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The Americans Review: The Bird, the Dog and the Master

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After a week off the air, The Americans returned with it's most intense episode of the season. "Safe House" even beat out the episode when the Jennings were tortured.

With the FBI on high alert after the KGB presumably (they did) killed two FBI agents and a scientist, the tension got bumped up due to a jealous ex-boyfriend. Happenstance can be unfortunate, and in this case, it cost two men their lives.

Going Sideways

Before I get into the heart of the episode, I have to mention Elizabeth and Philip's ridiculous decision to split up. After over a decade of living together as uncover KGB spies in an arranged marriage, they decided to take a break over one lie? They finally fell in love with each other and threw it away too quickly. Yes, Philip technically lied about sleeping with Irina, but he was on a mission. She had to go into the hospital showing signs of both a physical attack and sexual activity. If she didn't, the plan wouldn't have worked.

The Americans has been one of the best written shows, but this storyline I don't buy. The only reason I can truly see them separate would be to throw Grannie off guard, but I can't imagine that they would put their children through the emotional trauma just for her. At this point, I don't believe either character would give up on their marriage this quickly, especially not Philip. Disappointing.

Other than that, this episode had my stomach in knots from the Beeman's barbecue until the final moment seeing the look on Stan's face after pulling the trigger. In my review of the last episode, "Mutally Assured Destruction," I predicted an awkward barbecue scene with Amador recognizing Philip. That didn't happen, but we did get an uncomfortable moment with the FBI agent oogling Elizabeth.

With Philip kicked out of his home, he took Martha up on her offer to stay the night after an intense sexual encounter. That was the first time that Philip appeared to be entirely engaged during sex with Martha. Previously, he just went through the motions to protect his cover. The combination of both decisions could risk Martha as an asset.

Philip's stay overnight did have deadly consequences when Amador confronted him outside Martha's place. The Americans challenges viewers to empathize with the Jennings, even though they were historically the enemy. Amador's actions here again shakes up the normal good guy versus bad guy too.

Amador abused his authority as an FBI agent to intimidate and question Philip for seeing his ex, Martha. Philip had every reason to fight back and it was Amador that escalated the fight by pulling out a knife instead of walking away. There was no reason for him to suspect that Philip was anything other than a new guy banging the ex-girlfriend. Amador paid for his mistake with his life. Philip did what was necessary to protect himself, his family, and ultimately the Soviet Union.

Since Martha revealed that the FBI was planning on retaliating for their agents' deaths, Philip decided to question the injured Amador. He couldn't just leave the stabbed FBI agent behind; that would lead to questions about his relationship with Martha and then his family.

Amador held strong and didn't give up anything to Philip or Elizabeth until he thought it was too late. Then, he gave them Arkady's name to mock them. It was effective and ended up working in his favor. Since Arkady wasn't killed, they thought he was holding out on them and the attack is still pending. Stan was correct in trusting that Amador would never compromise Nina.

Amador's rant against the Soviet Union was telling as well. Of course, the writers and viewers know how the story ends, but Amador's confidence was strong and admirable regardless.

Armador: You're gonna to lose this war. You know know that right? You can torture me or you can kill me, but we are going kick your Motherland's marbled ass. And, there's nothing you can do about it. | permalink

While Philip was dealing with Amador, Stan was worrying about his missing partner. It seemed a stretch to immediately link Amador's disappearance to the KGB. Throughout the first 8 episodes, there hasn't been any pattern showing that the KGB took FBI agents. Even after finding Amador's wiped down car, it was a bit of a stretch. Why couldn't it have been a robbery? Or, a scorned ex-lover? He had plenty of those around. Or, a disgruntled husband of one of Amador's conquests? There were so many other possibilities.

Yes, the KGB did end up with Amador, but it wasn't because they sought him out. Happenstance. Stan went off the rails with his partner being gone. He went from being against the off-the-book mission to grab Arkady to overriding the mission leader to grab a low-level diplomat. Stan's irrationality extended to refusing Nina's affections and then contacting Arkady threatening Vladimir's life unless Amador was returned. Stan's intuition was off because he refused to see what was in front of him. Neither Nina nor Arkady had any inkling about Amador and displayed their confusion.

Even after Amador's body turned up, there was no evidence linking the killing to the KGB. And, the FBI agent, who didn't even want to pick up Arkady, put a bullet right in the back of Vladimir's head. No hesitation. No remorse ... yet. That was one of the most shocking moments ever. The normally calm and reserved Stan shot an unarmed man eating a burger. Wow.

Stan: If you don't tell me where he is you will never get dropped at my master's feet. My bite will go hard and you will know you are dead before your heart stops beating.permalink

Who is this Stan? After his actions, he's not going to be able to go back to business as it was. Will he become more dedicated to his career? Will he see Nina as the enemy instead of a lover? And, will he use this experience to seek comfort in his home life? Or, will he push them away too?

It's going to become an even crazier world. The Jennings will need to be even more careful. Philip's relationship with Martha is a link to what happened to Amador. Will he be able to continue it? Or, will he have to abandon her?

With Elizabeth believing that Amador lied to her about Arkady and Stan threatening Arkady, it will be intriguing to see what the Soviet diplomat does next. Will he make a connection between the calls? The aftermath of Stan and the Jennings' decisions could escalate the fight between the KGB and the FBI. 

Odds and Ends
  • The scene between Elizabeth and Paige about the wok was so honest. Paige has a better grasp on her parents' relationship than Elizabeth.
  • Paige: I don't want to pretend your life is a do-over, because mine's not.
    Elizabeth: That's what you don't want. What is it you do want?
    Paige: I want things to be the way they were. | permalink
  • "America won." -- Nice explanation of the Revolutionary War. And, fitting for the Cold War too.
  • Stan's explanation of the hunting dog and the bird was haunting to hear. 
  • I've complained about Elizabeth's clothes at times throughout the series. The sweater she wore to the barbecue was perfect. Loved it.
  • Philip: I wouldn't let a dog suffer like this. Would you?
    Elizabeth: No. | permalink
  • The flashback when Amador was telling Stan about his conquests and used the "P" word, his true craziness showed through. He was insane, right? Well, if nothing else, at least that laugh was insane!

Review

Editor Rating: 4.8 / 5.0
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User Rating:

Rating: 4.7 / 5.0 (30 Votes)

Carla Day is a staff writer for TV Fanatic. Follow her on Twitter and on Google+.

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I agree that it is difficult to understand why would they now suddenly break up? Before they apparently had 20 years of arranged marriage, where Pihilp might have had feelings for her but she did not. So the only difference now pretending to be a married couple would be that they were actually starting to have genuine feelings for each other.
My initial reaction to Stan immediately suspecting KGB was also disbelief but during Cold War they might have been that paranoid:)
The show keeps being very interesting and also different from week to week. It is so interesting to find out about 1980s, the small things are especially interesting to me.

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2/2
(I also don't agree that P was fully engaged with Martha. Did you see his face and body language while he was, ahem, shooting into her or as soon as she left? That was not a man engaged in the act.) Also, "Travis," you can tell your bosses that if I ever had any desire to get your stupid service, I certainly don't now after the spam all over every message board.

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Fantastic ep. I can't for the life of me understand why this show isn't more popular than it is. Sad to see Amador go. I don't think the decision to split is all that ridiculous or hard to buy. Elizabeth rightly or wrongly overreacted in response to Philip's lie, Granny's meddling and the perceived failure, and she wanted to go back to a strictly-business relationship. Philip is either tired of trying to make the marriage work or was bluffing when he suggested splitting and she called him on it. I AM surprised that the KGB let them split, since it makes things needlessly complicated. But I don't accept the idea that this is a fake split (or the other popular conspiracy theory that Irina was working with the KGB to test Philip). For the show to work at all, the audience has to be able to take SOMETHING at face value and that something NEEDS to be the relationship at the heart of the show. (I also don't agree that P was fully engaged with Martha. Did you see his face and body language while he was, ahem, shooting into her or as soon as she left? That was not a man engaged in the act.)

The Americans Season 1 Episode 9 Quotes

Is that what this is about? You and Dad split and you start cooking Chinese food?

Paige

Philip: I'm just a guy.
Amador: You're just a guy who spent a night with a girl.

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