‘The Americans’ 3.02 or Lady Spies in Cramped Spaces and the Men Who Love Them

The Americans 3.02Last night’s episode of The Americans was brought to you by the letter C. C stands for Claustrophobia. You know, ladies, that feeling you get when you’re:

  • Peeing in a pot in your 12×12 Soviet prison cell and your roommate won’t shut up
  • Getting your limbs cracked into origami and stuffed into a suitcase
  • Listening to the same Walkman cassette recording of your dying mother in your basement again
  • Breathing out of an oxygen tank because you’re being smuggled out of Russia in a tiny wooden crate

Bummer. Now can someone get me a Babe Ruth? “Soooo good!

Was this one of the most thrilling episodes of The Americans ever? No, but it was still pretty exciting. I mean, Oleg almost lost his shit and killed Stan for simply claiming to love Nina, and Anneliese became a posthumous member of Cirque de Soleil in what was one of the most gruesome television moments I’ve seen outside of Hannibal or American Horror Story. Never underestimate the power of crunchy bodily sound effects in upping the ick factor on film.

This week I’d like to focus on these physically suffocated yet stable women, in comparison to the free-roaming yet anxious men and what that seems to be saying about the times.

Oleg, Stan and Nina

Let’s just get this out of the way first: OHMEHRGAWD YAAAASSS, Nina is back!! Thank you casting gods for Annet Mahendru, I can’t imagine this show and the role of Nina without her.

I’m not going to lie, I was expecting a heavier Nina plot this week considering the characters talked about her several times in last week’s premiere (and included her entire story arc in the recap), yet the writers neglected to show her at all. I hinted last week that this could (and should!) be cause to speculate a worthy reveal of some sort but alas this was not the case. I suppose, if anything, they simply didn’t have time for a Nina storyline in that episode with all the rest that was going on, but more so the reason to make her comeback this week a bit jucier.

In screenwriting there are two things a scene must do: reveal character, create conflict, move a story along, preferably all of the above. However, the curse/gift of long-form narratives, like serialized television, is that you cannot plant a “conflict seed” that will be fulfilled in a later episode without masking it as one of the other two. If you do, the scene ends up feeling pretty useless and empty. This is how I felt about Nina’s new and fragile Belgian cellmate, Evi. Both times we see her she is either on her pay to or in the middle of a panic attack which doesn’t create a problem or move the story along. So did it reveal anything about Nina? Perhaps, and maybe I’m annoyed because what it attempted to reveal I feel like I already knew: NINA IS ONE BADASS BITCH! She’ll resort to staring at a crack on the wall, piss in a pot, and eat her stale dinner rolls quietly before breaking down about it. Why? Because crying gets you nowhere. Sure, we’ve seen her cry in past seasons but was she really crying for the sake of it? Nina is the smartest character on The Americans show and has used everything she’s had not only to stay alive but to stay true to both herself and her country — including but not limited to: shedding tears, stealing files, and sleeping with men.

And speaking of those men: Stan and Oleg. Can we be sure that Nina never loved Stan? Can we be sure that she truly loves Oleg? I’m not sure, but that’s the point. Neither are they! Free to move about the world unlike Nina, these two guys are on the verge of a meltdown over what their lives have become since they fell in love with her, and the doubt that she may very well have never loved them back. Stan humiliates himself in front of Sondra, practically begging that she love him again because boohoohoo everything hurts so much and he’s so alone. This guy was an incredible breed of asshole who neglected his family for two solid years and nearly betrayed his own country. Had Nina purposely attempted to seduce him from the beginning, perhaps I’d have some inkling of pity for him but that is not the case. She began to (perhaps) use him only after he began to worship the ground she walked on. Sorry not sorry, Stan.

As for Oleg, he’s not far behind on the pain train. The way he pulled that gun on Stan only when Stan brought up Nina’s name, and not about anything else. That’s what sets him off: that this old weak American asshole would even dare say her name after sending her off to her likely execution. What Oleg is doing for Nina, that’s fucking love, man. He has his doubts over her having even loved him, and is pretty certain that she didn’t love him as much as he loves her, but he’ll beg, borrow, and steal to get her safe. I hope that Oleg’s father relays Nina’s message of love back to Oleg. I for one would like to believe her, and I know Oleg would, too. Of course, this is her only Get Out Out of Jail Free card.

Elizabeth and Phillip

As Gabriel tells Elizabeth, she and Phillip seem different than when he was last in town. That struck me as interesting considering that his last visit was many years ago and thereby prior to the pair falling in love and opening up to one another (season 1). That means that what Gabriel is perceiving is either a deteriorating internal harmony, a deteriorating facade of harmony, or both. From the way Gabriel speaks it seems that he had previously been convinced of Phillip and Elizabeth’s satisfaction with one another, if not love for each other. It’s perfectly plausible that he wasn’t fooled but rather that he was right: he felt that the two loved one another even before they did. Now, knowing what they know about each other, things are getting complicated. Case and point, Phillip’s sensibility to Elizabeth’s relationship with her mother and Elizabeth’s awareness that she can use that to convince Phillip on matters regarding Paige, as seen in the episode’s closing scene.

Physically, Elizabeth is trapped. She is trapped inside a country that she despises and is unable to leave even to say goodbye to her ailing mother in Russia. The scene at the sports bar where the waitress lists well over a dozen American beers is representative of how different Phillip feels in comparison about America. He has grown to understand, tolerate, and even enjoy much of what the country has to offer (“Two Miller Lights“… “We should come here more often“), despite disagreeing with what it represents ideologically. But what’s that saying again: “If you stand for nothing, you’ll fall for anything”? Phillip’s on-going difficulty with commuting to the cause 100% is causing him a far greater internal struggle in regards to Paige than it is for Elizabeth. For her, like her mother before her, the problem plaguing her country and family is clear-cut. It’s America and the solution is beating it. This is how Elizabeth will protect what she loves most on — both on a macro and micro scale — and within the confines of her American box.

So how is this affecting their marriage? Well, let’s take Elizabeth’s open-eyed dream/flashback this week (last week she pushed Paige into a swimming pool). In the flashback her mother angrily reveals that her father was not a war hero but a deserter who ran and was shot. In that moment, Phillip asks if she’s okay, to which she replies “I was just thinking about this blue dress my mother used to have” — yeah, okay — and she turns away from him. These problems are deeper than just making a decision about Paige but about their personal histories and their feelings towards one another. So I have to ask, does Elizabeth respect Phillip as much she respected Gregory (remember him: the ex-lover that literally sacrificed himself for the cause)?

Noteworthy Thoughts

  • Is it just me or are they purposely obscuring “What’s-Her-Name”s name? The Russian defector does not seem to have a proper name or no one can remember it and her role in this whole thing is still pretty vague? Sure, she’s a set piece for something in the future but what? She likes candy bars and could working on Newsweek’s marketing team but what does she want? They did a fine job of playing down her seriousness in this introductory episode but anyone who travels halfway across the planet in a wooden crate is probably a lot more serious (and powerful) than this.
  • Paige is questioning everything but she seems to be trusting Elizabeth with her questions. Even questioning Philip to her. Oh how things have changed, a sign that if Elizabeth wanted to bring Paige into the fold, the groundwork she told Gabriel she’s been laying has worked (and let’s be honest, no matter how she denies it to Phillip that’s exactly what she’s been up to).
  • Who is this Hans kid that Elizabeth is grooming and what is she grooming him for? And most importantly: is she going to get to sleep with him for “spy reasons” the way Phillip does? Because it is SO not fair how much extra-marital play he is getting in comparison. I’m just saying.
  • I can’t figure out these conversations between the new woman at the Russian embassy, Tatyana, and pretty much anyone she is every speaking with. Maybe because they are speaking in Russian I am not catching on to when there is a sarcastic or backhanded or sneaky tone but I’ve watched the scene between her and Olge three times and I still can’t figure out what the hell they are trying to communicate to each other. All I know is she might be trying to get in his pants.

What did you all think? Are these guys just cramping these ladies’ style? Are Phillip and Elizabeth actually in love? What is Nina actually after? Is Stan Beeman a sad sorry piece of shit (answer: yes)?

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