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The Americans, Ep. 2.12, “Operation Chronicle” an hour of rising tension

The Americans, Ep. 2.12, “Operation Chronicle” an hour of rising tension

americans 2.12

The Americans Season 2, Episode 12 “Operation Chronicle”
Written by Joel Fields and Joe Weisberg
Directed by Andrew Bernstein
Airs Wednesdays at 10pm ET on FX

 


The characters of The Americans are always trying to protect something: information, identities, affairs… in a world full of secrets, it becomes very important to be able to keep things from coming to light. All season long, the various characters of The Americans have tried to protect their status quo, akin to keeping the lid on a boiling pot of water: eventually, things are bound to boil over and spill everywhere, saturating people and situations in the very things they’ve tried to avoid.

In the wake of Kate’s (still unconfirmed by the KGB) death, “Operation Chronicle” is an hour of heat underneath the already-heated waters of The Americans’ sophomore effort. Her last communication to Philip and Elizabeth (“Get Jared Out”) sees them scrambling, faced with a number of challenges they weren’t quite ready to handle, a position Stan finds himself in as well throughout the hour. It’s the kind of dramatic crescendos we expect from penultimate episodes of television seasons: and despite that knowledge (and “Operation Chronicle” mostly sticking to that format), last night’s episode still makes time for its characters.

It makes for that addiction-forming combination of superb performance and plot momentum that drives the best shows on television: everyone’s loyalties are being pushed to the limit, while the Jennings family tries to maintain a calm in the eye of the growing storm. All season, this has been anchored by Matthew Rhys’ amazing performance as Philip: but in “Operation Chronicle”, Noah Emmerich and Keri Russell are more than willing to pick up the slack as two people determined to conquer their anxieties and fears while their lives crumple around them. Watching Stan try to be civil with his wife – as she’s telling him she’s moving in with the man she JUST had an affair with, pointing out to him this has been going on much longer than she admitted – is particularly heart-breaking, itself an accomplishment considering we’ve watched him commit infidelities (with the enemy, no less) for two entire seasons. Despite what he feels for Nina, a man is never ready to have his foundation rocked, even when he knows its coming – and seeing Stan try to cling onto what bits of comfort he has in the world becomes devastating, as his plan to vacate Nina from Virginia fails miserably when Arkady makes his own play (and in the process, leaving Nina’s true allegiances up in the air).

However, being a penultimate episode of a season, a lot of what occurs in the episode feels unfinished – though again, this is due to the episode’s construction. After building for eleven episodes, “Operation Chronicle” teases the season end game without letting us peek through the curtain, even for a second: there’s no resolution to be found anywhere, be it Clark’s marriage (which took a BIG step forward when his wife hands him piles of classified documents; apparently security is low on the FBI priority list) or Larrick’s hunt for Jared, which gains a lot of importance after Elizabeth reveals to him (discreetly, of course) who she really is, and who her and Jared’s parents worked for.

A running theme this season on The Americans is the illusion of choice (seen in this episode with Jared’s “choice” to go with Elizabeth): at some point, one stops living the life they think they’re living or want to live, and has to face the realities of the changing world around them, even when it becomes something they can’t comprehend (and in most cases, something they can never change). From this angle, characters like Stan, Jared, Oleg, and Philip all find themselves in the same boat, distracted by the ever-changing climate to realize the traps they’re walking into: as Larrick creeps, Arkady schemes, and Martha makes jokes about Clark’s wig and having children, the world of The Americans begins to narrow as it expands (this week, Henry complains that Wrath of Khan sounds like it will be a disappointment), pushing characters into corners and forcing them into action as the season begins to reach its dramatic apex.

— Randy

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