The Americans has its flaws, but the one thing it gets really right — and that it dedicated almost all of “Covert War” to — is its bleak deconstruction of marriage. The Americans has always been dour, and it’s not a show I ever get excited about watching. But once I’m in the show’s world, I’m interested to see how things play out. “Covert War,” though, highlighted some of the best things about The Americans, and in the process, made everyone feel like crap. Hit the jump for why “I only have fear … and you.”
As readers will note, I wasn’t convinced by The Americans at the start — there was something that was little sterile about the relationships and the series in general, but after a few weeks I warmed to it, not ever finding it essential, but still wanting to explore this world. The spy stuff, which I know is what attracts a lot people to the show, is actually my least favorite part (even though occasionally their operations are pretty badass, despite some truly horrid wigs). What makes The Americans so difficult at times though is its bleakness, which the spy stories at least wake us up out of, I’ll give it that.
Aside from one quick kidnapping and release though, “Covert War” focused entirely on that bleak stuff. We got a trio of flashbacks from 1964, 1971 and 1976 where Elizabeth’s mentor Victor (Zhirkov?) counsels her about the difficulties of her job, while also coaxing her into finding love with Philip by taking care of him, and making it work. The culmination of her revenge rampage to destroy Patterson, apparently a reverse-psychology move on Granny Claudia’s part, was not to kill him but to crack open her own emotions. Victor’s words about needing to love anyone came back to haunt her through Patterson’s voice, and she lost her nerve.
I had to think that Elizabeth wasn’t just aware of what she had lost with Philip, but also with Gregory. I can’t exactly recall if the word “love” was used between Gregory and Elizabeth, but there was definitely an affinity and affection there that she has clearly never had with Philip. It was also interesting to see her, even in 1971, wanting to flee from their marriage, or at least not wanting to expand their family by considering an abortion. Elizabeth has always been more reluctant than Philip, and now we see a history of her not really stepping up to make things work like Philip seems to have done. Now she’s finally realizing the weight of her coldness with Philip when he announces he’s gotten himself an apartment, yet cannot bring herself to ask him to come back home instead.
Elizabeth has always put her work ahead of everything, and the same seems true for Stan, whose marriage is heartbreakingly disintegrating before him as he continues his affair with Nina. Sandra stole the show this week, even from Elizabeth, with her open emotions versus Elizabeth’s muted ones. Sandra’s question at the bar about an affair was met with an uncomfortable comment from Elizabeth that “if anyone who’s been married long enough says they’ve never cheated, they’re lying.” For Sandra the line is drawn between a thought and an action, but Elizabeth’s situation is far more complicated. Perhaps motivated by the Jennings split, Sandra later calls Stan a liar and leaves.
Stan is, of course, a liar — he lied that Vlad would be spared, and he lied to Nina that he didn’t know who did it. Nina is not so naive anymore, and as she rises in the ranks at her job and realizes she has nothing left but her death, she’s not as easy for Stan to control. Vlad was a turning point for her, and while I thought she was going to be an early sacrificial lamb on the series, I think that now when her death comes (and I’m still convinced it will), it will have a devastating effect on Stan.
Two other things worth mentioning: one, Clark’s escalating relationship with Martha, the fallout from which should be interesting (how far will he let this go? Is it something that Philip actually likes / regrets missing out on with Elizabeth?), and Elizabeth’s war with Claudia. It seems that Elizabeth is called in to talk to Claudia alone much more than Philip is (perhaps because they know they can 100% trust her?), and her hostility towards Claudia is uncomfortable. But is it true that Claudia wants to bring the Jennings down, or is Elizabeth paranoid? The issue of trust continues to be a pervasive one in the series, and I, like most of the characters, am not sure where to place mine.
Episode Rating: A-
Musings and Miscellanea:
- Philip describing capitalism to Henry was a nice touch. Elizabeth would have taken the time to then talk up communism!
- Patterson made a good point that while he is merely a bureaucrat, Elizabeth is a killing machine and that’s it.
- Matt Beeman is one of the great joys of The Americans, and him in his Rocky Horror makeup slayed me.
- The trust theme played out this week mostly in the idea of following orders, something no one on the show seems to do very well.
- Truth time: FX was smart to premiere it in the cold and empty winter season, because I’m not sure that if I wasn’t so invested in it at this point, I wouldn’t just let it slide by the wayside with so many other fantastic shows currently airing. I’m interested to see how things will wrap up this season when, if you think about it, the only thing that’s happened to move things forward is the end of the Jennings’ marriage.
- So were Claudia and Victor really a thing? Or is everything she says a lie?
- “Thanks-a-lot beer?” – Philip
- “I miss what I never had” – Victor