[This is a review of The Americans season 2, episode 12. There will be SPOILERS.]
The penultimate episode of The Americans season 2 gathers many of the threads it has been dangling to investigate ways in which the varying levels of involvement affects their present situation - and, more importantly, the rapidly declining options for their future.
After all, the Cold War and, by extension, the Directorate S program is an effort to ensure the future prosperity of the Soviet Union – once the nation emerges victorious from the protracted and shadowy conflict it is presently engaged in, of course. The battle being waged by the likes of Philip and Elizabeth isn't so much one that's affecting the here and now, but rather one that looks ahead and justifies its actions based on the idea of what's to come.
That relentless momentum has things moving forward without the likes of Jared, Nina, and Paige offering much in the way of consent; they're just caught up in the machinations of those entangled in the same system. The only difference is, the people ostensibly controlling their outcome have the opportunity to make choices – limited ones, but choices nonetheless. Choices that sometimes require them to weigh the needs of a nation's future against the needs of a single individual. And then ask everyone to deal with the consequences of those actions.
Paige is eager to share the excitement she's feeling about being a part of something larger and more meaningful, but winds up being placed on the back burner when her mother is called away on a business emergency – which, naturally has to do with Jared, as well as the disappearance of Kate and George.
Paige is quick to question what kind of emergency could possibly take a travel agent away from her family for such a long period of time, eventually going so far as to listen in on her parents' slightly coded conversation with one another. It is the move of a 14-year-old girl who is dealing with the fact that the image she has of her parents doesn't necessarily match up with the one they're presenting. She sees past the façade but doesn't know exactly what she's looking for and therefore (rightly) cannot move past the notion of being deceived, unlike Martha who acknowledges Philip's wig by choosing to accept it (or deceiving herself) as Clark's toupee.
That is a very adult thing to do: Accept one lie for another, to keep from rocking the boat (imagined or otherwise). For her part, Paige doesn't pick up any dramatic information from the conversation, but it doesn't matter; what she learns, and what she's been learning all season long, is that disobedience can sometimes yield positive results.
On the opposite end of the spectrum is Jared, who remains strangely compliant to everything Elizabeth asks as she works to exfiltrate him, unaware Larrick is not far behind. Jared's resolve/obedience later inspires a conversation between Philip and his wife about their children, in which Elizabeth once more brings up the lack of preparedness their children have, and the inevitability that, like it or not, Paige and Henry will likely end up in a situation a lot like Jared's.
In that sense, the worst-case scenario is the one Nina finds herself in, as Arkady leverages Stan's affection for her to gain access to the Echo program related to stealth technology. Nina's been beaten and is seemingly held against her will, as Stan now faces the dilemma of betraying everything he thought he represented for the well-being of one person. The ramifications of his choice are then augmented by Sandra's admission she's moving in with her lover. Things end, people move on, and life is altered irrevocably as much by the choices that aren't made as by the ones that are.
'Operation Chronicle' works so well not because it handles so many different threads in such an elegant and engaging manner, but because it does so by ramping up the tension and demonstrating the subtle ways in which everything is gradually spinning out of control. Characters operate under the semblance they are in control, but here we see how little of it anyone actually has.
There are decisions to be made; the only question is: Does anyone really get to make them, or do unseen forces and circumstance determine them all?
The Americans will conclude season 2 next Wednesday with 'Echo' @10pm on FX.
Photos: Patrick Harbron and Craig Blankenhorn/FX