The Americans: S1: E7: Duty and Honor

“Only duty and honor are real, Mischa, isn’t that what we were told?”

That line is spoken by Mischa’s, or Philip’s, actual love of his life–Irina, in what was another gripping hour of television. While there is much I want to say, I will let our faithful readers in on a scheduling note, which is that I will be out of the country for the next 10 days. Thus, I will leave it to buckeye to handle the duties of the next two episodes, and when I get back I will read them over and add my thoughts.

Kyra’s right to hone in on the scenes between Phillip and Irina this week, for their reunion in the sting to blackmail a Polish anti-communist leader raises questions about their commitments to their work (and their country) and to each other. We’re informed at the beginning of the episode, through a flashback, that Phil (known as Mischa in the USSR) and Irina are old lovers, separated when Phil was called into service with Elizabeth to work as spies in America. The obvious contrast is between Phil’s relationship with Elizabeth, who have worked together closely for years under the guise of love and marriage, with Phil’s relationship with Irina, who have not been physically close in some time though their bond and feelings remain. Irina, just by being present, tempts Phil to return to the way things were by offering what seems like a chance to run away with her, and because this would jeopardize Phil’s work in Washington and his life if he were ever discovered to have deserted, it says a great deal that Phil would at least hesitate.

Adding to his dilemma is the possibility that Phil fathered a son with Irina before he left, though whether this son actually exists is deliberately ambiguous. I’m curious to hear Kyra’s thoughts on this when he returns, but, given the extent of what we can deduce from Phil and Irina’s conversation, I don’t buy that the son is real. In their first conversation on a bench outside the Brooklyn Bridge, Irina mentions running away with Phil/Mischa and remarks that she wishes to live a normal life, yet never mentions her son during this scene. Wouldn’t a mother who wanted to live a normal life want to protect her son, especially when she’s reuniting with that son’s father? Even if Irina couldn’t bring her son to live with her, surely she knows that her desertion could place her son’s safety in Russia in jeopardy, but still she does not broach it here. Later, at the train station where Irina is ready to depart, perhaps for good, Phil specifically asks her if the son is real, and its to this question that Irina proffers the quote Kyra cited above, which doubles as the episode’s title. On top of these two ambiguities, Irina never mentions her son’s name. Maybe it’s just me, but if I were telling somebody about a son he never knew he had, the first thing I’d tell was his name.

The ambiguity of the son’s existence is a proxy for Phil’s and Irina’s own ambiguous loyalties, of course. Phil loves Irina, but he’s also proven adept as a spy—his skill set is different from Elizabeth’s, but his abilities are just as valuable to their operations, and for now, that’s not worth risking, especially given his conflicted thoughts for Elizabeth. Phil’s gone too far down the rabbit hole in America to fully jettison his new life for his old. Irina seems committed to Phil, but less so to her mission and the motherland, and her desire to take Phil with her might have caused her to fabricate the existence of a son they had or risk that son’s safety if he truly exists.

Phil and Irina aren’t the only ones questioning where their duties and loyalties lie, though. Elizabeth is still sour over the betrayal by the old lady and her bosses, who you’d think would be able to trust her. Elizabeth is so soured by this experience that, for the first time, she’s the one begging Phil to make their fake marriage work like a real one, part out of regret (for speaking ill of Phil to her superiors) and part out of need (she can’t trust her bosses, so it would help if she could trust her partner). One of the most interesting details from this episode was that both Phil and Elizabeth reject their old names. Phil rejects “Mischa” by refusing to go with Irina, Elizabeth coldly shuns her Russian name in a way that protests her handling by her bosses and shows how she herself has assimilated—she “keeps her wits about [her]” best at home, with Phil, when they’ve both assumed their American identities.

Then there’s Stan, who fails in his “duty” to his wife by being unfaithful with Nina, to the point where Stan might be in dereliction of his duty as an FBI agent. For now, Stan has chosen job over family, but might his feelings for Nina get in the way of his work?

Another strong, and well-written, episode this week. Again I admire the way the storylines hold a mirror up to one another. Interestingly, this week, it’s a one way mirror: the problems between Stan and his wife are plain for Phil, Elizabeth, and their kids to see, while Phil and Elizabeth stand on the other side of the glass, their romantic issues known only to themselves.

kyra addendum: it’s been so long now that I don’t want to write a lot, but I will address your question. When I initially watched the episode my impression was the child was real. My thinking was these people very well could’ve married if not for Mischa’s career getting in the way, and also why would she have reason to lie? They likely wouldn’t ever see him again as they would have to abandon Mother Russia to start a secret life together. However, you make good points. A name would be pretty much the first thing you would say in describing your son. Additionally, could it be just another test of their loyalty? We know they aren’t above suspicion and that Philip in particular is considered a flight risk.

One other comment: I thought Alan Sepinwall made a good point in that how is Irina at the same level of her career as Philip that they would be working on a mission together? What was she doing when Philip left for training/America or whatever. Does she actually live in Canada with a family or was she simply flown in for this one mission. I’m not sure if we will get answers to these questions nor if we need them. It adds to mystery they developed well surrounding whether her offer to ‘Mischa’ was legitimate or not.

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