Over the last five episodes, in between bouts of panic-inducing spycraft, brutal fisticuffs and the occasional neighborly game of racquetball, The Americans has set out to discover whether or not there was something to the union of Philip and Elizabeth Jennings beyond their mission of the destruction of the United States and its form of government.
A sunrise declaration at the breakfast table suggested that, although things between them hadn’t started with much of a spark, there was certainly something going on now. Whether those feelings stemmed from Timoshev’s murder or because of a burgeoning sense of responsibility for the family they had created to better conceal their true identity was not established. Regardless of the genesis of these newfound feelings, there was already a bond between the couple, one that was built around a partnership first, allowing them to rely on the fact that they were not working to destabilize America alone.
Although the Jenningses might be experiencing true affection for the first time, there was an underlying sense of dependability that came before any such emotion was so openly discussed. (They both agreed to sit on information that Gen. Haig might be in possession of nuclear launch codes, for example. And if withholding information so as to prevent the start of World War III isn’t a sign of togetherness, then the world simply doesn’t make sense anymore.)
And so, in yet another clever and tautly-paced episode of The Americans, ‘Trust Me’ sets fire to the faith that Philip and Elizabeth have in one another and manages to toss their trust in the Cause, the KGB and Granny/Claudia on the flames as well. In this topsy-turvy world of international espionage, “trust” is a dirty word. Like Nina told Stan when he tried to show a little solidarity by saying the words in her native tongue, regardless the sincerity behind it, the phrase often comes across as “you have no other choice.”
Agent Beeman would like to appear as the savior in his current situation, and a constant mention of exfiltration certainly makes it seem like Nina’s liberation is at the forefront of his concern, but no one – certainly not Philip or Elizabeth – has much of a choice in this episode.
For his part, Emmerich continues to deliver an impeccable performance as a man walking a very fine line in all his relationships. His interactions with Nina are a delicate blend of manipulation and longing (perhaps not romantic, but it seems there is something deeper behind his assurance that no one will put a bullet in his asset’s head). After reading the file on Adam “Udacha” Dorwin, Beeman knows what the Russians do to those even suspected of being a liability. So, as a sign of good faith, he concocts a scheme to give Nina a reason to trust him and the FBI – and help her cut back considerably on the amount of pillow talk Vasili asks of her.
Unbeknownst to Stan, however, the more useful Nina becomes to the FBI, the more the Jennings’ world begins to unravel. Claudia let Philip know the KGB had a mole at the end of ‘COMINT,’ but rather than delegate tasks, she let him take the information home to his wife to let it simmer for a bit. Elizabeth seems skeptical, but Philip assures her it’s “one of the things that happens when people are involved.” So when he’s nabbed at a payphone in full-on Clark gear, after pressing Martha for a little one-on-one before she has go to work (on a Sunday, no less), the assurance of his kidnappers that they know everything about him is enough to convince Philip that someone has been talking.
The rest of ‘Trust Me’ manages to dive headlong into the complexities of keeping secrets, pressuring others to do the same, and, on the flipside, discovering when such secrets can be divulged and to whom. Sandra Beeman coaxes a little chatter about the workplace out of her otherwise tightlipped husband, begging the question: Just how much will we ever know about his undercover operation with white supremacists?
Meanwhile, Paige and Henry conspire to keep their hitchhiking-attempt-turned-instinctual-bottle-smashing episode between the two of them. Henry questions whether or not Nick was going to actually hurt them, possibly wondering if the duck-feeding beer-guzzler was simply illustrating the perils of hitchhiking rather than just stating some boring statistics to a couple of kids. After all, if a young boy growing up in the middle of the Cold War can’t trust a guy with a sticker of the American flag on the front of his Dodge, then the Russians have already won, right?
Issues of trust are even murkier for Henry’s parents. The spygame is inherently fraught with the perils of letting someone else – a stranger most of the time – take the wheel and steer you in whatever direction they deem best. Strangers like Claudia, who calls more often than her predecessor Gabriel and who arranges for Philip to believe he’s being beaten with a phonebook by some merciless fellow in the American government. At the same time, she’s arranging for Elizabeth to be forcibly taken from her home and locked in a small room adorned with pictures of her kids.
It’s all very convincing, and the Jennignses steel themselves for a gruesome end. But Claudia reveals herself and the KGB’s intentions before permanent physical damage can be done (though she winds up getting her face rearranged in the process). The bruises will heal, and, in time, there may be something of a normal working relationship between the Directorate S operatives and their handler, but the damage to Philip and Elizabeth’s connection feels irreparable. So much so that it forces them both back into less challenging relationships. Elizabeth contacts Gregory to keep an eye out on her and her family. Meanwhile, Philip/Clark presents Martha with a piece of his wife’s jewelry, before returning home to sleep on the couch.
In addition to being a thrilling hour of television that competently heaves upon its characters destructive and challenging situations, ‘Trust Me’ is also an example of how The Americans is moving into the a more serialized set-up. The first few episodes were, understandably, more episodic in nature – which allowed the audience a chance to get to know the characters and their circumstances without being driven too soon into a winding narrative. Now that things have been properly established, series creator Joe Weisberg (and, more specifically, the episode’s writer and director, Sneha Koorse and Dan Sackheim, respectively) wants to shake the scenario up again, as if to see whether the storyline will rebuild itself differently the next time.
This is why The Americans has proven itself to be one of the top shows on television right now. It understands that complications are what drive great drama, but complications aren’t as compelling without strong characters that feel real, no matter the situation. So far, Philip, Elizabeth, Stan and even Paige and Henry have all felt like fully formed people, not simple constructs used to propel the plot. To that end, it appears that, like discovering a mole inside the KGB, great storytelling is “one of the things that happens when people are involved.”
The Americans continues next Wednesday with ‘Duty and Honor’ @10pm on FX. Check out a preview of the episode below: