jason stives steps in from the cold war…
It comes as no surprise that the racquetball game between Philip Jennings (Matthew Rhys) and FBI agent Stan Beeman (Noah Emmerich) that opened this week’s episode of The Americans, “Gregory” acts as a bit of a metaphor to the whole dynamic of the show. As Beeman explains to a panting and jumpy Philip, racquetball isn’t about the attack as much as it is taking your time, calculating, and then waiting for your opponent to make the wrong move. This isn’t something that just applies to the game, hell, it doesn’t just apply to the ideals of the Cold War because up to this point, only three episodes in, The Americans has been biding its time in bringing the various strands of its show together and it causes friction when it does. The pilot served as great character build where as last week’s installment gave a taste of the hard edged spy thrills that most assumed would take place behind the scenes. Both strands settled into each other in “Gregory” and thus far this episode acted as the most likely scenario to what the show’s intended formula will be.
I think up to this point any viewer could question whether Elizabeth (Keri Russell) would ever show a level of compassion and love that Philip shows to her but last night proved otherwise. Not only do we learn that Liz sees Phil as her husband not just an ally but that she once had a secret lover, Gregory (Derek Luke), an ally for the cause that has assisted the Jennings on various missions. We soon learn that Gregory was a recruit of Elizabeth’s who believed strongly in the cause the way that she does. However, there was a mutual attraction that came organically between Liz and Gregory and not arranged like her own marriage. To think Elizabeth could even have such feelings up to this point is surprising but adds that extra dimension to how both her and Philip see their marriage now some 15 years later. The roles aren’t reversed per say but now they are both on level ground.
The reveal of this secret affair to Phillip happens word of mouth and the fact that this is all revealed in person makes the betrayal just more personal which reflects the time period. This was one aspect of last night’s episode I absolutely loved because everything was done by hand not electronically. When the FBI try to find the identity of Robert, you know, the KGB operative killed in the pilot, they don’t have any database for checking finger prints so they have to send his picture out to the DMV. If that had been today it would be far less interesting but in a 1980s setting it allows the FBI’s pursuit of Robert’s secret family to be moved as far away from the Jennings visit to Robert’s wife to break the news.
Secret marriages are all the rage in this episode and pacing wise the episode is slower but not for any bad reason, in fact, keeping the FBI’s pursuit of Robert’s true identity at arm’s length was a great way of delving into the heart of our characters. The sub plot involving Joyce and her daughter may seem throw away but the resolution to their tragic plot plays hand in hand with the notions of betrayal and secrets within a marriage, something that means more now that there is a strengthening bond between the Jennings.
So the dividing line of the worthy loyalist versus the possible defecting partner is now less black and white. The sit down that Phil and Liz exchange at the episode’s end is very emotional and sincere and if it hadn’t been for Gregory outing their past to Philip then these true feelings would never have surfaced. It adds a dimension to Elizabeth we haven’t seen yet and one that if it hadn’t surfaced probably would have made their marriage far less interesting. The rest of the plot was perfectly fine but nothing note worthy minus the introduction of Margo Martindale as Claudia, the Jennings’ new KGB Supervisor after the departure of their former supervisor Gabriel.
If “Gregory” was an indication of the show’s possible trajectory than The Americans is in good shape and with next week’s episode delving into the aftermath of Reagan’s attempted assassination, the real world problems will become more grand and nail biting in the weeks to come. However, as Philip assures Stan after their game at the show’s start, he always finds a way to win.
Rating: 8.5 out of 10 (Excellent)
all photos: CR: Craig Blankenhorn/FX