A secret agent can only maim and murder under disguise so many times before family breakfast starts to feel like one pancaked lie. “Russians will die for principles—principles that will one day save all mankind. Jews? They’ll die for their tribe,” Arkady told a KGB subordinate, as if to say that any faction that isn't the Mother Land is ultimately wrong in its worldview because of limited goals. Russia not only looks after its “tribe” members, but also seeks to benefit all of mankind with its ideology, seeks to make the world its tribe. Correctness is a matter of ultimate scope, but as we’ve seen in previous episodes, what good is being right on a global scale when the soldiers enacting this cause feel wrong on a personal scale?
And who better to point out this conundrum than a fellow secret agent from the other (other) side, Philip’s captive Mossad (we were right!). Half mind games and half shop talk, the assailant from last week (Cliff Marc Simon) needled Philip the same way Philip had mentally engaged Fred knowing full well that the only way out of such a bound mess was to connect on a human level (and a thwarted physical one). But, as Arkady pointed out, that’s where the similarities stopped. Philip was “platinum” to the point of never having gone back to Russia, a place he still loved; his prisoner was “bronze,” allowed to return home for Passover, and expendable.
“I hide what I do. I don’t hide who I am” was the kind of phrase meant to shame Philip for the dark side of his dedication—a last stab at integrity from someone resigned to death. Later on, this sort of criticism would be voiced as an appeal from the episode’s living McGuffin, physicist Anton Baklanov (Michael Aranov, who MORE than earned his air time). “You’re a monster. You’re not a man. Whatever you once were, whoever you were, they trained it out of you. No feeling, no humanity. You may as well be dead,” the father cried, while the human named Philip stoically drove to his mission’s end. From the losing side, this accusation might be true, but Philip’s war is not one fought for all families, it's one fought for his family. The one he knows. And in the end, the Mossad agent survived because of Russia's insistence on a deal. How’s that for humanity?
In the Martha-verse, white wine and girltalk happened and it was the best thing ever. “Would you like a glass of wine? ... I have white annnd white.” Clark Herbert Westerfeld’s shunned wife ended last week's episode as a liability, and there was speculation that Martha’s husband-outing job application would be the death of her. But we should know by now that The Americans is not so unimaginative as to kill willy-nilly, especially when there are other options available, and ESPECIALLY when those options involve Elizabeth reappearing as one of her many aliases. Plus, what fun would this show be if it devolved into another Guess Who’s Going to Die-athon? There's more to gain from the living, and if there's any sympathy to be found in espionage, The Americans has it in spades.
Enter “Jennifer,” Clark’s “sister” with great glasses, hair, and a great jacket (what). If last week’s “long, lazy, romantic morning” gave us more of what fans love about the closest character The Americans has to an audience surrogate, this week's girl's night plopped right down in a comfy, cozy sweater and uncorked grigio bottle number two, then sauced out gems like calling Clark a “hall monitor for the goddamned FBI!” In lesser hands, this storyline would've been just fun with a goal: Keep Clark’s name off the form and live in Martha’s world for a quarter hour. Hell, I wouldn't complain.
But The Americans never misses an opportunity to make its characters feel things, and so Elizabeth found herself caught off guard (as Philip's mate) by Martha’s description of Jennifer’s brother’s talents in the sack. Okay, one: Siblings don’t want to hear about the sexual prowess of family members at all, ever. Two, Elizabeth seemed uneasy hearing from another member of the Philip/Clark bedroom club. It's something that could haunt the Jennings moving forward, considering the sexual apprehension she’s been experiencing since the death of Emmett and Leanne.
Elsewhere, and after some guessing games, we finally received some clarity on Oleg’s motives as "The Deal" slammed him face-to-face with Agent Stan Beeman. I’ve been Team Oleg since the get-go, and I still am, but mostly based on what he brings to the dramatic table and not his goals. When he first introduced, we wondered whether he was inept? Rich? Scheming? But like some of you had already guessed, "The Deal" revealed that there's more than meets the eye to this American-savvy fellow. I had hoped it was something as pure as developing feelings for Nina, but Oleg’s sights are set much higher than some Russian tail. He sees Nina for what she is: something valued by the enemy. In retrospect, it seems inevitable that a show so focused on criss-crossing national identities would produce a KGB leader who thinks like a Westerner, and not a “bureaucrat.” Someone who will counteract the enemy by using the same playbook. Unfortunately, that playbook once again involves using Nina’s safety as a bargaining device.
While Stan lost the battle, the important thing is that he’s back in the war. Last week had him bottoming out with a department inquiry and a drunken heart-to-heart with Philip, but thanks to a note on Baklanov’s file, Stan found himself doing what he does best: connecting dots and running ops. Never one to forget his friends, he brought Gaad along for a ride that looked like it might land them not only the physicist, but (unknowingly) Philip as well. “What can you give me in exchange for Nina’s safety?” Oleg asked, preying on (after Stan's confession of love) the most coveted development in Stan’s emotional world. Oleg knows Stan loves her. He knows she is the fed’s weakness. He knows that out-threatening the other side’s most vulnerable areas is what wins Cold Wars.
– Dockside ending, yet another classic detective genre setting.
– Submit this one to the Emmys based at least on Aranov's backseat performance. For serious.
– Philip and Elizabeth curled up on the couch, Philip asking for stories of the homeland, minutes before family life begins once again.
– Personally, I’d like to see Nina take down both Oleg and Stan. She doesn’t deserve to be a pawn.
– Looks like Brad Mullen’s been forced back into the sidelines. Can't say I mind.
– Claudia’s replacement? Kate.
– Sandra’s still trying to connect with her true self. This week’s attempt involved “Soul Retrieval.” Good luck!
– Where’s Matthew?
– "Stonewalled. It’s like I’m the KGB." —Gaad
– “My life. My crazy life, I don’t know where to put everything.” —Paige
– "Clark’s so uptight you know, like fuss, fuss, fussy!"
– "Can I be a little bit of a Betty Buttinski?"
– "We are better at vodka. They are better at tobacco."
– “Is President Reagan personally scaling our walls in his cowboy hat?"
What did you think of "The Deal"?
AIRED ON 5/21/2014
Season 2 : Episode 13