At this point in The Americans ‘ run, Philip and Elizabeth Jennings may have claimed the title of television’s most interesting and bizarrely convincing couple. The interaction between Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell has been superb since the series premiere, and in ‘Duty & Honor,’ the relationship is viewed at a distance by both. Somehow, that remoteness manages to ratchet up the intensity even more.
After last week’s equally superlative ‘Trust Me,’ the Jenningses came to the soul-crushing realization that the pretend marital bliss they’d only recently come to enjoy as something “real” was now in serious jeopardy of becoming as hollow as their pre-1963 existence as United States citizens. The brief attempt at legitimizing a nearly 20-year union that produced two distinctly American children might forever be undone by a steady string of accusations and recriminations that, more or less, lead back to Philip’s uncanny ability to “fit in” as a citizen (and, most dangerously, the way he likes fitting in).
That ability to blend, in addition to his mostly congenial nature and real knack at making conversation and friends (rather than shooting security guards in the head) makes Philip the best Jennings to attend the TAA Annual Convention of ’81. There, he’ll be staying at the Carnegie Hotel, making acquaintances with inebriated guys from Boston who want to set up a Patriot’s Tour (something like a “revolutionary soul train”) while casually engaging in an effort to thoroughly discredit Andrzej Bielawski – a former communist who’s become critical of the Russian government and intends to form a government in exile “in direct opposition to Moscow.”
Back home, Elizabeth is attending to Henry’s disappointment that, in the Jennings’ house, there’s “no TV on during the day, unless it’s boring,” while half-heartedly listening to Paige discredit the claim she’s the owner of 16 pairs of legwarmers. Elizabeth’s mind is elsewhere; she’s stuck between handling the gambling debts of Udacha’s last recruit, Sanford Prince, and reading into Philip’s answer to her question of whether he has everything he “needs.” On top of all that is the understanding that her fake husband will be meeting in New York with a former lover that he hasn’t seen in almost 20 years.
There’ve been flashbacks peppered throughout The Americans this season; some have been straight information – as was the case when Philip met Elizabeth for the first time – while others have offered some powerful insight into what makes Elizabeth the way she is. Flashback-wise, ‘Honor & Duty’ takes a look at pre-Directorate S Philip – or Misha, as he was known at the time – and the romance he shared with a young woman named Irina. The scenes are sparse, but manage make Philip’s reunion with Irina (amongst all that TAA rabble) a bittersweet affair that is sullied by the sheer nastiness of their mission and the ultimate fate of the recently devout Bielawski.
Infidelity has been a part of The Americans since the opening moments of the series. We’ve seen Philip wince while listening to a microcassette tape nestled in the family wall safe, and there’s been subtle jabs about the way “work” happens to be a very fetching blonde, but for the most part, Philip and Elizabeth have taken that aspect of their lives with a grain of salt – it’s just something a spy does. But when real emotion is involved, like in the case of Gregory, and now Irina – especially in the wake of finding out the Russian government doesn’t exactly trust them, and their partnership is more or less in tatters – that seems to strengthen the bond between the two, as strange as that sounds. Then again, the realization of just how alone they are might have something to do with it, too.
In this particular case, Stan Beeman just might be able to relate. Beeman winds up skipping dinner with his wife, his increasingly critical son and three quarters of the Jennings clan to go get a drink with Agent Amador – a decision that winds up with Nina having Beeman “for breakfast,” to use the phrasing of Agent Gaad. ‘Honor & Duty’ sees Philip and Stan with women who are not their wives, for reasons that are not altogether dissimilar. The results, however, most certainly are.
It may be something to worry about down the road, or it may not. As a smiling Nina says to Stan, assuaging his guilt, “You Americans see everything in black or white. For us, everything is gray.”
The Americans continues next Wednesday with ‘Mutually Assured Destruction’ @10pm on FX. Check out a preview of the episode below: