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The Americans, Ep. 2.11, “Stealth” puts the show’s masterful narrative construction on display

The Americans, Ep. 2.11, “Stealth” puts the show’s masterful narrative construction on display

the americans 2.11

The Americans Season 2, Episode 11 “Stealth”
Written by Joshua Brand
Directed by Gregory Hoblit
Airs Wednesdays at 10pm ET on FX

For all the fantastic work The Americans and its performers do with theme and character, The Americans most underrated asset is its ability to develop intricate, layered storytelling without completely losing its audience. It makes episodes like “Stealth” – which mostly exists in between the actions of the past and future – so much more rewarding to watch, an hour that rapidly begins pulling season-long story threads together in rapid fashion.

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That act alone is impressive: The Americans has quietly weaved together an intricate series of events, narrative dominoes that continue to fall in perfect rhythm throughout the length of “Stealth”, opening and closing on two people “imprisoned” in their own home (Anton in Russia, Paige in the Jennings home). In between, “Stealth” smartly folds the season’s biggest narratives in on themselves: when Anton notes to his boss that he needs certain equipment in order to make all his stealth-related math to be useful, the mission isn’t passed down to the Center’s “prize agents” – instead, it is given to Arkady, who then makes it the end-all, be-all moment for Nina.

Step back and appreciate what “Stealth” is able to accomplish here: season two began with the death of two agents, and the kidnapping and repatriating of an ARPANET scientist (itself a wonderful juxtaposition of circumstance: two people died for what they believe in, while another is forced to live for something he doesn’t… who got the better end of the deal here?). Those agents led Beeman on his investigation, eventually leading him to the Echo program the KGB want so badly – information they’ve killed many an American soldier just to find out they need, sending the ever-unsettling Larrick into action. Going back to Beeman, his investigation led him to Jared, the son of Emmett and Leanne and the new focal point of the season for both the KGB and the FBI.

It’s one thing to build an intricate web of stories – it’s a completely different thing to do it while not only maintaining the show’s characters, but adding dimensions to them in the process. “Stealth” isn’t quiet about how it brings all these plot pieces together – like Nina’s defining moments coming alongside Stan’s – but its ability to integrate the many events of the season together into arresting scenes like Stan and his wife’s conversation organically, which makes them all the more rewarding. Elizabeth and Paige’s arc together fits similarly into this mold: Elizabeth’s steadfast beliefs on Paige going to church camp early in the episode makes her concession later in the episode rewarding not just on a plot level, but a character level: we don’t need Elizabeth to tell us that she finally sees Paige’s search for purpose for what it is (although she does) for the scene in the Jennings kitchen to work.

And this is but one of the many examples of The Americans’ harmonious mix of plot and character in season two. Yes, some minor characters get the short end of the stick, serving the former purpose rather than the latter (Kate’s strange behavior and Jared’s sudden importance being two examples), but those are but minor blips on an otherwise fantastic hour for the prestige drama, as Larrick’s shadow looms larger, and characters like Stan, Nina (whose ambiguity is written beautifully, and played even better by Annet Mahendru) and Philip are forced to decide where their true allegiances lie.

 

Other thoughts/observations:

– Costa Ronin really nails his scene showing both disappointment and concern for Nina in this episode. Poor guy is headed for a heartbreak.

– Gaad brags about the “lucky draw” he got with his wife to Stan. Whadda dick.

– I’m always down for a Zeljko Ivanek cameo, and boy, is he affecting as a cancer-ridden former military worker, dying for his work in a very different way than most victims of the Cold War.

 

— Randy