If there’s one quibble I have with The Americans after seven episodes, it’s that it’s often difficult to get a good read on the motivations behind some of the spy missions. The mini capers themselves are usually very cool, but the scripts usually only pay lip service to the details behind why certain people need to be eradicated. That was certainly true two weeks ago when Elizabeth took out a lonely undercover KGB agent working with American missile defense, and it was also true of last night’s mark, Andrezj, a sort of Polish resistance leader trying to remove Poland from under the thumb of Soviet rule. It would’ve been nice to have some broader perspective on his role in the Cold War before that threat was eliminated simply because some of the appeal of The Americans is in the history outside of the characters.
Nevertheless, the caper itself was splendid, and the show did an outstanding job of centering it on the personal lives of the characters. It mostly involved Phillip, who was meeting his former Russian lover/soul mate for the first time in 20 years, who is in a similar role as a KGB spy living in Canada. She was also in marriage (although her husband is dead), but the twist in her situation was that she had a son, and that son is Phillip’s kid (or so we’re led to believe). Phillip and Irena reunite, and the chemistry is palpable. She wants to escape the KGB and take Phillip with her, but despite some strain in his fake marriage to Elizabeth, Phillip is committed to staying behind and making it real.
In the meantime, Phillip and Irena also have a mission to pull off, which involved painting an otherwise noble and faithful Polish resistance leader, Andrezj, into an abusive rapist. The caper was very well played, and once again, the importance of the “cause” was put into perspective when Phillip was forced to beat the holy smack out of his soul mate and the mother of his child to complete the frame-up job. It was difficult to watch, but the results — discrediting the Polish resistance leader — were nifty.
Elizabeth was saddled with a less interesting mission, which was basically paying off the debts of a fellow KGBer. The exchange between Elizabeth and Claudia on the park bench was searing and tense, but the the meat of Elizabeth’s interactions last night were with Stan’s wife, who applauded Elizabeth on her strong marriage. “I know you can’t judge a book by its cover, but you can judge a cover by its cover,” Sandra tells Elizabeth. It’s that conversation that compels Elizabeth to redouble her efforts to make her marriage with Phillip work, and although Phillip seemed reluctant in the beginning of the episode, after his experience with Irena, he seemed intent on working on his marriage.
The irony, of course, is that their fake marriage is stronger than the real marriage of Stan and Sandra. Stan finally closed the deal on what many of us had been predicting for awhile: He slept with Nina, the Russian embassy worker. She was cool about it, though. “With Americans it’s all white and black,” she said, letting Stan know that he has nothing to worry about. I think Stan’s less concerned with Nina than he is with his own guilt, having been unfaithful to his wife, and becoming emotionally invested in a woman whose life he will continue to have to risk.
Though not as good as last week’s episode, “Duty and Honor” helped to move along with character relationships. We learned more about Phillip’s backstory, and the ebb of the Jennings’ marriage is on its way back to flow. There are several interesting some loose threads dangling: The tension between Elizabeth and her handler, Claudia; Phillip’s son, who may throw a wrench into Phillip and Elizabeth’s evolving marriage; and Stan’s relationship with Nina, who is not only threatening Stan’s marriage, but making his job very difficult, as well.
— I like Annet Mahendru, the actress who plays Nina, but I was thinking it was odd to cast an Indian-born actress as a Russian. Turns out, she’s actually an Afghan-born actress with both Russian and Indian heritage. She also speaks six languages, which may become useful in other capacities if she survives this season. (She also, er, writes poetry).
— Will that guy whose gambling debts be paid off come back into play this season, or was that simply a distraction for this episode? He was kind of amusing.
— I would absolutely watch a spin-off called Claudia and Elizabeth’s Conversations on a Park Bench.
— I guess they are trying to allow Chris, Stan’s partner, to be the comic relief in the series, but 1) the reference to “getting some strange” felt anachronistic, and 2) that whole exchange about the smell of Stan’s farts was just weird and kind of out of place in this show.
— There is a sad dearth of GIFs available for this show, so far. Come on GIFsters. Get on it. But there is this one, from last week, which is DELICIOUS.