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The Americans Ep. 2.01 “Comrades” returns in fine form

The Americans Ep. 2.01 “Comrades” returns in fine form

the americans 2.1

The Americans Season 2, Episode 1 “Comrades”
Written by Joel Fields & Joe Weisberg
Directed by Thomas Schlamme
Airs Wednesday nights at 10pm ET on FX

 

The first season of The Americans was full of wigs, silenced pistols, and analogue espionage – but it was also an examination of family, be it professional, personal, or a lot of both, like the Jennings. Season two quickly reminds the audience of this, with the wide-eyed family of deer standing a few feet in front of Elizabeth’s vehicle. There are certainly advantages to being focused on one’s mission – however, when one becomes so focused on their careers, it’s ultimately their family that pays the price. And when your chosen career path is foreign spy living on enemy turf, that price can be deadly: a truth Philip and Elizabeth come face to face with in shocking fashion during “Comrades”.

“Comrades” opens a few months after the events of “The Colonel”, a season finale that left Elizabeth in critical condition from an FBI gunshot, Claudia’s face really bloody from Elizabeth’s knuckles, and Nina accepting her new mission (attempting to turn FBI Agent Stan Beeman into a KGB informant). Always a show to master its audio cues, the episode opens serenely, the sounds of crickets giving voice to Agent Gaad’s insistence that the “trail’s gone cold” on the two strangers (Elizabeth and Philip) that Stan saw in the season finale. With things calming down (save for Philip’s bloody visit with some Afghans looking to take out Russians with the help of some southern American money) and running smoothly, everyone (except Stan) is celebrating a return to normalcy.

However, the hints are there from the opening scene that not all is good in the ‘hood. Sanford (the informant-gone-snitch, distrusted by both the FBI and KGB) is still hanging around the FBI office, Paige is peeking around her mother’s laundry – and of course, those damn deer that Elizabeth nearly runs into on her way home from wherever the heck she was out in the woods. But hey, everyone’s going to the carnival for Henry weekend – and that’s where it becomes apparent something is going wrong, as Philip gets himself (and his son) pulled into an unexpected mission, which quickly turns sideways when Philip arrives to find his associate’s family dead in their hotel room, murdered by the very people he’d warned Philip he might have to “take out” (I think? I won’t lie: sometimes there are too many subtle twists to catch in two viewings of an episode).

Immediately, the entire tenor of the episode changes and the symbolic hints throughout come into clear focus: in an instant, one’s reality can be popped like a carnival balloon, a violent snap back to the cruelties of the world they’ve chosen to live in. As much as their identities are facsimile, their families are real, and can be ripped away from them wordlessly, in an instant, for a cause both Philip and Elizabeth have questioned (albeit briefly) in the past. It also instills a newfound importance on Paige and Henry’s characters that the show sorely lacked this season; for the first time, the Jennings children were blindly in the face of real danger, a threat that Elizabeth and Philip never saw coming.

Not only is Philip’s entrance into the hotel room a shocking, well-executed moment; it’s an important “raising stakes” moment for the second season, putting the target on the entire Jennings family, not just the two very, very capable parents. These children have actual lives, lives not predicated on signals, fake marriages, and layers of espionage I still can’t figure out how these two keep straight (I mean, they can’t keep a notebook with full-color photos of their hairstyles, right?) – they have to go to school, and practice, and to hang out friends, places that Philip and Elizabeth can never protect them. The stress of that constant uncertainty looks to be an important undercurrent of this second season: if Philip and/or Elizabeth no longer feel they can keep their family safe, what are they going to do? They can’t just abandon the KGB, or turn against them (ask Sanford… oh wait, you can’t anymore, he’s dead)… they run away or they stay, the fate of their children may never truly be in their hands. The mission always comes first – and their entire family may die to relay a message they don’t even understand.

With so much focus on re-establishing the Jennings marriage and family for the purpose of the devastating conclusion, there isn’t a whole lot of time to check on the other characters of The Americans in “Comrades”. Nina’s still giving Stan the appropriate amount of attitude and passion, and her and Arkady are dealing with a hotshot young head of Line X (a technology-centric division of the KGB) to feed Stan fake information (but good fake information). Arkady’s continuous instance that she reel in Stan’s heart has left her with a crisis of identity, though one a bit more subtle than the one Philip and Elizabeth have to face at the hotel. Used by Arkady and Stan, Nina feels like a whore – a bit of a simplistic turn for such a well-developed (and magnificently acted) as Nina’s, and one not given a lot of room to grow in this particular episode. But like every character on the show, Nina’s internal conflicts weigh heavily on her throughout the season – and rest assuredly, there’s no shortage of great material for Annet Mahandru to chew through, at least in the episodes I’ve seen thus far.

 

 

Other thoughts/observations:

– Claudia’s still around? Elizabeth is surprised – she really shouldn’t be.

– another example of the Jennings family coming face to face with the death of their family: Philip has to kill a teenage dishwasher on his way out of the restaurant, simply because the kid saw him leaving the kitchen.

– Movie pirating! Video games! Rod Stewart’s “Passion”! It’s the 80’s, bitches!!!

– I fucking love Nina: “He’s like a bad mattress… too soft.”

– The real impact of Elizabeth and Philip’s dangerous career comes crashing home with a single sentence: when Elizabeth asks who could’ve done such a thing, Philip replies “You want the list?”

 

— Randy

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