The Americans: The Ultimate Second Shift
9:45 am, April 4th | by Sarah Devlin
The Americans is one of the most interesting shows on television right now — not just for its circa 1981 “Was it long enough ago to be a period piece?” commitment to realism, or the Lo-fi spy antics whose stakes feel much higher than those set in the present day with deus ex machina high tech tools. It’s not even the love triangle between Philip and Elizabeth Jennings and Mother Russia, who holds less and less sway over Philip even as Elizabeth becomes more committed to bringing down the American government.
What’s been most interesting to me has been the depiction of Keri Russell’s character Elizabeth as a woman with the ultimate second shift: she has a respectable day job at a travel agency, a very dangerous job as a KGB spy, and a no less important job raising the two children she has with Philip, Henry and Paige. While Philip faces this conundrum too, Elizabeth’s grappling with it is more interesting, particularly given her social awkwardness when playing the role of “Elizabeth Jennings,” contrasted with her ice cold demeanor as a spy, and the warmth and longing to connect she exhibits when she’s with her children, particularly newly minted teenager Paige.
This week’s episode was probably the least Jennings relationship-centric of the series, and yet there were a few very important developments. Elizabeth and Philip have decided to separate, and Philip is temporarily living in a motel. 1981 was the year that divorces peaked in the United States, rising to 5.3 per every 1,000 people. It’s understandable that Paige and Henry react the way they do (uh, very badly), as they must have seen divorces and marital tension everywhere they and their friends looked that year.
With this temporary separation Philip is able to stay the night at Martha’s, the secretary of the FBI director who he’s hoping to use for information. He learns that the office is planning an extralegal hit on the Rezident at the Russian embassy, which is helpful, but he runs into Stan Beeman’s partner Amador the next morning (who used to date Martha), and that’s less helpful. Amador, who has been mostly treated as comic relief in prior episodes, gets dark here. He’s upset about the recent death of several agents at KGB hands, a hit the Russian government unsuccessfully tried to call off. He’s upset that Martha appears to have moved on, and he and Philip start to scrap. When he pulls out a switchblade, Philip uses his own momentum against him to drive it into his stomach, which he doesn’t appear to have even thought about — it seems like a reflex gone wrong.
He puts Amador in his trunk and drives him to an abandoned warehouse, before calling Elizabeth. Not only is Amador FBI, but he also caught glimpses of Philip and Elizabeth at a party at the Beemans’ earlier, so Elizabeth wears her best blonde Davy Jones wig to try to elude detection. She gives him morphine and he’s able to speak, but it’s looking pretty grim. She has to leave to go grocery shopping in the middle of this, and to fight with Paige about what her parents’ separation means. Paige has gone the route of blaming Elizabeth for the situation, since she’s usually the heavy in the family and the marriage, and Elizabeth tries to maintain her patience with her while also, presumably, thinking about how she and Philip are about to be responsible for the death of an FBI agent.
Meanwhile, Stan freaks out about his missing partner, getting ugly and violent with Nina because he thinks the Rezidentura has Amador. He does not bother to let her know the danger she might be in if Amador gives up her name (later we find out that he is certain Amador never gave her up, but still. Help a girl out, Stan). She insists she doesn’t know anything, and he decides to participate in the hit, set to occur while the Rezident goes jogging. He doesn’t make it, having burned his hand while trying to use a microwave (???), but his lackey does and gets captured while trying to get some exercise. Sheesh. Philip and Elizabeth get the name of the Rezident from Amador, who tells them they’re too late and he’s already dead. When Elizabeth confirms the Rezident is still alive, they try to get more information, but now Amador is the one who is dead. Yikes. They take his body and dump it somewhere, and it’s immediately found by the FBI, including Stan, who becomes very scary after seeing that his partner is gone.
Stan goes to the most depressing fast food restaurant ever documented on film or television, gets burgers, goes back to the apartment where they’re holding the poor embassy lackey and chats with him while they eat. He quickly realizes that he probably doesn’t know anything, but shoots him in the head under the guise of getting him a glass of water, to make himself feel better, I suppose? Stan just became the scariest character on this show.
Next week will likely bring more consequences for this botched operation, and likely more consequences for Elizabeth and Philip due to their separation. I can’t wait to see what happens next.