jason stives feels like last night was indeed ladies night on The Americans…
This week’s installment of The Americans, “Comint,” is one for the ladies, and I say that in the most positive sense. Besides a heighten awareness to sexuality, “Comint” centered its focus on things like equal rights and objectification and that’s something that coupled well with the continuing observation of our leads’ respected marriages. While I found myself taking issue with some of the old hands the show displayed in its first two installments (more on that later) we have intersected a potentially dangerous point in the Jennings’ marriage this week which made their mission far more risky.
Since the pilot, we knew that Elizabeth was skilled in the art of seduction and it’s been on display repeatedly, but this week showed a more brutal consequence to it (this intersected well in Nina’s storyline too — but in a less physically harmful way). I wonder where Elizabeth learned these skills because I can’t imagine that was ever a training method in the oppressed Soviet Union. Maybe the changing sexual identity of American culture from the fifties to the eighties helped her learn the craft well. Regardless, Elizabeth has used it to benefit her duty but rarely have we seen it have a bad result. So when Elizabeth not only was abused but also showed emotional vulnerability it was quite surprising and unsettling to watch.
The old hands I mentioned before stem from the inherent role reversal of Phillip and Elizabeth that occurred this week after Phillip notices the results of her recent “mission.” I feel for Elizabeth here despite her “job is a job” mentality and not just because she was physically abused for her work but because of Phillip’s patronizing tone about going and taking care of her abuser. Now, don’t get me wrong it’s noble at best but Elizabeth can take care of herself and when you throw this against some of the more sexist reactions in this story it stings and leaves you a tad angry. This comes mainly from the usual passive tone of Phillip, and while he has definitely leveled some, balancing his familial love with his sense of his duty, his knee jerk reaction, in this episode, feels stale.
Still, we can see where the Jennings’ marriage is continuing to work as compared to that of our favorite FBI agent Stan Beeman. As we saw last week, Stan’s marriage is crumbling in very squeamish ways. This week, his wife’s seduction attempt, while he tries to learn Russian, is a last ditch effort to gain his attention. She certainly does gain something out of him after she delivers a speech that felt like a splash of cold water to the face. Something about his wife delivering the line about “there was a time when you knew the names of our son’s three best friends” that felt like disconnect of identity for Stan and not just as a father or husband but as an individual. It’s not as if there is no sexual tension in his life as seen in his interactions with Nina but when he becomes machine at best in his job there is something to be felt from all sides. That’s why it’s great to see nothing but change in the relationship between the Jennings because it separates it from being one sided as well with Elizabeth clearly being the one usually dialing in her love.
What I think felt a bit forced but had some dire consequences regardless was the sudden truce called between the couple. It came at the price of dangerous mission that Elizabeth literally walks away from and it’s these fluctuating emotions that sometimes come off the most bothersome in The Americans but I suppose that is what keeps it from following a formula. The truce did find itself putting Elizabeth in two unfortunate situations; one literal and one that I gathered is implied. The first is her bullet-to-the-head execution of Udacha, a Defense contractor who has been funneling KGB Intel for years. Its part of the job but it’s almost reactionary to having to let things go which she doesn’t seem to take too well. The second is what I believe is being implied in Claudia’s revelation that there is a mole within their operatives. Here is where it gets messy by assuming because part of me thinks Phillip knows that his wife will have to do her dirty deeds once more to find out who it is.
He isn’t comfortable with it but again it’s a job which made me think of another show that suffered the same morality struggle this past year, Mad Men. For those who watch it you will recall when everyone’s favorite red headed vixen Joan Harris slept with the gentleman from Jaguar to help secure Sterling Cooper a partnership. Most saw this as expected since she kind of slept her way into a job but it wasn’t at the expense of other’s expecting her to do it and I feel like Phillip knows this might happen with Elizabeth. The loyalty factor comes up again here because Phillip is still devoted to the cause and against possible detractors so knowing Elizabeth’s means of extracting information he knows what she will have to do.
Couple this with Nina’s “just business” attitude with obtaining information from her boss and you have fearless women who I think deep down are a bit scarred by the risk they take. This makes it sound like none of the women on The Americans are level headed or strong but that’s simply not true, there is just a moral barometer that can be turned off when it comes to loyalty — which is a big theme on this show. They also aren’t machines and have emotions which makes Claudia comments on this job being the hardest on women the more actual. All this comes off like “Comint” was a bit more soap opera than it was thrilling and dark but the personal choices made by these characters this week kept the darkness in the forefront and the risk even greater than one assumes it might be.
Rating: 7.5 out of 10 (Very Good)
All photos: CR: Craig Blankenhorn/FX