TV Recap: The Americans, ‘Mutually Assured Destruction’

bill bodkin enjoys a nice glass of vodka …

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This was bound to happen.

The Americans has had a hell of a run — producing some of the most intelligent, engaging, and thrilling television on the air right now.

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However, tonight’s episode, entitled “Mutually Assured Destruction,” was probably one of the Cold War-era drama’s weakest installments.

However, let’s qualify this statement. A ‘weak’ episode of The Americans is still damn fine television. There was plenty of action, a little bit of intrigue and as usual, all-around terrific acting from the show’s top stars: Keri Russell, Matthew Rhys, Annet Mahendru and Noah Emmerich.

The reason for tonight’s weakness?

A sense of predictability, a feeling of ‘been there, done that.’ And it all revolves around the marriage of the Jennings (Russell and Rhys), which has been as crucial to the plot of The Americans as its Cold War setting. For weeks, we’ve been watching tumult terrorize the Jennings’ marriage and we ended last episode with it seeming like they were going to make a serious run at making their marriage work … well at least for the first ten minutes or so of tonight’s episode.

Then Claudia (Margo Martindale) drops the bomb to Russell’s Elizabeth Jennings, that despite her husband’s assurances, that Phillip did in fact cheat on her with his old flame Irina while on assignment in New York City.

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And then the inevitable happens — the tumult returns. The relationship between Phillip and Elizabeth is back to square one — there’s strife, distrust, etc. It’s a theme that we’ve seen different variations throughout the series, but tonight it felt old hat. It would’ve been nice if this bomb was dropped a few episodes later or even during the season finale. But if we think about this logically and put the last two episodes back-to-back, the Jennings have been on good terms for about 15 minutes. Seriously. Let’s let this storyline breathe a bit. Rushing this major plot twist just seems forced. Maybe, we’ll be proven wrong next episode. But for tonight, it fell flat.

The feeling of wheels spinning was also very prevalent with the relationship between Agent Beeman (Emmerich) and Nina (Mahendru). We know they have feelings for each other and tonight was basically a reiteration of a plot point that was a major part of last episode, with nothing really changing, advancing or becoming complicated.

However, on a positive note, this episode also allowed for two minor characters to show a little bit of growth. The first was Agent Gaad played by Richard “John Boy” Thomas of The Waltons fame. Thomas has been solid throughout his run on The Americans, but tonight we saw a flash of really intense emotion. While Gaad delivers a speech to his agents after the death of their fellow federales at the hand of a KGB hired assassin, watching the tears well up in his eyes was very powerful.

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Also, The Americans seems to finally be taking the gloves of off Maximiliano Hern├índez’s Agent Chris Amador. He’s basically been Gaad’s whipping boy and Beeman’s lackey, but tonight we saw a bit of his patriotic rage, his hatred for The Soviets. His ‘Why don’t we just nuke ’em?’ attitude gives us a hint of the frustration he’s going through by quote unquote sitting on the sidelines of the Cold War. Also, we see his frustration combine with a little bit of loneliness and jealousy as he begins to follow ex-girlfriend Martha (Alison Wright), who just happens to be sleeping with Phillip, who’s posing as a U.S. government worker.

So, yes, this week’s episode of The Americans wasn’t the best but as stated earlier — you could do a lot worse when it comes to weekly, episodic drama. This show is still one of the best of the winter season and we’ll be tuning in for next week, where things will most likely pick up.

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