Like its characters with their spy identities, The Americans has a knack for cycling through varying episode types while still feeling familiar to viewers. Directed by Stefan Schwartz and written by Stephen Schiff and Stuart Zicherman, "Yousaf" was a "table-setting" hour for some threads, with gripping story checkpoints being reached alongside an open-and-shut mission and some character exploration, too. Such is the interconnected nature of this show: a smaller plot for Nina might mean a larger one for Stan, while a surprise mission from the Center could at once bring back old characters and facilitate an ongoing marital discussion. The type of story changes depending on who we’re following, but the difference in perspective never alters the quality of the whole. Also, how about that new song from Pete Townshend and series composer Nathan Barr!?
Set one week before April 1, "Yousaf" saw Philip and Elizabeth receiving word from Kate that a Pakistani delegation had arrived in Washington, and that some of its members were Inter-Services Intelligence agents, basically the South Asian country’s CIA. Remember the season opener with Philip and the Afghans? Well, this group had arrived to discuss growing support for the mujahideen in its battle against pro-Soviet forces, a war they viewed as Russia’s own Vietnam. The KGB needed someone on the inside, and it was up to the Jennings to get in good with Yousaf Rana (Rahul Khanna), the "number-two guy in covert action." The plan: for Elizabeth to throw on a wig and get seducing. No fuss, no muss. Only snag was that Philip felt pretty strongly that his wife would get sniffed out by Rana, so he strong-armed Elizabeth into a plan to use Annilese (Gillian Alexy)—the wife of the Deputy Under Secretary of Defense; remember her from Season 1’s "The Clock"?—instead. But would Annilese be able to pull off a long-term mission like this? And was there another, marriage-related reason he didn't want Elizabeth in the field?
Elsewhere in the Jennings-sphere, Philip attempted to make nice with his children, joking with Henry about Eggo waffles and coming pretty darn close to letting Paige apply to be a counselor-in-training at a church summer camp. Wow, talk about Paige walking all over him (jk). Philip had some serious dad guilt about flipping out all over his daughter's love for Jesus, and was open to discussing the camp idea with Elizabeth. But sure enough, Paige's plans were quashed severely when anti-Jesus freak Elizabeth discovered—while emptying her daughter's trash can—that the teenager had been practicing forgery (Paige is truly her mother's daughter). "Henry breaks into someone else’s house and it’s no big deal, but I want to be a better person and I’m the bad guy?" Paige reasoned, not knowing just how deep-seated her parents' hatred of religion is. Answer: VERY deep-seated.
And since no mission is complete without complications, Annilese found it hard to get intel out of Yousaf because his boss Javid (Mahadeo Shivraj) had been keeping the second-in-command in the dark. For all her talk about making sure the Jennings were happy, Kate certainly changed her tune the moment Philip attempted to call off the mission. Somehow we're pretty far into the season but still don’t know a huge amount about Kate—except that she’s more concerned with preventing her head from rolling than she is with hearing out the agents she's responsible for. If this is the next generation of handlers, Kate's got a ways to go in the Keep a Cool Head department. The Center came back with its orders, and two things had to happen: Elizabeth had to kill Javid while Philip convinced Annilese to sleep with Yousef.
One proved easier than the other, and resulted in one of the cooler assassination sequences we've seen on The Americans to date: eerily lit blue swimming pool, a back-and-forth visual of sex and murder via heart attack powder, the jamming tunes of Pete Townshend and Nathan Barr's "It Must Be Done." A few floors up, Annilese immediately suffered shame following her hotel rendezvous. As there's been discussion all season about "what it takes" morally and emotionally to live a spy's life, the blonde asset's breakdown highlighted the sort of normal reactions that Elizabeth and Philip have had to silence in trading physical intimacy for intel. Annilese accused Philip of being a "pimp" to her "turned-out" self. "You don’t think it kills me to see the woman I love sacrifice herself like that?" he retorted, revealing his true motives for keeping Elizabeth out of Yousef’s bed. "Give herself to another man?" he continued, "Even if it is for a cause bigger than either of us. It is not something I take lightly. Ever." In the same way that last week Elizabeth spoke about her "husband" to the Northrop employee AA member without naming Philip, these spies have to take self-expression where they can get it.
Elsewhere, Andrew Larrick skulked his way back to D.C. Lee Tergesen brings a wild energy to the SEAL with a vendetta that's always been pretty scary. He’s got a wholesome face with a little snub-nose that seems more capable of heading up a backyard barbecue than taking down Ruskies. It’s this same affable quality that granted him access (via C&P Telephone—now "Verizon") to a junction box; after killing George the Basement Phone Guy (David Adkins), he discovered Kate’s home phone number. This puts him only a step away from a LOT of sensitive information.
Arkady and Gaad shared another welcome scene, wherein the former acquiesced to Vlad’s "mugging" death and the latter responded in kind with a description of office "character" Chris Amador. First a diner, and now this calm, snow-covered street just in front of Agent Gaad's home (a move on Arkady's part to show Gaad what he knows). The dreamy weather, and straightforward nature of this scene feel like it was happening in a surreal world, like two gods on Mount Olympus, bargaining over the fates of mortals. "He wanted to be a doctor," eulogized Arkady, speaking of Vlad, "He should have been a doctor," quipped Gaad. These two might as well be Russia and the U.S. anthropomorphized; they're the closest we’ll get to seeing the two countries interact on a cordial level. They'll negotiate, but guardedly, and always with a reminder of each other's enemy status.
In case we'd forgotten, Nina and Oleg are still frolicking between the sheets—but "Yousaf" revealed a little more about the differences in their respective backgrounds. Nina was in "Young Pioneers," a youth organization seemingly parallel to Paige’s camp of fellowship, while Oleg vacationed in the Crimea. "Ah, the downtrodden nomenklatura," Nina teased while reminiscing of happier, simpler days, with a less tangled life—er, "job." Nina hasn’t been up to much since defeating her lie-detector test, so I hope she’s got something more proactive to do in the homestretch of this season than just treading water. We did receive a little insight into her thoughts this week: She's scared that she might be "one of those people who is capable of anything." She's past the point of no return and aware of her talents but hasn’t yet decided how to apply them. Perhaps she’s still gathering intel.
If Nina does have a plan, she'd better act fast, as she couldn’t even keep Beeman in their safe house for longer than a kiss because he was so hopped up on fitting the final pieces together (thanks to a reinstated Gaad). Yes, an affair destroyed Stan's marriage, but it wasn’t with Nina. That mistress's name was "work." Like the Jennings (and Nina), Stan’s the kind of guy whose job is his life. He won't share two words with his own son Matthew, but is more than willing to have an uncomfortable sit-down with a damaged teen whose entire family was murdered about two months earlier. Noah Emmerich is always great, regardless of his scene partner, and I wish Owen Campbell had a bigger part, because every time Jared gets going it’s just about the saddest thing ever. Each pause he took sounded like it’d be the one that launched a full-on sobbing fit, but Campbell’s retreat into hollow-eyed sullenness took the scene to a far more devastating place. Secrets or not, he definitely saw the woman in that sketch during his meeting with "Anne Chadwick" in "The Walk In," and all it’d take to connect Philip is a mustache eraser. Has it really been 10 episodes?
– "Oleg Burov’s ass will be kicked out of this country so fast he won’t have time to buckle his pants" —Stan
– "This whole thing’s going to be won or lost in a third world."
– "They didn’t have big drunken parties, if that’s what you mean."
– "Glow worm!"
– Did you like the song "It Must Be Done"?
What did you think of "Yousaf"?
AIRED ON 6/8/2016
Season 4 : Episode 13