"The Americans" recap: Danger lurks everywhere

The homefront gets complicated -- and so does a seemingly simple assignment!

By Elliott Holt
March 27, 2014 8:48PM (UTC)
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Last week’s cliffhanger left Philip and Elizabeth in the street, with a mysterious man they clobbered in a fight to kidnap the scientist (Anton Baklanov) whom the USSR wants to ex-filtrate. The scientist got away, but Elizabeth and Philip have the mystery man in their custody. And this week, they learn that he’s an agent of the Mossad.

Philip and his Mossad counterpart are holed up in an abandoned building. The Mossad agent may be a spy, like Philip, but his job didn’t require him to abandon his entire identity or give up his homeland. As he says, “I go home for Passover…I hide what I do, I don’t hide what I am.”


Meanwhile, back at the Soviet Rezidentura, Arkady Ivanoich is trying to persuade Moscow to make a deal with the Israelis: if the Israelis turn over Baklonov, Philip will release the Mossad agent. Arkady says that the Israelis are willing to “sacrifice a Mossad agent on the altar of the Chosen People,” but he won’t leave Philip in an unsecure safe house. “I’ll get Moscow to make a deal with these people if it costs me my career,” he says. With Oleg Igorevich gunning for Arkady’s position in the Rezidentura, this seems like foreshadowing. Arkady is loyal and professional, but the undermining Oleg dismisses him as a “bureaucrat.”

Arkady’s counterpart at the FBI, Agent Gaad, has also lost power. Someone has been brought in above him to run counterintelligence, so Gaad is no longer calling the shots. The FBI is investigating the disappearance of Baklonov. Stan learns that scientist was working on a project for the Department of Defense, so he knows the KGB is behind his disappearance and he assumes (correctly) that the Soviets are planning a forced exfiltration.

While Philip waits to see if the Israelis will make a deal, he’s neglecting his role as “Clark.” And Clark’s wife, Martha, is frantically trying to reach him. She keeps leaving messages (screened by the KGB), telling him that an employment form requires her marital status. She doesn’t want to lie, so she intends to list her husband as Clark Westerfeld. So Elizabeth, disguised as Jennifer—the sister who witnessed Clark’s wedding to Martha last season—visits her fake sister-in-law to calm her down. She drinks white wine and plays confidante and urges Martha not to admit her marriage in writing: “If you check married, they’ll do a background check on Clark and you know he’s not supposed to be married to anyone in the department.” The gullible Martha concedes, and then proceeds to gush about how wild Clark is “in the sack.” Elizabeth plays along, but looks a little jealous. Now that she has real feelings for Philip, she’s far less comfortable sharing him.


The Israelis make the deal. Philip trades the Mossad agent for Baklonov, but not before the agent points out, in one of the show’s few unsubtle moments, the irony of the situation: Baklonov, who couldn’t wait to get away from the Soviet Union, is being sent back, while Philip, who is homesick for Russia, has to stay in Washington.

The renegade Oleg Igorevich Burov, driving a jaunty sports car, leads Stan and his FBI colleagues on a chase to the port in Baltimore, but meanwhile, Philip is driving the scientist to another port. Philip remains stone-faced as Baklonov begs for mercy in the back seat. “You’re a monster,” Baklonov wails. “You’re not a man. Whoever you once were, they trained it out of you. No feeling. No humanity. You may as well be dead.”

How much longer can Philip and Elizabeth turn off their humanity to do their job? How much longer can they hide who they are? They’re not monsters, though their actions are often monstrous. And though they feel homesick for Mother Russia, their real home is with their children. Their lives are a series of transactions and deals, and those deals are increasingly harder to make. Thanks to the beautifully nuanced performances by Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell, Philip and Elizabeth are complicated, soulful characters. Their old selves were trained out of them, but their humanity remains. We care about them even when they are monstrous.


The Israelis weren’t the only ones making deals this week. At the Port of Baltimore, Oleg Igorevich tells Stan that he knows Stan is running Nina Sergeevna. Oleg says that no one else at the Rezidentura knows. “I’m a budding student of capitalism,” he says. “Let’s make a deal. What can you give me in exchange for Nina’s safety?” Stan has no idea that Nina is a double agent, and his love for Nina makes him vulnerable. How vulnerable remains to be seen.

Elliott Holt

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