In "Behind the Red Door," Stan Beeman seemed like the ghost of his former self—out of touch with his family, newly impotent against a demanding foe, falling behind in a technologically advancing workplace, and faced with both a coworker and lover withdrawing from their relationships with him. His loneliness was basically summed up in one camera pull-away at the dinner table, his son and his wife happily conversing, while he sat, out of the loop, in a home with a freshly painted front door (color: "Tomato Tango"). He wasn’t the only character hovering above a perceived reality, either. Phantom-like, Elizabeth observed espionage sex while under cover of an unseen disguise, and Philip lost himself in Clark, a persona that exists only in fantasy, when Clark was trotted out for amusement. Directed by Charlotte Sieling and written by Melissa James Gibson, this sixth installment of The Americans' second season lingered on details that transformed truth into a different truth, making privileged knowledge a burden to those in the know.
The only time having the drop on an unsuspecting mark seemed not to cause negative emotions was in the opening mission, with CIA Elizabeth aiming her thigh-gun at the feisty-as-hell Andrew Larrick (Generation Kill’s Lee Tergesen). The SEAL was suspect numero uno in the murders of Emmett and Leanne, but it turned out Larrick only wanted to kill them. However, that didn’t get him off the hook, as deeper digging revealed a project called "Martial Eagle." Remember Lucia the Sandinista with the doped-up politician? Well, she was called back into action in order to help sniff out some logistics pertaining to the training of Nicaraguan Contra troops on U.S. soil. You know, these folks:
Apart from family, what's causing Elizabeth the most strife these days is her relationship with sexuality. Her rape has clearly been a difficult experience to come to terms with this season, but why now? In the past, she's been able to ignore it for the sake of Moscow. Well, not to jump to conclusions, but here's a thought: One thing that parents fear about their children growing up is the idea that, as young adults, teens are discovering physical intimacy as an element of their identity. In her motherly concern over Paige's maturation, Elizabeth is recalling her own initial encounters with sex. She was quite young herself when she was raped by a superior officer—granted, not as young as Paige—but her eldest child is now entering young adulthood. The season did start off with Leanne talking about how fast children grow up, and Paige getting her face painted just like Leanne's murdered daughter. Perhaps seeing Paige become a woman while also worrying about family safety in general is stirring up Elizabeth's own vulnerabilities, vulnerabilities that are tied to her experience as an assaulted female.
For all Elizabeth’s advice about how Lucia should "tie up loose ends" with Carl Maphis (Nick Bailey), her cold expressions in the other room during the protege’s troubled "first time" as a spy ("You shouldn’t give that away so easily") made it seem like the speech about detaching was geared more toward herself as a caring mentor, rather than toward Lucia’s role in murder for a cause. Speaking of which, how many different ways can The Americans rub our noses in the frailty of life? Maphis was another casualty in a war he didn’t even know he was a part of. "Life’s like that. Half a second and then it’s over," said the continually self-helped Sandra (who "thought a lot" about the door’s color). One minute you’re about to introduce someone you think is your girlfriend to your mother, the next minute you’re choking on your own vomit. Lucia seemed to cave at the last second, holding him in her arms as he passed into the hereafter. She couldn’t help caring. How could any human?
And for what? Getting one step closer to info about the Contra training camp and something called ARPANET? The Advanced Research Project Agency Network basically paved the way for what eventually became the internet, which is a thematically appropriate touchstone for our contemporary world, obsessed as it is with manicured identities in the service of voyeurism (Facebook much?). It’s also why Oleg "is here." So let’s take a moment to figure out a few details about the guy. One, he likes to stand in front of pictures of Lenin ("Behind the Red Door" marked the second episode in which he's done so). He was also talking about adjusting to a "new reality" and having his own "problems," he's suspicious of what the FBI knows about him, and he’s willing to kill Nina (or at least threaten the idea of it) in order to achieve his goals. My guess? He wants to become the Cold War era’s Mark Zuckerberg. He’s got enough Western leanings to dip his toe into doing business the capitalist way, and technologically speaking, ARPANET is one heck of a golden goose to help him succeed. Oddly enough, Arkady seemed cool with Oleg this time around, asking questions about Beeman without an ounce of criticism. Has Arkady learned his place?
Things are changing. "The American people deserve to know what their government’s doing behind their backs," sounded strange coming from Kate the Russian, but it implied a redrawing of battle lines. It’s no longer the commoners who are the enemy, but their duplicitous leaders. Why this rhetoric within the KGB? Why make the effort to sympathize with the plight of an ignorant West? "Nothing is more important to them than your safety," said the redhead of the Rezidentura. Elizabeth’s response? "Sounds like something is." Things are changing.
Claudia herself is all but ousted from her position of power, and this week, we finally found out why she’s been so cagey: because the discovery that Larrick wasn’t behind Emmett and Leanne’s murders landed the finger back on her. She fell in love with someone, opened up to them, and there’s a chance that somebody squealed. Forget for a moment what this means for the Jennings’ safety, or how Claudia is totally screwed if this information gets out, and let’s look at Claudia as a sort of Ghost of KGB Future. With Vasily’s exit last season, she remains the only example of what lies ahead for an aged agent. Even an old warhorse will eventually succumb to the need for companionship. In a job that basically demands the use of the human experience as a tool, sincere emotions ultimately win out. We’ve seen plenty of examples of how this can be an advantage for people like Lucia and Clark and Nina in their search for information, and now Larrick’s need for physical intimacy is being used against him. "A world without exploitation and dignity for all." Gay or straight, a spy will capitalize on your deepest needs, but in the end those spies need love too. What a world.
Which brings us to the Clark-and-Elizabeth moment. Any marriage therapists out there in TV.comland? Motivated by her seemingly lighthearted girl-chat with Martha last week, Elizabeth pursued the sexual myth that is Clark in the bedroom. Initially, her request was harmless, and Philip hesitantly went along with it in a kinky, role-playing sort of way ("No, I want you to keep them on"), but he seemed pretty opposed to bringing a fake-self into the homestead. From my point of view as a viewer, their home has always been a sanctuary, a place to decompress (save for a few decodings). None of this was said, but it's not hard to imagine this was at least part of Philip’s reluctance.
Also, the Jennings have never compared their shared sexual exploits to those performed while on missions. It’s simply part of a separate work identity, so when Elizabeth asked to merge those two elements—work intercourse and home intercourse—wouldn’t you know it, the whole thing was a psychosexual disaster. Clark whipped Elizabeth around (Keri Russell is doing some of the bravest work on television), and aggressively made "love" to his real wife the way he does to his fake one. She curled up crying on the bed, no doubt reminded of her brutish rape, and he painfully removed his wig while staring at himself in the mirror. This isn’t who they are to each other.
– Oleg keeps standing in front of Lenin pictures. Are we to presume he wants to be a new leader?
– Matthew is back and celebrating the death of John Belushi. What a pleasant way to mourn.
– PAIGE QUIT VOLLEYBALL? PAIGE QUIT VOLLEYBALL?!
– Yes, yes, yes. Please let the Jennings go to Paige’s church. "What is it you do there?" The disgust in Elizabeth’s voice!
– Pretty cool to have an episode written and directed by two of the industry's billions of talented artists who are female.
– Beeman and Nina are off. "Yesterday you love me. Today you call me a liar." How dare he subject her to a polygraph test (also, would she pass it?)!
– One of these days I'll have to chart everyone in the spy network, including BASEMENT GUY!
– "In search of perfect understanding, Agent Beeman, or are you hungry?"
– Huh, so that's what Gaad's home life is like. Pleasant.
– It's been a year since Beeman first recruited Nina. This show has perfect pacing. No wasted moments. No filler. We've grown with the characters.
– Henry? Nope.
– Ahh, smiling Reagan.
What'd you think of "Behind the Red Door"?
AIRED ON 5/21/2014
Season 2 : Episode 13