The show list finally slows down a bit this week, …
If “The Chain” was the perfect Fleetwood Mac song to accompany the closing montage of “Walter Taffet,” the shocker of a midseason episode which introduced, among other things, Gaad’s discovery of the bug in his office, “March 8, 1983” could’ve ended with “Little Lies.” Although there have been many impressive aspects in the third season of The Americans, one which I’ve harped on repeatedly in this space has been the thematic cohesion of its episodes. This season has been remarkably broad in scope, and Joel Fields and Joe Weisberg have consistently used the wide frame, in conjunction with a tight thematic focus, to contrast how characters in different locations react to similar scenarios (i.e. love, death, etc.). Appropriately enough for a show about spying and deception, the finale gives viewers a look at the effects which lies of different varieties and magnitudes have on the liars and those around them.
In film music, a stinger is a jarring dissonance which accompanies a shocking moment, and this week’s episode of The Americans, “Stingers,” contains what might be the show’s biggest surprise so far. However, unlike a musical stinger, the scene is delivered entirely without music, relying on the strength of the actors and the quick cuts between their faces to maximize their emotional gut punch.
While last week’s episode, “Divestment,” showcased the emotional violence caused by the characters of The Americans, this week’s Phillip K. Dick-referencing “Do Mail Robots Dream of Electric Sheep?” focused on actual physical violence and its effects. It’s an idea that’s been explored throughly on the show (through the infamous suitcase scene, the tooth extraction, and many other aspects), but the most recent hour is particularly notable for the way in which it contrasts how various characters react to the murders (or forced suicides, which are more or less the same thing) for which they’re responsible. No major players in the series’ universe are lost, but the two killings are, in their own way, two of the more devastating moments on The Americans in recent memory.
More and more, this season of The Americans feels like it’s centered around Paige. Although the myriad subplots weave together to paint a broad portrait of Cold War life, she’s become important enough to feel like as good a candidate as any for the show’s emotional core. Paige serves a dual function in the narrative: her embrace of Christianity is interesting in its own right and is also an ideal lens for the viewer to understand the complicated relationship between Elizabeth and Phillip. This week’s episode takes its title from Paige’s baptism, so “Born Again” naturally focuses on her, and she continues to be a perfect anchoring point for the show’s broader concerns.
Throughout its two season run, one of the most remarkable things about The Americans has been the show’s understatement. Despite the somewhat far-fetched premise (Phillip and Elizabeth just happen to live next to Stan), the series has maintained an impressive level of self-restraint. Much of the show appears to be content to depict the overall tedium of its characters’ lives, using the time to develop their relationships with one another and set the stage for the climactic moments that never feel too delayed.
In 2011, the thought of rebooting Planet of the Apes seemed foolish. Then Rise of the Planet of the Apes came out, and blew audiences away. As a result, expectations were high for Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, the follow up to 2011’s successful venture. The results are remarkable, as Dawn offers not only a brilliant summer blockbuster, but also an emotionally powerful testimony to the nature of war and humility.