Disclaimer: Neither Ryan nor Juliet have watched the latest episode of The Americans. But that’s great for you, because that means there aren’t any spoilers here…
So we’re now four episodes into the fourth season of The Americans. The Americans is a show set in early 1980s Falls Church, VA outside of Washington, DC. Philip and Elizabeth Jennings are a seemingly normal–boring, even–middle class couple. They run a travel agency in Dupont Circle while raising two children, Paige and Henry. But they are anything but normal–Elizabeth, aka Nadezdha and Philip, aka Mischa–are really Soviet “illegals” posing as Americans, sent to gather intelligence for the Motherland.
One theme in particular that stands out to me is faith, especially the different altars at which Elizabeth/Nadezhda and Paige worship. When we first meet Elizabeth, her unquestioning loyalty to the Motherland is in stark contrast to Philip/Mischa’s ambivalence. Elizabeth is a fundamentalist–she will do anything, kill anyone, sacrifice everything for the “Centre” and their cause. Philip is a moderate skeptic–it seems that in the back of his mind there is always the thought that he can just leave. It’s a thread that is pulled through all three seasons.
On the other hand, Paige is fully American. And a born-again Christian. Paige puts her faith in action for various social justice causes, including nuclear non-proliferation. We start to see, especially at the end of Season Three, where her loyalty truly lies.
Both perspectives can be dangerous: Elizabeth will literally kill for her cause, while Paige is willing to risk her family’s safety and freedom. But is it better to run hot like Elizabeth and Paige? Or to be moderate, like Philip?
Man, I can’t believe how late I am to the game with this show. I remember when it first came out all the ads made it seem mysterious–sort of like Gabbo–and I didn’t know what it was about but it was called The Americans, and if there’s one thing like it’s America, hence, if there are many things I like it’s Americans. Then I watched the show and the “Americans” were Ruskies! Damn you FX for making a historic villain sympathetic protagonists. Anyway, I quit the show until a few months ago when I kept hearing how awesome it was, binge-watched the whole series in two weeks, and am now hooked like Henry on his video games.
I’ll get to your question of whether it’s better to run hot–e.g. Operation Hot Mother–like Elizabeth or tepid like Philip, but first I want to list my (few) gripes with the show and see if you agree. Gripe #1 is Martha. Actually gripe #1-10 is Martha. I consider myself pretty good at suspending disbelief when I watch TV or a movie. Hell, I’m pretty good at suspending disbelief in real life. Don’t believe me? Well then you have a lot to learn about suspending disbelief, mister. But the whole Martha thing is just….I mean c’mon! Marrying a dude who comes and goes about as predictably as a drunken clock maker? Not freaking the hell out and busting his car windows when he did his big “reveal” at the end of Season Three? (“Who are you?” “Shhh. It doesn’t matter. I’ll kill (for) you”). It’s just….c’mon!
And speaking of reveal, can we talk about their “disguises?” The producers must have gotten wind of this because in one scene the FBI gets a sketch of Philip and Elizabeth and says something like “damn they’re good at disguises.” Dude. Dude! Those are your neighbors with bad haircuts. It’s Elizabeth! She just has a wig that makes her hair look short (Felicity reference!). Maybe facial recognition skills were at an all-time low in the 80s (damn Reagan). Or everyone was just so coked up they couldn’t tell who from what or what from where (now brown cow).
Aside from those two gripes the show is amazing. And since I’ve completely ignored your “hot or not” question I’m actually going to toss another question back at you. What do you think of that est thing? Word on the internets is the show is based on a lot of historical fact, so maybe there was something like this back then. But it’s creepy. It’s kind of churchy–at least to a non-church going indifferentist like myself–but with more curse words and probably a hefty non-member entrance fee. What say you?
So while I want to tackle est (it’s a real thing! It’s now called the Landmark Forum though), I first want to tackle Martha. And by tackle, I mean literally. Like to the ground.
I sadly can believe it, mainly because I–probably like a lot of other single women in their 30s–have believed the lie that pickings are slim so you gotta put up with some level of batshit if you want to get married at this age. This is of course A LIE and if anyone reading this has a boyfriend with a suspicious job, who is never around, and asks you to do shady shit, you should definitely not continue having sex with them.
But I fully get why Philip targeted Martha and why it was so successful. If women in today’s age are willing to put up with a lot of crap when it’s socially acceptable to be single, I can imagine a character who would stay back in 1983 or whatever. Plus, once he revealed he killed for her, I think that made her realize he could kill her. Yikes.
On to est…
I like that you brought that up because in some ways est serves the worship/faith function for Philip. I think it’s cool that he’s finally exploring his psyche and the story/cover he’s had to tell himself. I think in some ways est is a quintessential American thing–charging money to help people think and talk about their problems. I can’t imagine many Soviets, a great number of whom lived lives of suffering under Stalin, during the war, after the war, etc, caring so much about feelings and memories. Or caring about being self-actualized at all. It’s American wealth and privilege and leisure that enable that kind of introspection and self-actualization, isn’t it?
Now…tell me what you think about their friendship with Stan. Is it real?
Ah the Stan-meister (I’m assuming that’s Philip’s bro name for Stan). I actually do think their–or at least Philip’s–friendship with him is real. Do I think his friendship isn’t driven in some part by his mission? Yes. Do I think he would hurt him (don’t do it producers!) if “The Center” told him to? Yes. Do I think asking myself questions in order to get a point across is a useful rhetorical tool? Yes, with a capital exclamation mark.
Here’s one reason why I think it’s a real friendship. He seems legitimately upset that Stan has IRL unfriended him after he was hanging out with his ex. The way he reacted to that relationship being strained wasn’t the same as when a relationship with a “source” or someone he’s “working” gets strained. It seems to legitimately bother him. And in the last episode he seemed to try to talk up Stan to his ex wife–sort of indirectly make amends with his estranged bro–though for the record he should not be hanging out with her in his house. Or maybe at all. Yeah, definitely not at all. Also, Elizabeth has teased him about being friends with Stan, and I’d bet rubles to donuts that Elizabeth knows how to read him like a warm knife through a bad analogy.
Ok, now I’m gonna toss a question your way but preface it with what may be an unpopular opinion. Ready: I think the show insists upon itself. Kidding! Ok real point now: I don’t like Pastor Tim. When he first came on the scene I thought he was going to end up being some kind of spy–either working for or against Elizabeth and Philip–but that plot twist has sailed (or has it….?). Even still, he irks me a little by just being….I don’t know…pushy. Like maybe insisting on himself a little too much. I have absolutely nothing to back that up with and no examples I can cite, but something about him… Maybe it’s the hair. Actually a large part of it is the hair. But I still don’t like or trust him. What say you about the possibly-next-in-line Pastor Tim?
I’ll just say it…I think it’s the hair! Doesn’t it look like a terrible wig that say, a spy might wear? What if Pastor Tim and Alice are really counterintelligence who have figured out Philip and Elizabeth’s cover and are instead recruiting Paige against them?
That might be a little far-fetched. But as someone who has worked in ministry for a while, I can agree that something feels off. Why is Pastor Tim cool with him and his wife being the only guests at Paige’s birthday dinner? Why do they let her stay with them? I get the sense that they can’t have kids so Paige is a surrogate for them. But still…the boundaries feel a bit off.
Which is why I wonder if there is more to Tim and Alice than we think. And it’s what brings me back to my first thoughts. So much of the show is about faith and trust…are the people around you who they say they are? Can your government be trusted? Can your family be trusted? Can what you put your faith in, what you believe in, be trusted? We know from history that the Centre literally cannot hold, that Philip and Elizabeth have put their faith in the wrong thing. How long will it take for them to see that?