Can we just talk about how great The Americans has been this season? If the first season was setup, the second season has been payoff. Although, within this second season, there have been so many additional interesting layers and threads; from Leanne and Emmett’s murder to start things off, to high-concept arcs like those involving loyalty and betrayal, The Americans has unfolded over the last 12 weeks beautifully and with great effect. And as a bonus, while most series introduce kids just to have them in the background, The Americans has also used Paige and Henry’s own stories to act as foils, or to augment their parents’ struggles. Hit the jump for why I think you have a very bright future (now take my money and run).
“Operation Chronicle,” this season’s penultimate episode, is setting up a potentially explosive finale, and one that can’t very easily be predicted. All of our major characters are on a precipice: Arkady has shown his cards to Stan, who must choose between love and country, while also seeing his home life fall apart completely; Elizabeth makes Philip face the reality that one day, their children might be dropped off somewhere by the Center without thought; Larrick is hot on Jared’s trail; Fred is unsure if he can go through with the paint sample mission; Martha is unsure what her future with Clarke looks like without kids.
Each of these plot arcs also cuts deep emotionally. The choices are not about logistics or exact cause and effect, they’re about love, revenge, murder, loyalty, family and fear. And this is without even considering the duplicitous nature of most of these relationships, like Nina trying to keep herself in the good graces of Arkady, Oleg and Stan, while offering them all very different things, or how Philip continues to deceive Martha, while using her as an outlet to his real marriage.
There are many questions to be answered next week, but chief among them will be the reveal of Emmett and Leanne’s killer. The Americans has done an exceptional job of making this mystery relevant throughout the season, as well as a driver of both the emotional and logistic plots for the Jennings. And while the season has not been beholden to the answer, it’s still something we have a hunger to know.
Larrick being so obvious as the perpetrator seems too clear-cut, though. It is interesting, in light of that, to note Elizabeth’s disillusion with the Center, given the fact her loyalty is almost never in question. But while Paige thinks her mother is exceptionally hard on her, Elizabeth is also terrified of what might happen to her and Henry when “that day” comes. “Operation Chronicle” ended with Elizabeth being particularly fatalistic about their future. It’s not surprising, given how her time with Jared has kept the impact of the murders alive. She’s right to fret over what will happen to Jared, and where he will land, without help or resources. The other clue snuck in there though lies in those and other questions: why did Kate meet with Jared not in disguise? Why is the Center being cagey about communication? Why are the Jennings being pegged to pursue the paint sample mission at a time when it might distract them from Jared’s exfiltration?
These same concerns over what the Center (or the State) feels is best was echoed (no pun intended) with Nina. Arkady has a fondness for her, but he’s still required to carry out orders in service to his superiors. If Nina fails, she will be sent back to the U.S.S.R. and likely executed. If she succeeds, she will still have to leave her entire life behind. Nina’s struggles mirror Jared’s in some ways, although she is going into it with open eyes. Oleg seems to have offered her another way, though, just like Stan attempted to do. Her future may be bright, but it’s unclear what fallout will occur from her choice.
Ultimately, “Operation Chronicle” did exactly what it needed to in terms of tension. So much so that it was nearly unbearable. The Americans’ greatest triumph this year has been making the story it sets out to tell emotionally engrossing on top of the plot twists and spy action. But yada yada yada: bring on the finale.
Episode Rating: A
Musings and Miscellanea:
— I like how Paige is really becoming outspoken about her curiosity regarding her parents, letting them know they’re letting her down, and that she doesn’t trust them. Philip calling her out when she was eavesdropping on the phone was a tense moment, too. This has all been escalating so much this season, I can’t imagine that things will end with her still completely in the dark.
— Poor Jared. As if things weren’t bad enough, they’re going to drop him off somewhere randomly in the world (on the other hand, better than going to the U.S.S.R.?) They may instead kill him. I don’t trust the Center!
— “Paige and Henry would be dead in an alley in a week” – Elizabeth.
— The way Henry is written makes him a really funny kid. I like his quirky mannerisms and comments.
— I love wordplay jokes like Stan saying to his son, “I stole something for you.” This time it’s Rocky Horror, but will it be Echo the next time he says this to someone?
— Martha essentially gave Philip an exact timetable and instructions on how to steal classified documents without anyone noticing. I really felt for her though when he told her kids were not in the picture. She didn’t sign up for any of this (to the degree that it is). Also adored that she brought up his “toupee.” The woman ain’t stupid!
— This episode might mark the first time that I’ve seen a condom taken off and disposed of on television.
— Stan seems to be pursuing Echo, but I’m not certain how far he will take things. I really am enjoying the little touches the show is adding this year, like his visit to the used car lot to buy a vehicle for Nina.
— “I believe your future is very bright” – Oleg.