The Americans "COMINT" Review: The Importance of Being Earnest

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The Americans S01E05: "COMINT"

An effective encryption system kept the Jennings’ busy this week while the FBI raced to exploit the loyalty of a KGB asset on the edge. Thematically centered on the act of deciphering secret codes, "COMINT" (short for "communication intel") examined the role the transmission of information plays in relationships. With both marriages and partnerships between a spy and her resource, each requires faith in a person whose motivations may not be completely pure. A physical expression of trust might help affirm trust, but in the spy world, sexual activity is just another tool used to obscure true intentions.  As illustrated in this smoothly confident episode, depending on the object of desire, a power balance tips in favor of whoever needs the other less.        

Claudia’s story about a suicidal agent who needed the KGB more than the organization needed him put a fine point on the emotional aspect of subterfuge. Instead of nurturing love, an agent's job is to inspire loyalty by any means necessary. This fifth installment of The Americans juggled a handful of duos using traditional status to exploit one another: young, beautiful Nina and her manipulation of proper, old-world boss Vasili; Vasili as comforting handler to the skittish Udacha; Beeman’s kind arm of the law to a sometimes naive Nina; not to mention Phillip and shoe-crazy Martha, as well as Elizabeth and that gross encryption-technology guy.

While Elizabeth suffered physical abuse in the process of acquiring intel, Nina coldly performed oral sex on her superior to essentially save her own skin. The latter continued to share the types of conversations a mistress has with a married man, receiving promises of a better future contingent on one-sided secrets. (I enjoyed Beeman's explanation of Nina’s enemies: "Their love of freedom makes them impatient.") It’s cool that Nina is growing from a random receptionist to a double agent, but I worry that without the kind of support Claudia mentioned to Elizabeth, she’ll be left high and dry by the FBI. 

Speaking of support networks, Elizabeth’s encounter with the violent businessman demonstrated the downside to her acceptance that "we have to do all sorts of things for our work," a lack of a need for Phillip. In the episode's opening scene, her disguised interest in Udacha's former marriage seemed genuine, and forced the historically independent Elizabeth to take a closer look at changing the symbiosis of her own marriage. We saw last episode how she was raised to survive without the support of a male counterpart, so it makes sense that Elizabeth continues to resist giving in to Phillip's role as a traditional provider. Playing down the bruises acquired as part of her job presented yet another barrier of intimacy, though Phillip's copper-head disguise certainly wasn't helping the situation.

One of the more thrilling/unsettling moments of the series so far was Elizabeth's point-blank murder bookending her previously touching interaction with Udacha. To kill a stranger for the sake of a mission is one thing, but ending someone as vulnerable as this agent had to have had an emotional impact on Mrs. Jennings and her Siberian-cold heart. It's still too early to tell, but in killing a man who hid huge parts of his life from his wife, Elizabeth might've been physically rejecting the idea of maintaining boundaries with Phillip as they move forward.

At this point in the series I'm routinely surprised at all the different angles being discovered, both thematically and in the spy genre, week after week. Seriously, what's more "spy" than guys in trench coats and secret code decrypting devices? On top of all the cloak-and-dagger shenanigans, The Americans is establishing a unique, reserved visual tone, one that, like a lovely spy, masks its true emotional intentions.


– Beeman's marriage is going down the crapper. It's those secrets, I tells ya!

– Phillip's "Great, I’ll be back in an hour" while furiously putting on his shoes.

– "Shortcuts are the root of all evil."

– Vasili/Fortune Cookie 

– Favorite line this week went to Beeman's "I don't know. Gazing?"

– Elizabeth has some slinky car moves.

Zavarka makes your tea not taste like a glass of dirt.

– Y'ouch, Amador getting pegged for a sexist comment. I swear this guy is the office punching bag (but was awesome in Terriers).  

– "Jitters".... always a fan of an english word in the presence of a foreign sentence.

– Elizabeth sure is racking up bodies.

– Who knew seeing two grown men form a friendship could be so entertaining? Phillip and Beeman are total buds.

– Oh no, a mole!

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