May 19, 2018
The Americans: Waiter, There's a Bug in My Pen
This week on The Americans, Philip orders pizza, Stan doesn’t trust the new guy, Gaad finds a bug in his office, and Martha wonders if she and Clark will ever be a normal happy couple.
Previously, Philip found out he had a son fighting in Afghanistan, and the war suddenly became personal. We open with Philip at home, late in the evening, listening to the radio—BBC News, from back when they talked posh, before they got all diverse. Shouldn’t he be out having tantric sex with Martha, whom we haven’t seen much of lately? He goes upstairs and notices a light on in Paige’s room. The door is slightly open, so he peeks inside. She’s reading Great Issues in American History by Richard Hofstader. Granted, Hofstader was an old-left-style American academic, but it might have been more fun to have given her something by Marcuse or better still Angela Davis or Chomsky.
Paige tells him about the ghetto reality tour with Elizabeth, how her mom told her about their friend Gregory—the activist killed by the police. Paige really is like her mom, looking for a greater purpose, so eager to fill the void in her soul with a cause and a mission. Philip sees it. When she asks why he’s given up trying to change the world, he says weakly, “There are a lot of different ways to make a difference.” But he knows defeat when he sees it.
When he goes to his own bedroom, Elizabeth is working on an update to the Center on her progress with Paige. He’s angry she didn’t tell him about the field trip and asks if he’ll come home one day to find that Paige knows who they are. “Honestly, I don’t know,” his fake-wife tells him.
The next morning over at the FBI, the New Guy and Stan are trading war stories. The New Guy had an informant who was close to but not quite an illegal. Stan says Nina told him what she knew about the illegals, which wasn’t much. The New Guy says a lot of what his source said was bullshit, so maybe Nina wasn’t straight with him. It’s clear Stan doesn’t like seeing anyone disparage Saint Nina, and he jumps to her defense. The New Guy backtracks a little, and Stan backtracks too, betraying himself and her, and probably hating himself for it. He tells the New Guy for all he knows Nina “could’ve shot JR,” which is a television reference much made in the 1980s as those of you old or familiar with The Simpsons probably know.
That evening, Philip is home again. Two nights in a row! Is that a record? He’s brought a pizza, hoping to buy the love of his children with food. Henry is out and Paige isn’t hungry—except for knowledge and change. So he invites his fake-friend Stan over. They drink beers and eat, talking about the womens who are always bringing them down. Stan also mentions the New Guy, whom he doesn’t trust, and that he’s black, but what this detail does or doesn’t mean to him is unclear. Philip and Stan are mens and don’t too much need the words.
Elizabeth is meeting with Ncgogo, which is pronounced Engogo, not NC Gogo, like MC Hammer, which would have been another 1980s reference. He’s an African National Congress activist, just in from Moscow—because in the world according to The Americans, that whole anti-apartheid thing… eh, just a communist plot. They talk about their kids. He’d rather see his die in the struggle then get killed being ripped off by some even poorer kid. Elizabeth gets that. The problem is her husband would rather not see his kids get killed at all. Ncgogo asks her if her children know what a “badass” their mother is. They are hatching a plan to kidnap the South African intelligence agent, Venter, whose been meeting with Todd, the student/agent provocateur—who they’ll be snatching as well. Sound complicated? It is!
Is it an unfortunate coincidence that the white men on this show are constantly challenged by or competing with black men? It irks Philip not just that Elizabeth told Paige they were active in the civil rights movement, but that she brought up Gregory—her true love and a man far more committed to the struggle than Philip. Her meeting with Ncgogo feels almost like a date. And then we have Stan and his problems with the New Guy. There’s just something about him that the man who spent three years undercover living as a racist doesn’t like.
At work the next day, Stan notices New Guy talking to his boss John-Boy Gaad in Gaad’s office. Through the glass it looks like New Guy and John-Boy are looking his direction. Is New Guy reporting on him? Stan barges into the office with some paper he needs John-Boy to sign. New Guy is talking about someone he tried to recruit. He’s not even paying attention to Stan. John-Boy is about to sign the paper. He shakes his pen—the one with the bug that Martha planted like two seasons ago. New Guy with his superior hearing grabs it and takes it apart, uncovering the bug. John-Boy signals with his eyes, and they shut the vertical blind that closes them off from view.
Although Martha sits with her back to John-Boy’s office, she managed to see what happened before the blind was shut. She’s totally freaked out and goes to the ladies’ room, where she takes out the receiving device that goes with the bug, breaks it apart, runs water over it, wraps it up in paper towels, and puts it back in her purse. We don’t know what’s going through her head, but she’s not stupid. Could it be she’s beginning to suspect that Clark—whose existence she couldn’t prove to a soul—may have gotten her into some very deep doo-doo?
Next, the office is being “swept” for bugs. John-Boy introduces Martha to Walter Teppit from OPR. He’s a mild-mannered type, not unlike Clark. If she’d never met Clark, he might have been Martha’s type, in some parallel universe the father of her children. Teppit wants logs of John-Boy’s visitors over the last three months. The interviews will start the next day.
Philip, in a not-seen-before dirty blond wig with ringlets like Tony Curtis had in Spartacus, is now Jack, the mysterious well-to-do boyfriend of Elizabeth-as-Michelle the Alcoholic. They meet for dinner with Lisa, Michelle’s black best friend and AA sponsor. This being the 1980s, they discuss sushi—which is a new thing to Americans, but Jack and Michelle are into new things—nudge, nudge. Jack and Michelle appear to be very much in love, unlike some people.
When Elizabeth and Philip return home that night, she tells him about Ncgogo’s bravery, commitment, and willingness to sacrifice his young. Philip tells her he’s going to spend the night at Martha’s.
What’s happening elsewhere that evening? Sandra drops Matthew off at Stan’s. She awkwardly stands in the doorway of her now empty former home and tells her now empty former husband that she’s decided not to go to his friend’s memorial on account of their no longer being married. Stan points out they still are, technically. Oh yeah, she’s been meaning to talk to him about that, too.
Martha, alone in her apartment, pulls out that gun we knew she’d be pulling out sooner or later. She’s very shaken up by what’s happened, but strangely hasn’t reached out to her husband. When Clark enters her apartment, he immediately senses something is wrong. She doesn’t spread her legs OR start haranguing him about babies. He looks for her purse to check the receiving device. She tells him she left it at work, but it’s safe, locked in her desk drawer. She doesn’t talk about the day she’s had or what condition the device is now in. She does tell him she’d love to see his apartment—where she’s never once been. Why don’t they go over there sometime like NOW?
Of course, the savvy Soviets have an apartment set up for just such an occasion. Maybe it’s the place he and Elizabeth keep to change clothes. Its existence seems to calm her down a little, but she still doesn’t tell him what happened. Instead she asks him if he thinks they’ll ever live together like a “normal happy couple.” Poor Philip! He clearly showed up hoping to get some uncomplicated loving, and she’s being so serious, and not even sexually compliant.
When he kisses her, she tells him she’s feeling “off,” so he drives her back to her place, then returns to Casa Jennings, where he snuggles up to Elizabeth, who admits she should’ve told him about Paige. Philip finally fesses up that he has another son who’s a paratrooper in Afghanistan. She turns to him, and there’s a moment of closeness with possible nooky to come. Is she turned on by the idea that Philip may be sacrificing a child for the cause?
The next day, after sending the kids off to school, it’s time for the big mission. Philip goes with the slightly seedy aging rock star long hair and black tee-shirt look, while Elizabeth has a streaked and sassy bob with an extra helping of eyeliner. He’s in the diner, keeping watch on Ncgogo and Todd, as well as looking out the window for the approach of Venter. Elizabeth is in a van on a side street. Hans is also in a car on the street, watching the action. The whole thing is scored to the Fleetwood Mac song The Chain, from the Rumours album. Those of you too young to remember the 1980s, no doubt know from that Glee episode that this classic LP came out when the band’s relationships with each other were falling apart.
Philip sees Venter’s car approaching. He signals Elizabeth. Another van has pulled up alongside Elizabeth’s van. A woman starts to unload groceries. Elizabeth asks her the time. She answers with an accent, possibly Afrikaner, that she doesn’t have it. True that. She is totally out of time because Elizabeth immediately shoots her in the head. Why? Was the woman a South African agent protecting Venter? Was she an innocent and Elizabeth was afraid she’d get her license plate number? Man, whatever it was, it really was a badass move, but would Paige have been impressed?
Philip, walking down the street, bumps into Venter, and they struggle. Meantime, Ncgogo and Todd have also left the diner, and Ncgogo grabs Todd. Elizabeth pulls up. Ncgogo and Philip force Todd and Venter inside. All this happens in the middle of the day on a busy block. Really, show? Really?
Hans is still in his car having witnessed but not participated in the action—although it’s not clear whether he was in a position to see Elizabeth take out the woman. He seems stunned, as are we all.
Looks like next week picks up with the Martha mess. Wonder if that gun will be going off soon. Maybe this other stuff will keep Philip from having to sex up Kimmi.