[This is a review of The Americans season 2, episode 6. There will be SPOILERS.]
How much emotional distress can you cram into a single hour of television? Let The Americans show you. 'Behind the Red Door' is another vast and emotionally complex episode of a series whose sophomore season is just as wildly impressive as the one preceding it – and, naturally, it is one that comes at great emotional expense of the series' characters.
Whatever togetherness Philip and Elizabeth may feel while handling the various operations and dealings asked of them by the Center (and in this case, Claudia), the fact remains their experiences – or at least theyway they are internalized and emotionally processed – oftentimes remain apart from one another. Much of this has to do with the kind of hectic, practically unmanageable work-life balance they must deal with on a daily basis, especially now that Philip is moonlighting (martially, anyway) as the rarely-there, sexually ravenous Clark.
In that sense, Martha's just another extension of the tremendous imbalance faced by the spy portion of the Jennings' household. But here, she becomes a conduit for Elizabeth's emotional curiosity about the man whose secret she shares. Learning Philip has an altogether different manner in Martha's bedroom than the one he shares with Elizabeth has the wife-in-the-know understandably intrigued.
As the episode demonstrates throughout, however, the more knowledge that is gained about someone, the more compromising the position that information puts both parties. It's a pretty standard rule across the board, as the distribution of information becomes the key to determining the continued usefulness/potential efficacy of an asset, as is demonstrated by the uneasy inspection of Andrew Larrick, and again with Lucia's handling of congressional aide Carl. It's even more pronounced in the case of Claudia, as she likely bares some tangential culpability in the deaths of Emmett and Leanne. Her reveal of having taken a lover, and then having shared with him certain details of her true self is as blatant an observation about the risks involved in the world of spycraft as there can be.
There's an overarching sentiment that, although every character is essentially searching for clarity – in terms of who they can trust or what thing of value they can obtain from shining a light on someone – in hindsight, perhaps it can be better to remain in the dark. An outlook that is made even more pronounced in the increasingly troublesome struggle between Stan, Nina, and the ambitious Oleg.
As it so often is with these characters, the truly fascinating aspect of The Americans is buried just beneath the thin stratum of secrets, lies, and old-school spycraft. And when the details of that aspect come to the surface, the effects are very often emotionally devastating.
Throughout the episode, Elizabeth needles Philip about the discovery she made with Martha over a bottle or two of white wine. What may have begun as a little harmless curiosity and exploration leads to a painful comprehension of the brutal, destructive experiences Elizabeth has been forced to endure. It's an insight that comes with the silent acknowledgement that the true impact of such incidents remains largely unknown to her partner.
'Behind the Red Door' underlines this again by refusing to turn the camera away from all the details of Lucia's final moments with Carl. The pair discuss his desire to introduce the young woman to his mother, before Lucia spikes his heroin, dances with him until the poison begins to take effect and then comforts him, making his transition as peaceful as she possibly can – generating the kind of discomfiting contradiction this particular narrative is so adept at working with.
The paradox created by these characters and their actions over and over again can make it difficult to associate with them at times, and yet the series is so good at understanding the conflict of their role in relation to the audience, it becomes equally difficult to turn away from them.
The Americans continues next Wednesday with 'Arpanet' @10pm on FX.
Photos: Craig Blankenhorn/FX