TV Time: The Americans 5.06

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Title: Crossbreed

Episode M.V.P.: Frank Langella
Frank Langella has been a scene-stealer for years on The Americans, but “Crossbreed” put him in the spotlight as Gabriel’s own crisis of conscience and fatigue with the work he’s been doing joined the chorus of the rest of the characters this season who’ve been beaten down by orders that feel less like work assignments and more like prisons. Langella was a perfect addition to this cast because he’s able to convey so much emotion through the smallest changes in his facial expressions and tone of voice, and that was put to use perhaps better than ever before in this episode.

Gabriel is tired—he’s tired of lying to Philip, he’s tired of assigning Philip and Elizabeth to missions that are breaking their spirit and testing their partnership, and he’s tired of having to swallow his own doubts and concerns because of his job. Langella has played that exhaustion perfectly, slowly allowing it to develop each season (especially after his near-death experience last season) so we truly believe that he wants to go home because the weight of everything he’s had to carry—especially the weight of this latest, major lie to Philip about Mischa—is too much for him to bear any longer.

What resonated most deeply to me in this episode was the sense that Gabriel’s exhaustion with this line of work stems mainly from the fact that he cares about Philip and Elizabeth, and he doesn’t like watching them suffer because of his orders. The first scene of the episode between Elizabeth and Gabriel said so much about both characters’ changing states of mind. As Elizabeth—the closest thing he’s ever had to a daughter—struggled with the fact that he was telling her to continue her honeytrap, Langella moved me with his paternal affection for this woman who he clearly cares about even more as a person than he does as an asset at this point. When Elizabeth asked if there was something wrong with her because she was having so much trouble sleeping with someone who wasn’t her husband, my heart broke for her—for the woman who was trained to see emotional connection as weakness and is having a hard time dealing with the way her love for her husband is affecting her work—but it broke for Gabriel just as much. Langella’s warm, gentle assertion that there’s nothing wrong with her said so much about Gabriel’s relationship with Elizabeth and with his own emotions. There was a small look of knowing pride in his eyes, making it clear that Gabriel isn’t a typical KGB handler; he’s happy that his agents have fallen in love, and he’s proud of Elizabeth for allowing herself to feel so deeply about her husband. Gabriel is so much like Philip—they both see genuine connection as something to cherish—and it’s both lifting his spirit and breaking his heart that his most prized asset is finally learning to open her heart.

Like Elizabeth and Philip, Gabriel can’t shut down his feelings for the sake of his work; he can’t completely convince himself that he’s doing the right thing anymore. And that means it’s time to leave. The scene with him at the Lincoln Memorial was such a gorgeous piece of wordless acting by Langella, a thousand conflicting emotions and the weight of too many lives impacted by his orders and secrets—including the lives of the two people he loves as children—evident in every step he took and every blink of his weary eyes.

Gabriel has always been a fascinating character because he clearly cares about Philip and Elizabeth, but he’s also had to manipulate them to get the job done. He loves them as children, but they’re ultimately not his children; they’re his agents. But it was especially clear in this episode that his concern for them outweighs his desire to put the Center first at this point. His warning to Philip about the Center watching him wasn’t something he should have told him as a handler, but it was something he had to reveal because he cares about Philip and is concerned about him—not as an agent but as a person. It was delivered with a sense of genuine concern that betrayed how much trouble Philip is actually in, which made it even more frightening than if it had been delivered in a purely professional manner.

The professional pitfalls of love—the way our innate desire to connect on a real level as humans conflicts with a career that is supposed to be composed of only fabricated connections—is one of the biggest themes of The Americans, and this episode extended that beautifully into Gabriel’s story. Gabriel loves Philip and Elizabeth; I have never believed that more strongly than in this episode. And he loves that they love each other. But love is testing everyone this season, and Gabriel was one of the first to break under the strain of having to hurt someone you care about for the job. Langella found the sweet spot in that struggle so brilliantly, making me care about Gabriel in this episode more than I ever have. And it all culminated in that beautiful moment he saw Paige—the closest thing he’ll ever have to a granddaughter—for the first (and most likely the last) time. The tears in his eyes and the smile on his face said everything about Gabriel’s humanity even after years of doing such a soul-sucking job, and that humanity moved me to tears right before the credits rolled.

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TV Time: Once Upon a Time 6.16

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Title Mother’s Little Helper

Two-Sentence Summary As Emma and Gideon team up to defeat the Black Fairy, flashbacks reveal the extent of the damage she caused for all the children in her realm—especially for her grandson. Meanwhile, Killian and Blackbeard form a shaky alliance and end up in Neverland, and Regina works with Isaac to get answers about Henry’s author powers taking over his body and mind.

Favorite Lines
Isaac: What did I do to you that was so bad?
Regina: Tried to kill us all.

My Thoughts For being almost a purely plot-driven episode, “Mother’s Little Helper” was one of the better episodes of this season. It was entertaining in the way only this show can be—with villains whose darkness is at once terrifying and fascinating, unexpected character pairings, and a sense of humor that comes from an understanding that sometimes a show about fairytales should just lean into its premise and embrace the fact that it can be fun for no other reason than the fact that it’s a show about fairytales.

This episode’s present-day plots featured three character pairings that seemed to have no connection to each other on the surface but were actually incredibly similar when looked at more closely. Emma/Gideon, Killian/Blackbeard, and Regina/Isaac were all pairings featuring one hero and one villain working together because they each have something the other needs: Emma needs her pirate back, Gideon needs someone to help him defeat the Black Fairy (or so we thought), Killian needs a magic bean to get back to Emma, Blackbeard needs a ship, Regina needs answers about Henry, and Isaac needs his freedom. And by the end of the episode, these three storylines also had one more thing in common: The hero was double-crossed by the villain. (I know Isaac didn’t really double-cross Regina, but he wasn’t much help, either.)

I think the reason I enjoyed “Mother’s Little Helper” so much despite the fact that it wasn’t the deepest or most emotional hour of the show (and despite the fact that Emma and Killian are STILL separated) was because it kept me guessing at every turn. It was filled with betrayals and twists, and each one felt genuinely surprising, building to the episode’s biggest twist involving Gideon and the Black Fairy.

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TV Time: The Americans 5.05



TV Time: The Americans 5.05

Title: Lotus 1-2-3

Episode M.V.P.: Matthew Rhys
It’s a basic fact of The Americans: As Philip’s mental and emotional state gets even worse, Matthew Rhys’s performance gets even better. And since “Lotus 1-2-3” was basically an hour-long meditation on Philip’s inner deterioration, it was basically an Emmy reel for Rhys. Every beat of Rhys’s work in this episode—from the first moments of the episode to the last—was a thing of devastating brilliance, and the way each of his reactions built on those that came before painted a clear picture of a man crumbling from the inside out under the constant strain of so much guilt coming from so many places.

The tone of the entire episode was set in its first few minutes, with Philip’s inability to seem even remotely interested in the sex he just had with Deirdre. But in typical fashion for this show and this actor, Rhys didn’t oversell Philip’s lack of enthusiasm, he played it with just the right amount of emptiness to show rather than tell us how completely checked-out Philip is and how little he cares anymore about making it real” beyond the barest necessities of this kind of work. Small, silent moments like that one made his confession to Elizabeth at the end ring true: We believe him when he says this work has been hard for a long time because we’ve seen it slowly eat away at his soul. By showing us that inner devastation so skillfully for so long, Rhys made that last scene less about Philip telling the audience something important and more about him telling Elizabeth something important, which kept the storytelling as intimate as possible.

In a thousand little details, Rhys showed the ways Philip came to that confession—the point in which he needed to unburden himself because he physically couldn’t handle carrying the weight alone anymore. It was in the way his cheerful, joking tone faltered when it became clear that Henry feels neglected by his parents. It was in the way he stared at Paige as she told him she was so damaged by what he and Elizabeth told her that she might never be able to form a healthy relationship—with the guilt of a thousand failures as a father pressing down on him and making his features actually seem to sag under the weight of it all. It was in the tension in his shoulders and back as he thought of the information he provided potentially placing Stan in the middle of a honeytrap.

And, of course, it was in the way his rapid nodding and swallowing betrayed the complete inner breakdown he had upon discovering that he and Elizabeth killed a man for essentially no reason—only because the people they were supposed to trust were wrong. Those few moments after Elizabeth told Philip the truth about Ben were some of the saddest seconds of television I have ever watched. It felt as if I was watching Philip simultaneously prepare to faint, vomit, and break down crying, but, instead, he physically seemed to swallow down all those reactions and went on autopilot, the final traces of his will to fight seeping out of his exhausted body.

What we saw in the scene that followed was Philip at perhaps his lowest point, and Rhys did an amazing job of showing that in his body language—the hunched shoulders, the way he picked at his food, even the simple gesture of taking of his glasses was filled with such heaviness that my chest actually hurt watching it. In order for that final scene to resonate the way it did, Philip’s journey to fall to that low had to be so heartbreakingly sincere that it would hurt not just us to watch it, but it would also convince us that it hurt Elizabeth to watch it, too. His pain had to be so palpable that her desire to ease that pain however she could would feel believable. Luckily for this show, they have found a master of restrained emotional devastation in Rhys. I have never been more in awe while having my heart broken.

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TV Time: Once Upon a Time 6.15

Title A Wondrous Place

Two-Sentence Summary As Killian works to get back to Emma in Storybrooke, his adventure aligns with Jasmine and Aladdin’s quest to find and save Agrabah—with some help from a familiar face. Meanwhile, Regina and Snow take Emma out to help her open up, which has some unintended magical consequences.

Favorite Line “You are a hero.” (Aladdin, to Jasmine)

My Thoughts “A Wondrous Place” was the television equivalent of a magic carpet ride: bumpy at times and sometimes dangerously close to crashing, but ultimately inspiring, beautiful, and unique—and despite a bit of a rocky takeoff, it nailed the landing.

Despite the plethora of other characters who played important roles in this episode, this was finally Jasmine’s time to shine. “A Wondrous Place” revealed the layers to her story that have been hidden from us since she was introduced earlier this season, and as each of those layers was peeled back to reveal her reasons for her desperation to find Agrabah and her distance from Aladdin, she became more of a fully-realized character with flaws she was more than aware of and strengths she had yet to fully embrace. In short, she became the kind of princess Once Upon a Time specializes in bringing to life: a fierce, complex female leader learning to love herself and to accept love in her life.

Jasmine certainly retained that “I’m not a prize to be won!” mentality from Aladdin, but she was given even more depth beyond that independent, outspoken streak. This version of Jasmine was allowed to be afraid, was allowed to have doubts, and was allowed to fail before succeeding—not because she wasn’t strong enough to defeat Jafar, but because she didn’t believe she was strong enough. She felt like a real person with flaws and emotional baggage, and I have to give the writers and Karen David credit for creating such a nuanced and believable character arc for Jasmine in such a short time.

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A Fabulous Five Years

On April 2, 2012, a 23-year-old editorial assistant sat down at her brand-new MacBook and wrote her first post on a hot pink blog about why she was proud to be a nerd. She had no idea who that post would reach, what post would come after it, or how long she would keep that blog running. All she knew was that she needed to write analytically and enthusiastically about things she loved, and this seemed like the best plan.

Five years later, a 28-year-old associate editorial director sat down at her slowly dying MacBook and started writing her 733 post on a hot pink blog about why she’s still proud to be a nerd.

So much has changed in the last five years—both at NGN and in my life—but some things will never change. I will always believe that there’s no more fulfilling life than the life of a nerdy girl. I will always be thankful for every comment, like, and view this website gets. And I will always find joy in writing analytically and enthusiastically about the things I love.

Every year since NGN was created has been a new adventure, filled with challenges, changes, and lessons to learn—and this year held more challenges, changes, and lessons than any other. A new position at work pushed me professionally in ways I never imagined I would be pushed so early in my career, and that’s led to some changes here at NGN in terms of how much and how often I post. Such a major life change called for me to reevaluate my relationship with what I do here at NGN, and recently, I’ve been reminded that this website and the kind of writing I do here bring me more happiness and fulfillment than almost anything else in my life.

It’s good to work hard, but it’s also good to make time for what makes you happy. And even after five years, running this website still makes me happy. Writing posts, interacting with the NGN Family, and reading all of your comments (I may not always reply, but know that I still read and appreciate every single one.) has been a way for me to connect with the best version of myself at a time when it could have been easy for me to lose the voice I started to find on April 2, 2012.

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TV Time: The Americans 5.04

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Title: What’s the Matter with Kansas?

Episode M.V.P.: Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell
“What’s the Matter with Kansas?” was an episode that focused intensely on Philip and Elizabeth as partners in marriage, so I couldn’t separate Rhys and Russell when it came to their performances this week; what made their work resonate so deeply in this episode was the strength of their connection. In order for this episode to work on an emotional level, we needed to believe that Philip and Elizabeth’s marriage has become so strong and secure that they don’t want anything to jeopardize it. And Rhys and Russell are nothing if not masters at making us believe whatever they’re selling when it comes to their relationship.

What I loved most about Rhys and Russell in this episode was the way they seemed to live in the details and unspoken moments, creating a truly believable and realistic portrayal of a marriage on strong footing. Building off last week’s romantic dance scene, “What’s the Matter with Kansas?” made great use of the nuances and layers in their chemistry; it’s so much more than a one-note kind of heat or sexual tension.

From the very first scene, Rhys and Russell made it clear that these two characters have reached a place where they are completely on the same page without having to talk about it. With simple sideways glances at each other, they both understood that neither wanted to hurt their marriage with another honey trap, and that allowed both of them to push back when Gabriel suggested it. There was no scene before showing them come to this conclusion together; it was something understood simply through their eyes and body language. And on a show that refuses to hold audiences’ hands, that ability to convey so much without spelling out it is an invaluable asset.

Another invaluable asset Rhys and Russell have in their acting arsenal is their ability to make these characters genuinely feel married. When Philip and Elizabeth talked about Henry in the travel agency office, it felt like two real parents talking about their kid—easy and unforced. The same could be said of the moment when Elizabeth came home after her first solo trip to Kansas. The comfort in Russell’s performance with Rhys in that scene was lovely. It was such a different look for Elizabeth—relaxed and clearly relishing in being back by Philip’s side after having to pretend to fall for someone else. It’s a level of vulnerability she doesn’t often get to show—we don’t typically get to see what a content version of Elizabeth looks like—and I adored it. There was a beat toward the end of the scene when she closed her eyes and pressed herself against him more tightly, and I was struck by how natural that moment felt. And that made it even harder to see that Philip was still so clearly struggling with the idea of Elizabeth having another date set up. (The shot of him staring at the TV, jaw clenched tightly, as she nestled in beside him was stunning in terms of how much it said without words.) The idea of her having a moment like that with another man has become physically hard for Philip to swallow, and Rhys played that with typically perfect restraint.

But Elizabeth is never going to have a moment like that with another man. That was Elizabeth with her guard down more than it’s ever been because she feels at ease with her husband, and that’s made their marriage feel so much easier, even as it’s made their work so much harder. Elizabeth told Paige that her job is all about confidence, and somewhere along the way, the thing both she and Philip developed the most confidence in is the marriage that began because of their job. The same can be said for Rhys and Russell; their confidence in their partnership is clearly visible at this point. But instead of making it harder for them to do their jobs, it’s made them even better at their jobs.

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TV Time: Once Upon a Time 6.14



Title Page 23

Two-Sentence Summary Regina faces off against the Evil Queen as flashbacks reveal the moment Regina realized the extent of her own self-hatred. Meanwhile, Killian battles his own past demons as they rise up to threaten his relationship with Emma.

Favorite Line “You are a part of me, and I’m a part of you—whether you like it or not. And now I love myself, which means so should you.” (Regina, to the Evil Queen)

My Thoughts Once Upon a Time is—at its very core—a love story. And what has always made it stand out is that it’s a love story that acknowledges that romantic love is just one kind of love; it’s not the only kind of love. In fact, Once Upon a Time has often shown that the most important kind of love—the kind that can change villains into heroes and lost girls into saviors—is the love we have for ourselves. True growth, happiness, and hope are only found when we are able to look at ourselves in the mirror and love the person looking back—the whole, messy, flawed person. Until that happens, a true happy ending can never be possible, because how can you be truly happy if you’re not happy with yourself?

There are no better characters to bring this theme to life than Regina and Killian, so I was thrilled to see their stories so thematically intertwined in “Page 23.” At the very beginning of Season Three, those two characters had a conversation about whether or not happiness could ever be possible for people like them—people who did terrible things but are working every day to be better than their pasts—and ever since then, I have enjoyed watching their parallel stories of redemption, hope, and self-forgiveness unfold. Those stories haven’t always been easy to watch, but they have provided much of the narrative depth in these later seasons of Once Upon a Time. And they served as the emotional core of “Page 23,” which seems fitting since the titular page was meant to be a symbol of the possibility of a happy ending for a former villain.

This was an episode that probably didn’t need a flashback (How many times do we have to revisit this period in the past?), but at least it tied in beautifully with the theme of self-hatred standing in the way of happiness. I think we could all see it coming that the person Regina hated the most wasn’t Snow White but herself, yet it was still a powerful moment to see her staring at her reflection in the broken glass. Lana Parrilla did commendable work in this episode playing three different versions of the same role, and that moment—with Regina gazing upon her broken self in the broken glass—was among the most emotional of the hour. Regina hated herself so deeply that she cut herself off from anything that could have made her truly happy—namely, a second chance at love with Robin Hood. She self-sabotaged because she felt unworthy of happiness, choosing instead to continue down a dark path because she felt that was the path she deserved to be on.

That same sense of self-loathing was a defining part of Killian’s story for so long, too. He spent centuries hating himself and falling deeper and deeper into darkness because of that self-hatred. In fact, it has been even harder for Killian to let go of that self-loathing than it has been for Regina, which almost surely comes from the fact that he spent many more years doing many more things that made him hate himself. And like Regina in the flashbacks, Killian’s self-hatred caused him to sabotage his own happiness because he felt unworthy of it.

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TV Time: The Americans 5.03



Title: The Midges

Episode M.V.P.: Matthew Rhys
The Americans is famously economical with its dialogue, so when an actor gets multiple great line readings in one episode, it’s worthy of being singled out. When most people think of Matthew Rhys’s dialogue in “Midges,” they probably think of the episode’s last line: his sardonic “Should we tell Paige about this?” after loading a body into the trunk of a car. And there’s a reason for that—The Americans doesn’t often allow its characters to have a sense of humor, so when it does, it’s memorable. But when I think of Philip’s great lines and Rhys’s great delivery in this episode, two more emotional moments come to mind.

The first was when Paige asked Philip and Elizabeth if it was hard pretending to be other people and Philip replied, “Yeah, sometimes it’s really hard.” The honesty Rhys gave that line put tears in my eyes because it made me think about the fact that Philip was the perfect parent to answer that question that way. He still carries the weight of what happened with Martha (which was a nice reminder of that storyline before that surprise later in the episode), and Rhys allowed that weight—not crippling anymore but still present—to seep into that single line brilliantly. And then, of course, there was Philip’s devastating question about why Russia can’t grow its own grain. Rhys’s ability to make Philip’s inner conflict almost suffocating in its intensity came through in every beat of his layered speech about home—his longing for the open fields of Russia, his subconscious acknowledgement that the United States isn’t so different from home, his anger that people are still starving so many years after he was a starving child, and his skepticism about the better nation being the one that can’t feed its own people.

Rhys got to deliver some great lines in this episode, but that doesn’t mean his quieter moments should go unnoticed. Whether he was looking into the bathroom mirror, looking at the road while Tuan ranted from the backseat, or looking at his wife as she danced with him, Philip’s eyes were worth following throughout this episode because Rhys said so much with them. He’s always been a master of reacting with realism and saying just enough with his expressions to suggest that Philip’s head and heart are so full of conflicting thoughts and emotions that he could fall apart under the strain at any moment. As Philip’s doubts continue to rise to the surface, I can only imagine that Rhys is going to continue to break my heart.

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TV Time: Once Upon a Time 6.13

Once Upon a Time - Episode 6.13 - Ill-Boding Patterns


Title Ill-Boding Patterns

Two-Sentence Summary As Gideon tries to fix the sword that he plans to use to kill Emma, Rumplestiltskin is reminded of a time in his past when he watched another son struggle with the siren song of darkness. Meanwhile, Killian is torn between his desire to be honest with Emma and his fears that his past will stand in the way of their happy future.

Favorite Line “How did I ever think removing my evil half would change anything? I thought I was rid of you for good, Queenie. But I guess I’ll always be paying the price for what you did…What I did.” (Regina)

My Thoughts Can I have some of the memory-erasing tea that was being passed around in this episode?

Some episodes of Once Upon a Time get better the more you think about them and analyze them, but some episodes simply don’t hold up to much—if any—deep thinking. “Ill-Boding Patterns” was sadly an example of the latter. What started out as a promising exploration of the pull of darkness and the strength it takes to resist it turned into an exploration of people doing bad things for what they believe are the right reasons or when they believe they’re backed into a corner. And while that’s an interesting topic to explore, it made for quite a depressing episode that seemed to rewrite some basic traits in beloved characters for the sake of fitting this theme.

Let’s get this out of the way right now: Killian and Emma’s proposal was one of the moments that was tainted in this episode for the sake of fitting the narrative about making the wrong choice for what you convince yourself is the right reason. Should he have come clean before proposing? Of course. But he did not want to hurt Emma by telling her he killed her grandfather when she thought he was asking her to marry him, so he made the choice to do the less honorable thing to protect the heart of someone he loves, which was completely aligned with the theme of this episode, even if it was not very fun to watch.

Killian proposed to Emma under no small amount of duress. Of course he wanted to ask her to marry him; he bought the ring, talked to Charming, worked out some of his issues with Archie. But this wasn’t how Killian wanted it to happen, and, I’ll be honest; it’s not how I wanted it to happen. I don’t ask for much when it comes to proposals for my favorite television couples (or at least I like to think I’m pretty easy to please on that front); I just want it to be a moment—as it should be in real life—of genuine happiness for both parties. And no matter how much Jennifer Morrison and Colin O’Donoghue sold their characters’ love and excitement at the idea of getting married, this couldn’t be a genuinely happy moment. The fact that it seemingly was one for Emma actually made it worse; she came to him with her walls down and totally open to the idea of getting married, showing how far she’s come as a character in such a beautiful way, but that openness was met with a major piece of information being withheld from her once again by someone she opened her heart to. The culmination of this part of Emma’s character arc deserved better; it was such a huge moment for her to be the one to take that first step toward lifelong commitment by telling him she would say yes, but it was tainted by this contrived drama and angst.

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TV Time: The Americans 5.02

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Title: Pests

Episode M.V.P.: Noah Emmerich
Emmerich almost earned last week’s M.V.P. award on the strength of his endearingly realistic awkwardness when talking about the woman he had his eye on at the gym (who we now know as Renee), but this episode was truly his chance to shine. This season’s first two episodes have really put the spotlight on Stan’s sincerity, and Emmerich is so good at reminding us that—even though we have more of an emotional connection to Philip and Elizabeth at this point—Stan isn’t someone to root against; he’s a flawed but good man just trying to do the right thing for his country and for the people he cares about.

“Pests” allowed us to see just how deeply Stan cares, and I love when Emmerich gets to show the upstanding, big-hearted side of this character. When Stan was talking to Philip about Paige, part of me was obviously worried, but part of me was deeply moved by how much Stan sincerely cares about her. Emmerich did a great job of playing the layers of that scene, too, because underneath his genuine concern was a war between wanting to believe his friend and trusting his instincts as a trained FBI agent. Stan knows something isn’t right, and I like those moments when he gets to be a competent agent. It gives Philip and Elizabeth a worthy adversary and credible threat, and it also asks us to closely examine who we’re rooting for, because Philip and Elizabeth may be the characters we care about the most, but it’s hard not to root for Stan, too. And that’s not because he represents America; it’s all because of the humanity Emmerich gives him. (In fact, one of the best thing Stan did in this episode was show that he was willing to put his integrity before his country’s orders.)

That humanity was evident in all the scenes that featured Stan worrying about Oleg in this episode. Their relationship has always been one of my favorites on the show, and Emmerich has made it heartbreakingly clear that Stan has come to truly care about Oleg. The deep sense of responsibility and guilt Stan carries when it comes to Oleg is clearly connected to what happened to Nina, but it’s more than that, too. People matter to Stan; they’re not disposable or easily forgotten.

Whenever I think of Stan, I think of him as the opposite of the “The Bureau does not feel” message that was delivered last season. The Bureau may not feel, but its agents sometimes do. And Stan feels more than most. It takes a great actor to make that depth of feeling and caring—that steadfast sense of responsibility to those who trusted him—truly resonate on a show with this much moral ambiguity. Stan is the very definition of this show’s idea that caring about people makes life a lot more dangerous but also makes it worth living, and I can’t wait to see what Emmerich continues to do as Stan’s story progresses this season.

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