was Pastor Tim's words about forgiveness, the realization of what he could have done in that church, or simply time taking him further away from that dire Martial Eagle mission, Philip is back to being his usual self – still conflicted and regretful, but able to function, and a softer touch when it comes to both missions and his family.

And yet “Yousaf” isn't just a hit of the reset button to how things were before the blood spilled on Martial Eagle. When it comes time to murder Yousaf's boss so that the more pliable asset can be put into power, Elizabeth insists on doing it, knowing how much recent events have weighed on him. (And in her reaction to the assassination in the pool, we see clear evidence that the burden isn't any lighter for her.) And earlier, when Elizabeth is in the preliminary stages of seducing Yousaf, Philip decides he would rather have his asset and sometime-lover Annelise(*) do it. The clips from past episodes featured Elizabeth's encounter with Brad the sailor, and though he doesn't appear here, it's a reminder that she's had difficulty this season sleeping with men other than her husband – or with her husband when he's pretending to be another man – and it's interesting to see the different parts of the job that are affecting each of them. Both struggle with the sheer amount of killing, but Philip hasn't had problems performing with Martha, or here with Annelise. Elizabeth isn't especially happy that he changes the play on her, and if we are heading for an arrangement where he is still having sex outside the marriage for work reasons while she is not, I look forward to the show addressing the complicated realities of that head-on.

(*) At the risk of the episode opening with a 15-minute “Previously, on 'The Americans'” sequence, I could have stood for at least a quick reminder of Annelise, whose only previous appearance was in the series' second episode ever. (The hour opens with Philip having sex with her, and later she takes photographs of Caspar Weinberger's study for him.) I appreciate that the show is trying to build out the larger ensemble by re-using Jennings family assets from season 1 (like the Charles Duluth episode a few weeks ago), but so much has happened since we last saw Annelise that she felt like a new character dropped into the narrative in the hopes we would pretend she'd always been there.

And whether it's Paige complaining about not getting to go to church camp (including the understandable complaint about getting punished for praying while Henry skates on misdemeanor breaking and entering), Annelise getting angry over having slept with Yousaf (after earlier talking about trying to take her marriage more seriously), or Kate understandably objecting to Philip putting Annelise in the middle of this (and to the way her charges keep acting like she's irrelevant), it's clear that the stress our two leads are under is leading them to make mistakes, and enemies…

… not least of which is smiling Andrew Larrick, who returns to America for retribution on the agents who killed American soldiers at the Martial Eagle base, and who keep blackmailing him. (Larrick tells a pal, “Some things in life you can only handle yourself,” which is advice Philip doesn't follow in assigning Yousaf to Annelise.) In short order, he tracks down the KGB's DC-area switchboard operator, whose half-fried gear gives him access to Kate's phone number, and will presumably lead him straight to Philip and Elizabeth's home. For the most part, they have killed people who were surprised by the threat they posed, and/or who didn't possess the same skill level. But Larrick knows exactly who and what he's dealing with, and he's a killer every bit as trained as them, if not more.  Strength in numbers, but I suspect this tough season is about to get tougher for both of them.
Some other thoughts:

* The sequence with the murder in the pool while Yousaf and Annelise have sex upstairs was accompanied by “It Must Be Done,” a new song written by Pete Townshend (whose “Rough Boys” was memorably used in a season 1 episode) and the show's composer Nate Barr. In general, I prefer my period shows to use period music, but I also understand that FX got an extra round of publicity for the show by having Townshend do this, and it didn't sound wildly anachronistic in the way that, say, using a Decemberists song on “Mad Men” did, but like something Townshend probably could have released in 1982 without raising too many eyebrows.

* As expected, Agent Gaad returns to work (after a visit to his home by Arkady) and shows that his skills haven't gone rusty when he both identifies Emmet's briefcase as the needle in the evidentiary haystack and figures out where the secret compartment is. On the other hand, his return to work also means that the bugged pen Clark gave to Martha is now back in that desk.

* Watching the snow level increase as the season moves along was a reminder of what a brutal winter in the northeast production had to deal with. Still probably an improvement over season 1 conditions, since Hurricane Sandy disrupted everything then, but it's closer than it should be.

*  Holy shoulderpads, Batman! During her brief attempt to catch Yousaf's eye, Elizabeth was rocking a serious Krystle Carrington from “Dynasty” look.

* Anyone discussing the idea of being a counselor in training in this era evokes thoughts of “Meatballs” and all its wacky CITs, who even sing a song about the woeful life of a CIT towards the end of the movie. Enjoy both the young Bill Murray and the younger Matt Craven (the guy in the headband), who would grow up to play, among other things, Raylan Givens' ex-boss from Miami on “Justified.” (“Meatballs” trivia: the movie was filmed at the Ontario summer camp that was attended, in different eras, by both “House” showrunner David Shore and HitFix's own Dan Fienberg.)

* Oleg and Nina also talk about summer camp, and we get a reminder of the ways in which childhood in the USSR could be similar and also very different to childhood in America.

What did everybody else think?

Alan Sepinwall may be reached at

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