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

the americans 504


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

the americans 502


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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TV Time: Once Upon a Time 6.12



Title Murder Most Foul

Two-Sentence Summary When Charming enlists Killian’s help in discovering the truth about who killed his father, Killian sees an opportunity to earn Charming’s respect before asking for Emma’s hand in marriage—until a terrible truth is revealed. Meanwhile, Regina struggles with the complications of bringing Wish-Realm Robin to Storybrooke.

Favorite Line “Someday, may we all be reunited with our sons.” (Rumplestiltskin)

My Thoughts What does it mean to be enough, to have enough, to do enough? When you spend your whole life chasing the idea of being “enough” (respected enough, powerful enough, good enough), what happens when you discover that sometimes “enough” isn’t enough? Bad things can still happen even when you try your best to be good enough. You can still lose those you love even when you try to be powerful enough. Your past can still come back to haunt you even when you try to be respected enough.

A discovery like that can break you, or it can open your eyes to the idea that you don’t have to chase anything; you’re enough exactly as you are.

With its central theme avoiding the temptation to give in to darkness, it made sense for “Murder Most Foul” to deal heavily with Killian and Regina. However, I loved that it actually focused most closely on Charming. He’s a character we don’t get to explore with great depth that often, but when we do, we are shown a picture of a man who is often tempted to give in to darkness when he feels he isn’t doing enough to protect his family. And in this case, he felt he wasn’t doing enough to avenge the one member of his family we knew the least about until this episode: his father.

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TV Time: The Americans 5.01

Welcome back to our weekly discussion of the best show on television, comrades! I can’t wait to spend this season talking about mothers, grain supplies, my deep love for Paige Jennings, and wigs with all of you!



Title: Amber Waves

Episode M.V.P.: The hole
You didn’t think I was going to discuss this episode without singling out the hole, did you? Everything about that scene was made for digging into deep analysis (pun intended), and it set up the season in such a revelatory way that I’ve found myself unable to think of much else when I look back on this episode. “Amber Waves” didn’t spend a lot of time with one character or actor, which made it difficult for me to pick an actor for M.V.P., but it did spend a lot of time with the hole—so much time, in fact, that I could see why it might have bothered other people. Devoting the final 10 or so minutes of your penultimate season’s premiere to a mostly wordless scene involving digging in the darkness is something no other show on television today would even attempt. The scene called for a mixture of storytelling patience, actors who can convey huge amounts of thoughts and emotions without words, and an audience comfortable with long periods of silence—and The Americans has proven that it has all three of those things in spades.

The scene also called for an incredible amount of confidence from the writers and director—confidence in both the moment they were creating and confidence in their audience to appreciate it. The entire scene was a ballsy move, especially in a season premiere, and the risk paid off. It showed the relative monotony of realistic spy work while still leaving viewers on edge, and then it reminded us brutally that no one is safe in this world and that we can never let ourselves be lulled into a false sense of security by the show’s moments of silence and methodical spycraft.

Yes, the scene was gutsy in its monotony and shocking in its conclusion, but that’s not why I think it was the most valuable part of the episode. It was the way it set up what appears to be some of this season’s major themes that made me believe it’s going to be one of the most valuable scenes of the entire season when all is said and done. Philip and Elizabeth keep digging themselves in deeper; that’s a metaphor that was hard to miss. They’ve been digging a hole for years that could very well be their grave. But it was Hans’s fate in the hole they dug that struck me the most in terms of what it means for the future of this show. Philip and Elizabeth made it out of the hole they dug, but Hans didn’t—sweet, idealistic, young Hans who trusted them (especially Elizabeth) almost as parental figures; this was especially evident in the way Elizabeth reassured him in a motherly tone that things were going to be okay before she shot him. Literally one misstep was all it took for Hans to fall into the hole they dug and become exposed to something deadly and dangerous. And once he was exposed to it, there was no way out; there was only one way for his story to end. Elizabeth being the one to shoot Hans was the perfect choice; for her, practicality has always come before emotional ties. But the look she and Philip shared afterward showed that these kinds of choices and sacrifices aren’t easy for either of them.

Philip and Elizabeth were aware of the risks they faced in that hole, but Hans was supposed to be relatively safe from his place above it. It reminded both of them—and us as viewers—that even simply being around the hole Philip and Elizabeth have dug and the deadly possibility at the center of it is dangerous.

If you just read all of that and somehow managed to not be terrified for Paige and Henry (especially Paige), you must have nerves of steel. This season seems to be about children (both real and stand-in) and their parents, and ending the premiere with the image of Elizabeth and Philip’s wide eyes after she shot the agent who was like a spy son to her seems to point to dark and dangerous moments and difficult choices ahead for Philip, Elizabeth, and their children.

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