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The Americans S02E08: "New Car"


I’m not sure anyone had a good time in "New Car," this season’s slow-turning eighth installment directed by John Dahl and written by Peter Ackerman. Henry got caught creepy-crawling, Larrick took steps to break off his ties with the KGB, and Stan remained out of both his family and work loops while still playing the role of a puppet to string-holders Nina and Oleg. Elsewhere, Anton got a little taste of his new Russian life (thanks to Vasili!), Martha wanted to put a stop to her in-office recon, and Lucia met her maker, all while 160 Russian sailors drowned to death at the hands of decoy submarine plans. But hey, you want to see people have a good time, watch Nick Jr., you know? All season long there’s been a growing sense of ideological disillusionment from Elizabeth and Philip, and "New Car" prodded the Jennings into taking yet another look at the ultimate good (or lack thereof) they do in the grand scheme of things.  


Well, I guess Philip did get to boogie down a little bit in some shades with his boy Henry next to the family’s bitchin’ new Camaro, and Oleg got in a few games of pinball at the bowling alley. Hell, he and Nina even shared a few video game chuckles before Arkady’s stark warning about Oleg’s family. Is Nina working Oleg, or letting her hair down? I'd suspect her reluctance to go dancing with Oleg had to do with Arkady's concerns. She could get more involved, but having just escaped trouble so recently, Nina's playing it safe. Last week was intense for Nina, and if there’s anything that can trip her up, it's resting too much on her laurels during this victory lap. The Nina we see (cunning, strong-minded) is different than the one Stan sees (helpless, adorable), and once her FBI agent is able to compare these two disparate versions, the game is over. But what a game!

"When you get down to it, buying a car is about feel. How does it make you feel?" said the car salesman to the Russian spy engaging in a very American situation. Selecting a car is selecting a life, usually one you want. A Philip who hopes for a quieter, more stable existence might've chosen a station wagon, or something with great gas mileage. But as we’ve seen, Philip said goodbye to "sensible" a long time ago, so his choice of a rad Camaro feels more like an extension of that wild man as he comes to terms with who he is and isn’t. Regular suburbanites have mid-life crisises and buy fast cars; trained killers see the guilt of murder catching up and need to drive faster. Or maybe Philip just digs sweet wheels. 


"Don’t you enjoy any of this, sometimes?" Philip asked his suspicious companion Elizabeth, to which she clarified, "It’s nicer here, yes, it’s easier. It’s not better." I like this wrinkle to the Jennings' cover, but Philip being tempted by materialism and Elizabeth’s subsequent disapproval never seem to approach any truly dangerous territory—and that can make this element feel stagnant. That’s why it was so fun to see Paige explore Christianity, because it was something different. But the writers seem to know this, which is why Philip’s willingness to embrace parts of Western life only appears every now and again.  

Elizabeth is giving Philip more space, though—not the lonely kind, but the loving, respectful kind. However, Martha is making more demands now that she and Clark have successfully navigated the first major storm in their sea of love. Guilt can drive people to change, and so Martha requested exfiltration because she likes her coworkers. Cue Philip's doctored audio recordings containing a bunch of hateful, hurtful remarks from Gaad and the boys about how many scotches and bags over the head it would take to have intercourse with Martha. Though Clark ultimately withheld his plans this week, if he does choose to proceed with them, I’m not so sure Martha’s going to react like Philip and Elizabeth think she will. I could see a version of this scenario playing out where her damaged ego makes Martha do something reckless—like confront Gaad and his peers. It was very kind of Philip to spare Martha the humiliation, but she’s still going to want to pull out of this operation at some point. 


But Martha was the least of the Jennings' worries this week, with Lucia making good on her threats to go after Larrick and Elizabeth allowing the Sandinista’s death. We all saw this coming: Lucia struggled to separate her personal motivations from her role in the Cause (Larrick trained the man who killed her father), and folks who strike out on their own do not fare well on The Americans. I had hoped she would’ve at least taken out Larrick before her demise, but it makes sense that a deadly SEAL would come out the survivor. Yes, he had the size and the training on Lucia, but he was also more emotionally focused. He knows how he feels about the KGB (a.k.a. he wants nothing to do with them), and he didn’t have any vendettas clouding his motives. Just goals and actions. 

Elizabeth demonstrated a similarly emotionless resolve, trading Lucia’s life for Larrick’s help in one swift, professional negotiation. It’s never fun to see murder happen (sorry, I'm just going out on a limb here), and Lucia’s was so nonchalant in the moment that it struck me as one of the show’s more chilling deaths. "Get that body out of my house" is a difficult order to take when you’ve just looked your protegé in the eye and then OK’d her kitchen strangulation. Lucia had a small arc on this show, but one that exercised the motherly spy part of Elizabeth: Elizabeth coached Lucia through a drug overdose, helped her seduce and kill, warned her to play by the rules, and ultimately condoned her exit. Little did Lucia know that Elizabeth’s lesson in suppressing emotion was as much for the mentor as it was for the protegé."If she didn’t understand what comes first, then she didn’t understand anything," Elizabeth explained to a sympathetic Philip. He's been struggling with the idea of avoidable deaths too, so hey, silver lining: Lucia's death gave them something to bond over. Greater good, right? 


The announcement that the propellor plans Elizabeth and Philip stole a little while back A) caused the deaths of all those sailors, and B) had been planted by the U.S. sure made this all feel like a zero sum game. It’s one thing to have a casualty of war here and there, but to learn that the missions Philip and Elizabeth are conducting might be actively hurting their own people sure seems like a good reason to step back and take a good hard look at this whole espionage business. Even Stan Beeman, whose actual job is to take on Russia with the alleged support of his own country, can't seem to move forward.

Worse, his counterparts are basically already celebrating that he's a turned agent. Bureaucracy's a bastard, and if there’s one thing unifying the Stans with the Olegs of the world, it’s the shared experience of being on the front lines without the proper support from those in charge. Everyone can relate to this, because even outside of work—in just being a regular citizen to a country—we face rules decided by people who don’t live our lives (sorry, trying not to let this week’s Tax Day bitterness seep into this review). The only difference is that Oleg has the ability to maneuver the powers up top to his liking, even while criticizing his country’s own shoddy work from the battlefield.


EXTRA INTELLIGENCE

– Henry’s cries about not being a "bad person" echoed his father’s explanation to Elizabeth about what it means to be "human." 

– Elizabeth seething at Reagan on the television set will NEVER get old.

– "Pier 9? The wildest disco in town?" 

– Stan's garage outburst was his first angry explosion not involving spycraft.

– That garbage man was so scared. 

– "Maybe we kill Burov." "Is that a joke?" "That would depend on your sense of humor, sir."

– An MI-5 Agent spying for the USSR. Beeman's sweating it.

– "Other people have important jobs and wives." Oh, Martha!

– "Show the world American hypocrisy, their bloodiness, their willingness to topple democratic governments." Kate sure is passionate!


What'd you think of "New Car"?


Previously Aired Episode

AIRED ON 4/22/2015

Season 3 : Episode 13

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