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The Americans – S6E1 – Dead Hand

Previously on The Americans

CR: Eric Liebowitz/FX

Revenge of the Nerds II is in theaters. It’s 1987 and The Americans is back for its final season. This first episode was a reminder of all we love about the series. At least five wigs. Four spot-on music overlays. Family complexity on high. Conversations fraught with double-meaning and irony.

We had a Philip Face (late but present), a brutal killing (don’t introduce Liz to your boyfriend), a bumbling Beeman (plus papa Aderholt), and a sad lack of Henry (now a hockey-playing heartthrob of apparently gigantic proportions). And the best callback to the pilot episode – Philip dancing.

This opening episode was tightly-written, well-edited, refreshing and 100% The Americans.

Spy versus Spy

At the end of last season, it looked like Philip was leaving the spy game. And he did. He became the picture of an ’80s successful businessman with a car phone, sunroof, and motivational speech at the ready. He looked happy and rested, a look we’ve never seen on Philip. We knew it couldn’t last. One coded message and he’s wigged up and back in the game. This time, tasked with spying on his wife.

Elizabeth looks terrible. She looks eerily like the face we’ve seen Philip wear for the past five seasons. Being a spy isn’t wearing on her. Being a spy without her spy husband is wearing on her. She’s trying to conscript her daughter into the family business, but that might be taking an even greater toll on her. What with having to kill Paige’s mistakes and all. Now she’s on a top secret assignment she can’t share with Philip. Now she has a Dead Pill to keep her from blabbing about Dead Hand. There’s little doubt. If Elizabeth is captured, she’s swallowing that pill.

Television often creates drama by having two characters fail to communicate for the silliest of reasons (watch the CW for five minutes for five examples). Conversely, the argument at the end of this episode felt genuine. Philip tried several times to talk to his wife. Elizabeth’s exhaustion and resentment was so palpable and off-putting, I wanted Philip to shut up. It’s believable she’d brush off anything he had to say after he abandoned her to spy alone and after she just stabbed a guy in the neck. It’s understandable Philip would make several attempts before allowing the ice cold that is Elizabeth to get to him.

We’ve seen the Jennings disagree and at cross purposes, but we’ve never seen them work against each other. This feels like a natural progression and an interesting situation for the couple to face. This show doesn’t do black and white, but it can do complexity and nuance so well. Promising.

Coming to America

Just when he thought he was out, Arkaday drags a bearded Oleg back in. He may have a wife and son, but Oleg can’t resist the siren’s call to help his country. And finally, after seasons of running around in separate plotlines, Oleg encounters the Jennings. How exciting was it to realize Arkaday’s “woman” was Elizabeth and the husband he wants Oleg to turn, is Philip? He is the catalyst for Philip to get back in the game. Question remains — how will Stan feel about his two best buds meeting without him?

In 1987

General Secretary Gorbachev sought to democratize the Soviet Union. He was instrumental in what was to be the dissolution of the Soviet Union and end the Cold War. His actions were not without its dissenters.

Dead Hand was Russia’s automatic nuclear-control system. When activated, it would launch all of the Soviet’s nuclear weapons and was seen as a last resort. Basically, a middle finger to the world on their way out the door.

It’s nine weeks to the Washington Summit, putting this episode in September of 1987. Gorbachev and Reagan discussed arms control issues and was a strong step in the disarmament of the two “Super Powers.” There was a lot of frenetic activity leading up to the Summit, so it’ll be interesting to see the show’s take.

Let the Music Play

This show does music so well. Never more apt and on-the-nose as in this episode.

  • We open as Don’t Dream It’s Over plays over scenes of Elizabeth and Philip working their respective jobs, clearly living different lives. Elizabeth comes home after a hard day, looks and Philip and silently goes upstairs as Crowded House sings “When the world comes in/they come, they come/to build a wall between us.”
  • Peter Gabriel plays as Elizabeth contemplates her Death Pill. “We Do What We’re told.”
  • Elizabeth sips coffee watching her mark to Talking Head’s Listening Wind “Mojique thinks of days before Americans came….”
  • Paige and Elizabeth do their spy thing to Fleetwood Mac’s Gold Dust Women. “Well did she make you cry/ break you down/shatter you illusions of love/And is it over now do you know how/Pick up the pieces and go home.”

Stray Rounds

  • Claudia, Paige and Elizabeth all on a couch, watching Russian soaps. All part of the conscription of Paige, but this was a sweet scene. “Some women I know would have cracked his head open.” Sweet smiles all around.
  • Paige got a haircut and it looks great. I’m so glad this show will end before the Wall of Hair Epidemic that plagued young women in the late 80s/early 90s.
  • Elizabeth is playing nursemaid for her mark’s wife, an artist. She claims to have little appreciation for art, but is drawn to one piece – a figure behind what seems to be frosted glass. Very similar to a scene in this episode of Elizabeth taking a shower and symbolic of Elizabeth herself.
  • Henry was mentioned a lot but seen not at all (I don’t count the rink)? Are we really to believe he would pass up dinner with the Beeman? Stop teasing us with tales of this mythical beast!
  • On the other hand…Philip line dancing. More please!
The Americans S6E1 Review Score
  • 8.5/10
    Plot - 8.5/10
  • 8/10
    Dialogue - 8/10
  • 8/10
    Performances - 8/10
8.2/10

"Dead Hand"

Starring: Keri Russell, Matthew Rhys, Keidrich Sellati, Holly Taylor, Noah Emmerich, Costa Ronin, Lev Gorn

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About Mallika Chakravarti (99 Articles)
Mallika is a digital marketer, yoga teacher and nutritionist. She spends her fun time writing, podcasting, consuming vast amounts of media and wishing she could fly. Mallika can currently be found thinking of something else.
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