The List-ening has begun! Kate is joined by her new …
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 its third season, The Americans has made its scope wider, moving beyond the emotional focus of the Jennings to take a broader view of those affected by the Cold War. After the spotlight on Phillip and Elizabeth revealing their secret to Paige in “Stingers,” last week’s “One Day In The Life Of Anton Baklanov” examined a variety of elements in the drama’s universe, to less claustrophobic but still tense effect. “I Am Abassin Zadran” finds an effective compromise between the two, developing disparate aspects of The Americans while still giving the episode a moving center, which, if not quite on the level of the Paige reveal, certainly leaves you with your heart in your throat. That core, obviously, is Martha, and while her arc has been far from ignored this season, there hasn’t been anything approaching the shocking wig removal with which the episode concludes.
Even when The Americans slows down, it never lets up the tension. This week’s episode, “One Day In The Life Of Anton Baklanov,” tempers the pace after the shocking reveal of last week’s “Stingers,” but the relationships between the characters remain no less taut. The claustrophobic focus of the last third of “Stingers” on the relationship between Paige and her parents is replaced by a broader look at lesser developed characters in the series’ universe, allowing the viewer more time with stories which seem equally worthy of being told.
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.
Calling attention to the lies told in an episode of The Americans might feel like spotlighting the sex in an hour of Game of Thrones or the cringeworthiness of an installment of Girls, but this week’s “Divestment,” was particularly filled with mendacity. As with the violence (which I’ll get to in a bit), it’s not the amount of it, but the severity of the obfuscations of truth which impacts the viewer most severely. Accordingly, “Divestment” contains some of the most painful and exaggerated lies seen on the show in recent memory.