The Americans, Season 3, Episode 11: “One Day In The Life Of Anton Baklanov”
Written by Stephen Schiff & Tracey Scott Wilson
Directed by Andrew Bernstein
Airs Wednesdays at 10pm (ET) on FX
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 on the relationship between Paige and her parents in the last third of “Stingers” 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.
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The most notable of these is the tale of the episode’s titular character, who gets, on top of more screen time, a place in a title which references Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s masterful 1962 novel of Soviet repression. Nina continues her attempt to seduce him, albeit without nearly the romantic success she has with Stan. She appears to have more trouble detaching herself from her target this time around, with his letters to his son affecting her deeply. The result is a powerful portrait of two characters living under oppression—like the episode’s literary namesake, they’re imprisoned (in less literal ways) by their society. While her relationship with Stan was powerful and deeply human, it didn’t have quite the significance which comes from seeing two characters caught in the same political situation commiserate with one another. Whereas Stan felt, at times, like an imperial colonialist (albeit an ineffectual one) in his relationship with Nina, she and Anton find themselves as equals, even if their encounter spurs from her attempting to prey on him. His telling her of the past women who’ve attempted to seduce him only makes her seem sadder, since she’s forced to confront her status as a mere pawn in the KGB’s operation.
The broader focus of “One Day in the Life” also allows for a look at Yousaf, who’s still reeling from the traumatic death of Analiese. Their conversation about her quickly devolves into Yousaf wondering about how Phillip does what he does (i.e. constantly lie, kill innocent people, etc.). The result is Phillip having to speak about his justification for his behavior, a speech we’ve heard him and Elizabeth give again and again throughout the show. At this point, particularly given how last week’s events revealed a dramatic consequence, the speech feels tired and overwrought. Still, there’s something significant about this repetition: if justification for actions as extreme as Elizabeth and Phillip’s feels unconvincing, then perhaps their raison d’etre has truly exhausted itself.
As often happens, though, their espionage makes for a fascinating lens through which to understand their relationship with one another. The sex scene with the hotel manger has the dual significance of revealing both his feelings and hers; him wanting her to be wet shows that he cares about her, while her eventual obliging shows that she does take some pleasure in the act. The lengthy medium-closeups which capture their lovemaking make for one of the steamier scenes on the show in a while, which mimics her feelings. For both her and Phillip,, even though the sex is ostensibly just a way to to fulfill a mission, they can’t avoid taking pleasure in their “work” as well.
Whether or not they’d want to do so, even if they could, brings back the question of their marriage, which gets explicitly explored in relation to the hotel scene in the end of the episode. After getting undressed, she gets into bed with Phillip, kisses him, and goes down on him. The oral sex feels like an obvious device for revealing his emotions, but it’s an effective one: the detached look on his face tells us all we need to know about his feelings. He cares enough about her to try and convince Gabriel to let her see her mother in the USSR, but there’s no doubt that their relationship faces significant challenges, and the sex scene hones in on them.
Naturally, the state of their relationship heavily affects Paige as well, and, despite the wider focus of the episode, she’s hardly exempted from its scope. Elizabeth attempts to make Paige realize how much worse her situation could be in the powerful close to the first act, and her lack of interest mimics ours. Although Elizabeth isn’t wrong in saying that Paige is fortunate in many ways, she appears to be glossing over the hardship of her daughter’s situation in the interest of letting herself off the hook. It’s these myriad relationships which, in large part, make the show what it is, and it’ll be fascinating to see how they play out over the season’s final two episodes.