The Americans S1: E6: Trust Me (updated)

Another stellar installment of a show that continues to ratchet up my favorites list every week. In this week’s episode, the title tells us everything we need to know. ‘Trust Me’ segments the story into 3 parts and all involve the issue of trust.

The C story (as in the shortest, not the worst) involves Philip and Elizabeth’s children needing to hitchhike home from the mall. This is our first real glimpse of these two characters on their own. Henry from the get go is willing to walk home rather than trust a stranger to pick them up. He seems to be being portrayed in parallel to his mother, who is also skeptical of everyone and everything. Paige on the other hand, is more like her father. We know they have a good relationship given the earlier scene where he attempts to stand up to the creep checking her out in the Pilot, and him generally being the more affectionate of the two parents. Philip is also the one who more readily opens up to his wife than vice versa. Paige’s willingness to be more trustworthy, coupled with hearing the driver say they are still 10 miles away, convinces her to get in the car.

From the moment he asks if he can make a pitstop the viewer knows he’s going to be trouble. I have to say that I thought the scene at the lake was going to turn out much worse for the kids, especially when the man offers, and Paige takes, a beer. To me, the acceptance of the beer indicated that if anyone was going to stop this guy, it would not be Paige. Thankfully, her brother heroically saves them while the man’s back is turned. I thought the conclusion of their ordeal was fantastic, with Henry naturally wondering if what he did was right–maybe the guy wasn’t bad–and Paige insisting that he was courageous. This is a significant moment in both their lives, as it builds a level of trust between them on two levels: 1) I trust you to look out for me; 2) I trust you to keep this a secret. I would contend that Henry telling his sister he ‘had an accident’ was also a display of bravery, as he could have easily hid that from her by throwing his pants in the laundry.

The B story involved Nina’s increasing fear that she would be caught as the mole and Stan’s reassurance that she would not. Stan can do nothing more than repeat that Nina must trust her and that she will be OK, but the proof is in the pudding on this one as Stan comes through.

I liked the way the B story was written, leaving us in the dark about how Vasili would ‘get caught’ until the very end (in a way, the viewer must trust the story to explain itself). Stan gives Nina a camera and tells her it doesn’t matter what she takes pictures of as long as they are classified documents. As a viewer I am thinking ‘How the hell does she know what she should take pictures of?’ Additionally, Stan’s explanation that she will not have to take the camera out of the embassy is cryptic because we don’t see him explaining  the plan. When the Russians discover the camera hidden behind an audio box it finally clicks and we applaud the FBI for a job well done–with the Rezident out, they no longer suspect a mole is in their midst.

Some might argue that Vasili would immediately suspect Nina of setting him up since she had been in his room numerous times. However, that would not explain how diamonds got into his tea. This detail, in my opinion, keeps her above suspicion in Vasili’s eyes.

Philip and Elizabeth’s plot was very important from a character advancement standpoint, but I thought it had a few cracks. First of all, it seemed fairly obvious that it was the Russians behind the kidnapping given that they had recently found out about a mole. I would also expect Philip and Elizabeth to have figured this out themselves since Claudia told them about the mole in the last episode.

Secondly, while I thought their anger at their handlers was well acted (great job by both Rhys and Russell), I wasn’t so sure it was deserved. When trying to find a mole no one is above suspicion–something Vasili acknowledges himself. I was surprised by how offended both Philip and Elizabeth were at their loyalty being tested. While I understand they have faithfully served for more than a decade undercover, they should still know how the system works. They are pawns. If I’m Zhukov and I hear about their reactions to the test (tying up the guy and Keri Russell’s epic beatdown of granny) it is going to make me trust them less. Perhaps it would even be worth it to dispose of them given their insubordination. In my opinion those actions were surprisingly ill-thought-out for well-trained spies.

The most important part of this plotline though is the aftermath. Once Philip concludes that he was the one suspected of being a traitor and that it’s Elizabeth’s fault, it is as if their roles switch. Now Philip is the cold, heartless one asking for a piece of jewelry to smooth things over with a contact. Elizabeth, in contrast, is as visibly hurt by the request as Philip was when she told him she didn’t know what marriage was like (in an earlier episode). The state of their relationship is perfectly symbolized by the car crash they stage to explain away their injuries–cold, wordless, emotionless. The trust they had built up over the last couple of weeks has been lost.

Random Observations:

-When she’s feeling down and alone, Elizabeth turns to her former flame Gregory

-There’s no way Nina is surviving the season right?

-How can an FBI agent simply take diamonds from another investigation to use in his entrapment plan knowing full well that he is not going to get them back?

-The only problem with Henry and Paige’s plot for me was how stereotypical that guy was who picked them up. He offers the beer to the underage girl, he says hitchhiking is dangerous and it’s a good thing they ran into him, etc.

UPDATE (buckeyedpeas): I don’t have much to add to the thorough breakdown above, but I wanted to say that, for me, this was the strongest episode of the show’s so far. Whether other critics agree, I can’t say: I haven’t read any other reviews yet.

I want to credit the show for the way that the kids’ storyline mirrored the parents’ this week, both plot-wise and thematically. This was the polar opposite of the car accident subplot on Homeland last season (one of the worst subplots I’ve seen on cable TV), as it was so much better integrated into the show and didn’t ask the kids to whine so much. Both the parents and their children were abducted this week, and it was interesting to note how differently the two pairs reacted to their circumstances.  Yes, both fought back and everybody arrived home safely, but while the resolution of the hitchhiking experience brought Paige and Henry together, the interrogations by their own bosses drove a wedge between Elizabeth and Phil. That everything that happens to Elizabeth and Phil takes on a double meaning, both because they are “married” for the sake of work but are also trying out the marriage thing for real, only added to the tension of those scenes. I thought Kyra asked a great question, too, regarding how Elizabeth’s and Phil’s bosses will interpret their turning the tables on their captors; we’ll see where that goes in the coming weeks.

In response to my query last week, the argument between Elizabeth and Phil after they leave the warehouse I think pretty conclusively shows that the writers are trying to portray Phil as pragmatic in his ability to assimilate into American life, not naive. I still maintain my criticism regarding the flashback sequence with Phil in the pilot, but I’m going to leave my criticism there; anything beyond that is nitpicking, I think.

Finally I want to applaud the show for actually allowing the Russian character to speak Russian when only fellow comrades are in the scene. This is something The Americans has done consistently these first six weeks and adds a definite and unexpected air of authenticity to the show.  Kudos to FX for allowing so many subtitles and to the writers for not shying away from significant scenes played out entirely in Russian.

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One Response to The Americans S1: E6: Trust Me (updated)

  1. Alex says:

    Kyra, I’m not sure I agree with you about the reaction to the fake kidnapping. For one, I thought Phil’s reaction was perfectly within reason. Elizabeth’s was definitely extreme, but given how devoted she is to the Motherland, she is rightfully in shock that her superiors suspected her of being the mole. She has been passionate about the cause from day 1, so for her to simply shrug off the suspicion as procedural doesn’t seem like the logical response. Phil, whose commitment to the cause isn’t as strong/evident as Elizabeth’s, pleas for her to stop the torture and eventually has to pull her away to avoid further damage to Claudia, a reaction fitting of his character.

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