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The Americans has done a fantastic job so far this season creating a cat-and-mouse sense of tension in both the Cold War actions of the US and USSR and the marriage of The Jennings.
However, outside of the bang-bang series premiere, the action has been rather limited to small bursts here and there. On last night’s episode, “Trust Me,” the 1980s-set drama was able to combine spy thriller suspense with the blunt force trauma of the action genre. And it was done brilliantly — it had motivation, nothing senseless or gratuitous. It punctuated the episode’s drama and tension with a closed fist to the face — leaving an a lasting mark on the series.
The tone of the episode was set in the first five minutes as Phillip Jennings (Matthew Rhys), in disguise, talks on a pay phone with his FBI-employed ‘lady friend.’ It’s a scene we’ve seen throughout the season and then — bam — he’s got a black hood over his head and thrown in a car and driven off to Parts Unknown USA. This the theme throughout the episode — when a series of seemingly natural circumstances that we’ve seen in the series goes awry — from The ‘Resident’s’ day-to-day affairs to Elizabeth (Keri Russell) cooking dinner. All of these everyday events are upset with bursts of violence or life-altering discoveries.
The plotline with Vasilli (Peter von Berg) AKA The Resident, Agent Beeman (Noah Emmerich) and Soviet turncoat Nina (Annet Mahendru) is probably the most interesting short-term storyline in the episode. With Nina fearing being executed as a traitor; Beeman, who’s obviously attracted to the raven-haired Ruskie, puts into action a brilliant plan to undermine Vasilli — casting shadows of doubt on the loyalties on the aged Russian. The scenes where Beeman makes ‘suspicious’ phone calls to the Russian embassy ending each with a wry smile is this character’s ‘shining moment’ in the series thus far. We know Beeman’s good, but we didn’t know he was this good.
The plotline with most far-reaching implications comes into play with the abductions of the Jennings at the hands of US government agents (or so we think). The moment when Phillip tells his captors that he and Elizabeth are trained to die for their country, you’re struck for the first time with Phillip’s unwavering love for his country. It’s something we as an audience have to question — he’s always said he loves Mother Russia, but it’s never been too convincing as he seems to love his family much more than he has his employer.
When it’s revealed that the KGB kidnapped them in order to see if the Jennings had betrayed them to the FBI, after last episode’s fiasco, the reaction from the Jennings’ is, for lack of a better word, boss. Keri Russell’s absolute pummeling she puts on he superior (Margo Martindale) is jaw-dropping. It’s one of the most shocking moments in the series — you just did not see this coming. Here’s the woman we’ve come to know as Felicity mounted like a UFC fighter on top of a woman 30 years her elder and she is just pounding the holy hell out of her screaming, “Show them your face!”
Then of course, the loyalty and fidelity of the Jennings’ marriage is called into play. It’s a theme we’ve seen throughout the series — but when we find out that Elizabeth told her superiors about Phillip’s apparent newfound love of the USA, the lightbulb goes off — that’s why they were abducted and brutalized by their own people.
So the marriage, which seemed to be gaining steam this season, has taken another blow. First, the words from Gregory (Derek Luke — who makes a brief appearance in this episode) to Phillip then this ‘betrayal’ gives another body blow to what was looking like a marriage that was actually becoming more about love than a cover story.
In the end, ‘Trust Me’ is one of the top episodes of The Americans’ short run. It has the perfect blend of action and suspense while still maintaing a dramatic focus on the interpersonal relationships of the Jennings clan and Stan Beeman and his family. The action and violence in this episode was well-placed and one has to hope the creative team behind the series continues to pick their spots when it comes to developing an episode that’s filled with action. The Americans is in a really strong creative rhythm right now, let’s hope it can maintain the pace.
Photos CR: Craig Blankenhorn/FX