I have to applaud The Americans — and remember never to eat while I’m watching it — for finding new ways to be shocking and sickening when it comes to death on TV. Violence fills the TV landscape, and while most of it is gratuitous and worse, boring, series like Banshee have managed to make their take on ultra-violence extremely visceral and messy. But, it can have a cartoonish vibe (like Sons of Anarchy did in many of its most famously disgusting scenes). Violence and death on The Americans, though, is often somberly horrific.
Season Two was driven primarily by the bloody massacre of a family, while this season has featured some of the most brutal deaths (or corpse packaging) imaginable. It’s not just that it happens, but how it happens. A man being set on fire is one thing, but to hear his inhuman screens as his lungs filled with flames is a new kind of grisly experience. Earlier in the season, when Annelise was killed by her lover Yusef, we had to go through the agonizing scene of silence punctuated by cracking bones, as Elizabeth and Philip stuffed her into a suitcase.
In “Do Mail Robots Dream of Electric Sheep?” there were two terrible deaths that were very different, but were each horrible in their own way. Hans killing Todd was messy, with his eyeball (or what was his eyeball) bleeding out as he struggled to fight Hans off after his gun jammed. The gurgles of him expiring were particularly haunting, as he painted Hans futilely with his blood.
Then there was poor Betty, who was at the wrong place at the wrong time. We knew she wasn’t getting out of there alive as soon as Elizabeth revealed her undisguised face, her name, and the fact that her mother is in Russia. She didn’t shoot Betty, which would have raised suspicions about what else might have happened in the factory that night, but instead made her OD on her heart medication. The worst part was how calmly Betty accepted her fate, all the while telling Elizabeth about her life, before finally confronting her with the fact that what she’s doing is evil, and that she can’t believe she would be in this line of work when she has children.
In fact, the whole conversation Betty had with Elizabeth leading up to her agonizing death throes (props not only to Lois Smith but once again to the sound department, who are evil geniuses) was a microcosm of the season. She touches on marriage, on motherhood, and on the war, regarding the complications of love, a desire to protect one’s children, and fighting for causes (and their cost).
I don’t read Elizabeth’s emotions over Betty as a crisis of conscience so much as being reminded of her own dying mother. A short scene where Paige is essentially mothering Henry (as they are left alone, per usual, at home), may speak to Elizabeth’s considering her inadequacies as a mother. Not to mention the whole issue with bringing Paige into their line of work, and whether or not it’s something that — as a mother — she should even be considering, given what she has seen, and what scars her training and her experiences have left her with.
Philip, certainly, is questioning a lot of things, and his hostility was without cease in this hour. He was snappy with Elizabeth regarding everything she said, being overly defensive regarding her innocuous comments and questions. Later, he’s even more openly angry with Gabriel, as he insulates himself with the mantra of “I have to protect my family.” Is that starting to include Martha? It’s clear that Elizabeth is ready to dispose of her, while Gabe is on the fence and willing to wait it out. Philip, though, truly trusts her, but doesn’t want to push her or jeopardize the new truce they have by piling on more work with her. And through all of this I have to wonder … what’s up with Kimmy?
Each season, Philip and Elizabeth have been morally challenged with the demands of their job, and the weight of the collateral damage. In the last episode, they went to some pains to make sure that Todd was released and could live, only to have Hans brutally murder him so that he could keep working with them. Things like this have happened before (Annelise as just another example this season, and the factory worker who died of exposure was an example last season), and the two soldier on. But as the issue of their children keeps coming up regarding the Center (which they don’t always trust or agree with), things continue to become increasingly complicated. And violent.
Episode Rating: ★★★ Good
Musings and Miscellanea:
— I dig the Oleg / Stan alliance, because I always like the dynamic when two foes are forced to work together for a cause. The moment in the car at the end was a nice touch. Do we think Zinaida is a spy or not?
— Aderhold is really inserting himself in everything now, isn’t he? I feel like he could be KGB. Or at least, something is up.
— Betty: “You think doing this to me will make the world a better place?” Elizabeth: “It will.” Betty: “That’s what evil people tell themselves when they do evil things.”
— Philip’s comments to Gabriel about Elizabeth and their marriage make it clear he always feels like she doesn’t love him as much as he loves her, but I don’t think that’s true anymore.
— Wedlock, from the Norse for “constant battle.”