The Americans Ep 1.05 ‘COMINT’ explores the gender dynamics of the 1980’s

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the americans s1 ep5

The Americans Season 1, Episode 5 ‘COMINT’

Directed by Holly Dale

Written by Melissa James Gibson

Airs Wednesday nights at 10 ET on FX

For a show in its fifth hour, ‘COMINT’ is a fairly bold episode that takes a stark look at how gender plays into the spy games of The Americans with an hour full of honeypots and sexually-charged espionage. But it’s not all spankings and blow jobs:  ‘COMINT’ closes with two big advancements in the season arc, while touching on its ever-present theme of loyalty, as well as the dynamics of the show’s two central marriages.

Everything that Elizabeth and Nina do in the episode are paralleled with each other, scenes of their various missions and sexual favors overlapping, connecting them together not only by their gender, but how far they have to go (and are willing to go), to get the information they need. It draws an interesting comparison to the way Phillip and Stan go about their jobs, appealing to the emotions of the women they’re working, and merely hinting at sex with a kiss or a look, before they get the information they want. In this context, it takes a bit of a simplistic look at the changing gender politics of the 1980’s, but when it’s not involving male characters who think cock-first, it finds the nuances that are missing elsewhere.

The argument Phillip and Elizabeth have in the garage is the highlight of these contrasting gender roles: after seeing her bruises, Phillip gets hell bent on taking down the guy who did it to her, even after Elizabeth tries to calm him down and explain that it’s over and she’s ok. He’s loading up a gun, talking about how he’s her husband and he’s not going to let anybody do that to her and “get away with it.” But Elizabeth stops him cold in his tracks when she reminds him that if it really had become a problem, she’s perfectly capable of solving it on her own.

It’s a powerful moment for Elizabeth – who for the first time since the pilot, feels like the emotional anchor of the episode (as opposed to Phillip). She’s so calculating and pragmatic, she understands the necessities of her reality, and accepts what she needs to do to keep herself and her family alive. Like Granny says, Elizabeth is the kind of woman who doesn’t need an Equal Rights Amendment or a man with a gun to protect her freedoms – she’s perfectly capable of doing it herself, maybe more so considering her gender and the male-dominated war she’s partaking in, considering her ability to remove her emotions in ways that Phillip can’t.

However, it appears the same approach will not yield the same benefits for Nina. As soon as she tells Stan where her resident is going to meet his unsettled contact in the defense technology department, the FBI changes the newly-acquired encryption, undoing all the work Elizabeth did (before sneaking out of the FBI parking garage, in a quietly tense sequence). The meeting is ruined, the contact is killed by Elizabeth to tie up a loose end, and the Russians are onto the mole leaking information to the feds – not good news, considering they discover only a handful of scenes after Stan admits to Nina that they’re not quite to the point of exfiltrating her just yet.

Although its a little neat and tidy putting sexual dynamics into historical context, ‘COMINT’ doesn’t sit on the laurels of those parallels for the entire episode, framing them within the overarching narrative in terrific fashion. The Soviets have now lost an entire network within the US government (one of the Russians lists all the contacts Udacha had for the KGB), and they are on the hunt for the mole, our sympathetic soon-to-be-dead Nina. Marriages are tense, both governments are tense, and everybody is questioning the loyalty of everyone around them – which means we’re in for quite a ride the rest of the season. – Randy Dankievitch

Other thoughts/observations:

– Noah Emmerich is on fire in this episode. Both in his scene with Sandra, trying to forget the past and learn some Russian, and the look on his face when Nina lets him know what she did to get her information.

– Visili’s imitation of jitters was genuinely funny, as was the way the word stuck out when mixed with Russian.

– “Excuse me, sir, could you please fully check my credentials?” Elizabeth is all about the little touches. A line here, a sexy noise there… she’s got the boys wrapped around her finger.

– another thing to keep an eye on: the growing friendship between Stan and Phillip. Elizabeth’s wary of it, and while Phillip might think it’s a genius idea, it could be one that comes back and bites him in the ass in the near future.

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