Sarah is away, so I’ll be taking over her duties on The Americans this week. She’ll be back next week, though, so don’t worry your pretty little heads. I’ll try to make her proud.
These days, The Americans is really on fire. The writers have found the perfect alchemy of narrative intrigue and gut-wrenching emotional drama. The actors pull it off week in and week out. Even the directors are bringing their A-game. The episode “Yousaf” is in a lot of ways filler, and yet it bursts with consequence. Characters are all caught in a crossroads, whether they’re aware or not, and the toll it’s taking on them is increasingly devastating.
With Philip we come down a bit from last week when he hit peak levels of anger and depression. His outburst at his daughter was uncalled for and he realizes that. Sadly, Elizabeth doesn’t see that. And maybe she’s right given Paige has been learning to forge her Elizabeth’s signature. The Jennings’ are feeling the unbearable pressure of ideological difference that can’t even be spoken aloud. Elizabeth would like to think she can stealthily raise a good communist daughter, but controlling the mind of a teenager is difficult enough without the barrier of their secrets.
Secrets, meanwhile, are the driving forces in The Americans, with every character hiding something of him or herself from view. If the show has any overarching thesis it’s in the exploration of the weight of secrets on relationships. Stan is feeling this all too well. His marriage is falling apart, and his own secrets were the cause. His wife has been having an affair, and though, as Nina points out to him, he’s been having one too, the realization that each of them have been hiding from the other to the point of fracturing their marriage is painful.
He takes that pain with him as he goes to interview the Connors’ son, Jared. It’s a skillfully crafted scene, with Stan slowly suggesting to a mourning son that his parents might not have been exactly who he thought. He bridges the gap by explaining that everyone has secrets. “My sister Emilia, she was fourteen. Did she have secrets,” asks Jared. “I’ll be she did. And that’s okay,” Stan replies.
Unfortunately, not all the secrets kept on the show are okay. They aren’t benign. Many of the characters are dangerous people, none more so than the Philip and Elizabeth. Or maybe not. Barreling through the episode is the specter of chaos implied by the premiere and the Connors’ murder. Larrick is back and he’s on a mission to take down his blackmailers. He kills the phone operator, and manages to get a line to Kate, which puts the Jennings family closer in his sights.
Speaking of Kate, how great has Wrenn Schmidt been this season? It’s not easy taking over from Margo Martindale, but she’s done an admirable job, bringing Kate to life with great emotion even when she only has a few lines. I can only hope that she survives the next episode, or the rest of the season.
“Yousaf” also brings the return of Annelise, the now wife of the Under Secretary of Defense, who we first met in the second episode of the series. Philip calls on her to cozy up to Yousaf Rana, a Pakistani diplomat. It turns out he doesn’t know anything, but Philip and Elizabeth execute a plan to kill his boss, moving him up the ranks, while getting Annelise to sleep with him and secure him as a target. Annelise does the deed, in a beautiful montage with Elizabeth killing the boss, all set to a brand new song co-written by Pete Townshend. Afterward, though, she lashes out at Philip, calling him a pimp, and angry that he would let her debase herself like that.
“You don’t think it kills me to watch the woman I love sacrifice herself like that? Give herself to another man, even if it is for a cause bigger than either of us? It is not something I take lightly. Ever.”
He’s talking to Annelise, but of course he’s talking about Elizabeth. While Elizabeth remains hardened in her beliefs, even refusing to allow Paige to go to a Christian summer camp, Philip is becoming more and more disillusioned. Not necessarily by Soviet ideologies, which still hold a strong place in his heart, but with the job he’s doing in the name of his motherland. That inner conflict is bound to boil over at some point, but for now we get to see it in his minor outbursts, scary visits to reverends, and scenes like the one with Annelise. We await the inevitable reckoning. Hopefully the damage when all is said and done isn’t so bad, but then, this is The Americans.