As The Americans has made abundantly clear, the kind of spycraft that is undertaken by the various factions attempting to outmaneuver one another amongst the ever-escalating Cold War is the kind that requires the wherewithal to know when patience and a cool demeanor are called for, and when it’s time to break out the hand-to-hand combat skills or simply execute a nervous, grief-stricken agent in broad daylight.
But at its core, the spy game is about gathering useful information, the kind that flows from a contact like water from the tap – it simply needs to be turned on. That’s the kind of intel gathering the Jennings know all too well. Elizabeth’s a veritable master at putting on that impressed face any time some guy tries to wow her with his governmental credentials, and sometimes, it leads to something more, as it was in the case of Gregory.
Philip’s no slouch either, pulling up in a Saab to whisper sweet nothings about whisking a woman away to Sweden so she can watch him chop wood, or, as he’s done all season, pay a visit to Martha as Clark, so as to nurture their relationship and continue to expand upon the bond that keeps her talking, keeps her pouring the wine and keeps her out of those old nurse’s shoes (as Agent Amador has so keenly noticed).
The building and maintaining of relationships is, in the world of counter-intelligence, a full-time job, whether the individual in question answers to the Kremlin, or to Agent Gaad (played by the wonderfully well-aged Richard “John Boy” Thomas). But recently, and probably for the first time since having become a pretend married couple, Philip and Elizabeth have begun to maintain their relationship as an actual relationship, not as their cover as American citizens. It hasn’t been entirely smooth; there’s been the aforementioned Gregory issue that was a lie within a lie, but then there was also the grand romantic gesture of murdering Timoshev in the garage after finding out he was not only a turncoat, but a rapist, as well.
And then there’s Kurt Schultz, designer of a portable device capable of cloaking FBI radio communications, masochist and bedroom speed demon. If Timoshev’s deserving of the old acid-bath treatment, then Schultz isn’t too far behind. At least, that’s how Philip sees it when he notices the belt marks the man left across his wife’s back. What was, in Philip’s mind, a call to arms to seek vengeance for what had been done to Elizabeth, instead needed to be a moment where a husband trusts that, if she wanted to, his wife could have handled it just as Philip was planning to. Perhaps, in his rage, Philip forgot the image of Elizabeth kicking Timoshev’s head being kicked through a wall.
Philip defends his near-action by saying, “That’s what husbands do,” only to be snapped back into reality by the woman playing his wife telling him, “I wouldn’t know.” Despite their warming to one another, the series doesn’t want anyone to forget that all this playing house started out as a job, and no matter how close they become, how much the needs of the family begin to outweigh the needs of the cause, the folks back in Moscow – and perhaps even Claudia – see the Jenningses as tools to be used when the time calls for it, as they nearly were during ‘In Control.’
And although they’re slowly moving against that notion (and no matter what Claudia tells Elizabeth about bonds and meaningful relationships being struck between agents and their handlers), in the end, these relationships are all just an illusion; they’re a pact formed under the guise of being a meaningful bond. Like any relationship built around such a false impression, the balance of power is not unlike certain social dynamics: they’re somewhat unequal. A fact that becomes painfully obvious when Agent Beeman (who has been experiencing his own struggles with relationships) twice mentions Nina’s beauty when discussing just how she might be able to get some information about the jittery Udacha from Vasili.
The notion of inequality is as prevalent throughout ‘Comint’ as the exploration of incredibly complex relationships. Even though she doesn’t have to, Claudia spells it out to Elizabeth in fairly plain English: this whole spy game is “twice as hard for women.” And maybe she’s right; the role that women have played thus far in The Americans has been different than their male counterparts. Even those not directly (or knowingly) involved, like Martha are still subject to sexist comments by guys like Agent Amador, and even though Gaad chastises him for the comment, the man in charge is only an eye-roll away from brushing the whole incident off.
The consequence of it all is enough to make even the most loved spy feel like he or she is totally out in the cold; totally isolated amongst thousands of people who’ve no idea the burden that’s being carried under such a cool visage. Sometimes people crack under the strain, like Adam/Udacha, and sometimes they just go to bed hoping they’ll wake up and not have to spend they day worrying about absolutely everything.
- While it is essentially about both Philip and Elizabeth, at times The Americans has felt more focused on Philip. Although some of the touches of the episode came across as a little bit unsubtle, it was good to see the series spend some time mostly in Elizabeth’s shoes. Her seeming annoyance at Philip and Stan’s pre-breakfast racquetball games was a nice touch and a nice way to start off the episode.
- Beeman could not have been more unconvincing when he described the people he works for as “very decent and freedom loving folks.” The series is really doing a great job of sketching out the kind of man Stan Beeman is, and to his credit, Emmerich is helping make the character much more than a one-dimensional foil for the Jenningses.
- From here on out, Vasili must always be referred to as “Brown Goose.”
The Americans continues next Wednesday with ‘Trust Me’ @10pm on FX. Check out a preview below: