The Americans: Role play

More than any other show, The Americans lives and dies by the adage that the world’s a stage, and we each play a lot of parts. It’s not just the Jennings who move effortlessly (sometimes) between identities. Things get interesting when the role play doesn’t work, when Philip can’t quite make it real with Deirdre, when Elizabeth might have actual feelings for one of her marks, when Stan as FBI Special Agent Beeman can no longer keep his anger in check, or when Henry reveals himself as more than the family screw-up.

We start with Mrs. Yakov Smirnoff aka Pasha’s Mom/Alexei’s wife breaking out of her long-suffering role, and telling her new stewardess bestie that she’s applied for a job teaching Russian to Department of Agriculture personnel who’ll be working on grain shipments to the Soviet Union.  Good for her getting a piece of life outside the care and feeding of her man and boy. Too bad people she has come to trust will try to use her.


Next Philip is having dinner with boring Deirdre and is he, God help us, working on a budget while they are ordering? Did his handlers tell him that a workaholic with no life would be attracted to another workaholic, or is he trying to sink this mission? Despite or because of this passive-aggressive gesture, she offers to show him Lotus 1-2-3 which is not a page in the Kama Sutra because she is no Martha, but it does lead them back to her apartment where they do the nasty, if by nasty you mean the most vanilla sexy times one could have while not wearing clothes. Philip is so not into it that during most of the few seconds it takes to get the job done, he’s flashing back to that time his father brought back three rotten potatoes just for him.

Bet he misses Martha now.

Bet he misses Martha now.

Lotus 1-2-3 for those of you too young to remember the 80’s or who can no longer remember the 80s, was not a top secret launch code. It was primitive precursor to Excel, a spreadsheet program one could do off a “diskette” on a desktop computer you could buy at Ye Olde Radio Shacke.

Stan and Aderholt are meeting with Munchkin about this business of following Russians into bathrooms and disrupting their lunch hours. The agents don’t think it’s a very effective recruiting strategy. Munchkin tells them that the terrified Soviet shills will run to their bosses and this will frighten the KGB and that is the point – keep the KGB busy and irritated. Stan who is near having no shits left to give comments that it’s certainly keeping him busy and irritated. Munchkin is not amused.

Philip and Elizabeth go visit Henry’s math teacher expecting to hear about what a screw-up their son is, but instead they are stunned to learn that “something has lit a fire under his butt” and he is excelling in math. The teacher wants to move him to Algebra II. Seems like the two master spies who thought Henry spent all of his time “playing games on the computer” might have missed something. And can I say once again: This kid is SO going to take them down.

No, guys it’s good news!

Later, they come home when Henry is actually at the house and tell their boy about Algebra II. These professional level bullshiters can’t maintain a poker face or even fake a line like, “We always knew you had it in you.”  Henry is snarky and not a little bitter about that.

Stan is spending more time with Renee, and Philip has noticed. Is he the teeniest bit jealous? He tells Elizabeth he thinks the Center may have sent her. Elizabeth thinks that’s nuts. Why would that be nuts exactly? That they’d send her, or that they wouldn’t tell them? Philip is going the full Mrs. Kravitz, watching from the bedroom window to see if Renee is spending the night.

Moscow beat: Ruslov and Burov are investigating the Manageress’s supplier, trying to get the names of his contact. He’s not biting. Oleg is contributing exactly nothing. Ruslov mentions the man’s son in Afghanistan, and the man calls him a “Son of a bitch,” and invites him to arrest him. Later, Ruslov tells Oleg to give their mark a couple of days to think about it. He thinks he’ll come around.

Remember that poor woman who’s stuck at the switchboard fielding the calls at some safe house 24-7? She gets a call from a Mr. McAllister, who is in fact a heavily accented Mischa. She has to check her code book to figure out what to say and tells him to call back the following day.

For this she went to spy school?

Elizabeth as Miss Brenda Neal is having a hot time with Ben aka Mr. Perfect. He knows a lot about a lot of things, including cooking, and how how to make love to a woman. He may be out of Brenda’s league. In a later scene they’re making s’mores in the fireplace, and good lord is he bottomless? Turns out he served in the Peace Corps where he saw hunger first hand, and he just wants to feed the world. He’s working on a grain that will resist drought and pests. He is, as Elizabeth concedes, “an idealist.”

Philip and Tuan look like the iconic  dad and son playing catch with a football in front of their house, but they’re both acting, watching the cars that watch their marks.

So much easier playing it than being it.

Later, while Elizabeth is still being sexed up by Ben because he can do it for days, Paige and Philip eat Chinese take-out, mostly silently. Paige mentions the news about Henry. Poor Paige, she doesn’t even get to be “the smart one” anyone. Then she opens up a little about Matthew, how she had a crush on him forever, but now she’s just not sure, and maybe she’s meant to be alone. She walks away, and Philip sits there playing the bewildered dad on a sit-com or teen dramady.

Real kids are hard.

Claudia and Gabriel discuss Mischa’s phone call. Claudia says “He’s unstable” and it’s not clear if she means father, son or both. She thinks contact between the two of them is too dangerous, and this seems to be an order. All Philip needs to hear is an embittered Afghanistan vet telling him the war is a joke.

Oleg comes home to find that his dad has set him up with not one, not two, but a three eligible young women who would love to be Mrs. Oleg Burov. Oleg is not amused, and tells his dad – privately because he is a gentleman – to please stay out of his private life.

Menage a troika

Over at the travel agency, that guy what works there with the Eastern European accent – What is his deal? – tells Philip that Elizabeth is calling on line three. Is she in trouble? Nope, she’s just calling to tell him she misses him – which is kind of an interesting reaction to have after spending time with Mr. Perfect. Philip tries to tell her something about the flashbacks he’s been having, of his father “bringing things back” to him and his mother. Elizabeth who really doesn’t get the emotional stuff wonders if these are “happy” memories.

No, seriously, what is the deal with this guy who’s been hiding in plain sight 5 seasons. Who is he working for?

Renee, Stan, and Aderholt are at a bar. Aderholt seems to think she could be a keeper. When Renee leaves, Philip disguised for some reason as an EST instructor we’ll see in an upcoming scene, and/or future-Wolf Blitzer, follows her with an assist from Marilyn. Does he find out anything incriminating? Not really. She goes back to a small apartment building, that if memory serves, looks a lot like Martha’s old building. Is Renee a spy, and if so for whom? We still don’t know, but we’re sure devoting a lot of time to finding out. (I’m going with CIA checking into how close Stan really was to Oleg and thinking he’s the most likely to defect.)

Matthew asks Paige if she wants to break up with him. She tells him she’s scared, and she doesn’t know how to do the girlfriend thing. Matt tells her she does. But my money is on Matthew ending it. Paige is a downer.

Philip attends the EST lecture where the man who apparently inspired his previous disguise is talking about breaking old patterns and memories that stand in the way of real feelings. Elizabeth needs to spend more time at home to keep Philip away from this EST nonsense. Where can his continued search for authenticity lead when his entire life is a lie?

Mischa calls back and is given a time and a place for meeting. He’s sitting on a park bench, and he looks happily expectant, despite the fact that it’s raining and he doesn’t have an umbrella. Then Gabriel comes along and tells him immediately – in English – that seeing his father is impossible, and that he must return to Russia. We don’t see how this ends beyond the crushed look on Mischa’s face, but I don’t trust Gabriel’s promises of safety if he returns, and I don’t think Mischa does either.

Don’t trust him, Mischa!

Elizabeth comes home, and it looks like all those sexy times left her wanting more. The kids are out of the house, but Philip comes up from the basement where it looks like he was doing actual laundry – as opposed to spy stuff, but who knows? Where’s Paige? At some churchy thing. Where’s Henry? At some friend they don’t know and don’t care about. “Is that boy Chris or girl Chris?” Elizabeth asks. It could be 45 year old ex-priest Chris. It could be CIA agent whose been watching them for years Chris.

They hug, but then Elizabeth kills the mood by telling him they got the entire mission wrong. There’s no plan to sabotage the grain. Philip makes a face that indicates distress. Is he upset because his wife has been having epic sexy times with another man for no good reason? Is it because he’s been having extremely boring sexy times for no good reason? Nope, it turns out he’s upset because Elizabeth’s news means he killed the guy in the lab in the previous episode for nothing, and that makes him sad because unlike his favorite fake wife, he thinks about stuff like that. Elizabeth’s response is that maybe next time they have to face of “those” situations, she can go alone, but he tells her it’s an “us” thing. Maybe Claudia made the right call about Mischa.

There is a little bit of good news for at least one of our favorite people. Oleg shows up for his rendezvous with US intelligence, but it looks like he’s been stood up. Stan’s mojo worked.

A crisis averted — at least for now.

Time for your thoughts and speculation: Who do you think Renee is working for? Will they kill Mischa accidentally or on purpose?  Will the world’s most boring teen romance soon come to an end? (Yes, please!) Also here’s a topic for discussion: How much do you think the “real life” love story between the actors plays and their onscreen chemistry feeds into how Elizabeth and Philip operate as a couple? Would the writers have gone another way if the actors didn’t look like people who finish each other’s sentences? Feel free to comment below on these and other important matters.

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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