[This is a review of The Americans season 2, episode 7. There will be SPOILERS.]
There are times when the unsophisticated technology on display in The Americans is as much of a curiosity as the wigs Philip and Elizabeth use to hide in plain sight, coerce a single mother into stealing a clock from Casper Weinberger’s home office, or to perpetuate an unsettlingly efficient fake marriage. Unlike the majestic follicular fantasies lurking in the Jennings’ secret wall safe, however, the clunky, unwieldy technology on display is actually one of the key ways in which the show continually establishes its setting, often times at great risk of coming off as being too pointed, or just slipping into outright mockery.
Thankfully, the series is far too deft for something as trivial as that. Generally, the show operates within the parameters of a period drama, by using simple props, like the aforementioned antiquated technology, or by dropping its protagonists into some historical event and watching while they maneuver through the obstacles such an occurrence creates in terms of their overall objective as spies. In the case of an episode like ‘Arpanet,’ however, The Americans has to take a more hands-on approach in terms of how it looks at technology – specifically the military and governmental applications of will forever alter the landscape of spycraft.
In doing so, the episode takes a three-pronged approach to both the apprehension some people have toward technological advancement, and the awe emergent technology can sometimes inspire – especially in those of a younger generation, like, say, Henry. In this case, the irony of him using the telescope he received for his birthday to watch the neighbors and gain access to the video game system he so desperately wanted is certainly not lost on the viewer. Nor is the fact that the Jennings have unknowingly raised two children who are preternaturally adept at a form of suburban spycraft that might actually make Philip and Elizabeth proud, if they ever found out.
Meanwhile, Philip is tasked to plant a bug the “size of a rat” in a secure location, so the Soviets can get a good look at this new form of mass communication. It involves asking noted drunk Charles Duluth (Reg Rogers) to get Philip access to the system, which first involves a lengthy, borderline metaphysical explanation of what Arpanet is and what it can do. This nebulous realm of “creation” Philip is introduced to is far removed from his normal routine of dead drops, coded messages via radio, and the often ugly face-to-face encounters he must engage in, as he does when an unlucky engineer happens upon the mission as it is underway.
On the other side of things is the increasingly marvelous storyline involving Nina’s, murky, multi-faceted deals with Stan, Arkady, and now Oleg, who has grown from insolent interloper to antagonist to the man who helped Nina clinch a victory (so to speak) over a polygraph machine. The fact that she winds up in bed with Oleg is not entirely surprising, as that was almost certainly his objective, but it does ask the question: What, exactly, or if anything, is she looking to gain from such a potentially explosive relationship?
Elsewhere, Captain Larrick (Lee Tergesen) is headed Nicaragua for a high level assignment, altering Lucia’s plans to kill “the monster” before his usefulness to the cause is completely exhausted. Lucia’s tendency to “burn hot” and seek instant gratification through revenge goes against the notion that these operations are, as Oleg would say, “like a dance” or a form of “call and response,” wherein a deliberate action elicits an expected response – not unlike the expectations that come from using technology. As The Americans is so adept at demonstrating, however, the emotional response of the human element is far more captivating when it deviates from such expectation.
The Americans continues next Wednesday with ‘New Car’ @10pm on FX.