The Americans "Duty and Honor" Review: First Love, Last Kiss

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The Americans S01E07: "Duty and Honor"


So far the Jennings have experienced enough marital turmoil to power a spaceship to Venus (provided the engine runs on literal arguments about faithfulness). Throughout all this strife, however, Phillip’s usually been the one on the losing end of spousal secrets. The assured "Duty and Honor" fleshed out his romantic history (and plain "history" for that matter) at a precarious time in the Jennings' relationship. Under the guise of a business trip, Phillip reconnected with a past love on a mission to tarnish a democratic Polish leader’s reputation, while Elizabeth stayed home and reflected on her marriage. Mirroring Poland’s slipping connection to Moscow, Phillip’s physical and emotional distance from his wife highlighted the messiness of separating two historically intimate parties. 


There's been some talk in the comments recently about the lack of backstory for the male half of the Jennings pairing and the flashback into his past offered frustratingly little insight into his current self. We know that he was once a saucer-eyed, curly banged recruit who fell in love with Irina (ridiculously good Marina Squerciati, Gossip Girl's Allesandra Steele), now a secret operative based in Montreal. Irina is the alternate-universe Elizabeth. As demonstrated in the intricate takedown of the Polish leader (which was so nuanced in execution—a huge strength of this show), the two can work in sync. The only difference in their non-marital relationship is that they have a natural past with each other (instead of being assigned to marriage). It's so natural in fact, that Phillip and Irina share a secret son. But at the end of the day, he has a family toward whom he feels a duty, both as a father and as a secret spy. In eventually beating his former love and mother of his child for the sake of faking a rape, Phillip was forced to physically confront the ugliest aspect of love in the world of espionage: emotional and physical abuse. 


The parallels between Beeman and Phillip continue to grow, specifically in how the enemies are increasingly fighting the same war, both in the spy game and at home as family men. No clearer has this comparison appeared than in this week's episode, where both men cheated on their wives via ties related to espionage. Similar to how Phillip recently found himself at odds with his superiors, the All-American suburban FBI father is facing resistance from his own organization concerning Nina's protection. Unfortunately, the two opposites are also the rare members of their organizations who demonstrate a value for "honor" over "duty," which will likely lead them into trouble.   

At one point in the episode, after smooching Beeman, Nina said "I’m not going to hurt you or use it against you. You Americans think everything is white and black. For us everything is gray." If everything is "gray," then what's to stop Nina from using her powers of seduction to blackmail Beeman? In any case, we got a black/white scene in the suburbs between Elizabeth and Sandra having wine and a husband-less dinner. Some neighborly gabbing on the hostess's part showed just how well Elizabeth and Phillip's fake marriage had worked, with Sandra's declaring, "You can judge a cover by its cover. You and Phillip you work together. You’re partners, you’re a team." Something about this and Mrs. Beeman’s "stick with it" marriage speech affected Elizabeth enough to apologize to Phillip just in time for him to turn around and keep some brand-new secrets from her. When she said "I want it to be... real. Do you think that we could do that?" Phillip immediately lied to her, continuing the Jennings' back-and-forth of emotional deception just as Nina was entering a similar "gray" area. While Phillip and Elizabeth are consummate veterans of mish-mashing love and spying, Beeman (the people’s hero) became a slam-dunk character with this romantic folly.  


Overall, "Duty and Honor" was a nicely paced examination of the conflict that occurs when "duty" is at odds with "honor." Aside from consistently re-approaching the show's founding premise from yet another new angle, the episode also efficiently expanded a network of spies, and introduced unique possibilities for other destinations in future episodes.      



ADDITIONAL INTEL

– I didn't really talk about Elizabeth's mission. It was cool enough, and I got nothing bad to say about it. 

– That was great, Elizabeth and Claudia’s back and forth. "I’m sorry I didn’t kill you. That’s my apology" They hate each other!

– "You do not need more leg warmers, Paige." Best first line of an episode ever?

– "Did you see any hobos or drug dealers?" Oh, Henry.

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