TV Time: The Americans 4.11

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Source: tv.com

I apologize for making like the Statue of Liberty and disappearing for a while, but between a wonderfully long Disney World vacation and the holiday weekend, I haven’t had much time to write! But before I get back to writing, I think we should all take a minute and share a collective happy sigh over the news that Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys welcomed their new baby into the world earlier this month. Congratulations to them!

Title: Dinner For Seven

Episode M.V.P.: Keri Russell
Consider this a cumulative M.V.P. award for Russell’s outstanding work in the last bunch of episodes. Her performance throughout this Don/Young Hee arc has been a thing of layered, complex beauty—some of her best work on this show to date. And her performance in this episode was no exception. Russell has taken Elizabeth to an intensely vulnerable place in these last few weeks, and she’s done so in a way that feels true to this character, who still believes she’s not supposed to have emotional reactions to her job. Elizabeth isn’t going to break down sobbing over losing someone she considered a friend, and she’s not going to have a heart-to-heart talk with anyone about what she had to do to a beautiful family. Instead, she’s going to show her guilt, grief, and emotional exhaustion in the tiniest but most heartbreaking ways: crying even after she leaves Don and doesn’t need to act heartbroken anymore, closing her eyes tighter when Philip holds her, and hanging up the phone with shaking hands when she hears Young Hee crying. This is what happens when Elizabeth’s carefully compartmentalized emotions start seeping out of their compartments, and it’s fascinating to watch her begin to struggle with the idea that the human cost of what she’s doing—including what she’s doing to herself—might be too much.

Russell was brilliant throughout this episode, but her masterfully subtle take on Elizabeth’s emotional awakening was best shown through her scenes with Pastor Tim. In their first interaction, Elizabeth was clearly still seeing him as an opposing force. Her posture, her tone of voice, and her choice of words were all careful and professional. In their first scene alone in the church, Elizabeth’s softness still felt like an act, and we could see she was still dealing with him as a potential threat. However, by her final scene with him, those lines between sincerity and artifice were blurred in the way only this show can blur them. The way she searched for words, the soft way she spoke, and the lost look in her eyes made me believe at least some part of her was really trying to get advice about finding clarity and comfort when things feel overwhelming. Of course, part of her was probably saying those things to keep him close and to manage him like any other asset. However, Russell played that moment with just enough vulnerability that I could feel the truth in what Elizabeth was saying about her mental and emotional state.

Elizabeth’s growing vulnerability and clear unease with what she’s been asked to do contrasted so well with the episode’s final scene, which reminded us that she’s still a trained killer who should be feared. The way her body snapped into action so instinctively was amazing, and I was captivated by the feral look in her eyes as she protected herself and her daughter and also by the businesslike way she dealt with the aftermath—with just a hint of concern in her eyes about what her child just witnessed. Elizabeth Jennings is one of the most fascinating female characters on television, and the woman who brings her to life each week deserves every bit of recognition imaginable for bringing such powerful complexity to this role.

Favorite Scene: Philip is everyone’s support system
Philip Jennings has much more empathy than your average Russian spy, and that’s what makes him such an incredible character. It’s also what makes him a genuinely good friend and a loving husband. And his ability to feel for those around them when they’re going through hard times was at the center of one of the most layered scenes in the very layered “Dinner for Seven.”

When Stan opened up to Philip about Agent Gaad’s death, I couldn’t stop studying Matthew Rhys’s expression as Philip took in that information. Even before the scene in which he directly tells Elizabeth as much, the barely perceptible flickers of shock and then worry on Rhys’s face told us that Philip believes he contributed to this horrible loss for his friend. And this scene reinforced the idea that there is a real friendship between these two men—even if it was built on lies. Both Rhys and Noah Emmerich’s ability to make us believe the friendship between Philip and Stan was so important, because it made Stan’s brutal assessment of Russian operatives that much more uncomfortable. That monologue—with Stan telling Philip that the Russians murdered his boss and have done things far more terrible that he can’t talk about because it’s “classified”—is basically this whole show in a nutshell. He’s right; the Russians have done terrible things. But one of them is sitting on his couch right now being a real friend to him and crumbling inside under the weight of the fact that something he said in a report might have gotten a man killed halfway around the world. This moment was tense, difficult to watch, and even a little bit humorous in a darkly ironic way. But it was also a genius look at the very heart of The Americans—the idea that one of the “monsters” Stan is talking about is actually a human being and not just some stereotypical cog in the Soviet machine.

While Philip’s connection with Stan played the most important role in this scene, it was his connection with Elizabeth that moved me the most. It broke my heart to watch the brief flash of sadness cross Elizabeth’s face when Stan called Philip his friend, knowing she just destroyed the only relationship even close to a friendship that she had. And it was so important to see that she was too emotionally exhausted to pretend anymore; she needed to just be herself and let her real emotions out, which is why she wanted to get away from Stan and the act she has to put on with him. Elizabeth not being able to hide her emotions in front of an FBI agent is a big deal and a sign of how broken up she is by this mission.

But when Stan left, there was no need for Elizabeth to hide anything. With Philip, she was finally free to stop being a spy and just be a woman who needs comfort. I don’t know what it is about Philip holding Elizabeth when she’s feeling particularly vulnerable, but it always moves me. It’s always so poignant to see her let her superspy guard down for one brief moment and seek comfort from the one person who she can lean on with the full weight of her broken heart, knowing he understands. I loved that they rocked back and forth in that embrace; it’s such a naturally comforting gesture, and it made the tone of that embrace even more intimate. They both needed a moment of real connection after causing so much pain to others because of their work, and, as usual, they found it with each other.

Extra Thoughts:
• I also loved the scene in this episode between Stan and Oleg, with the two characters presumably saying goodbye to each other forever. It honored their complex relationship perfectly, even if it had me wondering if Stan was still trying to turn Oleg somehow.
• The titular dinner scene was worthy of its own post—there was so much going on! I loved that Henry inviting Stan in and Elizabeth pretending to be okay with it felt like it could have been a scene straight out of an annoying sitcom, with the added bonus of introducing an FBI agent to two civilians who know there are Russian spies living in this house. What was uncomfortably funny on one level was actually horribly tense when you thought about the life-threatening implications of what was happening.
• I had to smile when Pastor Tim had to ask if Henry could hear their conversation. Kudos to the show for always explaining how he can’t hear what’s going on, even if it does feel like a running joke at this point.
• Speaking of Pastor Tim, this was the first episode in which he actually felt like a person and not just a source of conflict or a plot device. It was nice to see Kelly AuCoin get a chance to breathe some humanity into this character, and for the first time, I actually was happy to see him on my screen instead of wishing he would just go away.
• I really hope this is the last we see of Don, because my heart can’t handle any more scenes of this poor man having his life destroyed all because he has access to some codes. I almost wanted to fast-forward through his scenes in this episode, because I knew they would make me physically uncomfortable. What a horrible operation, and it seems (unless the computer files pan out) it was all for naught—just like Philip killing the security guard on the bus earlier this season.
• I love when this show brings back moments from past seasons to haunt our characters. In this episode, it was the horribly sad death of Betty last season and its connection to bugging the Mail Robot. Moments like that make me sit back and applaud the expert plotting at work here.
• Did anyone else get the feeling that Paige might be working Matthew like another asset? At first I was worried about her having a crush on him, but the way she talked to her mother about Stan telling Matthew about the death of his secretary felt more like an agent reporting to a superior than a girl talking to her mom. And Elizabeth’s conflicted reaction was definitely about more than just the mention of Martha. It seems she might be having even more doubts about exposing her daughter to the world of espionage.
• What is Paige going to think now that she’s seen her mother in action? On one hand, Elizabeth showed that she will do anything to protect her daughter (much like Philip said in his speech to Paige about his own mother), but she also can no longer hide the fact that she’s been trained to kill and this wasn’t her first time using lethal force. Any predictions for how Paige will react to this latest revelation?

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2 thoughts on “TV Time: The Americans 4.11

  1. Well Katie, I am glad both your and the statue of liberty’s disappearances were only temporary, because this was fantastic, and I have been dying to talk about the amazing growth Elizabeth has gone through these past few episodes.

    Out of everything that has happened on this show, the Don/Young Hee storyline has been one of the hardest for me to watch. If I wasnt watching with Sean, I know I would have fast forwarded through a lot of it, because it is just so painful to get through. As you said, a happy family was destroyed simply because one of them had something the KGB wanted. A lot of operatives we have seen are at least co-conspirators…even Martha on some level made choices to actively gather intel, but Don may be the most tragic mark so far. Life is hard enough as is without outsiders actively trying to ruin it. I think the fact that its not just one person, but a whole family that is being destroyed because of their interference makes the whole thing even worse, especially for Elizabeth. She would do anything to protect her family, but now she is destroying someone elses in the process. I kept being struck by the images we kept seeing of Young Hee putting on a brave face at dinner, and happily getting her kids into the car compared to the pleading and upset messages she would leave for Patty on the phone. Not only does Elizabeth have to live with not being able to answer and comfort her friend, she has to live with being the one that caused that pain in first place.

    I am also glad you brought up Pastor Tim feeling like a three dimensional character here, because this was the first episode were I actually liked him. I do think his apology was genuine (although he still didnt offer to destroy the tape). The conversation at the end of the episode really hit me hard, and its a perfect summary of what this season has been about:

    “If you have something on your mind and you can’t stop thinking about it but you want to…”
    “I’d pray, for guidance.”
    “What if you don’t believe in God, or religion or prayer?”
    “None of those things matter. All that matters is how we treat each other.”

    I am pretty sure that is the last thing Elizabeth wanted to hear, but it really gets to the heart of the matter, and the lines between “us and them” have never been more blurred. I was so proud of Elizabeth last episode when she asked Gabriel to ask the center if there was another way to get the codes, and my heart broke for her when the request was denied. I am interested to see what happens with the codes moving forward. A part of me wants the mission to fail for emotional drama, but I feel like this whole season has been building to getting that bio weapon, so I would be surprised if that didnt happen.

    I am not quite sure how Paige is going to react to seeing full on killer agent mom mode. I think she will rightly be pretty freaked out at first, and then probably ask a million questions like she always does after the initial shock wears off. I am always paranoid about DNA evidence being left all over the place, but that never seems to be much of a concern for anyone on this show, so I assume forensic evidence was a lot more limited back in the 80s?

    Oh Henry, always causing a bunch of trouble. And Stan just looked so pathetic when he said he didnt want to intrude, haha. Its both sad and amusing that Henry and Stan are always the most clueless ones in the room these days. And after everything Stan has been through, I really worry about his ability to take finding out the truth about the Jennings family.

  2. Why did I let myself get so attached to Young-Hee? That’s never a good thing to do with one of their assets but this one particularly hurt. So while every bit of story that related to her or Don in the past few weeks caused a ridiculous amount of pain and stress, I also loved it because I am an emotional masochist.

    There have only been two wholly non-complicit assets that we’ve seen a great deal of time with. Young-Hee and Kimmy. Each has profoundly impacted Elizabeth and Philip and made them care more than they should have. Philip’s always had the harder time with the emotional impact of what they’ve done and I have no doubt that if it came down to it again, he’d defy orders to protect Kimmy. But for Elizabeth to be close to doing the same would take a greater set of circumstances and that’s why I’m glad they spent so much time developing her friendship with Young-Hee. We needed to go with Elizabeth on this mission that has changed who she is and has shaken her commitment to the extent that it has.

    I’m co-signing yours and Shauna’s thoughts about Pastor Tim actually feeling like a person in this episode. Those conversations with Elizabeth and the way they escalated in honesty as the episode progressed said so much about Elizabeth’s less certain state of mind and it was a really nice moment of something like bonding between two people with little in common but love for Paige.

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