Previously on The Americans: “Travel Agents”
The American Dream
David Copperfield’s widely promoted illusion serves as the backdrop to this episode and a strong thematic element. Aside from the obvious representation the Statue of Liberty provides, the event itself says a lot about Americans. At least Americans seen by other countries. Like children, we are willing to believe in the intangible, in feelings, in magic. We are optimists and dreamers. The Jennings finally visit Epcot, just another example of America’s fascination with fantasy and what could be.
Philip is wrapped up in his feelings, this episode (this season). He’s dealing with the loss of Martha and the uncertainty of his instincts. Was he right to uproot her? Guilt-ridden, he visits Gene’s grave. He seeks understanding through EST. Even with all this doubt, Philip is beginning to trust his gut. Making choices based on what he feels. Much like a couple of apple-pie FBI agents we know. Philip is no longer pretending. He is American. Now put on those cowboy boots and dance for us.
While Elizabeth tries to be empathetic, she does not see the world like Philip does. She sees Martha as an asset, just part of the job. She tries to comfort Philip using logic and gets frustrated when she can’t get through to him. Elizabeth goes to EST, but isn’t buying what they’re selling. She’s coldly realistic, diminishing the emotional support Philip finds in EST. She gets angry at Paige for being like her father and letting her feelings get in the way of what she needs to do. Elizabeth does what she needs to do when confronted by an unmoored, frantic Lisa. Elizabeth is very Russian in her thinking.
The Jennings watch as David Copperfield makes the Statue of Liberty disappear. Copperfield’s voice over goes on about America, his mother, and losing liberty, but the best part of this scene is the Jennings’ reactions. The kids and Philip are fascinated; completely bought into the wonder. The fantasy and possibility. Elizabeth stands apart, unimpressed, looking at her American family.
One thing to note here – the show is very good at conveying the nuance between having feelings and consciously acting upon them. Elizabeth does care and her emotions do color her actions. But she tries to lead with her heads, whereas the “softer” Philip allows his heart control.
Flash forward seven years. Paige is playing mini-golf with the Pastor and his wife while the rest of the Jennings are playing hockey in their driveway. Upbeat music is playing and all seems right with the world. But once Paige returns home, we see she’s simply doing what her mother told her to do and keeping up the façade. The happy family act is just another illusion for the Americans to buy. As ex-agent Gaad tells Stan “You can’t lose sight of who these people are.”
So Many Things!
Oh Martha – The first six silent minutes of this episode were beautiful. Martha saying goodbye to America, Philip, and peanut butter. She breaks the silence to tell him not to be alone. Words of true love. Alison Wright looked simply gorgeous.
Trapped Rats – Martha and the dead rat escaped safely on a plane, but there are a couple of trapped rats they’ve left behind. Elizabeth may not believe in EST, but she definitely built the prison she is in. We see her framed through the bars of a window after she kills Lisa.
Spy versus Spy – Elizabeth and Philip have a big fight this episode. This was a real married couple fight. It was also the clash of two ideologies. You can only try to be understanding and avoid confrontation for so long. He brings up Gregory. She brings up his son. It was ugly, but cathartic and satisfying in a way.
Everyone needs something to believe in – Elizabeth can’t understand Philip because his needs don’t make practical sense.
“They just try so hard to get you to sign up for more.”
She could be talking about Mary Kay. Or (minus the pyramid scheme) Communism. Or any belief system, really. Take out one and replace it with another.
Softer side of Gabriel – Gabriel doesn’t know what to do with his bickering children. He whines to Claudia who isn’t having any. He sees Philip tend to a drunk Elizabeth after she kills Lisa, and knows they need a break. It was a beautifully shot and acted scene. Frank Langella’s face softens as he looks upon two people who, for all their fighting, obviously care so much for one another.
Liz’s unimaginary friend – Elizabeth gets mad at Philip and hangs out with Young Hee for some fun. Young Hee feels bad about mixing business with pleasure (I bet Elizabeth doesn’t) and the double dip movies. Elizabeth has a real friendship, despite herself. It’ll be interesting (dreadful) to see how far they’ve come in the seven months.
The book Philip is reading is by a woman who was a skeptic turned believer in EST, similar to Philip.
Stan is a sad, sad, sack. He goes to Philip for comfort and beer. He seems to be light on beer these days and rather than think about why, or go to the grocery store, he picks up a six-pack at his friendly Russian neighbor’s house.
Without Martha (sigh), Philip has more time for his family. Which is a good thing… right?
Kimmy is mentioned. I wonder how Philip is keeping that going.
Stan will likely (finally) have to try to turn Oleg.
Tatiana’s brother’s conscription may make her more sympathetic if Oleg turns
Are we going to see Martha, again? Maybe she’ll fall in love with Anton?
Elizabeth has been drinking and smoking a lot this season. That can’t be good for the baby.
The Americans S4E8
I loved this episode and I wish I had more time to go into its layers about belief, relationships, and what it is to be American. Such subtle acting, but powerful action choices from everyone and Matthew Rhys did a solid job of directing. I hope we see Martha again, but if we don’t this was a beautiful send off. *Sigh* This show.