Thursday, March 12, 2015

The Americans: At Last!

Sorry for my delay in reviewing the latest "The Americans" season

First, a review of the major premises of the series:

Former Mickey Mouse Club-ette and "Felicity" star Keri Russell, and Welsh actor Matthew Rhys, play 2 KGB agents from the Soviet Union pretending to be a plain ol' American mom and dad with nary a Russian (or Welsh) accent between them---named Elizabeth and Phillip Jennings.  They have 2 children who never have been outside the US, Paige and Henry.  Paige and Henry are clueless about their parents' origin, which Elizabeth and Phillips hide pretty well despite giving their children horrible names

Elizabeth and Phillip have a neighbor....depending on whether the neighbor got the house after his divorce; I haven't been able to determine that yet.  He is a (wait for it......) FBI agent.  Stan.  And no, neither Stan nor the Jennings' children have figured it out yet that Elizabeth and Phillip are from the Cheka.  On Stan's part that isn't too surprising.

  Phillip and Stan...

... have struck up what seems to be a genuine friendship.  Stan just lost his wife after engaging in an affair with a female KGB agent whom originally he had blackmailed into passing on USSR state secrets, and who stealthfully became a triple agent, encouraging the affair while she pumped him for information and data from the FBI office for the residentura.  Actually, knowing Stan, she didn't have to be so stealthful.  Her name is Nina, and she is now in a Moscow prison after her residentura couldn't protect her anymore for the transgression of originally allowing herself to be blackmailed. And actually the wife left him because he was boring and usually not there, not because of the affiar.

And John Boy Walton is Stan's boss.  The actor is Richard Thomas anyway, I always forget the character's name so in my reviews he's always John Boy Walton.  Stan just calls him "Sir."

Nina also had a veryclosefriend named Oleg at the embassy.  Also an agent.  It should be assumed that anyone at the Soviet Embassy is a spy.  Who knows.  Maybe everyone at Spaso House was CIA at the time.

Last season 2 important things happened that have propelled the narrative into this season:

1) Paige gave her life to Jesus.  Phillip freaked out (The opiate of the masses, & all that).  Elizabeth is attending church with her.  "They're really liberal," she tells their American handler, Gabriel.

2) In the first episode last season, a couple who also was an All American Soviet Spy Family were murdered, along with their daughter.  Their son, Jared (now there's a good 80s kid name!)  discovered the bodies and during the rest of the season Elizabeth sort of watched over him and someone targetted him to kill.  Why? Well in the last couple of shows (he was killed in the next to last one) it becomes evident that JARED's  a KGB agent (at 16) and the he, because Moscow wanted him to, killed his parents and sister who he said were losing the faith.

In the last episode, Phillip and Elizabeth are told that Paige is targeted to become the next Jared.

Phillip freaks out.

Episode 1:  EST Men

Part I:  Praise the Lord & Pass the Little Camera

"Engels called ...war on religion a piece of stupidity, and stated that such a declaration of war was the best way to revive interest in religion and to prevent it from really dying out."--Vladimir I. Lenin, The Attitude of the Workers’ Party to Religion.  Cited at Marxists Internet Archive, captured 3/12/2015 @ 17:24 GMT

Elizabeth and Paige go to church, and sing "What a Friend We Have in Jesus."

Elizabeth shows no sign of worry that Stalin is turning over in his grave.  

Paige likely doesn't know who Stalin is.  

Part II: My est is bigger than your est.

You know how when a couple breaks up, one person is like, whew, I'm glad this is over with; and the other is, like, Maybe if I buy a new wardrobe and send him/her gifts and get into everything she/he is into, maybe just maybe she/he will come baaaaaack.....

Well, our man from the FBI, Stan, is the latter. I don't know if his divorce is final yet but they are not living together.  To Stan's dismay.

 Stan has hit up on the idea that, since Sandra is really into est, if he goes to an est group, she will come running back to him.    So Stan, and Phillip, go into this pop psych self-hate group therapy thing, one of those places where they tear you down  and try to build you back up again.  (Several mentally ill people killed est therapists in the 20th century.  It's hard to blame them.)

Unfortunately when he finally has a chance to share with Sandra about est, she feels sorry for him because he thought that if he did it she'd come back.  So much for est.  Maybe he can try jewelry next time.

When Stan and Phil return to the Jennings' house, Elizabeth is in the kitchen treating a huge bruise on her jaw and cut on her shoulder we saw her receive from one FBI agent when John Boy and 2 other G Men accosted her after getting a tip, and after which she breaks John Boy's nose.  She tells them "I got it carrying groceries."  Remember these wounds.  They play an interesting role over the next several episodes.

Part III: The Spymaster Gabriel from Moscow Came

Gabriel is introduced, played by Frank Langella, who displeases me by being OLD.  (The first movie I drove my sister and I to after getting my license was John Badam's Dracula.  And let me tell you, Mr. Langella was HOT.

But Gabriel is ...still hot, but old.)

Anyway, aside from annoying me, both for being old and being a kindly old American Communist (kindly communist being an oxymoron, ), Gabriel is a sweetheart and Elizabeth and Phillip like him a lot.  He brings Elizabeth a tape from her mother---who, because of Elizabeth's sacrifice for the bolshevik team, hasn't seen her daughter since Elizabeth was 17.  .  Looks like, after the relationship between Elizabeth and the ugly handler imploded in Season 1, and after their next handler was hogtied and her throat slit by a mercenary who felt screwed by the Russkies in Season 2, Gabriel is the new Handler.  In the tape, Elizabeth's mother reveals she's dying. Phillip suggests maybe they can go and see her, which Elizabeth dismisses as nonsense.  

Nina--remember her?  She's the KGB  agent turned double agent due to blackmail by Stan turned to triple agent by her boss at the Soviet embassy and encouraged to have an affair with Stan....who's only too agreeable.. Some disagreements in the KGB heirarchy about whether Nina's triple agent activities are enough penance for her double agent activities leads to her being flown back to Moscow for what they call a trial, and inevitable condemnation  to death or something equally as awful (which they have in Russia.  You know, things worse than death.  Like schchi, which is cold cabbage soup) Nina makes her debut this season in the next show.

Part IV:  Should have stayed home and listened to the latest ABBA record!

Phillip has a rendezvous with Anneliese, the Swedish lady he has trained to fetch bits of information for the KGB.  She has some goodies on an middle eastern prince who she's been trying to seduce (and has ended up unwittingly seducing her).  After having sex with Phillip (it's a hard job, keeping several women satisfied, but apparently someone has to do it) she agrees to pump Prince Gorgeous for information while he pumps her once more.  And we segue to that scene.

Unfortunately for her, Annaliese's way of getting information apparently includes assuring the information giver that she is important, she's very important, and she knows important people.  Which is too bad, because apparently Prince Abdominals is highly allergic to people who are important, and  begins to ask her, "Who's listening??? Who are you with???" and kills her, of course, by strangling her.  Isn't that what you would do if someone said something surprising and confusing when you are making love to them?

This prompts Phillip, who takes about 10 minutes to realize the choking sounds coming from his stethoscope-type device on the other side of the wall are the sounds of someone choking, bursts in hollering, "What are you going to do? I can help you make this go away."  Hopefully, his choice of words while he tries to ply Prince Dreamy Eyes for information about Afghanistan and its American allies is better than Annaliese's.  The Jennings would not work very well as a one parent family.  

Questions for discussion:

1) In making the contact with the CIA agent who betrays her so that she and John Boy Walton can exchange blows, Elizabeth wears a disguise that could be very convincing if she didn't wear it ALL THE TIME!  Does Elizabeth's (or the wardrobe department's) lack of creativity pose a problem for the KGB, Elizabeth, or the brownies she makes for the Church Potluck?

2) Films made by communists (and they are legion) generally contain some kind of salute to the Marxist "dialectic" or at least to the Marxist maxim, "From each according to his ability, to each according to need"---which translates into modern terms as "From everyone who will work, to everybody who won't work".  Where is the Marxist dialectic spoken of or demonstrated in this episode of the Americans?  (Hint: it's not when Phillip and Annaliese have sex in Phillip's car.)

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