The Americans: Patty With The Good Hair (S4, E9, Recap)

the-americans-season4 logoElizabeth Jennings, the constructed persona of she who was once Nadezhda, must save the world and protect  all living beings, except those the universe would be better off without, from those war-mongering, lazy, crazy, decadent Americans — the ones who dropped the atom bomb, TWICE. She can only accomplish her mission by doing her duty. She might use her discretion on occasion, but her gut or her conscience? Never. She’s not one of them.

But the old order is breaking down, and not everyone is following her creed. William is amazed to hear Philip’s heroic tale of how he delivered his asset to safety in Moscow, which involved breaking many rules. William wonders if maybe he should keep his trap shut about the Lassa virus, which is not something you get from a bad milkshake at your local curry joint, but a hemorrhagic  illness that will liquify all your organs. Oleg tells Tatyana a story his father told him about  a soldier who received a signal that five nuclear missiles had been launched and were heading toward the USSR. In contrast to all his training he reported this as a false alarm (even though he was going on a hunch). It was the right call. There were no missiles heading in, only the reflection of the sun off some clouds. His decision saved the world, but it’s probably not the call Elizabeth Jennings would have made.

We open with Philip out for a driving lesson with a pent up Paige, who mentions that Pastor Tim might like to see the whole family at some party prior to a trip he’s taking to Ethiopia. Strange spot for a vacation, especially given the civil war and raging famine that will soon inspire a bunch of do-gooding musician types to create “Band-Aid.”

Where’s Elizabeth? In the blonde wig being Patty, visiting her Korean bestie Yung He, and talking about her whole made up family.

Stan and his pal Philip go to  local “gym” as they called them back  in the day, to play some raquetball during a workday lunch break.

Stan even wears a red, white and blue sweatband.

Stan even wears a red, white and blue sweatband.

Stan tells Philip that it’s over between him and Torrie, who was okay, but wasn’t Sandra. Please get over it, Stan. This lovesick brooding over the wife you left for three years of undercover work and cheated on with Nina is unbecoming. They walk past some ladies doing aerobics in vintage 1980s exercise clothes which had a lot more fabric, none of it breathable. Probably a couple of these gals, maybe the older ones in the back row, might maybe think Stan was a catch if they had their beer goggles on.

Stan complains about the new boss, and waxes nostalgic about the old boss, but mentions the bottom line is always what it was: Stopping the Russkies.

Elizabeth and Philip are still on their staycation, but there’s a signal from William who normally goes through the center, so they check it out. They’re meeting in Prospect Park, which is supposed to be some other DC place but the show is too busy trying to divert us from Keri Russell’s belly to bother with a CGI Capital building or Washington Monument.  William who doesn’t have enough shits left to give to bother with a wig, comments on Philip’s, which may be someone’s idea of a Walter White homage.

Yup, looks like a guy who'd teach high school chemistry while building up a great deal of resentment.

Yup, looks like a guy who’d teach high school chemistry while building up a great deal of resentment.

This is where Philip who hasn’t seen William in months tells him the happy ending to the Martha story, although he doesn’t mention getting any letters from her or definitive news, so if there’s a passionate correspondence between Martha and Clark, someone else must be writing Clark’s letters.

What’s William’s report? There’s more of a need for him to get the fourth level clearance so he can get access to that nasty new virus, but he contacted Philip and not the Center for a reason. Inspired by Philip’s rebellion maybe, and spooked by that near miss with the glanders, he’s thinking of not saying anything to the Center. What if the Americans are only working on the even more dangerous disease to develop an antidote to be used defensively? He wants to make the right decision. Philip doesn’t give William an answer.

Now it’s time for everyone to watch a very special television movie – The Day After, which the American people were warned should be watched by families, so they could all be traumatized together.

Sorry this is actually a photo of the Jennings watching a comedy. Elizabeth didn't get American humor.

Sorry this is actually a photo of the Jennings watching a comedy. Elizabeth didn’t get American humor.

The family Jennings is hosting Stan and his part-time son Matthew.  Was Paige stealing the occasional glance at the neighbor boy? Just because they made her churchy doesn’t mean they should ignore her blossoming womanhood.

We cut away to other viewers. William is watching alone because he has no one. Arkady is watching with a drink in hand, also by his lonesome. Yung He is watching with Don, her husband. Oleg and Tatyana are watching together.

It’s not an easy night for anyone. Afterward, Philip talks to Elizabeth about the William issue, and asks what if this one time they don’t report what William told them. Does he know who this woman is?  What does he expect her to say? This is where Elizabeth tells him that the Americans are making their poison for them, and she reminds him that the Americans – and no one else- dropped nuclear bombs twice, and they can’t just pretend this isn’t so. They have a mission.

The show rarely allows Elizabeth to make her case cogently without undercutting her by immediately showing her doing something pretty evil in support of the evil empire, which she will do soon enough in this very episode. But how much stronger would the show be if it occasionally offered us a glimpse of some of what Soviet intelligence was finding out about us? We might not have been planning a biological first strike against the Soviet Union, but we were financing Saddam Hussein’s war effort against Iran, which included the use of the very biological weapons Elizabeth fears the US will use against Russia. We were training the military in central American countries like El Salvador and Guatemala where civilians were routinely tortured and mascaraed. Padre Juan might have been a fraud, but the massacres were real. Yes, it was the Soviet Union that downed a passenger plane killing the hundreds of innocent souls in September of 1983 (an event which apparently occurred while the Jennings were on break), but starting in 1981 the US military began running psychological operations (PSYOPS) to shake the Soviet Union up and make them believe that a first strike by the US was being planned, so while their actions weren’t justified, their paranoia was understandable.

Next up Patty is going to spend a night taking care of Yung He’s kids, so Yung He and Don can get some alone time. We now know Patty’s target is Don. He’s the one with the fourth level clearance they need for William. Why doesn’t she just drop a car on him and whomever else needs to disappear to get William a promotion? It worked last season. The couple drives off leaving Patty to take care of their kids.

"I'll have them in bed and brainwashed by eight!"

“I’ll have them in bed and brainwashed by eight!”

It’ll be fine, she probably brought the same tranquilizers she used to use to keep her own kids from waking up in the middle of the night and looking for their spying parents. She searches the premises, finding no codes or passwords, but she does find Don’s porn. Seems he likes blondes. Is she going to make his fantasies come true?

Speaking of fantasies, Oleg and Tatyana are having some hot Russian sexytimes. Afterwards, he mentions how quiet she was.

Oleg likes his women loud.

Oleg likes his women loud.

She uses that as an excuse to slam his bourgeois upbringing – not that that kind of thing was even supposed to exist in the worker’s paradise that was the Soviet Union. Where she came from you had to be quiet because everybody would hear you. He doesn’t really get the resentment in her voice, or that he shouldn’t trust her. He shouldn’t, right? It’s then he tells her about the false alarm, and how their technology is hopelessly and dangerously out of date. He wonders what he would have done in that situation.  Tatyana would not have blinked.

Paige at home is thinking about the nuclear apocalypse as though it’s imminent, which is how many thought about it during the Reagan years until we were distracted by more immediate concerns – like AIDS.

Hey, you know that travel agency the Jennings allegedly run? The next day Elizabeth is at “work” yelling at someone on the phone because of some botched booking, which isn’t code for twelve spies needing extraction locked in a basement. Philip comes in and seeing how upset she is tells her they can always just tell the Center the operation failed. She doesn’t have to go through with “it.” “It” is getting something on Don, and by “something on” we are talking about Patty’s bodily secretions.

Philip meets William again, and tells him that they are going forward. William seems disappointed, but Philip is annoyed. He tells William that if he didn’t want anyone to find out, he should have just kept it to himself. Maybe next time Philip will follow his own advice before talking to Elizabeth.

Whomever is in charge of locations is just playing with us because Elizabeth, wearing her Patty drag is shown outside in front of Fortune House, a popular Dumbo institution. Couldn’t they have at least CGI -ed the sign?  Made it Adams-Morgan Dumpling House or something? Elizabeth calls Yung He’s house and tells Don she “forgot” that Yung He was out doing sales. She gives him a story about having a fight with a guy and not having cab fare home. He picks her up and drives her home.

Philip and Paige are at the church party. Pastor Tim thanks Philip for getting them great deals on travel. But shouldn’t he be thanking Mother Russia? Tim  takes Philip aside and mentions that Paige seems “burdened” and they should all have a chat – including Elizabeth – when he gets back from Ethiopia. Philip has a grin that leaves his face when Tim walks away. He’s got to be wishing that Tim and Alice had met with that unfortunate accident they were planning.

Patty and Don arrive at her apartment and now she’s asking him if he’ll come in and  bust up that ol’ chifferobe move a chest of drawers. Of course he does, while being a perfect gentleman. Then she brings out the wine. It’s something expensive she got for her brother, but she has an extra bottle and wants his expert opinion. That’s when she slips him a roophy or similar.

At the Jennings, Philip checks in with Paige, who appears to have not much of a social life, or any life, because she spends all her time doing churchy stuff on account of if she misses a day the vein under her mother’s eye will blow up and kill them all. Philip decides to be the cool Dad and take her out for another driving lesson – this time in the Camaro.

Please don't make me drive to church.

Please don’t make me drive to church.

Even under the influence, Don is doing a good job of fighting off Patty’s advances while talking about how much he loves Yung He. When Patty says enviously that not a lot of couple have what they have,it seems to be something she actually feels and believes, across all of her identities, and that makes it sadder. Don finally collapses on the floor.

Have the writers been watching Better Call Saul – a show known for its signature montages? We get a one here of Elizabeth dragging Don’s body across the floor, somehow pulling him onto the bed, undressing him,  and posing him and herself. Why the fancy jumps and editing? It’s all smoke and mirrors to keep us from noticing how large with child  Keri Russell is, but it works. Someone should get these people a special Emmy. Sure, her backside might have been a body double, but they shot her from the front with nothing but a sheet draped over her body.

There’s music too, Peter Shilling’s Major Tom, which was the theme song used on Sundance’s Deutschland 83 – another spy thriller set during the same time period as this season.  The song would be perfect even if the other series hadn’t used it first, but the knowing reference makes it even better.

Deutschland 83 opened with the same Ronald Reagan “evil empire” speech that closed last season’s The Americans. Both shows concern commie spies “passing” in the West, but this episode in particular captures some of the spirit of Deutschland which reached its first season climax when its reluctant agent hero defied protocol in exactly the way Elizabeth is incapable of, and like the real Stanislov Petrov, saved the world.

The sequence is the opposite of sexy. Elizabeth grabs some lotion and reaches under Don getting to his naughty bits. She grimaces while completing her task. Sex work is work!  When Don wakes up naked next to Patty, he’s horrified, quickly grabs his clothes and leaves.

Not enjoying any of this still didn't make Elizabeth feel any better.

Not enjoying any of this still didn’t make Elizabeth feel any better.

Paige who is finally excited about something, tells Elizabeth about driving the Camarro, before Elizabeth even has a chance to take her coat off. (Then again, Elizabeth hasn’t taken off her coat, or bathrobe, or any other garment loosely covering her all season.) Elizabeth excuses herself claiming a headache. Philip knows to go to her. Paige knows something’s wrong, but why ask? Elizabeth is exhausted and near tears. The worst part for her? Not destroying the lives of people who were nothing but kind to her, but the idea that she won’t be able to hang with Yung He anymore.

So we didn’t get to see Martha in Moscow, but altogether another solid episode. Looks like the timeline not only flew right over KAL 007, but Able Archer as well, and maybe another couple of other close calls for Planet Earth,  but kudos for referencing The Day After! Wonder who the Jennings will have screw, kill, or marry next week to keep us safe?

Marion Stein

Marion writes television recaps and reviews for the Agony Booth, and books you can find over at Amazon.

TV Show: The Americans

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  • nomilubin

    Whoa, you are hardcore, girl! This is a great recap in many ways, but I think you’re selling Elizabeth short. Not by much, granted. But I think it’s clear that it’s now also Elizabeth whose “gut” and “conscience” are rearing their ugly heads. We’ve never seen her as reluctant, almost sickened, as she was with what she did to Don. Her words to Phillip might have been only about losing a friendship and not the enormous betrayal of trust that she just perpetrated, but that’s only because she cannot yet verbalize the full truth. But we saw it! I am going to bravely (stupidly? given how unpredictable this show is) predict that Elizabeth cannot go thru with blackmailing Don. 😮

    • I think you have a point. The show is clever enough that while we all look for Philip to crack, this season it’s Elizabeth who may be transforming internally. Philip sees it, offering her an out for her sake, and the show has built on moments, like when she was ill and decided they would find another way to deal with Pastor Tim. She definitely made herself more vulnerable than ever before when she broke down in front of Philip and cried. But I don’t see her NOT going through with the blackmail. I’m thinking the plan might fail for other reasons, but I can’t see her coming this far and giving up because of “feelings.” (If I’m going bravely or stupidly make a prediction: Google statistics on suicide in Korean culture. I think her actions could lead to consequences she didn’t intend.)

      • nomilubin

        Oh no! I think I’ll pass on Googling statistics on suicide in Korean culture, but, wow, that would be so awful. They could make that work, though, couldn’t they. THAT could break Elizabeth, “break” into someone who finally realizes that the work they do is….well, not only horrible in itself, but possibly utterly pointless, as this episode was questioning repeatedly. Phillip says to Paige he “doesn’t know” if their work makes a difference. Elizabeth, of course, would say it does. But, whatever they do with Poor Don, I don’t know how much longer she going to be able to believe that.

        • That’s what I’m getting at. I don’t necessarily think there will be a suicide, but there is foreshadowing of real tragedy here, and I agree that might be what might be what finally breaks Elizabeth.

          • nomilubin

            Hi, I thought about your suicide prediction with tonight’s episode, that not only could the level 4 mission fail (I still think it will/must for the futility to really show its head), but that Don actually could kill himself over this, or….well, SOMETHING utterly destructive is going to happen to that family which will lead Elizabeth further in the confused state of “feeling” she is in. Maybe you will be writing about this; not sure if you recap every ep….