One of the biggest revelations in “Behind the Red Door,” the sixth episode of The Americansseason two, came at the end: that Claudia may have been the one to inadvertently get Emmett and Leanne killed. She became involved with a man during her time handling the Connors — “This business can be lonely” — and felt she could trust him. Yet she has been plagued with fear that he betrayed her and led to their deaths, and her admitting as much to Elizabeth and recommending she be investigated was a brave move. Claudia isn’t as cold-hearted as Elizabeth would make her out to be, and she wants justice for Emmett and Leanne, even if that means it’s her own neck on the line. The more these spies try to live a life separate from the work, the more they open themselves up to be their own worst enemies.
Even though Phillip and Elizabeth ruled out Larrick as being behind their friends’ deaths, he still is valuable to the KGB thanks to his previous dealings with the organization as well as his current position of training members of the Nicaraguan Contras on U.S. soil. This, in March 1982, is of course only the early stages of America’s aiding anti-communist guerrillas and resistance groups in an attempt to hurt the Soviet Union, and it’s been interwoven nicely into the story. Lucia (Aimee Carrero), the Nicaraguan spy Elizabeth helped in “Cardinal,” is able to use her connection to a congressional aide, Carl (Nick Bailey), to help Elizabeth sneak into his boss’s office and uncover information about the Nicaraguan operation and ARPANET, the Advanced Research Projects Agency Network, the forerunner of the Internet. (Handy that specific congressman would have that on file in his safe …) Presumably a Sandinista against the Contras, Lucia is still young and idealistic, spouting the kind of rhetoric you’d hear at a college protest while an amused yet worried Elizabeth looks on. “You think it’s a dream?,” Lucia asks her, this “world without exploitation and dignity for all”? “I’ve been ready to die my whole life for it, Lucia,” Elizabeth responds before dropping the bomb that it’s time for Lucia to tie up the loose end that is Carl before the trail can be followed back to Lucia. Carl’s drug habit provides the perfect opportunity for Lucia to poison him, but his death isn’t easy for her instigate let alone watch. She and others may be fighting for big ideas in capital letters, like Freedom and Justice, but the acts of war are never as pretty as the rhetoric. It was time for her to grow up.
While Stan’s wife Sandra is busy painting the front door red and discussing John Belushi’s untimely death with their son, Stan is trying to hold onto his fantasy of a life, however brief, with Nina. Oleg’s blackmail has bite — even Arkady is aware of it — and his request for the FBI surveillance logs that pertain to him seems too reasonable. Fear is enough to get Stan scrambling for solutions: “If anything happens to me,” Oleg tells him, “what I know about Nina, everyone will know. If I die, she dies.” Gaad isn’t interested in Nina’s plight. He has quickly changed his tune from wanting to help out Stan and being willing to take the fall for his killing Vlad to blaming him for his current situation. “I’m about to be called to testify before a closed-door congressional committee thanks to the shit you pulled,” he tells Stan, who visits him at home. “Don’t tell me anything more that I can’t hear.” “She’s in way over her head, sir,” Stan replies. “Before you do anything you can’t undo, has it occurred to you that you might be the one in over your head?,” Gaad says. Stan’s feeble offer to Nina is that if she takes a polygraph test and proves she is trustworthy, he can probably get the agency to assist her. But she wants out. Her move may be to see if her own country will save her, but that isn’t promising.
Whether Elizabeth’s continued questioning of Phillip about his behavior as Clark with Martha stems from jealousy or merely curiosity, her request to have him behave like the “animal” his fake wife described was misguided. The roles the operatives play can quickly become more than wearing a wig and duping a mark. Phillip can’t easily transition into role play with Elizabeth as Clark. The “character” isn’t fun for him; it’s work. Playing him to seduce his wife doesn’t seem appealing to him, and her persistance — and insistance that he behave like Clark, not like Phillip — sets him off. His rough sexual behavior with her felt like a violation on many levels, not only of Elizabeth but of their relationship and the trust they have built. Watching an upset Phillip tear off his Clark wig — his mask, essentially — in the bathroom afterward as Elizabeth cried in a fetal position on the bed was a powerful scene, one of the more dramatic of the entire series. This isn’t a game. The sex they have with informants; the lies they tell; the people they kill. It’s all part of the job, but the job takes an emotional toll.
Sarah Carlson is a TV Critic for Pajiba. She lives in San Antonio. You can find her on Twitter.