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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TV Time: The Americans 5.06

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Source: refinery29.com

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: The Americans 5.05

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Source: vox.com

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: The Americans 5.04

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Source: avclub.com

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: The Americans 5.03

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Source: tvline.com

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: The Americans 5.02

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Source: ew.com

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: 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!

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Source: Uproxx.com

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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NGN’s Best of 2016: TV Moments, Episodes, and Shows

I hope all of you have a safe and happy New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day, and may 2017 bring you an abundance of laughter, love, peace, good health, and everything that makes you happiest.

I apologize for the delay in posting my Best of 2016 lists; I needed to take some time instead to write something in honor of Carrie Fisher, a personal hero of mine. But the delay just means you get three lists in one on this last day of 2016!

For as difficult as parts of this year have been, I think we can all agree that it was a great year for television. In a world where it felt like sexism was given a frighteningly public platform, we were given shows, episodes, and moments that brought fierce, complex female characters to the forefront. In a stressful year, we were given plenty of things to laugh about, but there were also plenty of cathartic moments to cry over, too.

As the television landscape continued to broaden and deepen, it became more difficult than ever to narrow down these lists, which is a problem I am more than happy to have. These are my choices for the best TV had to offer this year (in addition to my picks for Best Performances and Best Relationships, which I shared earlier), but I want to know yours, too! Don’t forget to add your picks in the comments and to check out the lists made by TVexamined and MGcircles for more end-of-2016 fun!

Best Moments

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Source: Disney Channel

1. Secret Santa exchange (Girl Meets World: “Girl Meets a Christmas Maya”)
Sometimes you just want to feel good when you watch television, and no moment this year made me feel better than this gift exchange between the core group of friends on Girl Meets World. Each gift represented the kind of deep, sincere understanding and appreciation that makes the relationships on this show so special. From Smackle’s gift of the broken clock and reminder to Maya that her friends know how hard she’s working to fix herself to Zay’s gift of the re-written etiquette book that made Smackle feel loved for exactly who she is, this was one of those moments that made you feel hopeful for the future. In a year that made many of us confront the reality that the world can be an unkind place, this was a reminder of the importance of kindness and friendship just when we needed it most.

2. Claire and Jamie say goodbye (Outlander: “Dragonfly in Amber”)
Claire and Jamie’s love story has always been epic, but this scene took it to an entirely new level of emotional power. The chemistry between Caitriona Balfe and Sam Hueghan was sparking during this scene with a ferocity I’ll never forget, an intensity and total believability (even in the face of the fantastical element of time travel) that set this scene apart from any other love scene that aired in 2016.  I dare you to watch Hueghan deliver his line, “Lord, ye gave me a rare woman, and God, I loved her well” without swooning and crying at the same time. (I’ve tried; it’s physically impossible.)

3. “Hallelujah” (Saturday Night Live: “Dave Chappelle, A Tribe Called Quest”)
Kate McKinnon is a gift that none of us are worthy of, and if you need proof of that, watch this moment again. It was the perfect blending of character and actor; you could feel her singing as both Hillary and Kate, which made it even more cathartic to watch. For those of us left shocked and saddened by the results of this year’s presidential election (and the loss of the genius Leonard Cohen), this was the cathartic moment we so desperately needed. “Hallelujah” is one of my favorite songs ever written, and this only made me love it more. I still can’t watch it without crying through McKinnon’s stunning vocals on the last verse (“And even though it all went wrong, I’ll stand before the Lord of song with nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah…”) and her impassioned, emotional plea to do as both she and Hillary would want and never give up fighting for what we believe in. When I need to feel both emotional and empowered, this is still the moment I turn to.

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