“The Americans” review: “The Deal”


“I started watching that show The Wire. I don’t understand a word out of it.” That was spoken by the great Michael Scott on an episode of the The Office, circa Season 4. Honestly, that’s how I feel every now and then about The Americans. Having been born the year the Cold War ended, most of my relationship with the eighties comes from stories and the Back to the Future trilogy. Select events will stand out to me when the show spotlights them (i.e. Reagan’s assassination attempt), but others can be a little too specific to hit home for me. As history appears to flirting with the idea of repeating itself, the titular “deal” of The Americans’ fifth episode cannot help but resonate. The story remains the same: Russia and the people caught in the crossfire of her philosophy fight to stay in her borders or escape them.

This week’s episode continues to touch on the Israeli-Soviet Union relationship of the Cold War. After Mossad agents capture the Jennings’ target, Anton, they must take their wounded opposition hostage. Here, Phillip gets to watch over the old Mossad agent as he muses about his worth to his government. Arkady does a fine job of defining Russians and Jews. His lack of faith in the Israeli government saving a Mossad agent is rooted in their belief of self-sacrifice. A communist government does not have that luxury. They live for principles that cannot be disregarded for the sake of a single tactical advantage. It is rather hard to idealize communism in theory but, as the saying goes, that’s the only realm communism works in.

The operation manages to overshadow most of the episode but, all the same, The Americans’ B and C moments tend to spice up the atmosphere. Elizabeth is forced to return to her identity of Clark’s sister, Jennifer, and visit Martha. The two women in Phillip’s life have only shared a room once in the run of the show, but the tension is remarkable. Underneath that façade, Elizabeth is jealous but also attracted to the behavior of his mild-mannered alter ego. Despite intrigue, the true reason for her visit is to protect Phillip’s cover while simultaneously tearing down Clark and Martha’s marriage. Her unpredictability as Clark’s wife may be the Jennings’ ultimate downfall.

Elizabeth’s other cover comes to an end as she meets the world’s most gullible Naval officer for the final time. Although this portion of the episode held a tad too much convenience for Jennings’ current revenge plot, it’s worth watching Keri Russell bring Elizabeth back to this character of cold vulnerability. Elizabeth’s experience with rape has made her into a stronger woman, but she still accesses those feelings of fear through her covers. The multiple personalities she must inhabit on a daily basis can be as much therapeutic as they are troubling.

The biggest development, however, was the meeting of Oleg and Stan. As I stated before, Oleg has struck me as a man who could easily be playing both sides. That much appears to be true as he threats to expose Nina, Stan’s weakness. His ultimate goal has yet to become apparent, but this is perhaps the first time Stan has actually squirmed. He has made a mistake letting Nina into his life this far. With episode with a title like “The Deal,” it seems the most important one is yet to come.

Other moments this week: Phillip meets his new handler, Kate, and her presence is only a sad reminder of Margo Martindale’s absence. Of all the shows to lose her to, The Millers was never the one I expected (I do hope we see more of her as Nick’s mom on New Girl, though). The Americans continues to bring to light a pool of very talented Russian and Israeli actors. What this show does for the diversity of the acting world is something that should not be ignored. Ratings are not where they should be for The Americans and I worry about its future.

In the words of Ron Howard, “please, tell your friends about this show.”