The Americans S1 E11: Covert War

While the last two episodes gave Stan the opportunity to go on a hell-bent search and destroy mission, this week has Elizabeth at the helm. Unfortunately I think the same problems that plagued Safe House also take root here. Namely, the shoehorning of flashbacks in an episode where the character in those flashbacks dies in order to foster more of an emotional relationship to him (I’ll save the spoiler until after the break so you won’t accidentally see). I have a lot of questions coming from this episode. Hopefully you’ll be able to help me a little Buckeye.

This time, General Zhukov is the one who gets the ax. Zhukov in his previous scenes has already been a mentor of Elizabeth’s, but Covert War really hammers it home. I don’t know why exactly, but for some reason he strikes me as very un-Russian in this episode. In all three flashbacks he seems despondent about the life he gave up for his work: a chance at love and happiness with another human (he’s got his dog after all). My impression was that he was trying to encourage Elizabeth to embrace her family with Philip, and discourage the emotionless detachment necessary to do her job well. He said the reason she was chosen for this assignment was fear, but at the same time he confided in her his fears that he had done it all wrong.

When Elizabeth hears of his death she must get revenge–something Zhukov surely would counsel against. But that won’t stop her, and complete with fake scar makeup (!?) she lures in the man ‘responsible.’ This scene is teeming with stereotypical themes. Firstly, while the victim is tied, blindfolded in the center of the room, Elizabeth leans aloofly against the wall smoking a cigarette. As she begins to talk and walk towards him–>she drops the butt–>pan shot to her foot grinding back and forth to put it out. I mean come on, how often does that happen in an interrogation scene? She asks him, ‘what do you hear?’ Patterson, confused, says he hears only her footsteps. ‘No,’ she responds. ‘What do you hear? Your pulse quickening, your heart beating…etc.’ This is a kidnapping by someone who has watched too many kidnapping movies.

She asks him ‘how does it feel to slaughter innocents back in Moscow?’ Seriously? Does she seriously consider Zhukov and other members of the KGB to be innocent? Does she think she herself is innocent of any wrongdoing? I find it hard to believe she thinks people on either side are innocent. Paige is innocent. General Zhukov? Not so much. This is why she has a weak response to Patterson saying ‘they knew the risk.’ All she can muster is a ‘like you.’

Of course, Patterson explains the situation quite succinctly: he is just a bureaucrat giving out orders that were given to him. In contrast her life is a lie, she kills people for a living and seems to care for nothing. With the obvious metaphor of a blindfolded man seeing clearer than Elizabeth, her gun grows heavier and heavier in her hands until she can’t go through with it. She knows he is spot on and acknowledges she was out of control, but should she really be getting thrown by what he says? The show has really reversed course from the beginning of the season when Elizabeth was the cold, calculating one, while Philip was beating the shit out of some pedo making eyes at his daughter. I know Andy Greenwald thinks we are just uncomfortable with a woman doing these sort of acts, but I don’t think it’s that. I think it’s the inconsistency week to week with which character is the reckless one and which is the calm and steady one. Granted, she has just lost her lover and her mentor in back-to-back weeks, so her mental state is a question mark, but doesn’t she recognize the seriousness of this defiance of orders? For smart people like Philip and Elizabeth they seem to do a lot of stupid things.

On that point, why does Philip so easily get roped into this plan? Is it really just because he still loves her? He backs down so easily. And god the ‘will they or won’t they week-to-week is getting old. Now this time it is Elizabeth who is basically inviting him back, when he hits her with the news he’s getting an apartment. Was he really so dense as to not understand what she was hinting at, and based on his actions in the episode don’t we think that’s still what he wants (to move back in)?

I do think a redeeming and interesting part of the episode was Elizabeth’s discussion with Claudia. I go back and forth on what I think about this interesting scene. Elizabeth thinks Claudia set her off like a ticking time bomb, which seems reasonable when Claudia remarks that she is so admirably predictable. However, I do believe Claudia when she says that Elizabeth has so much more to learn, and that they are on the same side. If the KGB is a wheel of parts turning, then Elizabeth is the very end of a spoke. She has absolutely no control over where she moves, and Claudia is trying to get her to realize that. The question comes down to if you believe Claudia actually had a relationship with Zhukov and wanted to kill Patterson for personal reasons same as Elizabeth, or did she want Elizabeth to directly defy orders so she would be shipped back to Moscow? Perhaps as revenge for the whole ‘punching her in the face’ thing? Margo Martindale has truly been superb as the handler–she says not too much to give anything away, but just enough to make us reasonably speculate multiple scenarios.

Random Observations:

Nina is hot. I think the minute she takes off her clothes it sends a signal to the audience: Stan is now Nina’s informant. While she lets him know her promotion will give her access to new information, she DOESN’T tell him about the bug in the Secretary’s house. I think part of the reason why she is playing him is because she suspects Stan is hiding what happened to Vlad. She’s no dummy, and he’s not a good liar when he gets close to a woman (see: his wife). There should be some meaty scenes coming up in the last two weeks here.

Martha is the kind of stereotypical crazy girlfriend that people joke about. Surprise introduction to the parents? Slick move by Philip to go for Presbyterian (so close to Lutheran!). There’s no way this relationship doesn’t end badly.

Sandy’s wife to Elizabeth: “have you ever thought of cheating?” Reeeeeeal subtle.

Another point on Sandy–I thought her confrontation with Stan was great, and felt very ‘real.’ There aren’t enough bad guys in the world to keep him out that late every night. We learn she has known he comes home hours after he leaves the office, and she leaves the room without even finishing her thought in the scene. You go Sandy!

The disguises get more and more ridiculous every week. Now they’re adding scars? It’s too much.

At this point I’m going with a simple equation: flashback = death.

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One Response to The Americans S1 E11: Covert War

  1. Reblogged this on jbcultureshock and commented:
    Since I have been in a writing abyss today in an attempt to wrap up “Stains” 2, I didn’t have much time to get a post done recapping the Americans. Instead, I offer you this review by a fellow blogger.

    I must say this much: I really enjoyed the emotional aspects on this episode, and the woman who plays Stan’s wife is amazing. I loved her fight scene with him. What did you think? Comment and let’s talk about it! And don’t forget to show this awesome blogger some love…

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