Even when The Americans telegraphs its intentions when it comes to The Point it wants to make — and really, that’s my only complaint about the series — the FX series in its second season continues to deliver some of the most complex, adult drama on TV. It very much reminds me of Mad Men in its examination of human behavior and the struggle to live with the choices one makes, and episode nine, “Martial Eagle,” continued to bring that theme home.
It wasn’t surprising to see Phillip snap as he tried to reconcile his actions invading the military training camp on Saturday with the promise of grace and forgiveness for everyone coming from the pastor of Paige’s church on Sunday. That’s a hard prospect to swallow even for those who aren’t in the habit of slitting a stranger’s throat to keep their undercover mission from being compromised. “There’s no catch; there’s no hidden agenda,” Pastor Tim (Kelly AuCoin) said to the congregation. “The Lord sacrificed his only son for us, paying the penalty for our sins so that we may know true contentment. It sounds too good to be true, but it isn’t. God’s provided the way; we just make the choice.” Of course Phillip is wondering, Is that true?
The opening scenes and the first after-credits segment are devoted to the Jennings infiltrating the camp, a tense and quick endeavor that ends in a body count of five before they are able to leave, proof of the U.S. military training Nicaragua Contra in hand. (A later scene showing Larrick making the connection between deaths at the camp and the KGB promises more conflict heading their way.) The “Hey! Hey! He’s got a camera!” kid who comes across Phillip doesn’t stand a chance, but Phillip immediately shows signs of being shaken by the ordeal of killing him. Returning to the septic company truck they used to get into the camp, Elizabeth quickly sees his shell-shocked face and takes action, taking his bloody jacket and cleaning him up. Even the man Phillip had tried to save — the septic company worker they kidnapped - dies, presumably from the cold thanks to being left tied to a tree in the woods. That brings the death toll to six.
“What happened last night, you didn’t have a choice, Phillip,” Elizabeth tells him the next day. “This is war. You think they would have done anything less to us?” Her trying to calm him down only backfires with him again accusing her of finding this way of life easier to lead than he does, a gross underestimation of her own struggles. He’s scrambling for an answer to how he can continue living this way, but there doesn’t seem to be an answer. Paige can’t understand where his anger is coming from, and their disastrous confrontation over her $600 contribution (roughly $1,470 in today’s dollars per inflation) to her church and her accusation that Phillip knows a thing or two about lying will likely only deepen the schism between them, no matter how many floors Elizabeth makes her scrub to learn her lesson. Elizabeth is right that Paige and Henry lead comfortable lives, but they also must be lonely ones considering how often their parents are absent, in more ways than one.
“The world is an ugly place, Martha, and it is full of brutish, cruel, nasty people,” may have been Phillip’s segue into introducing to Martha his doctored recording of her colleagues criticizing her, but his self-hatred was clearly spilling over into the interaction. He did his job, though, manipulating her into wanting to help him uncover information from her office, and he’s going to need it if Gaad ends up leaving. He packed his office — including the bugged pen left on his bookcase — in anticipation of the congressional hearing, but perhaps his Hail Mary threat to Arkady of releasing classified information that would likely result in numerous KGB agents getting kicked out of the U.S. will pan out.
The rest of the plot threads are weaving together nicely, with both the Jennings and Stan honing in on the same subjects — military contractors Lockheed and Northrop, both companies vying for a role in the stealth technology in development. Elizabeth is cozying up to an employee at Northrup, and Stan’s newfound clearance and the information he’s been able to gather has led him to investigate the January meeting of contractors and government agents in Alexandria, Va., which took place the same day the Connors were murdered in an Alexandria hotel. Their mole, Fred, was at the meeting, and despite his claims to Phillip that he can lie to the FBI, his initial conversation with Stan doesn’t bode well. Stan is interviewing all attendees to try to find those who would make good targets for the KGB, and hopefully his skills as “Mr. Counterintelligence Genius” benefit him here as they certainly didn’t with his marriage. Sandra, having met someone else, is tired of waiting for him to notice something is wrong and at least gets him to admit he’s also having an affair. “Are you leaving me?,” he asks. “That would be easy for you, wouldn’t it?,” she says. “… I’m not gonna wait around for you to get the courage to leave me.”
Is redemption even possible for any of the characters at this point? Pastor Tim thinks so: “There is grace and forgiveness for you,” he says to Phillip, who returns to the church one night to confront him. “For everyone.” “Do you believe that?,” Phillip asks. “I do.”
Sarah Carlson is Television Editor for Pajiba. She lives in San Antonio. You can find her on Twitter.