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'The Americans' - 'A Little Night Music': Send In The Clowns

By Sarah Carlson | TV | March 20, 2014 |

By Sarah Carlson | TV | March 20, 2014 |

The life of a spy is about more than wearing convincing wigs or knowing clever spots to make a package drop. It’s about deception — lies so deep and believable they can confuse the spy spouting them. In The Americans’ second season, we’re getting a closer look at the toll the lying game takes on Phillip and Elizabeth. They’re fine as a couple for now, thankfully, but individually, we’re starting to see them grow more weary of keeping up the charade. Several moments in the fourth episode, “A Little Night Music,” beautifully conveyed the struggle, from Phillip (as “Clark”) picking fights with Martha to Elizabeth seducing a young man, Brad, as a way to gain access to a target. They both see Martha and Brad each as a means to an end, but only to a point. The two are still humans who are being deceived and don’t deserve to be hurt, but that outcome is inevitable. Oleg Igorevich spelled it out for Nina, who has had her own share of intimacy tied with lying thanks to Operation Beeman: “Our jobs are all about deception. And maybe it’s not so hard to deceive with the eyes, the smile, the things we say. But the body — those parts of the body that can love — they want to tell the truth. When we train them to lie, that’s hard on the soul.” Elizabeth tells herself and others that her conning Brad is a piece of cake, but not even she really believes it anymore.

What we learned from “A Little Night Music”:


  • The perfect Margo Martindale finally returned as Claudia, and although Elizabeth still doesn’t trust her, it’s hard not to believe Claudia really does want to protect the Jennings and doesn’t want them to meet a grisly end like the Connors. Claudia’s information via the Centre, that one suspect of Emmett and Leanne’s murder is a Navy captain, Andrew Larrick, whom the couple was blackmailing for information by threatening to expose him as gay. Elizabeth tries to get at Larrick through a young seaman, Brad, and their exchanges were almost painful to watch. (The piece of music he plays for her at the record store where they meet is Mozart’s Serenade No. 13 for strings in G major, “Eine kleine Nachtmusik.” The English translation of the German title is “A Little Night Music,” also the title of the 1973 Stephen Sondeim musical revolving around the romantic lives of several couples.) Here is a self-described loner looking for acceptance who is amazed that a woman like Elizabeth (in disguise, of course) would look his way. Her manipulation tactics were impressive, acting upset at the prospect of having sex with him and later confessing she is still coping with having been rape by a man she reveals to be Larrick. Brad is moved by her story and offers to copy Larrick’s files to prove he wasn’t on leave at the time of the assault and bring him to justice. He’s headed for heartache — and perhaps serious consequences if he manages to copy Larrick’s files and gets caught — but it’s a price Elizabeth has decided is worth him paying.

  • Determining Phillip’s game regarding Martha is a tad tricky — is he trying to break things off? Or just pick a few fights to make her afraid of losing him? Either way, the con has gone on so long that it can only end in disaster, especially now that Martha plans to disclose their marriage on a job application. What is Phillip going to do — show up as Clark to a work function and risk running into Stan? Poor Martha. Pick a less mysterious and always out-of-town guy next time.

  • It was only a matter of time before Oleg Igorevich used his family connections to get ahead at the Rezidentura. (I love the way Arkady Ivanovich described him to Nina in the season premiere: “Moronic kids of top officials rushing into the KGB to get a foreign posting — they’ll be the ruin of us.”) With his new security clearance, Igorevich has access to Nina’s reports detailing her ongoing relationship with Stan. Igorevich tells Nina he admires her willingness to do what it takes to advance their cause, but his curiosity in her and penchant for bucking the system surely will become a bigger problem.

  • Stan, meanwhile, confides in Phillip about his affair, being careful to only say the woman works with him and even lying by saying they can never be together because she’s married as well. “We’re doomed,” he tells Phillip, who can relate to Stan’s struggles far better than his FBI friend realizes. Stab begins by confiding in Phillip about his takedown of Bruce Dameran, for which he keeps being commended. It’s part of the job, he says — it’s “right” — but “later on, when the hoopla’s over, you took a guy off the face of the earth.” His killing of Vlad, a KGB operative and diplomat at the Rezidentura, is likely more pressing on his mind, especially now that his death has led to a joint inquiry of the U.S. House and Senate Intelligence Committees. Agent Gaad is taking the fall for Beeman within the agency, but all signs are pointing to Stan having to pay for his crimes one way or another, likely at the hands of Nina.

  • There’s no way Paige could realize just how much her dabbling in Christianity could piss off her parents, but boy did she pick an interesting way to rebel. Reading the Bible while listening to Modern English? Whatever floats your boat, girl. I hadn’t pegged her newfound friend, Kelli, as being a youth group type, and I’m still suspicious of her motives (and now of the church in general). But this religious wedge contributes well to the narrative of Phillip and Elizabeth trying to raise their kids to be “normal” while also protecting them from what they see as corrupting American “values.” “This is what happens,” Elizabeth says. “They get them when they’re children. They indoctrinate them. … ‘We’re failing to help them stand up to the distractions, the consumerism. [Religion is] the opiate of the masses.”

  • Paige’s new Jesus Freak tendencies had Elizabeth on edge as she and Phillip attempted to kidnap professor and physicist Anton Baklanov, a Jewish man who escaped the Soviet Union and now appears to be loyal to the U.S. The Centre decides he needs repatriation - his research on radar cross-section reductions, or stealth technology - is to valuable not to have in their control. The kidnapping goes sour right when they stuff an unconscious Baklanov into their trunk — a man and a woman attack the couple, and after an impressive fight sequence, Elizabeth loses her cool and repeatedly smashes the man’s hand with the hood of the trunk. With Phillip distracted by her outburst, the mysterious woman manages to hop in the car and speed off with Baklanov still in the trunk. Now Phillip and Elizabeth are stuck with the injured man — who is he working for? — and no Baklanov.

Perhaps Claudia was right when she told Elizabeth she didn’t think she was ready to be back in the game. Instead of bringing work home, she brought home with her to work. Something’s got to give.

Sarah Carlson is a TV Critic for Pajiba. She lives in San Antonio. You can find her on Twitter.