The Americans Season 2, Episode 8 “New Car”
Written by Peter Ackerman
Directed by John Dahl
Airs Wednesdays at 10pm ET on FX
It’s death, death, and more death on the schedule for the Jennings as the second season of The Americans continues: “New Car” doesn’t just force Elizabeth to face (literally) the death of her protege Lucia, but makes all of the KGB face an ideological truth when information the Jennings stole turned out to be fake, leading to the death of 160 young sailors of the coast of the motherland. And as the bodies continue to pile up, Elizabeth and Philip are growing more and more on edge, an anxious fragility that’s underlined every scene this season with a new sense of urgency – and more importantly, ambiguity, as the spy world becomes as confusing and nonsensical as the many lives they’re both trying to maintain.
From beginning to end, “New Car” is a relentless examination of Elizabeth and Philip’s state of mind, contrasted no better than when Elizabeth lets Lucia (a KGB agent) die for ‘the cause’, where Philip is openly reluctant to make the same decision later on with a frightened truck driver. Where Philip is buying American muscle cars and doing his best to “enjoy” his time in America (less an “enjoyment” than a “desperate fantasy”, really), Elizabeth’s shown a steadfast dedication to a mission she barely understands anymore – as The Americans digs further into stealth technology and ARPANET, our prized KGB agents are becoming increasingly overwhelmed with the fundamental changes in technology as America moves closer and closer to the modern warfare we’ve unfortunately become familiar with the last few decades (a particularly cringe-worthy scene is Reagan’s speech, talking about prioritizing national defense budgets over having a balanced budget, an ideal that reverberates in our own reality).
What’s important is the professional dichotomy between Elizabeth and Philip; as the two of them appear to be growing closer behind doors (“I just want you to be happy”, Elizabeth tells Philip at one point), their world views couldn’t be growing further apart. Elizabeth may not have lost her sense of purpose, but she certainly must be feeling the loss of her husband as a focused, dedicated ally: the more time he spends in America, the more it becomes clear he wishes the country would just swallow him whole and never let him leave. Cars, rock music, video games… as the Russian mission becomes more blurry and blood-soaked, Philip’s desperate attempts at integration are driving a wedge between himself and his wife. For better or worse, Philip’s becoming the father of his children (that is, an AMERICAN father), isolating Elizabeth even further from the country she dedicated her life to, sacrificing her moral compass and stranding her alone in a strange land, separated from a family who is becoming everything she promised to fight against.
There are a few other interesting things going on in “New Car” – Stan’s frustrations with his own government provide a nice parallel to the Jennings, both parties being forced to work with entities they’d rather just put six feet in the ground (and more so, the difference between the ever-patient US government, and the hasty, scrambling Russians) – but Peter Ackerman’s script is at its most revealing and fascinating when it’s examining Philip and Elizabeth in their environments alone. Elizabeth’s face while she watches the life fade from Lucia’s eyes, is as powerful a moment when Philip returns to his shiny, new car after getting the news from Kate that 160 men died from intel they gathered; although one is only willing to admit it at the moment, neither of them are “enjoying” the lives they’re living, which are light years away from the war of ideologies and vengeance that Lucia wanted to play. In a world full of gray where nobody can trust anybody, all the Jennings have left are each other – and as their values become further compromised, it’s only a matter of time before the growing dissonance between them crescendos.
– Oleg’s character is really growing on me, thanks to Costa Ronin’s performance, which finds a vein of authenticity through the many layers of Oleg’s “counterintelligence” plan that is really appealing. Having scenes with Noah Emmerich certainly doesn’t hurt: the two have a fantastic chemistry that’s on full display as they stand in front of pinball machines negotiating.
– ok, so the ending is a bit heavy-handed, but Russel and Rhys’ reactions to Henry’s “I’m a good person!” are (as always) terrific.
– where the fuck is Paige?
– real 1980s commericals? The Americans’ dedication to period authenticity warms my insides.