The season, The Americans has been setting up mirrors for Philip and Elizabeth in their personal and professional lives (often both at the same time, since they overlap). They aren’t always liking what they see. This complicated confrontation manifested in “The Deal” as a series of conversations Philip had with an Israeli Mossad agent, and some revelations Elizabeth learned about Philip through Martha about “Clarke.” Often subtle regarding its themes of identity, “The Deal” went whole-hog in expressing the struggle to define it. Hit the jump for why “we are better at vodka, they are better at tobacco.”
Using the physicist Anton to drive the story of home and identity, “The Deal” found Philip and Elizabeth having to clean up the mess they left by letting Anton get taken away by another force. The question last week was: who else was trying to snatch him? I wrongly guessed Oleg was somehow working as an agent for the Americans, but the show shook things up in this cold war by including Israel in the game. Both the Americans and Soviets were surprised by this upstart. As the agent explained it, “America is a father who thinks we are not ready to drive his fast car. So, sometimes when he’s not looking, we take the wheel.”
The agent also describes life on the Kibbutz as communism in action: the children eat in a communal room, the wives all go and work in the fields. But they are also free. Philip is mildly interested, but not swayed. Despite his considerations of defection last season, he now seems fully committed back to the Soviet cause, keeping a steely-eyed manner with Anton (despite the difficulty of his lamentations) while dreaming of icicles in Moscow.
Though the agent was given heavy-handed lines to throw at Philip — “I hide what I do, not who I am,” and “Is your name your name? Is your face your face? Are your children your children?” — “The Deal” didn’t find Philip giving back even an inch. Arkady explains later the idea of loyalty and comrades, and how he would lose his job to protect Philip (who he only knows generally as a covert operative). To trade the scientist, though, the Israelis needed more: 1500 defectors from the U.S.S.R. who wanted to go to Israel. The irony of the radio broadcast later that summed up the situation was clear: the outcome had nothing to do with human rights issues, of course. It had to do with nationalism, back-room dealing, and the imprisonment of an innocent man and the destruction of his freedom and family life.
Philip’s dealings with the Mossad agent were tied up with the personal, but not as much as Elizabeth’s late-night discussion with Martha. As she smoothed over some of Clarke’s “character flaws” regarding his lack of social graces, the ever-trusting Martha opened up about their wild sex life. Elizabeth’s curiosity overrode her hesitation, and she seemed fixated on the issue of Martha saying Clarke “makes me his” through his wild sexual antics. Again, “The Deal” made a clear statement about the complexities of the relationship. “I’m his wife, I should mean more to him than some dumb job!” Martha moans. Elizabeth tells her that she does. But, she doesn’t. And does it bring up for Elizabeth the “job” nature of her own sham marriage?
The consequences of these emotional webs are starting to unfold, as Stan is also finally confronted by Oleg about Nina. His feelings for her have compromised his mission, and probably vice versa. The question is whether he can be as duplicitous professionally as he is personally. In this way, The Americans continues to make all of its leads go through the same issues of identity, but in doing so, ever-deepening its entanglement of lies and truths, emotions and loyalties.
Episode Rating: B+
Musings and Miscellanea:
— A good building-block episode, and one that has tied into everything we’ve learned so far about the Jennings and Stan, while also setting up a lot to come. A little heavy-handed with its theme, but then again, it’s a rare thing.
— I like how Stan brought Gaad in on the team as a subordinate, then ended up using him for his connections (which he was fine with and actually pretty excited about, hah).
— Kate, Claudia’s replacement, looks like Julia from Boardwalk Empire … Wrenn Schmidt is that you?
— Can someone ID the car Phil was driving to the shipyard? Quite cool.
— Despite its obviousness, I enjoyed Philip’s interactions with the Mossad agent (Yoni Ben-Yehuda), including his escape attempt (“Sorry, you know I had to try”), and Philip having to wipe his bum. Also the agent singing to pretend to be drunk to thwart police. Great little moments.
— “Is President Reagan personally scaling our walls in a cowboy hat?” – Arkady.
— I feel that after a season spent with Arkady, I ended up not knowing him any better than when the show started. This year though, he’s developing a lot more.
— “I’m a budding student of capitalism, everything can be traded. What can you give me in exchange for Nina’s safety?” – Oleg to Stan.
— Elizabeth: “Clarke has some explaining to do.” Philip: “I’ll let him know.”
— Elizabeth ending things with Brad seemed very sudden and out of place in this episode. So did Paige appearing to tell her mother that her dabbling with the Bible and Youth Group is not rebellion (which is a hilarious concept), it’s a way to help her deal with and compartmentalize her life. Apparently she didn’t inherit that gene.
— Elizabeth: “When the train was pulling away from Moscow, there were icicles in the trees.” Philip: “I remember.”