The Americans is an equal-opportunity theme deliverer, giving practically a different character each episode the chance to sum up the story arc via their dialogue. In this week’s excellent “The Deal,” the fifth episode of Season Two, it was Oleg Igorevich’s (Costa Ronin) turn: “I’m a budding student of capitalism,” he tells Stan in a tense stand-off. “Everything has a value; everything can be traded.” The machinations of governments and intelligence agencies working with and against each other for their own interests — namely, how to handle hostage situations that involve spies and kidnapped physicists — took center stage this hour, but the theme of everything coming with a price pervaded all story lines. Operatives like Phillip and Elizabeth aren’t just in the business of trading information or even people; they’ve traded a part of themselves, a part they don’t know if they’ll ever get back.
Finally, Oleg’s cards are (mostly) on the table. He’s been studying Nina’s files all right, and even though his high-ranking connections got him his post and security clearance, he’s nobody’s fool. Nina’s reports indicate Stan recruited her, but not why or how. “You were a dangle; he took the bait,” Oleg tells her. “But how did he exactly fall for this?” Arkady Ivanovich reassured Nina that details of her betrayal — that she fed Stan information on her own — are protected in her personal files, not her reports. Oleg, however, clearly suspects there’s more to Operation Beeman than what he’s been given to read, and his move against Stan was well-played. Arkady may have forgiven Nina and is protecting her, but if Oleg outs her, she could be sent to Moscow for punishment in a heartbeat. What will Stan do for him to ensure Nina’s safety? He loves her, doesn’t he? Stan’s wife is busy working on “soul retrieval” and drawing; he’s not thinking about her, or his career, in those moments when he realizes Oleg is onto Nina. He’s only thinking about her.
The mystery man and woman who jumped Phillip and Elizabeth as they attempted to kidnap the physicist Anton Baklanov, destined to be repatriated back to the Soviet Union, are Israelis — Mossad agents who want Baklanov and his stealth technology for themselves. The Jewish Baklanov was able to leave the Soviet Union, unlike many refuseniks denied emigration, but now he’s a pawn between two powers, with the third scrambling to track him down before he’s shipped east. Baklanov’s pleas with Phillip are powerful and only add to the emotions he’s already battling thanks to the constant needling from the Mossad agent (who called him “Mr. KGB Man”) he held as ransom in exchange for Baklanov. The agent compared his own spy life with Phillip’s, driving the point home that Phillip has given over everything to his service. “But I’m bronze, not platinum,” he tells Philip. “Not like you. I go home for Passover. I sing country Western with an accent. I hide what I do. I don’t hide who I am.” Later, he remarks that he never learned Phillip’s name — “But your name isn’t your name, is it? “Is your face your face?” Baklanov went a step further as Phillip exchanged the Mossad agent for him once the Soviet Union and Israel mad a deal. “Please don’t send me back,” the physicist said between sobs. “What you once were, whoever you were, they trained it out of you. No feeling, no humanity. You may as well be dead.” At the hand-off, Phillip has trouble meeting Baklanov’s eyes.
Phillip hasn’t forgotten where he came from, however. Even the icicles decorating the windows of the safe house remind him of winters past and prompt a moment of reflection with Elizabeth as they briefly discuss their memories of their homeland. It was hard to decipher whether he would actually want to return. The Assad agent wondered if Phillip’s government would go to great lengths to save him, and Phillip wasn;t sure. (Arkady was adamant about getting Phillip out of the safe house, saying “I’ll get Moscow to make a deal with these people if it costs me my career,” but Phillip couldn’t know that.) They saved him from this crisis, but what’s the ultimate end game? It’s hard to imagine him and Elizabeth ever making it home. They exchanged that freedom when they became operatives. They exchanged almost everything about themselves.
What else we learned from “The Deal”:
Sarah Carlson is a TV Critic for Pajiba. She lives in San Antonio. You can find her on Twitter.