[This is a review of The Americans season 2, episode 4. There will be SPOILERS.]
You have to imagine it’s difficult for spies to find a way to talk about themselves. For starters, there’s the whole concealment of identity thing, which not only turns the prospect of navigating such disclosures into a veritable minefield, it also makes them pretty terrible at the one thing all spies should be good at.
Additionally, as The Americans demonstrates, when an agent has been in deep cover for as long and Philip and Elizabeth Jennings have, the basic question of identity becomes something far more difficult to define – further complicating the issue of just what exactly needs to be unburdened: the dreadful things that are done in the name of service to a semi-estranged homeland, or the fact that everything in your life is predicated on a lie? Besides, once they start talking about themselves, they run the risk of sounding like the voiceover narration of every episode of Burn Notice, and nobody wants that. Let’s face it; spies are better off just keeping their mouths shut.
But at the end of the day, agents like Philip and Elizabeth – and especially Stan Beeman – are just like everyone else; they have needs that go unrecognized for too long, and sooner or later that need has to be addressed. Just because they play a small but significant role in determining whether or not the Cold War will escalate into World War III doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be granted the opportunity to unload a small portion of the immense burden that is his or her day-to-day life. After all, a tremendous amount of pressure builds up when someone’s entire existence could collapse at any second, so releasing a bit of that strain, from time to time, is likely to the benefit of anyone uninterested in being reduced to a pile of radioactive ash.
In that regard, The Americans continues its stellar second season with ‘A Little Night Music,’ an episode with such a strong thematic core, it manages to sum up the entire conceit of the series without walking back through its own footsteps. The episode also brings Claudia (with a very welcome appearance by Margo Martindale) back into the fray – minus the somewhat antagonistic spirit she’d had during parts of season 1. This time, a clearly rattled Claudia wants Philip and Elizabeth to go off book, and help track down Emmett and Leanne’s killer. This leads to Elizabeth’s lengthy engagement Brad Mullen, the only person who can grant her access to Andrew Lerric, whom Claudia believes to be the murderer. Meanwhile, Philip is tasked with keeping tabs on a former Soviet physicist name Anton Baklanov, who, unbeknownst to him, is awaiting forced repatriation by the Centre.
As per usual, the episode is about more than who is getting shipped back to the cold embrace of the homeland, and who is behind the hijacking of Philip and Elizabeth’s kidnapping of Anton. ‘A Little Night Music’ is about the immense psychological burden of unrelenting falseness; the kind that compels Stan to tell Philip about his affair, Elizabeth to hide her fears and anger towards men, or convinces Paige to lie before telling her parents she’s been introduced to a religious youth group. It’s also about challenging people’s preconceived notions about one another and themselves, and how, through that deception, a personal truth emerges, just waiting to declare itself.
The Americans continues next Wednesday with ‘The Deal’ @10pm on FX.