‘The Americans’ Pushes The Boundaries Of Basic Cable With Its Best, Sexiest, Most Disquieting Episode Yet

I don’t want to reveal much about last night’s The Americans in this opening paragraph because I know that it’s a show that gets the majority of its viewers on DVR (its audience jumps around 140 percent once time-shifting is accounted for), but last night’s episode of The Americans is definitely one you want to catch up on. Not because it’s going to get spoiled for you, but because it was one of the year’s best episodes of television: Sexy, provocative, disturbing, and emotionally complicated. Not for nothing, but it also featured maybe the longest, most lingering shot of female backside nudity (Keri Russell) that I’ve ever seen on basic cable.

The lingering nudity, however, served a purpose other than to highlight what an incredible body Keri Russell has (and, uh, hoo boy). It was meant to show just how daring and how open Elizabeth is in her sex life with Phillip, but ultimately, just how fragile she is, as well. Now that her and Phillip are in a real, committed marriage, jealousy has risen to the surface for Elizabeth. She’s not compartmentalizing as well as Phillip is, and when Elizabeth found out what “an animal” Phillip’s alter-ego Clark was in the bed with his fake-wife Martha, she decided she wanted to understand that better. To experience it. To role play it. She didn’t like the idea that her husband was being an animal with someone else, and she thought she wanted to take sexual domain over that part of Phillip, too.

She was wrong, of course, and Phillip’s aggressive, forceful f**king ended up stirring memories of the KGB officer raping her in a similar manner in her training days, and what began is an adventurous, graphically sexy few scenes between Elizabeth and Phillip ended up in a very dark, upsetting place.

But those scenes really highlight the incredible performances that both Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys are turning in on The Americans. Tatiana Maslany deservedly gets a lot of credit for playing several different characters/clones in Orphan Black, but both Russell and Rhys are doing something similiar in The Americans: They are Russians playing an American suburban family, who in turn, play different characters each week depending upon the mission, and the rough sex scene between Clark/Phillip and Elizabeth really brought home how difficult it is for a married, committed, and loving couple to separate those lives, especially when sex is frequently a part of their mission.

It’s a tough, emotionally complicated job, and to add their roles another role as loving American parents — which are, again, distinct from the people they really are — has caused a lot of psychological fracturing.

Phillip and Elizabeth’s scene wasn’t the only instance of rough sex scene in last night’s episode, however. We’d see the aggressive backdoor bang in two other instances last night. One of the others involved Lucia (Elizabeth’s new protege) and Carl, and it was over a Congressman’s desk, and it ended in a similarly dark way: With Lucia injecting Carl with enough heroin to kill him in an unintentionally slow and painful way. It was a brutal scene, but again, it shows us the lengths the Russians are willing to go to gain intel, and what’s doubly remarkable is that we the viewers more often than not end up sympathizing with the Communists.

We also see Andrew Larrick (Lee Terguson from Oz) get f**ked from behind, by another man here. It’s early yet, but I think that Larrick may ultimately turn into the evil, dark big-bad that The Americans sometimes needs. It’s a show that plays in so much grey that it would actually be nice to have at least one person with whom we can focus our hatred.

Ironically, however, the guy getting the most f**ked right now in The Americans is Stan Beeman, who is getting double-teamed by Oleg and Nina, and that poor guy is not enjoying the experience at all. I love the way the dynamic has shifted for Stan. He came in with all the power in his relationship with Nina, whose only asset at the time was her body, and now Nina has used that to completely flip the script on Stan. He’s the one, now, in danger of being caught for treason. Nina has turned her role as a KGB informant for the FBI nearly into that of a KGB handler to Stan, who is about to become an FBI informant for the KGB. What a wild, unexpected, long-con twist.

And let’s not forget the gut-punch ending to last night’s episode: The knowledge that Claudia (Margo Martindale) may have inadvertently been responsible for the deaths of Emmet and Leanne, which may ultimately cost Claudia her life. That may have been the last we see of that character. She may soon end up in the back of a Russian black van.

It was a remarkably, dark, fascinating and twisted episode of The Americans all around. What is already one of the best dramas on television just continues to get better, more riveting, and complicated.