TV Recap: The Americans, ‘Duty and Honor’

jason stives’ emotions run high this week…

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Its an understatement that The Americans has been on a roll lately and last nights episode, “Duty and Honor” continued that streak. The irony of the title shows in the challenges faced by our main players this week, as deception is afoot and the line between devotion and desire play heavily on the actions that transpire. Most of this comes to the forefront when Phillip is sent on a mission to New York to frame Andrzej Bielawski, a Polish pro democracy leader trying to break the Soviet blockade. This would be perfectly fine if it didn’t mean for Phillip facing a former lover, Irina, for the first time in 20 years, something that Elizabeth is very bothered by. She clearly has heard this name before but couple that with the events of last week that felt like a splash of cold water (pun intended) and there is a break in the trust between Phillip and Elizabeth that has left one side more vulnerable to acting out of hand.

Irina is definitely an interesting addition to the story but its sadly one you can only use once and within the frame work of this episode it worked perfectly. There is a genuine connection that is seen between Phillip and Irina and one that doesn’t feel forced at all, partly due to passions rekindling and partly because they are working together for a greater cause. The notion of a long lost lover has been played before but it takes the right context and the right actors to making it interesting. Outside of this, the big developments come in watching Elizabeth finally show a vulnerability that we haven’t seen in full. While Phillip is away she continues business as usual, disguising herself in a Lady KGB persona (very sexy by the way), but a chance evening having dinner with Sandra Beeman shows that she is slowly missing Phillip’s company. She even breaks her normal routine of sleeping with men to get what she wants this week and that really feels like a difference in character for her.

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We also finally see Stan give into his loneliness by sleeping with Nina, which we all kind of saw coming but it took awhile to finally break (strike that, it took a decent amount of whiskey). The Beemans are clearly falling apart quicker internally than the Jennings and it’s obvious why since the Beemans are suppose to be a model for a more realistic couple. Sandra is a tough cookie though a bit delusional and putting on the happy face makes her troubles more obvious. There are plenty of lies this week and even Phillip has his share when he lies to Elizabeth about what went on between him and Irina in New York. But is that a bad thing? Well, morally most would say it is but when you consider the things that Phillip has wanted the most he wants to hold onto it as long as possible. Having Elizabeth truly miss him and want to actually make their marriage work feels more like a revelation than anything else.

Matthew Rhys stands the tallest this week and separated from Elizabeth you see a more prominent individual who serves his purpose and also displays the dimensions of a passionate man torn between the episodes namesake. You can see a struggle in Phillip the moment he reconnects with Irina but he keeps his mission at the forefront of any emotion that surfaces when he is around her. This is what makes watching Phillip abuse Irina after she reveals they have a son together the hardest. Yes, its done to frame Bielawski but the emotional punch (no pun intended) comes at the cost of seeing Phillip clearly torn between a life he could have and the life he has. He is devoted to Elizabeth despite her ratting him out and even Liz finally starts to show cracks in her stonewalling of their relationship. The shades of gray that Nina speaks of to Stan rings true here because these shades of gray now show in what the Jennings want the most.

Emotionally, “Duty and Honor” felt more compelling and powerful than last week but the mission of the week balanced out the themes of this episode perfectly. At this point both Phillip and Elizabeth have a lot to think about despite duty and honor being the only two true things according to Irina. Phillip seems to know exactly where he wants to be and whether the surprise son mentioned was real or not nothing seems completely changed in him over the course of this season, just a lot of thoughts. “Marriage is hard” Elizabeth says to Sandra Beeman to which she replies “Well its not for sissies, that’s for sure but at the end of the day you either choose to keep going or you don’t.” The cause is more than enough for the Jennings but now with Elizabeth showing a more loving side things might get difficult in the coming weeks for these two operatives.

Rating: 8.5 out of 10 (Excellent)