The Americans "Mutually Assured Destruction" Review: Stranger Danger

By Ryan Sandoval

Mar 21, 2013

The Americans S01E08 "Mutually Assured Destruction"

Amid trouble in spy paradise, Phillip and Elizabeth intercepted a German assassin hired to kill ballistic scientists while Beeman and Nina took their relationship to an increasingly personal level in "Mutually Assured Destruction." One of The Americans’ calling cards is fast becoming the show’s metaphorical missions, with each assignment relating thematically to whatever couples drama happens to be going on between Amador/Martha/Phillip/Elizabeth or Stan/Sandra/Nina. So it made sense that in this literally explosive eighth installment (because bombs), the KGB tasked the Jennings with neutralizing its own hard-to-find hired killer, a move that ultimately proved as futile as Phillip’s attempts to apologize his way out of the doghouse with his wife. Both scenarios resulted in some serious boundary identification. The regularly promiscuous couple realized that sex on the job is not okay when it involves broken promises and lovers' lies, while Russia discovered the limits of its own ability to cancel plans at the last minute. Vacillation—either in a commitment to a partner or in backing off from an ordered hit—can only last so long until buried intention turns to action, and the truth comes to surface, for better or for worse.

Aliases, secret identities, and the manipulation of reality have been in play all season, whether in Nina’s lying to Arkady or Beeman’s hiding an affair from Sandra while the FBI speculates on how its Russian counterpart is able to strike from so deep within its own operation (in a walkie-talkie, even). Sometimes these fakeries are justified, and World War III is prevented for another episode. Other times, the misinformation caused by duplicity results in crossed-wires and messy deaths (I wonder what part of the bathroom the hotel maids will clean first). In a way, this time the potential danger of a hidden, uncertain agenda manifested in physical form. The German assassin, who had fallen out of contact with his employers and whose identity was mostly unknown, existed in this outing as a benign force, an unchecked persona moving through the world like a boogeyman iteration of spy craft with absolutely no humanity. He was the polar opposite of Phillip and Elizabeth, who are brimming with humanity.  

With the Jennings opening up the episode discussing Beeman’s nature of being an information "trickler," and later Nina describing a spy’s goal as "bleeding" information from a target, we once again got a comparison of intel extraction to the gradual drawing-out of personality when two strangers reveal themselves to one another. As Nina and Beeman become more intimate, I wonder if they'll have any future but to eventually separate like the Jennings. The seeds have already been planted for the demise of Stan's relationship with Sandra, and I can see him becoming smitten enough with Nina to jeopardize his own career. How noble would that be? Standing up to the FBI for the woman he loves? The only problem I'd foresee is Agent Gaad pressuring him to keep Nina in the mix for the gain of the department. Also, setting a terrible example for his own son, but come on, the Beeman marriage seems pretty over. Sorry! 

Speaking of which, who knew divorce for the married couple was even allowed? I thought their cover depended on appearing to be happily married, but now, according to Phillip, the KGB won’t even care? This all came about because Elizabeth felt betrayed by Phillip (though she's had her own bouts with hidden infidelity). It begs the question: Is it worse to continually hide a secret affair for over a decade (Gregory) from a spouse who was at the time mostly professional, OR to lie about a recent affair (Irina) at a time when the two of you are trying to patch things up and there are even some real feelings being bandied back and forth? On paper, you’d think they could just call it even, or at least settle for the same working dynamic they'd managed up until the pilot episode. In the world of team espionage, maybe emotions will always lead to a "mutually assured destruction."  


– Amador’s stalking is going to put him on the path of Phillip (...or death?). 

– Nina's promotion—is it Arkady trying to sniff her out as a mole, or does he really believe in her?

– Martha had her own file cabinet scare. Is she bizarro Nina?

– Three explosions + a gun standoff = cool.

– Elizabeth's necklace was really dangling in Phillip's face during intercourse with Martha.

– Wow, never seen a little girl hold a shotgun before. Unsettling.

– "Just think how you would feel looking at me dead one day," damn Nina, way to highlight the most brutal part of caring for someone.

– Costume department is having a field day with Mathew Rhys’s disguises. This was my favorite yet. 

– Rad closing montage, more songs please.

What did you think of the episode?

  • Comments (55)
Add a Comment
In reply to :
  • natesjokes Mar 22, 2013

    Give these writers a bloody raise. So many great lines, plus each episode just keeps getting better. Going for some awards are we?

  • MarlboroMagpi Mar 22, 2013

    Correct me if I am wrong. I saw the opening credits that this show is produce by Graham Yost. He is also responsible for JUSTIFIED which is really good too especially this week. NO wonder this show is so good. It seems he is also responsible for Speed, Broken Arrow, and Hard Rain. I am going to look out for this guy in the future!

  • klotensen Mar 22, 2013

    If I was Phillip, I would have lied to Elizabeth as often I could. I would sleep with Mrs Beeman and all the stuff so she ALWAYS gives me her wonderful stinky eye, and, and then she stomps on my crotch and spits on me, and says things like"Do you feel THAT, you imperialistic pig?!" Basically, my Phillip would be a total mess.

  • Whedonrules Mar 22, 2013

    This show has been one of the best things on television this year. The pacing of the story telling has been nothing short of magnificent and the actors/writing keep you so engrossed. No copping out to traditional or familiar story telling. This show seriously needs to be in the mix for awards. All of the missteps of Best Drama's "Homeland" are missing in this show's freshman season. No superfluous characters, no plot contrivances, no Emmy bait - nothing easy. That cold removed glare of Elizabeth in the second picture you put up - its that look of Elizabeth that you can't get rid of. Can't say enough good things about Keri Russell.

    And "Sterling" Beeman letting the other head make really bad decisions because of a pretty face and his desire to keep that pretty face safe. I'm scared what is going to become of that story. Like actually worried one of them is going to die. I still think Nina is playing him like a maestro and he is missing the signs. No matter how that story ends up, it isn't going to be good. Hands clapping for Noah Emmerich and Annet Mahendru for their brilliant work in the scenes the two share. This is an odd couple but you can't watch this show and not be invested in this story.

    So Chris is going to stumble upon Phillip at some point in the near future. An entirely different take on the familiar jilted lover trope. Cannot wait for that.

    Finally, a great Cure song to end the episode!!

    Another great episode. Just superb storytelling.

  • abdulay31 Mar 22, 2013

    Great episode, The Americans has proved to be one of the best new shows on T.V and the episode clearly justified its status. I will love to see how the Phillip/Elizabeth story will unfold considering they have reach a breaking point and they cant even trust each other it will affect their operation. The FBI its a bit unorganized and for a top government security i find it hard to believe such high level data will be left unguarded to the use of every low level staff. Amador's Stalking will lead to more discoveries as i much prefer the authorities to be onto Phillip for all the things his being doing undetected.

    Beeman/Nina is heading for a sad end cuz the promotion is a dubious way of sniffing out moles and i think Zhukov may have warned Arkady's and the others to keep an eye on her. Beeman's low key this days and we need the sharp inteeligent officer back than this love struck wuss.

  • Vicky8675309 Mar 22, 2013

    I'd love to see how Philip and Elizabeth's children would react to living in the USSR if they had to go back to the "motherland". I know how I would of reacted....just starting to get into punk (already into rock) and was rebellious. I think it would be fascinating for about a minute (that's about as long as I could stand to listen to teenagers complain) but in this case the kids would be totally right if they complained...I would of run away and lived with friends before moving to the USSR in the 80s (the kids don't even speak the language and grew up American...also born in the USA I think).

  • Vicky8675309 Mar 22, 2013

    Why does Elizabeth believe Claudia? I would not of thought her to find Claudia trustworthy. I guess she didn't trust Philip enough...well, she was right but she is also a hypocrite.

    Philip seems to have more insight into the world/politics and seems slightly more practical...too bad he can't keep his pants zipped (same goes for Beeman and for Elizabeth).

    Wow, one scene with a condom...and I was thinking if they lived long enough they would all end up with syphilis or AIDS (have to google when in the 80s AIDS was first diagnosed).

    I would think the KGB kept better records---this contrived plot device or whatever it is seemed weak to me. WTF...they didn't know who they hired? I didn't like that at all (but I liked the explosions and the walkie talkie bomb and the back up self protection bomb in the hotel room). Elizabeth and the window was silly (about as "hollywood" silly as the trunk of the car). I love badass females (i.e., Carrie in Banshee) but this seems to "hollywood" (over the top in a bad way; not real)

    Regarding "The German assassin, who had fallen out of contact with his employers and whose identity was mostly unknown, existed in this outing as a benign force, an unchecked persona moving through the world like a boogeyman iteration of spy craft with absolutely no humanity. He was the polar opposite of Phillip and Elizabeth, who are brimming with humanity."...
    I understand what you are saying but that's how the writers wanted to handle it. To the writers of the show I say (and the reviewers--sorry but I'm going to lump you in with the writers who usually do a fantastic job with this show): no humanity? he was just in one episode for a few minutes total. For all we know he is a loving father of 5 with a wife of 20 years who he loves dearly. He is loyal to his country (like all of our main characters) and was "doing his job". Philip and Elizabeth (she is also an assassin) both assassinate the guy. They never developed his character so I guess that is why you say he has no humanity (obviously not said because he killed people which Elizabeth has done and basically all the main characters would do for their country if ordered). I kind of feel sorry for this assassin...he wasn't even trying to kill a jittery traitor (apparently I'm still pissed at Elizabeth for that even though he was a traitor and she was just doing her job...she just bugs me). I feel sorry for him because he is automatically the bad guy and doesn't even have a backstory much less a name. I'm sure has has been brimming with humanity at time (maybe not) but how would we know since we just saw a few minutes of him. He was kind of bad ass and I wish I knew more about him (cool to have the self-defense "bomb" in place even though it got him killed...he stayed calm and actually pulled a weapon when both Elizabeth and Philip had weapons drawn on him. He needs to travel to the future and take lessons from Raylan Givens!

    Despite all the negatives I seems to comment for this series, I like it (some parts are awesome and some are eye-rolling). I'm getting tired of the back and forth emotional roller coaster of Philip and Elizabeth (to much soap opera) but I like Beeman and Nina (don't see a happy ending there unfortunately....I'm interested to see if Beeman defies his country and if Nina is playing him (don't blame her if she is). I think Beeman really has feeling for her. He needs to divorce his wife if he loves another woman and sleeps with her. I hope they used protection. I doubt it because he was "drunk"...I wonder if Nina gets pregnant...that may be her ticket out (or be the trigger for Beeman to really go to bat for her. If Beeman divorces his wife and marries Nina then can she stay here legally?

    I think Arkady believes Nina and may even have the hots for her.
    When did 99 luft balloons come out? lol

  • Whedonrules Mar 22, 2013

    The Russians were miles behind USA in the technology department. Their computers still had vacuum tubes in the early '80s and they weren't exactly pioneers in communications either. Notice how archaic and flimsy Elizabeth getting their orders appears. That made the "bad communications" seem a little more plausible for me.

    99 Luftballons - 1984

  • Vicky8675309 Mar 22, 2013

    I thought the KGB were notorious about their well kept records.

    I'm thinking maybe the person ("middleman") who hired the assassin died and the person ("boss) who ordered a hiring of the assassin doesn't know where the middleman kept his records of it or they were destroyed--maybe there is an another unmade show with American agents in the USSR and they whacked the middle man and got the records but were to late....

  • FringeFanatic Mar 22, 2013

    Great thoughts! Although, you and I have differing opinions on the future of Nina, I love your theories. Personally, I thought Arkady seemed suspicious as hell of Nina when he summoned her into his office. I guess we'll just have to wait and see. :)

    "I would think the KGB kept better records" - Haha! So true!

  • Vicky8675309 Mar 22, 2013

    I think her future is grim;-( but I am rooting for her. I think I want Beeman to divorce his wife (she deserves a man who loves her and is faithful to her) and marry Nina (green card??). More likely she will get pregnant and end up dying (which would be the worst outcome imo).

    I hope Beeman doesn't become a traitor because of his feelings for Nina and anger at the FBI for not helping her defect (lol, I'm acting like it has already happened). Imagine if Beeman gets so disillusioned with the FBI and by extension his country that he turns traitor (in the name of messed up). Then Phillip wises up and realizes his kids and him will never want to live in the USSR and with time he realizes the west will prevail so he defects. Essentially Beeman and Phillip change It's late at night so the theories are wacky.

  • Vicky8675309 Mar 22, 2013

    forgot to say: it seemed like Arkady was initially suspicious but then she seemed to have convinced him that she was loyal. However that can't be true or can't stay true because it lessens the tension/suspense of her traitorous actions. Therefore, logically, Arkady must either remain suspicious or become suspicious again...

  • TVGirlCCC Mar 22, 2013

    Poor Elizabeth. Just when she started to open up herself for a relationship and granny drops this bomb on her. As cold and hypocritical as her reaction to the news is, it is easy to see that the woman in her is hurting. Putting herself out there took a lot from her and the reward was just shitty. Granny is a stoned cold bitch and mother Russia an even worse handler. But this strain on their relationship is great for the show`s development. We cannot have happy too soon.

  • ionee24 Mar 23, 2013

    I honestly don't now if they could even handle "happy" at this point. Philip and Elizabeth's relationship is based in a dangerous job and a one way ticket to hell. I can't even picture a single happy instant in their lives, not even when their own children were born.

  • bleumystique Mar 22, 2013

    This show is just incredible. Like it's easily one of the best and strongest shows that have come out of this season, and we all know it's been a shaky season for new shows. Really shaky. This episode was just so good and intense, explosive, and just awesome. I love how they just cover everything and they do it brilliantly. We get everything we need to get in the hour, a little character background and development for one or more of the characters, interesting missions and developments on the spy front, the ridiculously intriguing aspect that is the complicated relationship between Phillip and Elizabeth. There is something here for everyone. All the time.
    -Armador's stalking is creepy as hell. I mean if this was current dude would have a sexual harassment charges up the wazoo. But yes, clearly this is leading to him crossing paths with Phillip, with bis blond hair and geeky glasses. High stakes. Always with the high stakes.
    -Yeah, I'm thinking Nina is on his radar. He seems like he may be immune to her sensuality too. Nina is such an interesting character and enjoyable to watch. This episode was the first time I actually found her scary. An awesome kind of scary, but still scary. I've always seen her as smart and savvy, but I'm starting to feel like there is so much more to her. She has these lethal vibes, her convos with Beeman were just, well written for starters but gave me chills because there is an extra level of mystery to her now. Like just what has she done in her life? How dangerous is she? I love it. Beeman seems like he'll throw his career on the line for this girl, and his boss obviously suspects as much, I mean he's taking full advantage of them sleeping together even though he's pretending as though he's none the wiser. a safe house? Really? Uh huh. But I wouldn't be surprised if Nina ends up dead by the end of the season...and boy will it have an impact.
    - I loved the explosion action and the shooting and everything. I mean it was a bit more action packed than it typically is. What I love about this show though, is 30 years ago espionage was work. I mean hard work. The stakes seemed higher, there was more to it. It took skill and time, and was bordering on tedious at times with some of the things that they had to do. No flashy gadgets to make things easy. I mean now, espionage comes down to having an itchy trigger finger, halfway decent combat skills, and access to a really good hacker.
    - Yes the dangling necklace made me chuckle a bit. Sheesh there was a lot of shirtless hugging in this episode. Out of the many ways in which the spy game changed, sex and emotional manipulation are still relevant.
    -Yeah. That was very unsettling.
    - I love the costumes. For both of them. I love the music too and the fact that it has an authentic early 80's feel in general w/o being campy or overdoing it.
    - Phillip and Elizabeth and their relationship is so fascinating to watch. All the angst. Ugh. I can't take it and yet I can't tear my eyes away from it. All that push and pull and forward movement and taking steps back, and the parallels between their relationship with those other relationships on the show. The fact that they're both such deliciously complex characters and you can't really choose sides. You root for them. It's all so wonderfully written.

  • hogansheroes5 Mar 22, 2013

    Cancel this UnAmerican communist pos.

  • patsully Mar 22, 2013

    Noooo! Haven't you found it interesting to see history from the other side? (however fictional it may be)

  • hogansheroes5 Mar 24, 2013

    No I don't. We didn't spend billions and lose countless lives only to watch shows promoting the enemy. It's UnAmerican. The only type I like would be obviously one that makes fun of the other side and one in which they never succeed thus why I like Hogan's Heroes. Maybe if they were failed at the end of each episode then I'd watch it. Do you think it would work from a terrorist, Bin Laden point of view? Watch him plan and carry out 9/11? It's basically the same. Cheering for the enemy to come out on top is akin to an extremely light form of treason.

  • PauletteHamil Aug 26, 2013

    yo i am not American but Canadian and if you take this fictional show so seriously then maybe you should stop watching . I never laughed so much after reading your comments it is so typical and since I am not American I do cheer for the fictional enemy and believe there is no treason to have a critical thought about a fictional show.

  • CarlosR628891 Mar 25, 2013

    I prefer to think you're joking or trolling. To consider that you might be serious is just too horrendous.

  • See More Comments (13)