The Americans "ARPANET" Review: Call and Response

By Ryan Sandoval

Apr 10, 2014

The Americans S02E07 "ARPANET"

For anyone looking to turn skeptics onto this show with a single scene, "ARPANET" offered two frontrunners in the final moments of both Philip and Nina’s storylines. Each one tied up related themes of trust and deception in its own way, following two worthwhile technology-centric missions—Philip’s to "bug" the '80s internet, and Nina's to defeat a polygraph machine. Each one offered a window into the insanely stressed and extremely capable mind and heart of one of the KGB's finest—Philip a proven hero, and Nina an impresario by necessity, and possibly a triple agent. Each one also shined the spotlight on the role of high-tech machinery in the world of espionage. Whether it's spies using "technology" to complete a mission, countries warring over the right to possess it, or societies using it to communicate, it was only a matter of time before gadgetry received its much-deserved screen time in a season that keeps raising the bar.

We knew something was up when Nina took over opening narration duty with her Russian rendition of "Previously on The Americans...." Continuing her fallout with Stan from last week, Nina began what would basically be "her" episode by agreeing to the polygraph test. Did you know that before 1988, employers could use lie detectors on their employees? ("Did you work your hardest today?" "Yes." "These squiggles tell a different story....") With a newfound ability to bend the truth, Nina continued her withdrawal from the arms of the increasingly lonely Stan, while outwardly appearing to do the opposite—because she's just that good. Also, who thought a scene where one character just says "yes" and "no" could be so riveting? And that look square at Stan during the Vlad question? Dang. Tragic romance is a staple of the spy genre, and Noah Emmerich is doing a damn fine job embodying that, even if it is hard to watch the FBI agent descend further and further.

I’ve always rooted for some sort of union between Nina and Oleg, and it looks like The Americans answered my cries with a training sequence that lead straight to the bedroom. Dissections of the spy's mindset provide a fascinating insight into the headspace of pros, and in this case further connected the world of performative drama with counterintelligence. First Philip called Kate a "spy in an old movie," there's always the wigs, and then Oleg came off like a Julliard-trained acting coach, talking about believing the lie and whatnot. To think, Nina didn't trust Oleg at the outset, and now she's cuddled up with him, ducking in and out of English, possibly still in character. All the world's a stage!   

Apart from the psychological stuff, the actual technical aspect of how a polygraph works earned its keep. This show is as much vintage-gadget porn as it is taut thriller, and what better device to feature than one that purports to suss out the truth as your body tells it? Scenes like Oleg drawing on insect metaphors and Cleopatra mythology to train Nina as the spy she was meant to be popped like a Communist flag whipping in the D.C. wind. Even more chilling was the notion that as Nina rose to the demands of Oleg’s secret gamble, she might have been forming a strategy herself to use against this new mentor. If anyone learns quick, it’s Nina.   

I can think of several reasons why she would end up sleeping with Oleg. Self-preservation, actual romance, Stockholm syndrome. All seem like viable options. One moment she’s telling Stann she thinks Oleg’s a "pinhead who works for himself," the next she’s calling Oleg her "secret weapon" to his face and kidding naked in her native tongue. Less one language barrier, their pillow talk was effortlessly steamy ("You can bind my wrists, tie me naked to a chair..."), touching ("You were my secret weapon"), and ambiguously manipulative from both sides ("You are a very good liar, Nina Sergeevna)." Nina could never have this much fun with Stan, or at least she could never behave the way she does around Oleg. Then again, what woman could resist passionate charmers like "You passed"? Mr. Darcy eat your heart out! On the other side of things, Oleg gushed, "You have no armor. Nothing to protect you except your wits, your courage, and your beauty," along with other compliments—to which Nina replied in both Russian and then English, "What is this, Oleg Igorevich? Call and response?" Is she aware that he might be playing a part to get something from her? Is he aware that she’s aware of that? 

In only its second season, The Americans has proven it knows how to juggle storylines big and small, like a classically trained cello player plucking the strings to a masterpiece, and brief-but-effective visits with Kate, Andrew Larrick, Lucia, and a few minutes dedicated to Henry’s adventures in home invasion reminded us of the overarching plots going on. Like a daughter to her mother, hot-under-the collar Lucia gave Elizabeth some grief with plans of her own to execute Larrick. "The operation and Larrick are bigger than your wish for revenge," reasoned Elizabeth the same way Claudia might have talked her down in another time. 

I hope we get to see Larrick in action, what for all this talk about how unpredictable and monstrous he is. All we got this week were some vague threats along the lines of, "You can’t be too careful nowadays. It’s hard to feel safe." He might as well have continued, "It’d be a real shame if something were to happen to you." Larrick seems like he’s making an exit, but he’s at least promised to help the Jennings gain access to the Contra commanders. I bet Lucia dies in the process of killing him, only because that seems like something she might do, and something that would screw a lot of stuff up for the Cause. 

Henry did a little spying of his own on the family across the street and their vacation plans. Paige has received the majority of Jennings children's screen time, so it was nice to get a taste of what was basically a little-kid adventure. You've got to hand it to Henry for making his Intellivision happen just like his old man would. If handled gingerly, these juvenile moments of illegal exploration could prove useful in both building out the Jennings as a TV family (something the '80s seemed to have a surplus of ), and offering a respite from more intense storylines. In small doses, kid danger like Paige and Henry’s afternoon with a hitchhiker in "Trust Me" reminds us just who these young people are as individuals, and why they’re worth protecting.       

I definitely liked everything about Philip and Charles Duluth’s mission to gain access to the early makings of the internet, and I especially liked Professor Rosenbloom’s smooth, animated sequence (complete with the camera traveling between floors) explaining a technology that today has reshaped the world as we know it. Character actor Geoffrey Cantor was fantastic, talking us through what was partly a lesson in computer science, partly a set of heist plans, and Reg Rogers always does a remarkable job as the swaggering, drunken wit. An "interstate highway system through which all information flows" is a pretty concise description of our World Wide Web, its value certainly known to anyone alive today, but the fact that at this time the military and science communities shared a network makes it pretty clear why the Russians wanted access so bad. If ARPANET didn't seem Golden Goose-y enough, Rosenbloom even went on to compare the technology to God.   

Normally on the sidelines, Duluth provided a novice’s commentary on what would've otherwise been a straightforward mission, right down to toasting the exhilaration of an improvised job well done. "I haven’t had an adrenaline rush like that," blathered Duluth, "since I did the esteemed Madame Senator from Missouri in the Capitol washroom during conference. I see how you could develop a jones for that kind of thing, it’s addictive." Easy for him, as Philip was the one to shoulder the burden of killing an innocent lab dork, all for a few "Xs and Os on a virtual highway." But maybe Duluth is onto something, maybe Philip's body is in some way addicted to the chemicals that happen during these missions. Eh, something to explore way down the road.

With moody music, this closing interaction between the two played out like something from a film noir: Philip stepping into the role of a cold, emotionally damaged hero, and Duluth the sad sack accomplice lying about his sobriety and spouting desperate claims like "I’m not pathetic!" I’ll give it to Matthew Rhys for his ability to go from warm, fatherly horsin’ off about Camaros with Henry to lecturing drunks about how many people’s he’s killed, all while ensuring that Philip feels realistic. 

Apart from family and Elizabeth’s sexuality, Philip’s relationship with death has subtly become another season-long thread worthy of investigation. He killed that young restaurant worker in the first episode, walked in on Emmet’s family in a bloody heap, and caught an earful from Anton and the Mossad agent about his "monster" status (the same term Elizabeth used to describe Larrick in this episode; maybe spies fear becoming monsters). In the same way that Elizabeth went a little paranoid about protecting her family, Philip, more introspective, is looking at ways he’s damaging others, while he’s left alone to clean up the mess inside his soul.  


– Computer people please chime in about the importance of these featured, real-life computer machines!

– "He was a miner. Coal." So Elizabeth was a coal miner's daughter. Huh/Heh.

– "Glad you enjoyed yourself." —Philip 

– Larrick's off to Selva Negra to help mining operations.  

– Kate looks like a spy in an old movie.

– "Driving my life away, looking for a better way for me," —a little Rabbit Eddie

What'd you think of "ARPANET"?

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  • efonsecajr Staff May 12, 2014

    I've been 8 eps behind but promptly catching up. What a great ep. Matthew Rhys has the look of a cold blooded killer who happens to be a loving father.
    Glad they are exploring that arc more in depth this season.

  • left4dead Apr 11, 2014

    Attempts to "explain" the Arapanet reminds me of that great bit in The IT Crowd where Jen asks Moss to explain IT and all she can hear is static! Perhaps she should have squeezed her anus...

  • nasedoofantar Apr 10, 2014

    I think the way this is heading is that while Stan may move up his career with commendations & promotions his relationship with Nina will lead him to do somewhat treasonous things. Nina/Arkady/Oleg will have dirt on him that could always tear his life apart. He'll gradually get in deeper and by the time he does learn about who Philip & Elizabeth really are, which hopefully would be for the last season or last few episodes, he's in a place where he can't just alert his superiors without ruining his own career, marriage, & family.

    One of the plot points of this show is how P&E;'s relationship is getting stronger & their marriage is getting more 'real', while Stan & Sandra's marriage deteriorates. It'd be interesting if P&E; gravitate away from the KGB & defect entirely or just stop doing spy work, while Stan becomes more of a traitor to his own country & seriously contemplates running away with Nina.

  • MarlboroMagpi Apr 10, 2014

    I came for my weekly review after watching this episode and I cannot find it on the main page. For a while, I thought this week we are NOT going to get a review ! I am counting my lucky stars that I finally found it. I hope fixed this asap.

    It was interesting to watch Professor Rosenbloom explain the Arpanet. It was interesting to watch Nina beat the lie detector.

    Though I know it will never work out between Beeman and Nina, I am not really happy Nina slept with Oleg. Oleg is proving to be a pain to Beeman. I hope this two will have a showdown soon.

    I just realized Jennings new handler is Wrenn Schmidt, the actress who played Julia (Richard's girlfriend) in Boardwalk Empire. She is quite a good actress.

  • peterspoor33 Apr 10, 2014

    [Groan] Am I the only one who dislikes Oleg? He's the tall Ice Hockey watching, european car driving, rhythm and blues listening hip cat with family connections up the wazoo, if he next starts talking about missing his surfboard back in Moscow I wouldn't be surprised. Sheesh! This guy is the Poochie of the Russian spy service!! The asp only bit Cleopatra because she moved... really? Didn't she hold it to her breast to suicide before Romans came for revenge and really pinned her ears back? That story sure would make me calm before a polygraph, they must have different version of ancient history where Oleg is from.

  • Mate Apr 10, 2014

    Another good episode. Not as strong as the previous episodes but it is a lead up episode. A lot still happened and it gave a good number of hints of things to come.

    I find the way the situations and scenarios are running through Phillip and Elizabeth. It is interesting the differences in how they are responding to them and it is even more interesting when their individual responses are the same. We take Duluth with Phillip and Lucia with Elizabeth. They both respectively had these knowing looks that basically said that they are going to have to kill these two people. And such a tacit acceptance of that reality that really exemplified their acting abilities that just struck me at how well they are in residing in each of their characters. Even when the plot or the overall story of the episode didn't push them or involve them in the heavier aspects of the episode, Russell and Rhys are just phenomenal in these roles. We spend a lot of time here heaping adulation on Russell, which is very well deserved, but Rhys is right there with her. He is quite good.

    Now the conversation between Duluth and Phillip was spot on. It is insanely addictive. It is like combat, it is better than drugs, better than the adrenaline rush from Skydiving, Bungee Jumping, rock climbing combined. It is both intellectually and physically demanding and challenging. You come out ahead, unscathed, defeating your enemies and the rush is astounding. Some, many can't take it, a lot hate the feeling. But I would have to imagine that the rush that Phillip gets is intense and more than addictive. Because he is sitting there talking to intelligent people that have know idea who he is and he is hanging with them, he is seducing Martha to the point where she is in love with him and that has to weigh in on the ego a bit. The amount of training you have can mitigate it but it is an experience that stays with you and that can lead easily to your destruction if you don't know how to relegate it.

    Elizabeth in her dealings this week with talking with Larrick was great. You can see the maturity in her that perhaps she did not have yet last season. She is seasoned, she is hold her tongue and she is plotting and responding well to the threat right in front of her. Of course it helped that Phillip was there with the rifle. But she exuded that quiet confidence that even as impressive as Larrick might be, that she would give him a run for his money if he attempted something. Though she was out of control when she fought with the Mossad agent, that has to be a boon to her ego and her confidence, because those guys are no joke and she handled him just fine. I am not sure where they are going to go with this Larrick business and with Lucia tossed in. I am hoping that it pushes the both of them perhaps further than they want to go. Perhaps be a catalyst that leads to something greater. Plus there is still the killer or killers out there. Damn this show is so solid in its potential story lines that this could be right up there with Person of Interest in a 20 something episode run and not feel spread too thin, I think this show could easily fill the content of 20 + shows and still be as good as it is now.

    Nina. Nina is for herself. Nina strikes me as a survivor, she will do anything, be anything, be multiple things to multiple people in order to come out at the end. And that is what makes her dangerous. Whomever glossed over her in recruiting to make her an agent like Phillip and Elizabeth dropped the ball. The only real quality that she was missing was confidence. Which might start to go by the wayside. This was a huge confidence boost to her. Not only is she skilled enough to fool Beeman in person, she can beat the box. Which isn't really that hard, but more on that later. She is becoming big in leaps and bounds and my guess isn't too far from running her own show. Her ending up with Oleg however is one of the most phenomenal aspects of her character but most notably this show. They can literally go anywhere with her. She could have feelings for Oleg for helping her out. She could have put on her big girl pants and accepted that Oleg is going to be a thing and that she needs to adjust to that in order to get the upper hand with him. And I think that she will. She could have stepped up in the eyes of Oleg who now stops seeing her as an underling, but as a colleague and as someone that could easily be his right hand as he makes his way up the leadership ladder. She could see the same thing, she could see that Oleg, despite his faults, knows a thing or two and is heading to bigger and better places and she wants to be a part of that. This show is just that good that like with Elizabeth's crying last week it leaves it up to the interpretation of the viewer while still knowing exactly where it is going. That is crazy impressive for a show to do.

    Now for the poly, the box etc. None of the current methods of lie detection are really that great. And all of them really only work on average people. Elizabeth, Philip and probably Oleg wouldn't have any trouble at all beating any of them. Mostly because they only work on average people. Someone as experienced in lying as they are simply wouldn't register on the majority of them. The box can be defeated with physiological methods and even internal methods, put the box on a person that meditates a lot and they can take in the question, reject it within themselves and answer the way you need them to and it wouldn't move the needle a bit. Not to mention that none of them work on people with behavioral affective disorders. People that don't regard others when they lie, have no problems lying and can figure out ways to get around them. But it was fun and was probably one of the better scenes involving one that I have seen. They really are about as accurate as an educated guess, even the fabled FMRI can be fooled with a little training. The future of lie detection is probably going to head the way of mixing physiological responses and data mining of individuals. You can beat a machine easy, but you have to take some serious steps beating your online identity, especially in regards to the various algorithms that they have now that can literally predict your behavior before to commit to it.

    It was also nice to see Henry this episode. He has been kind of absent with nothing but Paige and her new found group of thumpers. And I think it is hilarious how both children have picked up these aspects of their parents despite not knowing that their parents have them. I still would really love an episode from their perspective as to how their parents act and how they pick up on things.

    Good episode that alludes to many potentialities that this show might be bringing forward.

  • muscatel Apr 10, 2014

    The IMP was a back-end router. It was designed to connect computers to the ARPANET (and vice-versa). An IMP variant, the TIP, connected terminals to the ARPANET. Its design and operation were outlined in the Internet Engineering Task Force's RFC 1 (the task force obviously changed name after the greater ARPANET was split into pieces, with the military withdrawing into MILNET, where some otherwise obsolete IMPs ended up).

  • ABCRobbieB Apr 10, 2014

    How is this show not one of the top 20 popular shows atm? It should be top 5.

  • MarlboroMagpi Apr 10, 2014

    Top three !

  • ABCRobbieB Apr 12, 2014

    Yeh probably. Hannibal, Game of Thrones, The Americans :-)

  • MarlboroMagpi Apr 12, 2014

    For me, its The Good wife, Game of Thrones (which replace the walking dead that just ended) and The Americans. I agree Hannibal is much better this season. I loved Justified and Scandal but both have a drop in quality this season and The Americans just kept getting better.

  • muscatel Apr 10, 2014

    Because it is bloody and graphic. I love the show and I have a lot of trouble with all the evil done by Philip and Elizabeth (not to mention those on our side).

  • RominaMartin1 Apr 10, 2014

    "Squeeze your anus" & technology bends at your will.

  • DL215 Apr 10, 2014

    Interesting thing about this episode -- Unless I am missing something, this is really the first time the writers kept the viewers in the dark about what was going on with a key character. All of us were in shock to see Nina cuddled up with Oleg at the end. Well, now that I think of it, this was the second time. The first was the scheme Oleg, Arkady and Nina cooked up. We never saw how they came together to do that.

    No complaints, as I am sure how/why Nina and Oleg are getting it on will develop into another plot point. Could it be that Arkady and Nina are plotting against Oleg?

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