The Americans Ponder The Day After
A TV movie event -- remember those? -- has everyone in the greater D.C. area pondering how their choices may affect the world.
Unsafe At Any Speed
The Scene: In the empty parking lot of an amusement park, Philip gives Paige what seems to be her very first driving lesson.
The Symbol: The (giant, long, very American) car, and everything that will come with Paige's driver's license: independence; responsibility; risk.
The Meaning: Paige is nervous enough about learning to drive: how much more freaked out will she be if and when The Centre starts giving her lessons in tradecraft? (She also tries talking Philip into letting her drive his stupid Camaro on the grounds that it's smaller and therefore easier to handle than the family boat, but he shuts down that suggestion right quick...because he's not ready to admit her into spaces that, so far, have been for him alone? Or because he just doesn't want her to drive the one thing he thinks makes him cool.)
What's the game? Racquetball.
Who's playing? Stan and Philip.
What's at stake? Each man's sense of virility and vitality; also, dominance in the Cold War, since every interaction Philip initiates with Stan is a new opportunity to glean information about what's going on at the FBI.
Who wins? Not Stan, who can't fail to observe that Philip is "on fire lately." Philip claims he's just getting more sleep, and repeats the "lost client" euphemism he originally floated with the kids in the last episode, saying that made things easier. Stan is dubious that losing income could make things easier for Philip's household, but Philip shrugs, "Some clients aren't worth the hassle." Kind of a rude way to talk about Martha. (And by the way, given the seven-month time jump at the end of the last episode, wouldn't The Centre's message to Martha's parents have fallen in that period? Did Gabriel come through on his tentative promise to let Philip talk to them himself? Did Philip forget? Did Martha even actually make it to Moscow? WILL WE EVER KNOW?!) Anyway: Stan ruefully says he should have been a travel agent, and when Philip notices that he's kind of in a mood, he admits that he and Tori broke up: "I liked her a lot, but she just wasn't Sandra, you know?" Philip is dismayed that Stan's still making that comparison -- which, honestly, move on, Stan, damn -- but changes the subject to the prospect of another game. Stan says he can't, since his new boss goes nuts if anyone's late. He tells Philip what he'd told Gaad last time about the "munchkins" who act like Webster's clones. Philip casually asks what happened to Stan's old boss, and Stan tells him about Gaad's having "retired" and gone on a trip through southeast Asia, adding, "Great guy. He didn't give a shit how we got the job done, just so long as we stopped the Russians." I have to think that from Philip's perspective, a rigid rules follower is easier to outwit than a Gaad-ish chaotic good. Double win for Philip/treachery!
It's Sicky Sicky Sicky
Who called the meeting? William (and his signal went straight to Philip and Elizabeth without its customary stop at Gabriel, too. HMMMM).
What's it about? A fun new project via Fort Dietrich: weaponizing the lassa virus!
How'd it go? It starts beautifully as William clocks Philip's latest disguise...
...and in his usual bone-dry tone comments, "Might be your best look yet." (My colleague/spouse Dave: "He's dressed up as three different Gary Oldman characters at once." I mean -- right?) We quickly learn that this is the first time Philip's seen William since the tularemia handoff, as Philip informs William that his "source at the FBI" (aka Martha) is now in Moscow. William is faintly surprised that Philip actually got her there, and asks whether Philip thinks she'll be able to adapt. "She's alive," says Philip, shrugging. "She's free." Capitalist propaganda aside, I'm not sure how "free" she actually is in Moscow in 1983, but I guess the "alive" part is true AS FAR AS WE KNOW. "Free," drawls William. "Can't remember. What's that feel like." He says he's got a regular three-man team of agents (FBI, I assume) covering him now, and says they must not be suspicious about his activities or else there would be more, since he keeps running into teams that are covering other guys who work at his lab; the point is, this meeting will not be noted by anyone who shouldn't know about it. But he needs Philip to know about the lassa virus research. And I know every time, William's like, It's the worst disease ever, but this time he might actually be right: "Causes a hemorrhagic fever. Liquefies your organs. Makes your blood come out through your skin." That's so horrifying that I'm not even going to say that all happened to me the last time I ate at The Olive Garden! (It did, though.) William stays on brand by concluding, "It's the worst thing I've ever seen" (drink!), and asks how close Philip and Elizabeth are to getting him up to the infamous Level 4. Philip says they're "making progress." William warns, "I was thinking about not telling The Centre about this." Philip:
When Philip doesn't respond, William tries to bring him on board by employing a mix of flattery and precedent: "You pulled your agent out! When The Centre didn't want you to!" "That's different," Philip protests, which...is it? "It was the right decision!" William insists. "I'd like to make the right decision. I remember when I thought getting a sample of meningococcus was a big deal. Nobody needs this!" "The Americans have it," Philip reminds him. "Or they're just testing it to make antidotes in case we use it, like they say in my lab," says William. "It's never enough for them. I don't trust us with it." "Do you trust the Americans?" asks Philip. "No," says William flatly. "On the other hand, the threads on their containers work most of the time." SOVIET INDUSTRIAL DESIGN BURN. Anyway: it's a good meeting in terms of fellowship, in that every time Philip and William meet, they seem to get closer to actual friendship, and both of them obviously need someone to confide in. But Philip doesn't seem certain that he should help William with his off-the-books op, so that part of it is inconclusive.
Let's Hope It's Not A Ratings BOMB!
The Scene: The Jennings family -- plus Stan and Matthew -- hunker down in front of the TV.
The Symbol: The Day After, introduced by co-star John Cullum (who, we can now see, was old even then). If you're not old enough to remember this: IT WAS INTENSE.
I was almost certainly too young, at the age of almost nine, to have watched any part of it, but I totally did. (Could this be the origin of my determination never to try to survive any kind of apocalypse? HMMMMM.) As the film goes on, we cut around the D.C. area to see that literally everyone we know is watching it. (And so can you; the whole thing is on YouTube.)
And while it's obviously upsetting, no one seems more distressed about it than Paige.
The Meaning: Other than Henry and Matthew, all of these characters are continually engaged in the project of trying to forestall the events depicted in the movie, and being reminded of the stakes in this very graphic way is UNSETTLING.
Love, Hate & Everything In Between
Love Train: Back On Track!
After the movie, Philip finds Elizabeth sitting on the edge of the tub, lost in thought. He tells her he found the film disturbing too OH AND HEY ABOUT THAT: "After watching that, I think maybe William's right. What if this time, this one time, we don't report back?" "Philip," says Elizabeth sternly. "It liquefies your organs," says Philip. "I just think we should consider--" "I understand, I do," says Elizabeth. "But they are making that poison for us. To destroy us. We have to be able to defend ourselves. These are the people who dropped the atom bomb -- twice. We can't just sit in our comfortable house and pretend. This is why we're here." Philip agrees, reluctantly. Elizabeth says she'll search Young Hee's house and see if she can find something to use on Don. Philip, hopefully, says he thinks Don's pretty clean. "I don't know," says Elizabeth. "You never know." Hey, we finally know what Elizabeth's been doing with Young Hee! Don works on Level 4! Also: it's a pretty standard scene for the two of them, but look! No fighting! Good communication! They're on the same side! Their break really has done the two of them good. Now they can get back to dismantling American supremacy as a team.
Search And Destroy
Alert Type: Snoop Alert.
Issue: In order to exploit Don and his access to Level 4 at William's lab, "Patty" has volunteered to watch Young Hee and Don's children while the couple has a weekend getaway so that, after she puts the kids to bed, she can dig through the whole house looking for dirt she can use on him.
Complicating Factors: Don is, as Philip said, pretty clean. Elizabeth finds a couple of porn tapes hidden on the back of a shelf, but they're sufficiently vanilla to be of no use to her.
Resolution: Philip suggests that Elizabeth bag this one: "I'm not saying because of me. I'm saying because of you. You don't want to do it to her. We can tell The Centre the operation failed; they'll find another way in." But Elizabeth is determined to go through with the next phase of their plan because she doesn't think there is another way in.
Spoiler: It's not often one feels empathy for Elizabeth because she's usually hard like a gangster, but this one's rough.
Love, Hate & Everything In Between
The Carnal Union Of Soviet Socialist Republics
Well, Oleg and Tatiana finally got around to boning, and who can blame them, for what could be more hornifying than The Day After?! While they're Doing All The Sex, he makes pretty standard loud exhaling noises and is unable or unwilling to yield to her shushing; afterward, when he comments on how quiet she is, she tells him it's the effect of her formative years in close quarters within thin walls back in the Soviet Union, when she and her boyfriend had to wait to have sex until all the other families in the building went out, which was never. "We were lucky," says child of privilege Oleg. "I know that." Tatiana kind of dismissively says she's sure his father worked for everything he achieved, and hey, speaking of Igor, what a good time for a post-coital Oleg to start vomiting up the latest things he's heard from his dad! Just chatting! No reason to think this was Tatiana's motive for seducing him all along! Anyway: Igor recently told him about an incident in which there was a report on the Oko launch detection system of missiles headed for the USSR, but that the duty officer called it a false alarm; if he hadn't, the Soviet Union would have counterattacked -- and it's a good thing it didn't, because the supposed missiles were only sunlight reflected off clouds, wrongly interpreted by the USSR's jank equipment. "Who knows about this?" asks Tatiana, a little too quickly and sharply. "Nobody," Oleg replies. "Sunlight reflecting off clouds?" she repeats. "Our technology is way behind," says Oleg, gravely adding, "It's dangerous." "That's why you're here," she says. "To help us catch up." But Oleg hasn't stopped thinking about what he would have done if he were that duty officer. Whined about the false report to his dad or fucked it, right? Can Oleg even do anything else?
Operation Don Wan
Alert Type: Sexspionage Alert.
Issue: Since Elizabeth couldn't find anything damning at Don's house, she's going to have to create a bad situation for him to trap himself in.
Complicating Factors: Elizabeth isn't the most moral person who ever spied on America on behalf of the Soviet Union, but Young Hee is both nice and fun and Elizabeth doesn't feel great about what she's going to have to do not just to Don but to Young Hee, someone who's as close to a friend as Elizabeth may ever have.
Resolution: "Patty" calls Young Hee at a time she knows Young Hee will be out and tells him she'd been hoping Young Hee could come pick her up from a terrible date she just had. The very kind Don agrees.
When he gets to her place, Patty asks if he might come up and help her move a large piece of furniture. The very kind Don agrees. She then tells him she bought her brother a nice bottle of wine and, since she knows Don is an oenophile, asks what he thinks of the bottle she was recommended. He approves! What do you know, she bought one for herself, too -- would Don like to try it? He would.
Spoiler: Don's glass comes with a little extra kick.
Have Fun Blessing The Waves Down In Africa!
What's the occasion? Pastor Groovyhair's about to leave on a mission trip to Ethiopia, and Paige has advised Philip that he should join her for the sendoff party: "Pastor Tim likes seeing us all together. Makes him think we're-- I don't know. More normal."
What are the refreshments? Churchy stuff: punch, coffee cake, judgment.
Whose big public scene will everyone be talking about tomorrow? Since the guests are a bunch of churchgoers, no one gets up to much that's very scandalous. But Philip will no doubt want to tell Elizabeth about the private moment he has with Pastor Groovyhair, who pulls him aside to ask how Philip thinks Paige is doing these days. Philip thinks she's doing better, but Pastor Groovyhair begs to differ: "She seems sad. Burdened. I know she's had to deal with a lot these past few months." Philip chalks that up to her being a teenager, and tries to keep things light by joking that Pastor Groovyhair will find out what that's like in a few years himself. But Pastor Groovyhair, with a Significant Look, says he'd like to sit down with Paige and both her parents when he gets back from his trip so that they can see where they're all at, and since the consequence of refusing is probably that Pastor Groovyhair would get suspicious enough to dime out Philip and Elizabeth, either this meeting is happening or The Centre is going to have to down one of the Pastor's planes -- which, I mean, would that be the WORST idea? Really? ...It would? Okay.
Wrap It Up
Apparently having taken Pastor Groovyhair's warning about Paige's mood to heart, Philip's come up with a fun activity he thinks might lift her spirits: how about a driving lesson in his stupid Camaro? Hey, that's a good idea, apparently!!! Paige is psyched!
In her apartment, "Patty" and Don kill the bottle of wine. Don is pink and sweaty, which he says is due to the fact that he didn't eat much today so the wine is really hitting him. When Patty complains about the jerks who want to date her, he suggests that maybe one of them isn't; he wasn't shit when he first started seeing Young Hee, but then he straightened himself out and became worthy of her. Patty feeds him a cue by saying, "I'm not as great as Young Hee, so." Don says she undervalues herself, at which Elizabeth puts a hand on his leg and starts a-caressing. Don's not so far gone that he can't push her hand away, but she starts kissing him anyway.
And when Don gets up to escape Patty's advances, he's unsteady on his feet and quickly passes out. After she lets out a long sigh, it's time for Elizabeth to go to work!
Paige still can't believe she's about to drive the fucking Camaro and asks Philip why he changed his mind. He tells her he loves her more than he loves the car...but that if she scratches it she WILL be grounded for life, because all dads are the same, even spies.
And then as "Major Tom" plays -- hey, that's a different show about Communism in 1983!!! -- we cut back and forth between Paige's Camaro driving lesson -- tentatively pulling onto major streets, being aware of possible hazards, gaining confidence, BEING SYMBOLIC -- and Elizabeth's operation on Don.
Elizabeth stages the aftermath of a seduction scene.
Elizabeth allows herself another moment to pause and decide whether she wants to proceed.
After a while, Elizabeth gets undressed, climbs into bed next to an unconscious Don, fills a hand with lotion, and reaches over to slick up Don's crank. As he wakes up, Elizabeth lets what seems to be a specific amount of sheet to fall away.
A triumphant Paige pulls the stupid Camaro into the driveway and high-fives her dad. What a special bonding moment with no calculation behind it!
With mounting horror, Don turns to see Patty "asleep" next to him, himself naked (and, ew, sticky), and two empty wine glasses on the nightstand. Patty wakes up, looking guilty, and Don clambers out of bed, dressing as quickly as he can and apologizing to her while he hurries out.
Once Don has left, Elizabeth is left alone to hate herself.
Later, the kids are playing a computer game and Philip is working on something at the kitchen table when he sees Elizabeth stumble home, looking wrecked. Paige rushes up to her, all alight, eager to tell Elizabeth all about her Camaro lesson, but Elizabeth can't get it up to act like she cares, claiming she has a headache and needs to go lie down. As poor Paige deflates, Philip gives her a reassuring squeeze on his way past to check on her mother.
In their room, Philip sits next to Elizabeth and takes her hand, as she cries, "I'm gonna miss her." Aw, I'm gonna miss her too. Though if Young Hee were to find out about this indiscretion and react by threatening to beat Patty's ass for her, this viewer wouldn't be mad.