The penultimate episode of The Americans' second season, "Operation Chronicle" presented espionage as a secondary backdrop against which some more important personal dramas could play out. Elizabeth demonstrated a mother’s concern for Jared; Stan and Oleg both made huge gestures toward Nina; and together, the Jennings exploited an asset’s social needs. Written by Joel Fields and Joe Weisberg and directed by Andrew Bernstein, the hour reminded us how emotional needs provide the greatest fuel for action.
After receiving Kate’s message last week to "Get Jared Out," the Jennings parents wasted no time doing just that. However, both of them forgot that Paige would be field-tripping to a protest. "Did a plane full of your clients crash?" Paige muttered, and I laughed at her attitude as Elizabeth and Philip flew into another hypocritical rage. The last thing those two spies needed was a reminder of failure and aircrafts. "What is the matter with you, Paige?" Philip shot back. They scrambled to come up with more convincing excuses, like two teens lying to an adult. Disheartened and growing suspicious, Paige later picked up the house phone while her parents discussed the Centre’s handling of Jared—specifically, the question of why the organization would reach out to him about Emmet and Leanne’s true identifies. Luckily, Philip and Elizabeth have been lying to their children for so long that it was fairly easy to make the call sound like they were discussing a client. But Paige could tell something was up. Also, cool wall art, Paige. Swimming, a guitar hunk, and what looks like a mirror image of dolphins. Rad.
Elizabeth saved her gentleness for Jared, the Teenage Orphan. She explained that she'd worked with his parents. That there were people out there who wanted to hurt people like them. That he’d have to say goodbye to his old life. "The whole idea will get easier in a while, I promise you," Elizabeth encouraged, "I know you have the strength inside to get through this." Little did she know, Larrick was hot on her trail, slasher-monster-like. Elizabeth has played spy mother before (to Lucia), and seeing her guide Jared toward his new life felt like a mom sending a kid off to college. Or, maybe she imagined Paige and Henry in the same situation. After making Jared change clothes, she calmly explained that "it’s something that we do. We clean ourselves." Of course, Jared had more questions than Elizabeth had answers. Like whether or not his destination was in a different country. "Let’s just get you where you need to go today," she continued. "I put in some water and some sandwiches." She'd tuck him in if she could. Hmm, nothing about her burning his letter, though.
Elsewhere, Larrick skulked.
On her field trip, Paige pulled a big Jennings no-no and shared details about her parents with Pastor Tim. Wait where’s Kelli? Why have we never seen Kelli again? Is she a Civil War ghost? From Paige’s point of view, her parents were afraid of what she would've done if denied permission to attend the outing. From Pastor Tim's, Elizabeth and Philip knew it was important to her. Both of these reasons were technically true—they didn’t want to break her spirit. I preferred Pastor Tim's positive vibe-reading, but it couldn't top his vague altruism outro: "Being a parent’s hard, but so is having parents." Right gang?
With Jared arriving at his cabin destination (same one where Elizabeth recuperated), she and Philip puzzled over why Kate was meeting the kid out of disguise. And why the Centre had not kept them informed. Seriously, Centre! What gives? We’ve seen how the Centre treats its agents whose interests conflict with the power source (ahem Nina). Elizabeth expressed concern over Jared’s ability to pick up in another country; "We had each other," she reasoned. Philip’s logic: The teen could survive too, because there’s no other choice. Maybe for you, Commie! What about Paige and Henry? "One day it’s coming," Elizabeth stated. "Take it easy," Philip objected, "No one knows anything." Yeah, and in the world of intelligence not knowing anything is the stuff of murder.
On the real-American side of things, the KGB stymied Stan’s plans to exfiltrate Nina. "There could be a mole in the FBI," Stan said, justifying his strategy to deny he’d been the one providing Oleg with surveillance logs. As Martha also pointed out in this episode, employees left top-secret files on the mailroom robot all the time. Pretty cool to see that the machine wasn’t just a one-off gag, but something that could lead to Gaad’s prophecy about someone taking "the fall." By Stan’s logic, this disorganization would make it difficult to blame a single individual. Finally, bureaucracy might work in someone’s favor! But beyond that, the FBI agent’s plan was a little murky. Get Nina set up in a large city without a Russian embassy, and he’d visit her as much as possible. "Eventually we’ll figure out something much better," said the man whose entire world is in flux.
In Newlywedville, Martha surprised Clark with some classified files, courtesy of the aforementioned mailroom robot. When Clark expressed concern over her risk, Martha responded, "I love the way you love me. You don’t have to hide anything from me. I even love your toupee." Oh boy, Clark’s wig almost popped right off. I'm surprised it stayed on later, when she asked for kids. "Children aren’t in the cards for me," Clark made clear. Is Workaholic Absentee Husband Clark just emulating Stan Beeman’s marriage? If so, divorce could be a way out for Martha... provided she's able to return the files and the bug without getting caught. And never mentions Clark to any of her FBI constituents. And... huh.
Meanwhile, Stan made good on purchasing a car (cash, no registration). This show and "cars," am I right? Reminiscent of Philip's dealership scene earlier this season, Stan's back-and-forth was infused with just the right amount of suburban mundanity to make the spy-world stuff everywhere else pop. Also, the car salesman was good and sleazy, which is just how I like my TV car salesmen. Unfortunately, upon returning to the FBI safe house, Stan discovered Nina beat up and bruised, accompanied by Arkady and some goons. An act, or something more? Both? Doing his best villain impression, Arkady promised, "You two lovebirds can fly off together," in exchange for the Echo computer program. This is the first time Stan has encountered Arkady, and there were no professional pleasantries as seen with Gaad. Slowly, though, these two worlds are coming together.
While Stan successfully gained clearance to the Echo program (and a visit to the one place using it, in the upcoming season finale), Oleg had one of his famous tête-a-tête’s with Arkady. But before that, did you catch Arkady’s outgoing message? It implied that "ORIOLE" had behaved as expected (Stan), and "CARDINAL" was also ready to gain some sample materials. Remember, in this season’s second episode titled "Cardinal," when Arkady was like, "Request all operational reports from CARDINAL immediate"? Looks like CARDINAL is Fred. Well there you go.
It seems pretty clear by now that Oleg just wants Nina to survive, and that's admirable. He's been a wildcard all season, at times looking like he'd use Nina for personal gain, while also striking up a romance. As devoted as he is to his country, Oleg felt it was unfair to send Nina off to trial (and likely death) should this plan to obtain the computer program fail. Taking a page out of the Westener’s handbook, Oleg felt that Nina should be rewarded for her exceptional results, while Arkady defaulted to a more utilitarian stance. "All the Centre has is an ability to trust us," Arkady coldly rebutted. If the Centre couldn't trust one of its own, who could it trust? The only result that'd insure Nina’s safety would be "something so valuable the Americans would never give it up," a sentiment Oleg had voiced early in the season, "even to play her against us" Arkady continued. This show always brings out the softy in me, so when Oleg handed Nina an envelope of get-out-of-town-money in a bugged room while uttering, "I know of no officer smarter or more capable. I believe your future is bright," I was tearing up like a Jane Austen nut. Romance is a huge part of the spy genre, and The Americans has always handled matters of the heart expertly (p.s. missing you, Gregory).
Seriously, spies are very in-tune with their emotions. They have to be. One of the more nuanced skills the Directorate S agents possess is an ability to read people and create characters that will fulfill an asset's needs. Fred (the "grandiose" loner who wanted to "feel like he was better than everyone else") demonstrated an interest in Emmet’s family, so Elizabeth dressed up as the dead spy's wife. It wasn't the first time she'd played Jared's mom, but I laughed at her interpretation. She's like, "Hmmm, got it: shoulder-pad jacket and tiny Yosemite Sam boots." As per getting the RAM, obviously, the CARDINAL should wear some sticky shoes on a work floor in order to track iron-ball paint. Duh, that’s Spycraft 101, LESSON A.
– "He’s able to be in the flow of things. Yeah, he’s a good guy." See ya, Sandra! Time for a little father-son bonding over Rocky Horror.
– "I think the three things a person should focus on every day are health, growth, and community. Don’t you?" All secret phrases should also double as good advice.
– Hopefully Henry likes Star Trek II: Wrath of Khan.
– "Another day, another no-dollar." You and me both, Henry.
– Both the Directorate S Agents and Oleg are critical of the Centre's demands. Stan faces the same hurdles in his own department, but is able to surmount them in the name of love/manipulation.
– "If they thought we were at risk, they’d tell us." Possible, but not likely.
– "They’d be dead in an alley in a week" Have some faith in your kids, Elizabeth!
What'd you think of "Operation Chronicle"? What are your predictions for next week's finale?
AIRED ON 6/8/2016
Season 4 : Episode 13