‘The Americans’ 3.01 or Mama Don’t Preach or Where Is Nina?

Americans 301

Last night’s episode of The Americans was brought to you by the letter D. D stands for daughter. Because any woman who has a daughter has been in her shoes. Or has she? For Elizabeth — she of the harsh but proud Soviet childhood — its not easy to relate to what she considers Paige’s privileged American childhood. Although this wasn’t a mother-daughter bonding kind of episode, it was a interesting analogy on privilege today where the generational gaps grow wider and wider between ourselves and our parents; worse ourselves and our children.

But before we get into the meatier stuff, let’s take a moment to revel in the joy it was to get back into the groove of things with our favorite KGB couple! Those first ten minutes, particularly the fight sequence between Elizabeth and the two FBI agents, were fantastically choreographed. I did wonder why Elizabeth didn’t take off her blonde wig or hide out on that long walk but I suppose it’s usually a better idea to stick to your cover if you can, right? Nice move on turning the coat inside out, although having to do so is what made Elizabeth lose the list of names she was there to get in the first place. It’s great when something small like that ends up complicating the plot..

Another shocker was Anneliese’s death. Sure, she was a minor character but I think we can all agree that she grew on us, and likely because she grew as a character as well. She was lied to all along, and it was sad to see her go out the way she did: in the dark about who she really worked for and at the hands of the man she “loved”. She will be missed, as will Gillian Alexy’s performance (I have a feeling we will be seeing this fine actress around).

I leave the rest for discussion below the jump.

The Problem with Paige

Elizabeth putting her acting skills to the test at church, smiling through the hymns. But was she really acting when she told Gabriel (Frank Langella!) that they are only asking that the Centre give them time to open Paige up ideologically to the idea of becoming an agent before telling her the truth and asking her to join them? Is asking even the right word, because that’s the real problem here. It’s not that Paige is too young or even that they don’t want her involved in that life but that she will be forced to. What if she agrees but has no interest in becoming a spy? What will Elizabeth do then? What will the Centre do? That’s the more interesting dilemma, for me: the lack of choice Paige has in the matter of her future.

Also, was that a dream or a memory of Elizabeth feeling throwing her daughter into the water without teaching her how to swim? It’s certainly based in her guilt over the thought of throwing her to the KGB wolves but it is the kind of mother that Elizabeth’s mother was to her. So how deep can that guilt really be if Elizabeth is proud of herself, and her (dying) mother?

The Problem with Phillip

Sweet as Phillip has tried to be with Elizabeth (comforting the night she got beat up by the sink) there is some serious tension as he continues to doubt her stand regarding Paige and keeping her out of the KGB. It was a Phillip-lite episode, for sure but the issues are festering and I suspect they will affect his character arc greatly this season. Elizabeth and him have only recently started get to know each other, and its always as though they love each other in spite of what they learn because their love is the kind of thing that is built on broader ideologies like nationhood and family.

Someone last night on Twitter called out a thought I was having myself: that by the final scene of the episode Phillip had a guys night out and sex twice, while all Elizabeth had done was go to church twice and get her ass kicked. Is it just me or is Phillip enjoying this extra-marital sex a little too much? Especially in the scene with Anneliese, I don’t think it was necessary to go all out like that.

The Problem with Afghanistan (And 101 on American/Afghan Cold War Relations)

Now this plot was a tad confusing for me and likely had something to do with my not having been born yet when the Afghani conflict was brewing in the mid-1980s. However, it doesn’t help that when Anneliese is reintroduced she is mid-sentence and gushing over Yousef (a tiny character from last season who was not even shown in the recap), only to then jump straight into historical and diplomatic terminology we haven’t become to familiar with.

Call me an ignorant American (mind you, I majored in International Relations) but it’s both narratively ineffective and frustrating when words like ISI (thanks to Homeland I know this is the Pakistani CIA, thanks to Wikipedia I know that the Pakistani has historically been defacto intelligence in Afghanistan), Peshwar (the administrative center of Afghanistan where the American embassy is located), and Muhajaideen (the old school term for Jihadists) are smooshed into one sentence and have a different cultural context than they do today. I had to look up a lot of this after the episode was over and re-watch the jargon-y dialogue.

If we combine this with the even more complex diplomatic (Russian-subtitled) jargon at the Russian Embassy and this is what we gather: Since last season, Anneliese has forced an affair with Yousef, an ISI agent whose job is to work alongside the CIA in fighting Soviet forces invading Afghanistan. Anneliese reveals that the ISI is giving the CIA officers stationed at the American embassy in Peshwar a hard time getting in contact with the Muhajaideen Command who is being aided with American weaponry to fight them. Additionally, the differing religious ideologies of the ISI officers and staff has been causing internal conflict at the ISI. This intel is important for the Russians as it could help find a chink in the system and keep the Muhajaideen from killing Soviets. Tapes of those killings were those we saw Arkady, Oleg, and stone-cold newbie Tatyana reviewing towards the beginning of the episode. Oleg thinks the Soviets should just get out of Afghanistan, but it doesn’t sound like they are backing out anytime soon, and Arkady is concerned that Oleg voiced that outloud in front of Tatyana. Who is Tatyana? Looks to be someone the Centre sent over to aid in covert intelligence work, stateside, and to weed out anyone and anything that might be getting in the way of that.

The Problem with Nina

The biggest surprise of the episode was the lack-o-Nina, especially after the Nina-heavy recap. It was curious that both Arkady and Oleg, as well as our friends at the FBI, discuss Nina’s situation and her conviction without any visual confirmation as to where she is being held or what that situation may look like. However, the choice could be more than a simple “Jaws move” to build up suspense to the thing by holding out on showing it. What if Nina is up to something very different than what Oleg and Arkady are being told? Or what if she’s in even worse conditions that that? After all, no nobody mentions what is to happen to her now that she’s been convicted: death? It would have been nice to know whether that was on the table or not, without Oleg and Arkady’s conversation was confusing in that it was unclear what exactly was at stake. If death is an option it’s far more tense.

There’s also the question of whether Nina was in love with Stan. The Centre knows about two meetings between Stan and Nina that Nina never disclosed to the Russians per the audio bugging at the safehouse. We can infer from Arkady’s tone that the meetings were purely romantic and sexual in nature. So was she? When Nina revealed herself to Arkady last season and offered to be a triple spy for the Centre, I believed her. When she and Oleg began the affair I believed her even more. Oleg was the Russian man she need: one that understood her tough Soviet heart. One of my favorite lines from last season’s finale was when Arkady tells Beeman: “Don’t tell her you love her so much. A Russian woman doesn’t like that.” My vote is still with Nina not loving Stan. What do you think?

Noteworthy (if ambiguous) Plot Points and Questions:

  • Elizabeth’s mother is dying, but how will this affect the Jennings? Will Elizabeth try to contact her mother in some (illegal) way? Or will the idea simply trigger something within Elizabeth which will guide or change her own ideas of motherhood as far as Paige is concerned?
  • The CIA found the list of names that fell out of Elizabeth’s coat and is checking them for prints. They won’t reveal the list to the FBI, however they are working on sketches of Elizabeth which the FBI will match to the sketches they have of Phillip and Elizabeth from last season.
  • Who is this woman from The U.S.-Canada Institute that blew up a KGB operative and what is the FBI going to do with her? What is the U.S.-Canada Institute? Even the guy sitting next to Stan was lost on that and had to ask (“I’ll tell you later”, Stan tells him). I have to wonder if this is a nudge from the writers that we should be looking these things up because it would be hella tedious otherwise.
  • Who is this young British guy that Elizabeth is aiding and what are they up to?
  • Cameo from Scott Dean WInters (AKA Cyrill O’Reilly from Oz) tells Stan that giving your wife an orgasm isn’t an experience. For once, I’m with Stan and not his wife in calling bullshit on this EST guru.
  • Martha and Phillip’s Kama Sutra scene! Why are their scenes always hysterical. They can’t even have sex without me cracking up. Half how mismatched they are, and the other half is how his half of the mismatch isn’t even real. It’s all just so ridiculous in the best possible way. Question is, with Martha’s new shooting skills, will this relationship end in anything but a laugh?
  • I’m going to assume that Scrabble is some inside joke as to how Phillip perfected his English back in Russia.
  • Paige’s flirtation with “Dan” from church seems to be brewing. Is sexual experimentation in the cards for 14 year old Paige?
  • Who exactly is Gabriel?
  • Will Phillip (as Scott) be able to blackmail Yousef into turning on the ISI and working as a double agent? Wouldn’t Yousef be protected by diplomatic immunity anyway?
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