FX’s new series, The Americans, has been playing it coy throughout the first half of the season. It’s a quiet spy drama, occasionally sly, that has deftly mixed spy missions with an overall series arc about two KGB spies posing as a married, American couple. There have been a few short bursts of violence — Keri Russell’s Elizabeth has coldly, ruthlessly shot a couple of guys in the head while her husband, Phillip, killed a defector in the pilot — but the show has been mostly low key, developing the characters, building foundation.
But last night? Dayum. Elizabeth went psycho on Mags Bennet, and I’m guessing there will be hell to pay for that.
There were two major and independent storylines at play last night. In the first, Phillip — and later Elizabeth — were abducted by some shadowy figures in a black van, interrogated, and threatened with torture. They knew everything about the Jennings’ family: Their real names, their fake occupations, their abundance of passports, and their daily lives of their children. Despite some harsh interrogation techniques — they beat the sh*t out of Phillip with a phone book — Phillip wouldn’t crack, even when they threatened to dunk his wife in the drink.
Satisfied that Phillip and Elizabeth wouldn’t cough up any Russian secrets, Claudia (Margo Martindale) revealed herself, and outed the shadowy figures as KGB members trying to shake loose a mole. Elizabeth was none too happy about that, dunking Claudia’s head, raring back, and then nearly beating the Commie out of her. It was a sublime turn, and one that will likely put Elizabeth and Phillip at odds with their handler in future episodes.
The more immediate payoff, however, was that it put Elizabeth and Phillip at odds, too. Phillip discovered that Elizabeth had, in the past, launched a small whisper campaign against him to the KGB, which is what led to the KGB’s suspicions that they were the moles. Just as Phillip and Elizabeth’s fake marriage began to feel real, this happened, pulling them apart again. Unable to trust the KGB or themselves, Phillip and Elizabeth are both alone on an island of distrust. It’s an important turn in the series, in part because it reveals Phillip to be the more human of the two. After living in America for most of his life, of course, he’s grown to become fond of it, and of course, he trusts his fake wife. It’s Elizabeth who doesn’t get it, who still puts her job and country above all. But her distrust of the KGB does compel her to seek out Gregory (Derek Luke) for protection.
Meanwhile, for all those complaining about the stupidity of the FBI, Stan Beeman pulled off a nifty little double cross. Nina, who is the actual mole, began to fear for her own life after the Russian embassy intensified their search for the rat. She sought Beeman’s protection, and while I thought he was merely playing her for information fully expecting that he’d leave her in the wind if she got caught, it turned out that there’s far more trust between a Commie embassy worker and an FBI agent than two people who have been fake married for 15 years. Stan and Nina beautifully set up Visili — dropping a few mysterious phone calls and planting diamonds and information — to take the fall as the mole, both removing Nina from a dangerous situation and ensuring she won’t have to sleep with a guy who sounds like he’s hacking up lung while he’s f**king.
It was a good day for Stan, but not so much for the Jennings children, Henry and Paige, who learned a dangerous lesson about talking to strangers when a man who picked them up threatened some funny business. Henry took care of the situation with a well placed beer bottle, pissed his pants, and the two kids ended up walking home, in what felt like a throwaway subplot. Phillip and Elizabeth staged a car accident to explain their absence, and in the closing scene, Phillip closed the door on his wife — and her trust — and slept on the couch just like the old days.
It’s a major step back for their marriage, but it’s the hot water they’ve gotten in with their own people that may ultimately bring them back together.