The Americans Season 1, Episode 12 ‘The Oath’
Directed by John Dahl
Written by Joshua Brand & Melissa James Gibson
Airs Wednesday nights at 10pm ET on FX
There have been a lot of loose ends spread throughout the first season of The Americans, and many of them come back into play in ‘The Oath’. It’s a little jarring at first, seeing all these elements from earlier episodes suddenly come back into frame again – but it does so in such a fascinating way, it manages to utilize all those unresolved plots to ramp up the tension of the episode, a crescendo that continues until it’s at a deafening level by the final scene.
Where does everything start falling apart for Phillip and Elizabeth? From just about every angle possible, and all (conveniently) simultaneously. ‘The Oath’ opens with a wigged Elizabeth meeting up with her new contact Sanford, whose got a high-risk, high-reward proposition for her, offering her a possible wealth of information to the tune of $50,000 cash. But at this point in the season, Elizabeth doesn’t trust anyone: she doesn’t trust what Sanford says, she doesn’t trust the contact she hasn’t met yet, and she doesn’t trust the messages Granny is feeding to her in Moscow.
In fact, the only person she still trusts in this world is Phillip – who seals up Martha as a source in the most unexpected way; he asks her to marry him. If there’s anything that feels a little shoved into the episode, it’s his proposal, which is full of so many logical holes – she can’t tell her family, change her name, live with Clark, or do anything that married people do except have dinner and rub uglies – that it seems preposterous she’d accept his proposal in the first place. But when she wavers, Phillip pulls out a Favor Card on both Granny and Elizabeth, asking them to pose as his family for the wedding – and it works: Martha’s father notices the “family resemblance , which presumably was the awkward smile all three were wearing.
Phillip’s proposal isn’t completely random – his reasons for asking her to marry him are legit: he’s asking her to spy on her boss, a big wig with the FBI! He’s got to convince her she can trust him in the grandest fashion possible, which turns out to be the engagement Martha always wanted. I couldn’t help but feeling so bad for her when she puts her trust in Clark and has the wedding she always dreamed of; there’s no way this is going to end well, especially with the authorities on the lookout for a couple (and Martha’s fingerprints all over the pen Clark/Phillip had her leave on his desk).
The two most important reveals of the episode, however, are probably the two we expected the least (which made them all the more interesting). The first of these brought back Viola the housekeeper from way back in ‘The Clock’, her heavy conscience bringing her to Agent Gaad, Stan, and the rest of the FBI, who are trying to figure out if Viola’s connection is related to Patterson’s kidnapping and threatening in last week’s episode ‘Covert War’. The sketches aren’t that similar, but the designation of them being a ‘couple’ certainly piqued Stan’s interest… which means its only a matter of time before he gets on the trail of Phillip and Elizabeth.
What’s funny is the more the cat and mouse game thickens on the battlefield, there are less and less advantages being gained by the other side. The FBI think they have a leg up on what they found in the Weinberger’s house; they don’t know the Russians are listening to them in their own offices (and vice versa). What fake information the FBI feeds through there may either be interpreted and acted upon quickly (a big mistake by the KGB, if it happens that way), but more likely is the possibility the KGB will already know of their fake plans, something they’ll have to counter-act on their own.
Which brings us to the ending of the episode, the single most fascinating thing that’s happened in the last two or three weeks. After a naked rendevous with Stan, the newly-promoted Nina returns to her office, and tells Arkady Ivanovich that she (of all people) are the mole they’ve been looking for, the one who led to Vlad’s death. Taken at face value, it might seem a little simplistic that Nina would run to the KGB and admit to what’s happening. But Stan lied to her about Vlad’s death, seeing it in his eyes as he undressed her, and tried to avoid the conversation. The person she’s trusted her life with, the man she’s shared her bed with, and the one human being she counted on to protect her. She realizes that if she continues on the path she’s on, she’ll end up dead by either the hands of the FBI or the KGB – and instead, she smartly decides to take her fate into her own hands. She tells Arkady he can either kill her now (sending her back to Moscow is essentially the same option) or help her redeem herself in the eyes of her country.
What does this mean… and how will it play into Stan and Agent Gaad’s maneuvers to try and catch the illegal couple thwarting their plans at every turn? I don’t want to speculate too much, but it certainly doesn’t look good for Martha (who is now in the middle of an inter-continental war, fighting for a man she doesn’t even know), Granny (both Elizabeth and Phillip express their dismay with her in the episode, going through backdoor channels to verify her information) or Stan (whose trusting relationship with Nina just became extremely one-sided). ‘The Oath’ smartly avoids tipping its hand to these questions or the fate of these characters – but it’s simply a magnificent penultimate episode, one that brings all the elements of the season together, compressing them into one tight arc to play out in next week’s season finale. There are a few dull spots (oh, Paige), but ‘The Oath’ completes its mission nearly flawlessly, employing a lot of set-up for the climatic season finale, but doing so in the most intriguing, ambiguous way possible.
– Elizabeth makes a fantastic point to Paige about seeing things in people that aren’t really there. This can apply to nearly every character, whether it’s Stan’s wife, Nina, Arkady (in regards to Nina), or what Martha feels for Phillip.
– the two sketches are different, and comparing the two Elizabeth sketches is striking: Viola’s appears intimidating, while Sanford’s looks a little more inviting and attractive. Viola’s description of Clark is just plain ugly-looking (especially that side view… ugh!)
– Granny is a boss at Ms. Pac Man. How long has it been since you’ve seen one of the Pac-Man sit-down-and-play arcade boxes? What a throwback. Plus for Granny, it’s eating without eating: “those dots are calorie-free.”
– it almost seemed like Clark was trying to talk Martha out of the engagement, until he takes steps to convince her.
– Paige has a crush on Stan’s son. Honest question: who cares?
– Clark’s proposal to Martha is like a secret message… a spy to the very end, this one.
– in Nina’s dream, he’s saving her from a burning fire… but she wakes up before he actually reaches her. Very important bit of dialogue: she realizes that Stan may not be able to save her from her own fate (and in some way, he may not want to).
– Martha’s con list was quite a bit longer than her pro list. What a pessimist.
– Just as the Directorate S agents are coming into view for the FBI agents, Nina gets put in charge of them. A little convenient, yes, but I’ll accept it.
– Nina’s co-worker points out her “burial” of Vlad, referring to a “life in a box” as she cleans up his desk (like a corpse in a coffin).
– Henry buried the new apartment keys in the backyard. If there’s a character I care less about than Paige or her crush, it’s Henry. We don’t even see his face in the episode, because Paige is all worried about some girl who “is like Pat Benatar”.
– Phillip and Elizabeth realize they never actually had a wedding… would saying the words have made a difference? I guess it’s too late to think about that now.