The Americans continued to dissect its major theme of loyalty in “New Car.” An early conversation between Martha and Philip/Clark set it all up: when she objects to continuing to spy on her co-workers, even though those were the circumstances under which they met, he replies, “don’t put me in a position of having to choose between the security of the country and you.” But both Philip and Elizabeth have been dealing with these issues of loyalty and choice all season, not only in regards to their own family versus their job, but also within their job as well. In “New Car,” they were confronted with difficult decisions that went against earlier choices, but all of which added to the complexity of the situation, and their emotional responses to it. Hit the jump for why “it’s nicer, it’s easier; it’s not better.”
With the many hats (and literally wigs) that Philip and Elizabeth have to wear within their job (and occasionally at home, as we saw disastrously last week), it can be difficult to gauge where they stand emotionally and even morally. “New Car” muddied the waters even more. A few episodes ago, Elizabeth showed mercy to a factory worker by threatening, but not killing him regarding the plans she and Philip were stealing. Philip, on the flip side, showed no mercy when it came to the unfortunate innocent lab worker who he killed in order to secure the information on Arpanet.
In “New Car,” it was Elizabeth who put Mother Russia first, allowing Larrick to kill Lucia in front of her so that she could get the signals needed to complete the training camp mission. Philip, on the other hand, decided to just tie up (and not execute) a truck driver they kidnapped in order to gain information about entry to the training camp. Philip’s actions are particularly interesting given the fact that his renewed vigor in Americana (after buying a brand-new Chevy Camaro Z/28) was soured upon the discovery that the plans he had stolen turned out to be faulty, resulting in the deaths of 160 individuals. But interestingly, he didn’t take his emotions out on the truck driver. He also showed mercy towards Martha after she softened her stance regarding her spying.
Last season, Philip’s loyalties were occasionally in question. Was he, like Vasili (who made a brief appearance commiserating with Anton about the United States being more comfortable, but that Russia needed them more), becoming too seduced by the comforts of the United States? It’s something Claudia had warned Elizabeth about him. But this year, things seemed different. Philip’s loyalty to his country and his missions, even at the sake of his family’s safety (like when he did a drop with Henry in tow), made even Claudia a believer. His almost sudden about-face in “New Car” then, where he confronted Elizabeth about her lack of enjoyment over American things, felt a little out of place. Or is it just that he, like Oleg, figures, “when in Rome …”? And how, ultimately, does that play out regarding his mission and his morals?
In her own way, Elizabeth is softening, too. Lucia’s death hitting her so hard was earned, especially since it was at the hands of a man she loathes. It also makes the stakes of the mission that much higher. But seeing Henry do something so subversive as breaking into the neighbors’ house to — gasp! — play video games was perhaps a reminder to her that things are not fully in control at home, either (and that’s part of the joy and the horror). Henry’s plaintive advocation for himself that “I’m a good person, I swear, I’m good!” was also perhaps an echo to Philip and Elizabeth’s inner thoughts: I’m a good person, right? I’m doing the right thing?
It’s interesting too to watch Stan go from a staunch counterintelligence stalwart, to selling out some of his country’s secrets to protect an emotional connection. Arkady rightly says that Oleg and Nina are “turning” Stan, and he doesn’t even realize it. When Nina confronts Stan about what Oleg might want next, about it never stopping, he’s not deterred. That’s when Nina knows she has him. It starts with something small, like the files on Oleg, but what might it escalate to?
Henry’s dalliance with going into the neighbors’ house was a small example of the little crimes that can add up quickly, in service of something else. His parents, Stan, Oleg, Nina and others are examples of that on a larger scale. In the shows dedication to a portrayal of all sides, “New Car” also offered up a few examples of the good and bad of the United States versus the Soviet Union: Stan was an example of how the U.S. is drowned by bureaucracy, and the submarine disaster (and Oleg’s understanding of what actually happened) shows the Soviet Union doing sloppy and reckless work. The United States might have been crafty enough to plant faulty plans, but it’s because the Soviets are so subversive that they have operatives in almost every level of government. Once again, the question of loyalty was a major factor in every arc of the episode, particularly regarding one’s convictions versus one’s emotional life. The sides teeter on the fulcrum, but never (yet) too far.
Episode Rating: A
— I was glad Clark didn’t have to play the edited tape to Martha, it was so terribly mean!
— The show is really keeping its energy up throughout the season this year.
— Philip and Henry rocking out in the Camaro was spectacular, as was Philip touching it lovingly when he went to go meet Kate, even rubbing a little scuff out.
— I don’t know if the sub disaster was based on anything real, the closest thing I could find was the K-429 sinking in 1983, though 160 people weren’t lost (although the numbers could have been trumped up at the time for morale).
— Philip’s fake birthmark slayed me. Such a new twist on an old game!
— Poor Sandra. I don’t know how she continues to put up with Stan’s complete disinterest in her and her life. The scene where Stan was so frustrated in his garage was so perfectly filmed, though; you could feel things closing in, literally and metaphorically. He’s mired in something he got himself into, and buried because of red tape.
— RIP, Lucia. It’s not surprising given what a wildcard she had always been, but still.
— Great scene transition between Henry having falling asleep playing a video game, to Oleg showing Nina how to play one on his computer. Video games were a bit of a theme — Oleg also mentioned to Stan how he used to wait in line for hours with his friends to play one arcade game. And there they lined the walls at the bowling alley, unused.
— I kinda like Oleg, and I hope the show doesn’t give me a reason to hate him. He’s so pushy with Nina though … Arkady’s advice was sound: Oleg’s family’s connections can either really help her, or hurt her.
— Henry’s breakdown was well-handled, but damn, I was definitely not that readily honest and articulate as a little kid.
— “Get that body out of my house” – Larrick.