The Americans Season 1, Episode 13 ‘The Colonel’
Directed by Adam Arkin
Written by Joel Fields & Joe Weisberg
Returns for season 2 in January 2014
Espionage is an interesting world to think about. Could you imagine inhabiting an entirely different identity and life for years at a time – or be forced to be many people at once? I’d have trouble just wearing the right wig with the right informant, in all honesty. How much does a person lose themselves when they become a spy – and when that mission last for 20 years and involves a marriage, how difficult can it be to remember who you are? At the core of The Americans is this question – and it plays an important role for many characters in ‘The Colonel’ a fantastic finale to one of the best freshman seasons in recent memory.
What’s really striking about the dramatic events in the episode – that is, the spy-related material – is how ironic every situation is. Think about it: the Americans are focused on the Weinberger bug, while the real threat is presumably somewhere else (and unknown to the FBI), waiting in the park to provide information to the KGB about high-tech ballistic systems. The Russians are doing the exact opposite: worried about Sanford Prince’s arrest, Granny and Elizabeth both think the meeting in the park is a set-up, while nobody thinks twice about retrieving the bug from Weinburger’s house. Of course, what they’re both after are illusions: there’s no relevant technology for the KGB, just a pipe dream the US is funneling to the KGB to run them into the ground financially trying to keep up with what they’d think is an American priority. On the other side of the coin, the KGB is trying to chase down information that doesn’t exist, unknowingly (but suspecting) they are sending Elizabeth into a trap. It’s depressing and hilarious on so many levels: there’s so much spying and double-crossing going on, the war nearly reaches a boiling point over what is essentially nothing at all.
And although it doesn’t lead to any monumental moments where someone’s cover is blown or killed, those events are cause and effect for everything that’s set up in the episode for next season. Chief among these is the KGB’s plan to turn Stan Beeman against the United States through Nina, whose mission also represents her re-dedication to the cause after admitting her treason to Arkady. So she starts playing the game, manipulating Stan into feeling guilty for not being able to extradite her, and reigniting their romance (which wasn’t difficult to do, seeing as how Sandra is not trying to go on any marriage-healing trips to Jamaica with Stan).
It also appears to remove Claudia from the picture: upon the Jennings’ request, she is to return to Moscow for re-assignment. Will that change given the events of tonight’s episode? I would think so – but if it doesn’t, we at least got to see her work her undercover magic once, exacting revenge on the CIA director responsible for killing Zhukov, a man she’d known for over 40 years. She does it in wicked fashion, too, slicing his artery after injecting him with a paralyzing agent, leaving him to bleed out slowly with no ability to move (“the paralyzation will last for 20 minutes… unfortunately, that’s 10 minutes too long for you” she tells him).
Of course, ‘The Colonel’ doesn’t come without a signature ‘big moment’ to close out the season. Early in the episode, we see Elizabeth sitting in the laundry room, listening to a cassette her mother sent her over from Russia. It’s in Russian, and the voice on the other end refers to her by her childhood name Nadezhda. Later on, after she’s been shot and attended to in the safe house, she pulls Phillip close to her and whispers ‘Come home’ to him in Russian.
Small moment of affection? Yes – but it’s much more than that. Not only is it Elizabeth breaking the cardinal rule of their mission (never, ever break cover and speak Russian), but it’s Elizabeth exposing her heart to Phillip, speaking to him in their true language, free of the pressures and lies and all the other shit that comes with their American accents and American lives. For a brief moment, it’s all stripped away and we see Nadezhda fighting to keep the most important thing in her life: her family. It’s a short moment (and played very quietly by director Adam Arkin), but it’s devastatingly effective, a moment of emotional rawness building for an entire season, and released in one short moment. For all intents and purposes, their marriage is finally getting the chance it never had.
The season closes out like so many great dramas do these days: over a montage, this one set to Peter Gabriel’s “Games Without Frontiers”, setting up various threads for next season. Prince narcs to the feds (breaking his trust with both the FBI and KGB) while Martha puts on her new wedding ring (reinforcing her ‘circle’ of trust with Clark, which comes with the benefit of above average oral sex); the FBI opens a file on the man Stan met with, while the KGB looks over a file they’ve composed on Stan Beeman. Finally, we see Paige, who goes down to the basement to check and see if her mother was really folding laundry when she was acting suspicious the night before. She finds the laundry folded, and the season ends as she stares curiously off into the distance in the small room. They haven’t been discovered yet, but there are many people circling around them right now – a list that now includes their own daughter.
And so ends one of the most consistent freshman seasons of a drama I’ve seen in a number of years. I think The Americans surprised everyone in how well it was able to master complex relationship dynamics, and weave it into a espionage drama that wasn’t overwrought with action, but always remained intriguing in what was to happen next. ‘The Colonel’ stays true to these sentiments, and it’s a better episode for it, punctuating its building tension with one frenetic sequence that will have repercussions through every plot and character moving into the second season. In other words, a perfect way to cap off a terrific first season.
– apparently Henry likes hockey. It appears Paige will be a more interesting character next season (look for her to interact with her mother a lot more), but I wonder what will happen to Henry, or if he’s just going to become the Chris Brody.
– Granny was a little mad about having to fill out paperwork after Elizabeth and Phillip’s request: “It had 27 sections”.
– speaking of Granny, her scathing marks to Arkady about not trusting their instincts was another one of the many great moments in the episode.
– the sound editing in the big sequence in the middle was terrific: the silence in the Jennings’s car was juxtaposed with the loud, interlacing conversations between the FBI agents in the van.
– how does Phillip keep his Clark hair on while going down on a woman with his head under sheets? Quite the versatile wig.
– I want to thank everyone for checking out my reviews this season. I’ll be back with more The Americans reviews when season 2 begins next January.