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.