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The Americans S02E04: "A Little Night Music"


To say that Elizabeth and Philip have their plates full would be an understatement. Being a spy with a family is hard enough, but Claudia's return, Paige’s budding religious independence, Martha's "lazy morning" wife demands on Clark, and a secret enemy task force threatening to reveal—and kill—everything the Jennings hold dear makes life in the employ of Moscow one big stress-ball. Four episodes into Season 2, "A Little Night Music" provided those oh-so-electric moments we hope for in an ideal viewing of The Americans; it was one of those episodes where opposing forces unleash simmering viewpoints on one another face-to-face while simultaneously stockpiling ammo behind the scenes for future confrontations. Also fake goatees, exploitative sexual acts, and heads smashing through car windows.  

Where to start: Martha vs. Clark? Oleg vs. Nina? The Jennings vs. Mystery Assailants? Hmm. How’s about Paige’s new friend Kelli? Last week there was plenty of speculation that her convenient appearance meant she was KGB, assigned to keep tabs on the errant Jennings child. But while this week’s revelation that the assigned agent had been skittishly "pulled"—and that Paige’s new bestie was actually part of a Christian youth group—seemed to debunk that theory, this show has still made me paranoid about first appearances. Hey, if Moscow wanted to nip this foundation of Western "recruitment" in the bud, as Elizabeth sees it, teenage religious circles would be the place to start. So yeah, I’m still of the opinion Kelli is somehow a mole for the youth branch of the KGB, but maybe that’s just suspicious thinking. It’d be a hell of fun place for the story to go, that’s for sure.  

I’m so happy, though, that Paige has found a hobby outside of snooping on her folks. The looks on her parents’ faces as she prayed before dinner, their disdain for her secret brochure like it was pornography, and the pure hypocrisy of Philip and Elizabeth yelling at her about keeping secrets while they themselves live a big huge one under the same roof—all these factors are so much more interesting then cutting to Paige getting closer to the "truth." Overall, this thread advances one of my favorite aspects of the Jennings family dynamic, that aspect being the futility of raising a family in enemy territory, with Western ideals seeping in as Philip and Elizabeth fight larger battles. Even Philip had his eye on a new car. What’s next, Henry running away to Wall Street?


I feel like I’m the lone holdout for Team Oleg, but whether you think he’s an entitled creep or a potentially positive force in Nina’s world, we got another taste of his influence this episode. Sure, he was a bit slimy in going over Arkady’s head for clearance, but at the heart of his efforts is a dedication to the mission. Isn't that all that really matters? He felt strongly enough about the importance of Jewish physicist Anton Baklanov (Michael Aranov) to play by "western" rules. Also, correct me if I’m wrong, but didn’t Arkady once orchestrate Vasili’s exit? Maybe I’m misremembering, or maybe Arkady's trying to scare Nina onto his side. 

For such a rich punk, I was not expecting the sort of professionalism Oleg displayed after reading Nina’s reports, even trying to offer some understanding and appreciation for her role. My prediction? Oleg eventually discovers her betrayal, but by that time the two have grown close enough to consider themselves allies. Hey Elizabeth and Philip have their share of differences, but they still know how to fight the same battle. So, either Oleg's influence will save Nina one day, or he'll end up displaying the "poor taste to get his brains blown out."  

Stan, Stan, Stan. You were promised a commendation, and instead got Gaad "layered," and the department put under investigation. I know Beeman brought a lot of his troubles onto himself, but there was a true vulnerability going on during his bar chat with Philip. Once a suburban suit, he now knows what it means to love—and it was war that taught him. Sometimes while viewing a show so analytically, it's easy to forget that fictional characters see their contributions to plot as reality, and the FBI agent’s breakdown of why his marriage doesn’t work, and why his love with Nina can never be, was pure empathy-bait. How far he’s come since his buttoned-up introduction! How much further will he go? At least he described Nina as being married for her protection, but I think Nina's going to start growing away from him. I don't see her reciprocating that love. I see Beeman taking the fall.   


Speaking of doomed romance, who could forget Martha and Clark’s failed "lazy, romantic morning" (ha: Elizabeth’s reaction). Usually a source of squirm-worthy fun, Martha’s oblivious married life is entering full-on painful-to-watch territory. As someone pointed out in the comments section last week, Philip can break out a truly sinister tone during suburban arguments, and that definitely happened here. It’s quite unfair that Martha has to experience real, damaging emotions while her counterpart uses her for information. This interplay of real and fake feelings, and what that means as a whole with regard to human interaction, is a credit to the world The Americans has established, and quite possibly the eventual undoing of everyone involved. Martha may not know how she's throwing Philip under the bus by listing Clark on that job application, but certainly his rudeness helped pusher her in that direction.


Man, is anyone's workplace romance in a good spot? It was introduced so early in the series, but lest we forget that Elizabeth is a survivor of rape (something unimaginably scarring), that horrible fact came back to haunt her during her near botched seduction of Brad Mullen (a wonderfully frail Jefferson White). It was hard to tell whether Elizabeth was playing the long game with her Navy recruit by keeping his nerdy self at a distance—and in so doing maintaining the seaman's reality and stoking his desire—or whether she found herself truly shaken. Claudia seems to think it was the latter. I don't even know what to say about Elizabeth using her real-life sexual assault to encourage Brad to do her bidding, except that it was one of the more painful manipulations we've witnessed on The Americans to date. But Claudia is back in Elizabeth's corner, and even though Elizabeth doesn't believe that her contact is being honest with her, I get the impression that the old warhorse is going out on a limb for the Jennings.  

And so with subtle adventure and troubled emotions, "A Little Night Music" ended the way the best Americans episodes do—with sweet hand-to-hand combat and an exhilarating cliffhanger. Who were those attackers? They sure gave the Jennings a fight. Hmm, I don't want to jump to conclusions, but there was mention by Anton (Michael Aronov) of Soviet Jews in Russia, and the Mossad DID have an eye out for "Refuseniks" around this time. This show has so many plates spinning at this point, all it needs to is keep going and I’ll be grinning like a fool. Just when I think I've got a handle on where it’s headed, some new element is introduced that raises my satisfaction level by several notches. No complaints here: damn fine episode. 



SPY NOTES

– Elizabeth kicked that dude’s ass proper. She was probably still sputtering mad about Paige's churchy ways. 

– Brad basically listed all the reasons why he couldn't be a spy, then Elizabeth gave him a handjob, and he was all, "Let me give it another crack."

– Andrew Larach, ex-vet organizer of a secret task force?! All in favor of a big bad. 

– Claudia might be an across-the-board "good guy" now. Claudia might also not be long for this world.

– Stan can't share his job with Sandra, but Philip and Elizabeth have no choice BUT to share. That's what keeps them together.

– I could not get enough of Martha’s affinity for her "lazy romantic morning," and it seemed like the writers couldn't, either—she mentioned it like three or four times! "I wanted a long lazy romantic morning like the one you promised me!"

– Modern English! Paige has a GOOD taste in music.

– Henry wants that Intellivision.

– "My soul is fine... how is yours?"

– "...like the timecard-punching, never-around pencil-pusher that you are" —Angry Martha

– WHO ARE THESE PEOPLE?


What'd you think of "A Little Night Music"?


Previously Aired Episode

AIRED ON 5/21/2014

Season 2 : Episode 13

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