The Americans S1 E9: Safe House, cont’d

First off, apologies for being later than intended with my response to Kyra’s thoughts on this week’s episode. Hopefully you read my reflections on Roger Ebert: I’ve been thinking more about the movies in the last twenty-four hours and reading the sheer volume of tributes online as opposed to writing coherently about Wednesday’s The Americans. On top of that, I was one of those whose DVRs got cut off with a minute to spare, so I missed the final shot, which was a shame, because watching it this afternoon I can attest that it was expertly done. Onto what transpired:

I admired this week’s show, perhaps a little more than Kyra. I thought we saw a great example of how much is unplanned in a knife’s-edge battle being fought more or less in secret. The consequences of a simple, if understandable, mistake can be grave, and unsurprisingly they implicate some of the more vulnerable characters.

Here, Chris, still reeling from Martha’s rejection, can’t expect that her current lover, the schmuck she’s chosen over him, is a KGB agent; by the same token, Phil, in super spy-mode with his super-tight wig after hearing that the FBI is planning to take out a Soviet operative, can’t be blamed for thinking that Chris’ knife is meant for him. This mix-up leads to a reversal and a blade plunged into Chris’ belly. None of this was intended, of course, and the series of errors will cause Chris’ death, place Phil and Elizabeth at risk while they take him to a safe house to try to extract information about the real target after they discover their mistake, and set Nina up as possible collateral damage, because no one at the FBI can be completely sure if she’s been outed.

Kyra deftly noted the writers’ attempt to wring more out of Chris’ character—in what turned out to be their last attempt to do so—through the use of flashbacks, and I think he correctly voiced concerns with how effective those flashbacks were. As I think we’ve argued before, Chris has mostly been a one-note character to date, serving as comic foil to Stan’s straight man. Those flashbacks assuredly reiterated that trait of their relationship. More interestingly, I thought one flashback—the one in the FBI office, not the one in the car—did add a little depth to Chris’ character, in addition to the scene at Stan’s party, where the bossman informs his cadre of the higher-ups’ intent to strike back, extrajudicially, against the KGB. In the party scene, Chris was the first to emphatically raise his hand and volunteer for the mission; whatever concerns about the off-the-books nature of the job didn’t really apply to him.  The later office flashback supplemented this small detail: it revealed that, aside from women, for Chris the FBI is everything.

I wonder if I was the only one who sensed a thinly veiled critique of our current drone policy in that party scene. For me, the word “extrajudicial” fell rather weightily; whether that was intentional or a mark of confirmation bias, I can’t say. Is Chris’ death a sort of you-get-what-you-pay-for demise poetically related to his eagerness to participate in a covert, due-process-less program?

Not necessarily, I don’t think. For one thing, I’m guessing that would be far from the first such mission on which Chris has lent his hand. For another thing, Chris encountered Phil not because of his work but because of his affections. It’s true that Chris was extremely dedicated to his service—enough to want in on some shady doings and to be confident in the rightness of his work—but damn it did he love pussy, too, as evidenced by the many unreturned messages left on his voice mail.  It was either going to be the job or the one woman who didn’t succumb to his charm that did him in. All in all, it’s just another example of how well The Americans can blur the line between protagonist and antagonist.

I wholeheartedly agree with Kyra that Noah Emmerich as Stan was this week’s standout; to paraphrase his initial review, say what you will about the value of the flashback scenes, but you definitely believed Stan cared about his friend, even to the point of joining the team and then going beyond orders for the kidnapping and execution from which he initially wanted to stay away. His icy and enigmatic monologues delivered to the now-departed Vlad were chilling and tense. That’s why it’s no surprise why people were pissed off at FX’s mistake: everybody could sense what was coming but wanted to see just how far Stan’s emotions and anger carried him in those final moments. Stan’s gun answered all of that definitively.

One last point Kyra raised that I found interesting was his argument that Elizabeth clearly has some emotional attachment to Phil, and that their separation actually proves this attachment. That’s a great observation: if Elizabeth wasn’t conflicted emotionally, she’d just carry on with Phil the way she always had before Phil came onto her. I’d ask Kyra, then, if his problem should be more with Granny than with Elizabeth? Certainly the best case scenario is if the agents avoid love and sex altogether because of any trust issues that might threaten what’s needed on the ground, but surely the KGB had to expect that this situation might arise. I’m not sure you can shack up a pair like this together and expect they wouldn’t get it on at some point. Somebody on the Politburo had to have seen a James Bond movie, right? Isn’t it Granny’s job to avoid driving the wedge between her operatives prematurely? I’d expect Phil’s and Elizabeth’s bosses to be a little more pragmatic in these circumstances. Maybe this is just another commentary on how ideology clouds our better judgment? Maybe another reading is that I’m asking too many rhetorical questions.

kyra response: Yes I think this is a good point. It is a bad decision by Claudia, as what she says proves they cannot simply go about their business. It’s clear both Philip and Elizabeth’s judgment are being clouded by their domestic strife, as is evident from Philip’s poor decision making (and his rather rough sex with Martha I might add). I think Elizabeth also admits at one point that she can’t stop thinking about their problems.

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