The Americans "Mutually Assured Destruction" Review: Stranger Danger

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?

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