There hasn’t been a bad episode of The Americans yet, but last night’s was the best since the pilot episode: The drama picked up the pace, brought back the spy mission missing from last week and re-injected the sexual element that makes The Americans so dangerously thrilling. Most dramas will clear a narrative path for us, project where they are going, and whether they are successful often depends on how subvert our expectations. They will lead us one way, and the best dramas zig when we expect a zag. What I love so far about The Americans is that it isn’t leading us: It’s often difficult to tell where any one subplot is heading. We have to play catch-up, follow the narrative path as the track is being laid down in front of us. If you’re not paying enough attention, it can become difficult to follow. They don’t say, “This is what we’re going to do,” and then navigate a path. We often don’t have a sense of the overall picture until the last piece has been added. It’s challenging drama, but it’s still plenty entertaining.
The first scene of last night’s episode is a perfect example: Undercover, Elizabeth is grilling a private contractor for the Department of Defense about his work there, and about the recent loss of his wife. It isn’t until she returns to the car and talks it over with Claudia that we fully realize that the private contractor is another Russian spy, Udacha, who provides intel to the Soviets on the anti-ballistic missile program.
We also learn that Udacha is lonely and paranoid, and he’s unable to talk with his mentor, Vasili the KGB Resident, because the FBI has changed their encryption codes. That means that agents and their handlers cannot speak without worrying that the FBI is following them. Claudia instructs Phillip and Elizabeth to find the new encryption codes, which sets up this week’s mini-caper.
Phillip uses a terrible wig continues to seduce Martha, an aide in the FBI counterintelligence unit. Meanwhile, Elizabeth sleeps with Kurt Schultz, a pervy old dude with a thing for belts who created the encryption codes.
From the tryst, Elizabeth learns that the encryption technology is mobile, so she and Phillip set up a fun little caper. They cause an FBI agent to crash his car into theirs. When he has the car serviced in the mechanic’s shop, Elizabeth snakes her way into the trunk, and steals the encryption information, although her inability to escape leaves her in a precarious position: Sneaking out of the trunk of the FBI agent’s car on the lot of the FBI Headquarters.
With the encryption codes, the Vasili should be able to talk to Udacha and quell his paranoia. However, there is a catch. Nina, the FBI’s mole in the Soviet embassy, uses, well, her mouth — she blows him — to pry information out of the Director. As a result, before the Director can meet with Udacha, the FBI figures out that the encryption codes have been stolen, they change the codes, and Udacha ultimately gets one in the head, compliments of Elizabeth.