TV Time: The Americans 6.08

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Source: indiewire.com

Title: The Summit

This Week’s Discussion Topic: The Heartbreaking, Heroic Humanity of Elizabeth Jennings
“You don’t think I’m a human being?”

That question looms over every moment of “The Summit,” and by the end of the episode, no one who’s been paying attention could accuse Elizabeth Jennings of being devoid of humanity. This was an episode devoted to putting the show’s truest believer through the emotional wringer until every speck of soul she tried to burn away with ideological zeal and every bit of conscience she tried to bury under her devotion to her cause were finally laid bare. And from that vulnerable place emerged a woman who’s more dangerous and in more danger than ever before—because humanity can be a strength, but in the world these characters inhabit, it can also get you killed.

Elizabeth’s awakening sense of agency didn’t come out of nowhere. It was the culmination of small moments of humanity throughout the show’s run, including the powerful moment in last week’s “Harvest” when she let herself finally accept the magnitude of Philip’s love for her and the lengths her will go to for her. The opening of “The Summit” was fueled by that revelation, with Elizabeth entering their living room in a much less guarded and more sincere emotional state than we’ve seen her in previously this season. The softness on her face when she told Philip she knows he cares about what happened in Chicago and that he worries about her was a shocking contrast from how she’s looked at her husband for much of this season. Elizabeth’s walls were down with her husband in that moment, and that made everything that came after even more painful because Keri Russell let us see exactly why Elizabeth puts those walls up in the first place—because anyone she lets behind those walls has the power to destroy her.

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TV Time: The Americans 6.07

After a little hiatus, I’m back and ready (but also completely NOT READY) to discuss this final run of episodes with all of you! And because I feel these last episodes of such a deep and complex show deserve a little more attention, the format for these posts will be changing slightly to accommodate even more analysis. I’ll be taking one major theme/discussion point each week and developing it into an essay, but please feel free to bring up other discussion points, too. I hope you all find the change to be a welcome one, and I also hope to see your thoughts, hopes, fears, and favorite moments in the comments section!

the-americans-episode-607-harvest-promotional-photos

Source: spoilertv.com

Title: Harvest

This Week’s Discussion Topic: Epiphanies, Emotional Connections, and the Truths We Try to Bury
“Harvest” was an episode that lived up to its name. So many moments in the episode harkened back to similar moments in the pilot, and it was both thrilling and gut-wrenching to watch those seeds planted so many years ago—in both the show’s timeline and our own—begin to finally sprout into something fruitful for the plot. But where this episode truly excelled was in using the time that’s passed and the emotional connections that have developed between these characters to turn those parallels to the pilot into explorations of how far these characters have come and how much higher the stakes are because of those emotional connections.

This episode was anchored by three key epiphanies for its three major players—Stan, Elizabeth, and Philip. But, in typical The Americans fashion, these moments didn’t lead to huge shifts in plot momentum or dramatic “Aha!” scenes. Instead, they were quiet moments of shifting understanding, handled with no dialogue or in the spaces between words where so much of the emotional weight of this show has always existed. These moments were less about propelling the plot forward into the final stretch of episodes than they were about reminding us what this show has always been and will always be about: the connections between people. While this episode certainly moved the characters closer to the endgame, it did so in a way that prioritized the interpersonal consequences of those moves and, in doing so, ensured that absolutely no one (including those of us watching) will be able to escape the coming carnage unscathed.

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TV Time: The Americans 6.04

After a brief departure from the normal format of these posts (You can check out last week’s deep dive into my thoughts on humanity and nihilism on The Americans if you’re looking for some light reading.), we’re back with our typical post-episode rundown this week! However, for the next two weeks, NGN will be on hiatus as I take the vacation the Jennings family never took to EPCOT. Posts around here should be back up and running following the May 8th episode and will continue for the remainder of the season—hopefully with a few fun wrap-up posts celebrating the show as a whole before it’s all done!

the-americans-episode-604-mr-and-mrs-teacup-promotional-photo

Source: spoilertv.com

Title: Mr. and Mrs. Teacup

Episode M.V.P.: Matthew Rhys
No one plays conflicted and downtrodden like Matthew Rhys. At the very beginning of the season, it was nice to see him looking lighter and more confident than perhaps we’ve ever seen him, and even as it became clear that he was dealing with plenty of problems of his own, his inner struggles seemed to pale in comparison to what Elizabeth has been going through. However, in “Mr. and Mrs. Teacup,” Rhys brought such nuance and depth to Philip’s scenes that I found myself feeling more drawn into his story than I have been so far this season.

Rhys played what felt like 100 different variations on the theme of disappointment in this episode, and each one managed to break my heart more than the one before it. There was his disappointment with Elizabeth over how she’s handled the fallout of Paige seeing Rennhull’s death, which came out in a burst of angry skepticism that was clearly influenced by all Oleg has told him about what Elizabeth might be up to. There was his disappointment with the young woman Paige is becoming, which came out in frustration over her acting as if she knew more about the world of spying than he does (another great use of a universal experience—a child trying to act as if they know more than a parent—made incredibly specific to this universe). There was his disappointment with the “American Dream,” which was laid out so well in that scene with Stan at the bar, with Philip’s communist background coming through in a subtle but very pointed way. There was his disappointment with Elizabeth’s lack of openness, which was played on two levels: disappointment as a husband that his wife doesn’t desire the same level of intimacy they once had and disappointment as a spy that he couldn’t get more information out of her.

And then there was the saddest scene in the episode, in which a father and a son both faced the disappointment of not being able to afford his boarding school education anymore. Watching Philip try to break the news to Henry as gently as possible broke my heart because Rhys is so good at being so achingly sincere. It felt so grounded in reality—a conversation I’m sure many parents have had and will continue to have—that it made me uncomfortable to watch it unfold. This was a kind of vulnerability and disappointment that many people can relate to, and Rhys brings such a human touch to everything he does that he made what could have felt like a mundane plot point resonate with genuine sadness. Watching Elizabeth deal with the strain of high body counts, high-stress missions, and the constant presence of a suicide pill around her neck is upsetting but it’s not something that’s easy to empathize with. However, watching Philip deal with financial problems and a family that’s falling apart is painfully relatable. And Rhys gives his scenes enough weight that what could have been boring deviations from Elizabeth’s missions have begun to resonate in powerful ways.

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Holding on to Humanity: My Journey with The Americans (So Far)

Today’s The Americans analysis is going to be structured differently than what you’re used to around these parts, but hopefully my rationale makes sense when all is said and done. There are only so many weeks in a row that I can talk about how well Keri Russell is playing Elizabeth’s downward spiral, and there are much more important things I want to get around to now that we’re a few episodes into this final season.

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Source: spoilertv.com

As many of you know, I don’t watch a lot of “prestige dramas.” I never warmed up to Breaking Bad, Mad Men didn’t interest me at all, and The Sopranos was before my time and never beckoned me to discover what all the fuss was about years later. All those male-driven antihero dramas just seemed too depressing to keep watching every week for years on end. Life can be hard enough; I didn’t want the media I consumed to be another source of doom and gloom.

And then I discovered The Americans.

What made that show different? Why did I fall so deeply in love with what many people have called one of the bleakest shows on television when I couldn’t stomach other similarly dark dramas? Obviously the fact that its main antihero was a woman made it immediately more compelling to me. Elizabeth Jennings drew me into her messed-up mind in a way that Don Draper, Walter White, and all the men who came before them never could. But it was so much more than that.

It was the fact that, from the pilot, this has been a show about two broken people learning how to love each other. It has always been a show about a marriage. But even beyond that, it has always been a show about humanity. It’s a show about the things that makes us human—our need to connect with each other, our need to find some level of truth and honesty with another person, our desire for intimacy. From the moment Philip chose killing Elizabeth’s rapist over turning him in and Elizabeth then chose telling Philip the truth about herself over following their orders to never mention their pasts, The Americans has always been a show about choosing people—flesh and blood and warmth—over hard and cold ideals.

That focus on the connections between people has kept The Americans from being too dark. Even at its lowest points—the death of Nina, the sad story of Martha—there was always an underlying sense of humanity amid tragedy. Nina was killed in a brutal way, but she died because she chose friendship over following orders and betraying a good man. And Martha’s life was shockingly spared in no small way because Philip had come to care for her. Also, she may have ended up in Russia, but she didn’t end up alone. Her dream of being a mother was realized in the form of an orphaned Russian girl the KGB arranged for her to adopt.

It all comes back to people. On a show about warring ideological forces, the human beings on both sides are shown to be exactly that—human beings. And human beings have a desire to connect with each other, to build relationships and develop intimacy and form families.

That’s what made The Americans different for me. It was a show that ventured into very dark territory, but it balanced that darkness with humanity. Even when the show seemed bleak, it never became completely nihilistic. It never preached the idea that nothing matters because everything and everyone is terrible (which would have been an easy thing to preach given the subject matter). In fact, it seemed to be preaching the opposite: There is meaning to be found in even the saddest lives and most tragic stories. But that meaning isn’t found in something intangible like patriotism or even idealism; it’s found in the relationships we form with each other.

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TV Time: The Americans 6.02

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Source: tvline.com

Title: Tchaikovsky

Episode M.V.P.: Keri Russell
I’m sure there will come a day when I choose someone else as the M.V.P., but I honestly can’t imagine it right now. To turn in a career performance every episode for six years is something special, and to elevate that work to even higher heights of brilliance (by taking her character to even lower depths of pain and desperation) in its final season is even more astounding. There’s nothing phoned-in about Russell’s work, and it’s amazing to see how many variations on “exhausted” can be played by one person. What could be one-dimensional has instead become a performance not unlike the paintings Elizabeth is surrounded by—haunting and heartbreaking, showing new layers each time you look at it.

This episode was once again intensely focused on Elizabeth’s isolation. She’s not telling the whole truth to anyone, and that weighs on a person in a million little ways. I went into great detail last week about the physical manifestation of Elizabeth’s loneliness and exhaustion, so I’ll save you the same spiel this week, but you could apply every word I wrote to her work again. I continue to marvel at how small she’s made Elizabeth feel—how fragile she seems in those big sweaters with her arms crossed over her chest and her shoulders hunched over like she’s literally being compressed by the weight of all she has to carry on her own. But then when she’s on her missions, that ramrod straight posture and confident walk return, and that only makes me marvel more at Russell’s criminally underrated ability to devote every inch of her body to the story she’s telling.

Russell’s knack for bringing complexity and nuance to every moment she’s onscreen was used perfectly in the episode’s closing moments. The fact that her confession of having two children was both a moment of truth and a blatant attempt at manipulating a deadly situation played to Russell’s strengths. Elizabeth was both completely vulnerable and searching for a way to regain power, and Russell sold Elizabeth’s desperation in a way that made me genuinely afraid for her and also genuinely impressed with her ability to get out of that situation alive.

I know this won’t be the last time this season that I worry about Elizabeth’s fate, and so much of that sheer terror I feel when I think about it comes from the way Russell plays the sense that even Elizabeth thinks she’s not going to survive much longer. It adds not only an intensity to heightened moments like this episode’s conclusion, but also a lingering sense of impending doom in nearly every scene that has made this final season feel even more like a tragedy waiting to happen than I expected going into it.

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TV Time: The Americans 6.01

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Source: ign.com

Greetings, Comrades! Welcome to the final season of The Americans posts here at NGN! I’m so excited to analyze every last detail of this last season with all of you, and if this episode was any indication, we’ll have much to discuss! So please share your thoughts in the comments because if any show begs for deep conversations, it’s this one, and I need some people to talk to if I’m going to get through this season without having a complete mental and emotional breakdown.

Title: Dead Hand

Episode M.V.P.: Keri Russell
I’m going to write this into being: This will be the year Keri Russell wins her long-overdue Emmy for playing Elizabeth Jennings. I’ve been beating that drum for years now, but if this episode is any indication of the work she’s going to be doing this season, I can’t imagine a world where she doesn’t win.

The thing that has always made Russell’s acting in this role so compelling is also the thing that I think makes it so underrated: It’s all about her body language. Of course she delivers her lines with a sharpness that makes them feel even more deadly than that knife to the security guard’s neck. (Her “I know you love to talk” to Philip was one of those moments that literally knocked the wind out me with how biting it was. It was reminiscent of her legendary work in Season Four’s “The Magic of David Copperfield V.”) But she also brings a uniquely purposeful physicality to the role that lives in the silences that make this show so special. I’ve always believed there is a connection between Russell’s history as a dancer and her ability to use her body as one of the strongest tools in her acting arsenal, and this episode may have featured the best use of those tools yet. So much of what’s going on with Elizabeth is happening under the surface—even more than it usually is because she can’t even let her guard down completely with Philip anymore—so Russell has to use her posture and her movements to let us see inside this character.

And what’s happening inside Elizabeth Jennings is like a car accident—you can’t look away, even though you know you’re staring at utter destruction. Elizabeth is broken, perhaps even more than Philip was at his lowest point. But Russell lets us see the effort she uses to try to hide that from everyone except her husband at the very end—when she’s too tired to be anything but herself. Exhaustion is a hard thing to play convincingly, but Russell makes Elizabeth’s burnout feel painfully tangible because it’s in every physical detail of her performance. It’s in the slump of her usually straight shoulders when she’s alone, it’s in the slower steps she takes, and it’s in the unfocused look in her eyes at times.

Elizabeth isn’t just tired, she’s crumbling from the inside out, and she has no one to lean on. Her isolation is a major visual motif in this episode—she’s by herself a lot. And when she’s alone, she’s often physically curled in on herself, hunched over and looking much smaller than she usually does. It’s been days, and I’m still haunted by one shot in particular: Elizabeth, having just murdered someone to protect Paige’s identity, standing in the rain and smoking a cigarette, shivering with her arms crossed over her body and staring out into the night. This is Elizabeth at the end of her rope, somehow both completely drained and a live wire at the same time. It’s the personification of an exposed nerve—completely frayed by her circumstances. And in that moment, I was both moved by Russell’s performance and terrified by it. Elizabeth at wit’s end could do anything, which was also reflected in that final shot of her with the cyanide necklace. The complete emptiness in her expression and the way Russell let us feel the weight of that necklace like it was a thousand pounds made my whole body tense up as I wondered just how much more she could take of the demands of this lonely life.

The Americans has always excelled at following the “Show, don’t tell,” maxim, and it’s because it has a cast that can tell entire stories without dialogue. This season, I can already see that the story Russell is telling us about Elizabeth—her isolation, her exhaustion, and her desperation—is going to destroy me.

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NGN’s Best of 2017: TV Performances

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Source: The Hollywood Reporter

It’s the most wonderful time of the year—the time when we look back on all the great media we consumed during the last 12 months and talk about our favorites! These Best of the Year lists have been a part of NGN since our earliest days, and they’ve always served as a way to start great conversations about the TV shows we love and provide recommendations to fellow fans. (Comments on these lists were actually the reason I started watching The Americans a few years ago!) So please share your own lists and your thoughts on my picks in the comments. This has been a crazy year, and I’ve missed all our discussions about great TV more than I can say, so before 2017 is done, let’s get back to what’s always made NGN so fun—conversations with each other about the media that means the most to us.

Today, I’ll be sharing my picks for my favorite performances on television in 2017. It was a fantastic year for actors on the small screen, which made this list wonderfully challenging to compile. As I’ve been doing in recent years, I limited myself to only one actor from a particular show, or else I probably would have picked some entire casts. Don’t forget to tell me who turned in your favorite work on television this year in the comments, and for more year-end fun, check out the lists over at TVexamined and Marvelous Geek Circles!

1. Nicole Kidman as Celeste Wright (Big Little Lies)
Big Little Lies was the show that challenged my “one actor per show” rule the most, but when it came down to choosing just one member of this extraordinary ensemble, there was ultimately no question that it would be Kidman. Her performance was heartbreaking in its vulnerability; the physical and emotional trauma Celeste went through was depicted with unflinching realism, and such a harrowing portrayal of the complexities of life in an abusive relationship required an actress who isn’t afraid to go to dark places and take the audience there with her. Kidman is exactly that kind of actress, putting her whole body into this performance—not just in the horrifying scenes of abuse but in the way she made her statuesque body seem small and fragile throughout the series, as if she was curling in on herself in a constant state of fear. Kidman’s gift for nuance was used to brilliant effect, as so much of who Celeste is exists under her picture-perfect surface. In those moments when Kidman let the façade slip momentarily (like when Celeste reveals to Jane that sometimes little boys who bully little girls don’t grow out of it), the quiet force of her performance left me breathless. I watched Big Little Lies months ago, and I still feel haunted by Kidman’s performance. It got under my skin and has refused to let go of my mind and heart, which is when you know an actor did something extraordinary.

2. Keri Russell as Elizabeth Jennings (The Americans)
The fact that Russell still doesn’t have an Emmy for this role is criminal. (You have one more chance, Emmy voters! Don’t screw it up.) This season more than any other pushed Elizabeth in new directions emotionally, and Russell made the new layers added to this character feel believable, which is no small feat for a character who has always been defined by her lack of overt emotion. Of course, she was just as fierce as ever, but Russell was also able to show a gentler side of Elizabeth, deepening the character in complex new ways. The things Russell can do with just her eyes, her smile, and her body language never fail to astound me. So much of what makes this show work is the fact that it can go for long stretches without dialogue because its cast is so good at making quiet beats living, breathing moments, and it all starts with Russell. Every emotion seems to radiate just under her skin—just restrained enough to remind us that this is a woman who plays things so close to the vest it almost hurts to watch her struggle to find the words to show her husband or children the truth of how she feels. This was the season in which Elizabeth Jennings allowed herself to love someone enough to put their needs above the cause—with all the joy and pain that comes with it—and Russell made that journey breathtaking from start to finish.

3. Ted Danson as Michael (The Good Place)
The Good Place has an incredible cast, but the reason its many twists and turns have worked as well as they have (and they work SO WELL) is because of Danson. He gave Michael just the right amount of anxious energy in Season One to make us initially care about this bumbling architect, but his entire performance (and the entirety of the show’s plot) hinged on one moment: that laugh. If you’ve seen the show, you know what I’m talking about. That devious, gleefully evil laugh turned what was an entertaining performance into something so much bigger and bolder—a performance that becomes even better when watched again with the knowledge of the truth. And that performance only got more entertaining in Season Two, as Danson was able to let Michael’s annoyance with the characters around him drive his scenes to great comedic effect. But it wasn’t until we were able to see that Michael has a heart buried under all his evil plans when faced with the possibility of “killing” Janet that the full range of Danson’s skills as an actor were utilized. Danson’s career is already legendary, and after this year, that legend has added another fantastic chapter.

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TV Time: The Americans 5.12

the americans WCC

Source: spoilertv.com

Title: The World Council of Churches

Episode M.V.P.: Keri Russell
“The World Council of Churches” wasn’t a particularly Elizabeth-centric episode, but it still allowed Keri Russell to show the many facets she’s given to this character over the years. When I think about the complexity of Russell’s work in this episode and in the course of this show as a whole, I keep coming back to the final 10 minutes of this episode, which showcased her brilliant ability to seamlessly transition between soft and hard, warm and cold, certain and conflicted.

I think I’ve watched the moment Philip and Elizabeth talk about the names they and their children will take back in Russia about 100 times, and I still can’t get enough of it. The matter-of-fact way Elizabeth tells him that Paige and Henry will take his name was sweet, but it was the beat after—when Philip asked her what name she’d take—that was most affecting. Without any words—with only the softest smile and nod—Russell conveyed so much about Elizabeth’s commitment to her husband and to making their marriage something real no matter where they are. Once again, this scene reminded us that when Elizabeth commits herself to something, she does so with everything she is. And now she’s chosen to commit herself to Philip. The most beautiful thing about that is how happy it makes her. This isn’t Elizabeth choosing him because she has no other options or because someone else forced her to be with him; she’s so happy with her choice that it makes her glow in the darkness. The way Russell has slowly allowed us to see the warmth Elizabeth has hidden underneath compartmentalized trauma and a devotion to her mission made this moment feel believable and realistic. A smile and a nod are not often monumental moments for a character, but for this character, they are. For one moment, Russell allowed us to see what a truly content Elizabeth looks like, and it was a beautiful sight to see.

On the heels of this moment of unguarded happiness and warmth, though, came a reminder that Elizabeth Jennings is still not a woman to mess with. The complexity of emotions that crossed her face upon hearing Tuan’s awful plan was brilliant—Russell showed in a brief flash that Elizabeth understood that Tuan’s plan could work, but her emotions as a mother were stronger than her emotions as an agent. When Elizabeth decides to do something, there’s no hesitation—no waffling. That was my favorite thing about the beat immediately after Philip told her the plan could work, but Pasha could also end up dead—they silently, definitively came to the same conclusion (a lovely reminder of the power of the partnership between Russell and Matthew Rhys and what they can convey without words), and then Elizabeth went into “badass agent mode.” Russell has a very specific tone to her voice when Elizabeth is giving orders, and it was wonderful to see it used to try to save a life this time. The cold, harsh way she shoved the phone at Tuan and the deliberate way she seemed to use all the force she had to press the numbers on the phone conveyed the kind of complete authority that Russell projects with effortless confidence.

Elizabeth Jennings is one of the most complex female characters I’ve ever seen on television. She can smile with such genuine affection that it’ll make you melt in one scene, and then she can immediately follow that with a reminder that she is also a force to be reckoned with and a terror for anyone who stands in the way of her getting what she wants. That dichotomy may have rang false in the hands of a lesser actress, but luckily, Russell has always been more than up to the task of showing us that Elizabeth—like all women—can’t be made to fix into one nice little box.

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TV Time: The Americans 5.11

Title: Dyatkovo

Episode M.V.P.: Irina Dubova
What has always made The Americans resonate with me is the way it makes you care about basically every character—from Philip, Elizabeth, and Stan to the various men, women, and even children who find themselves caught up in the tangled web they’re weaving. The casting department for this show consistently manages to find actors who are able to break my heart in even the smallest roles. That was certainly true in this episode, as Irina Dubova (who only has 11 acting credits to her name dating back to just 2013, according to IMDB) made me feel physically sick over a soon-to-be victim’s fate in a way I haven’t felt since Lois Smith’s incredible work as Betty in Season Three’s “Do Mail Robots Dream of Electric Sheep?”

What I found most impressive about Dubova’s work in this episode was the way she embodied the very core of The Americans—the concepts of truth, identity, and reality versus artifice—in such a short amount of time onscreen. The fact that I spent most of her scene truly wondering whether or not “Natalie” was who the Center believed she was is a credit to Dubova. In order for the scene to work, we had to be unsure, we had to doubt the Center at first, and then we also had to ask the same question Philip asks: Does it even matter if she really is who she the Center claims she is? Does she deserve to die?

That question can be asked of every one of Philip and Elizabeth’s victims over the years, but for some reason, it weighed heavier on me during this scene than perhaps any other. So much of the horror of this episode’s final minutes came from the absolutely heartbreaking performance Dubova gave as the truth came out. Dubova made every word, every pause, and every breath feel deeply personal. When she begged Philip and Elizabeth not to let her husband know because “He thinks I’m wonderful,” I felt absolutely gutted. It was such a simple line, but Dubova’s delivery of it was devastating. The fact that what mattered most to her was not her own life but her husband’s belief that she was a good person made every second that came afterward even more painful.

When “Natalie” and her husband were killed, I found myself more horrified than I have ever been over one of Philip and Elizabeth’s kills on this show. Part of that was because her husband was completely innocent, but the main reason I was so viscerally upset was because Dubova made me care about her character despite my own best instincts. Did she do terrible things to survive? Yes. Was she perhaps “more deserving” (if that can ever be said) of the violence that befell her than Betty or the lab worker from earlier this season or the man Philip killed on the bus in that infamous “Tainted Love” scene? Yes. But the whole point of this scene was to put us in Philip’s shoes, asking if that matters at all. She might have done the Nazis’ dirty work, but she is still a human being who feels, who loves, and who has a family she wants to protect. And Dubova made all of that so horribly clear in that scene, making me feel every bit as broken as Philip over the idea of this woman having to die. “Natalie” wasn’t just a target; she was a person, and for the ending of this episode to hit as heavily as it did, she needed to feel like a fully realized, complex person, which Dubova did with heartbreaking honesty as her character’s true story began to unfold.

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TV Time: The Americans 5.07

 

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Source: avclub.com

Title: The Committee on Human Rights

Episode M.V.P.: Holly Taylor
The Americans is a show that delights in the details, and nowhere is that more evident than in the performances its cast delivers each episode. Just the smallest change in facial expressions or body language can signal huge changes in a character arc if you’re paying attention. And that has certainly been true of Paige’s journey over the last few seasons. Holly Taylor has clearly learned from the example set by the brilliant actors around her, and she has become a beautifully nuanced actor in her own right. Her work in this episode especially was filled with tiny touches that revealed big things about where Paige’s mind and heart are at this point in her story.

Paige is at a crossroads, and this episode showed her both being drawn deeper into her parents’ world while also struggling with the weight of what it means to follow in their footsteps—to sacrifice for what she believes is the greater good. I loved the gentle, tentative warmth between her and Gabriel in the opening scene. Taylor’s small, sincere smile when Gabriel said Paige had courage made me happy and also broke my heart because she made it so clear that this is all Paige wanted to hear—that it’s taking courage for her to get through every day now that she knows her parents’ secret. I loved the way Taylor played Paige’s acceptance of Gabriel as the closest thing she’ll ever have to an extended family—with a complex but believable mixture of happiness and hesitation, a desire to know more about this person who clearly cares about her but also a touch of sadness that even her stuffed tiger’s origins were something she was lied to about for years.

As the episode went on, it became clear that introducing Paige to Gabriel worked as far as deepening her connection to her family and their work was concerned. All Paige has ever wanted was to feel like she was part of something that could affect positive change in the world, and Gabriel helped her believe that her parents do that in their own way. That hunger that’s always been part of Paige is something Taylor plays so well, and it came through in such a powerful way when she was asking her parents about the wheat, even though it kills me to think about what’s going to happen when Paige finds out the truth.

The way Taylor allowed us to see Paige processing all this new information about her parents, Gabriel, and the work they do made her decision to break up with Matthew believable. Paige thinks it’s her turn to sacrifice, and it broke my heart to watch her break up with Matthew, effectively walking away from any hope of a normal, teenage life. Taylor was phenomenal in that scene; she has a gift for projecting an honest vulnerability that is rare in young actors. Every beat of that scene was like a dagger in my Paige-loving heart, but the part that made me actually cry was her reaction to pushing him away using what she learned from her mother. The aftermath of that moment was when Taylor’s gift for subtle, expressive movement and physical details was used to its fullest. Watching her physically curl in on herself, holding her hands as if unsure what to do with them was devastating. And the total anguish in her voice when she apologized gutted me. In that moment, Paige gave up any hope of happiness in the service of something greater (made clear in the next scene when her eyes landed on the copy of Marx on her bookshelf), and Taylor made that moment feel deeply, profoundly sad.

No character on television right now ignites my protective instincts like Paige Jennings, and so much of that is because of the believable openness Taylor brings to the character. Unlike the other characters on the show, Paige is an open book; she wears her heart on her sleeve, which has left it far more beaten and bruised than any teenager’s heart should be. Watching Paige slowly close that book and hide her heart away has been hard to watch, but Taylor has done such a fantastic job with this part of Paige’s story that I can’t look away—no matter how much it hurts.

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