The Americans: Duty & Honor, Review

Jarrett Kruse makes his way through episode 7 of The Americans and tells us what's up.

The Jennings are still reeling from the beating they took from their own people in last week’s episode. Liz is trying to figure out if they are both mad because their own people may not trust them or because THEY do not trust each other. Phillip is going on a mission to New York City where he is meeting with a woman he once dearly loved in Russia; a doe eyed beauty named Irina. The Polish “Priest” Andrzej Bielawski, outspoken critic of Soviet interference in Polish affairs and proponent of democracy, is in NYC to address the General Assembly at the United Nations. As Phillip gets into the city, the wide shot of the Manhattan skyline of 1981 is chilling to see with the Big Apple displaying the Twin Towers as its centerpiece; a beacon of hope and American innovation. Seeing the Towers intact just for a moment is still haunting.

Sandra Beeman has Liz and the kids over and clearly she is upset Stan cannot make it home for dinner, again. She has a heart to heart with Liz about marriage and for the first time I could really see some empathy in the deep cover spies’ eyes. Sandra’s marriage is crumbling as Stan continues his rise in his new post at the FBI. Amador convinces Stan to go out for a drink, despite his domestic obligations. While at the door, the very funny Amador continues to goad the straight-laced Stan to make a move on a woman at the bar who has been eyeing him all night. Stan replies to his bald Agent friend, “She’s not my type.” Amador quips, “what are you looking for, a blood donor?” Rather than approach one of the women at the bar, Stan calls Nina. Yes, THAT Nina: the Russian hottie who is Stan’s inside source at the Russian Embassy. And a night with her seems to be just what the doctor ordered for the overworked and undersexed FBI Agent. However, I really felt for Sandra as she is sitting in their house cooking dinner for a husband who is never going to show up. It is heartbreaking to see Sandra continue to open up to Liz and her son Matthew’s teenage diatribe about his father, angrily saying “even the President eats dinner with his family once a week.” But Sandra is resolute in her faith in Stan, explaining to Liz that there is no clock on national security, referring to her husband’s demanding job. If she only knew what the spy life is like.

The production design team on The Americans is to be commended for their wonderful capturing of early 80’s New York. The cabs look a fresh yellow as the steam erupts from the subway grates on the street. The raw New York before it was “Disney-fied” is one that is a constant state of gray and movement. It immediately brought to mind my first trip to the city as a wide-eyed child of the 80’s seeing where my father worked. The majestic, towering buildings so tall and beautiful. I went home with my neck hurting from looking upward for so much of the day. Then of course my Dad took me to a wonderful restaurant he hyped up all day called “Pushcardo’s.” I found out the hard way “Pushcardo’s” was just a hot dog pushcart. “Puschardo’s” get it?

Under the guise of a travel agency convention, Phillip arrives at the Carnegie Hotel knowing that he is going to see Irina for the first time in two decades. He is surprised by her at a mixer for the attendees and the longing between the two when they see each other is palpable. The black and white flashback that ensues is one of sweetness and young love, as the couple enjoys Mischa’s (Phillip) acceptance into the Russian leadership program in the late 50’s. But it is a short lived excitement as the young couple knows they will be apart after Mischa’s admittance to the Academy.

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They seamlessly cut to the hotel bar where Irina and Phillip sit stonefaced, as they discuss the task at hand. Although Andrzej Bielawski is a good man working for a great cause in trying to shape a new Russia, he is now devoutly and publicly standing against communism. Irina explains to Phillip that Bielawksi is “the fuse that ignites the Polish streets, without him the forces that gain momentum to fight for Polish independence from Moscow wither and die but he has to live to maintain the fiction of Polish independence.” It is clear that Bielawski, although a good man will have a new agenda to propose after the machinations of Phil and Irina.

Predating his pending speech at the U.N., Bielawski is being entertained by Charles Duluth who we met in an earlier episode. Duluth (Reg Rogers) is the publisher of the fictional “Conservative Statesman” and a former American Communist. He is an abrasive charmer, chainsmoking his way through politics and best of all, a Soviet sympathizer. He is a good friend to Phillip and has helped him out of jams before with his inside sources. While amusing the Polish diplomat at dinner, he brings Irina over, who acts the charming ingénue and speaks Polish to perfection. Duluth conveniently excuses himself to let Irina do her bit. The Polish leader and Irina go for a snowy walk in Manhattan, flanked by security guards as a man in a grey hooded sweat suit (Phillip) mugs the pair and gets away with ease. The mugging was staged so that Irina could gain access to Bielawski’s hotel suite. As he tends to her skinned and bloodied knee, Irina doses his drink. The trap is set. Despite Irina offering herself to him, Bielawski declines her advances as he has taken a vow of celibacy.

Irina and Phillip catch up on old times and discuss their time together as kids in love. She shows Phillip a picture of her son and tells him that he is THEIR son and is joining the Army before going to University. She divulges that she was pregnant when Phillip entered the Academy. Phil is taken aback by this development and is uncertain whether or not Irina is playing him. Phil then beats her up but good, clearly as a set-up for the take down of Bielawski to really sell. Phil and Irina go to bed together and it adds something that they don’t show any of the “action,” leaving you wondering. In the middle of the night Phillip receives a phone call from Liz telling him how much she misses him. The call startles Phil and I was taken aback at the walls that Liz is finally breaking down with genuine emotion.

When Bielawski wakes up in the hotel suite, Duluth enters, raving, showing the Polish diplomat pictures of a beat-up Irina. He is confused about what is going on and sees pictures of a battered woman who was raped. He begs Duluth to help him get out of this mess as he has no recollection of anything that happened the previous evening. (Technically there is nothing to remember.) Bielawski then makes a public statement that he will no longer seek to create a new government in exile. Irina and Phillip watch the news at the train station and she pleads with him to run away with her. Phillip wants to know if the child in the picture is real, but Irina simply repeats the company line that “only duty and honor are real Mischa. Isn’t that what we were told?”

The subplot back in Virginia is that, after shooting asset Adam Dorwin last week, Liz needs a new contact inside missile intelligence. Stanford Prince is a degenerate gambler and easy to manipulate, as Liz can be very convincing. After paying $20K of his gambling debts, Prince is under her thumb and he brings her new intelligence that a laser defense lab has had a breakthrough. Phillip arrives home like any Dad returning from a business trip. “Did you see any hobos or drug dealers?” asks the precocious Henry. Phillip and Liz discuss the trip and now that they are giving their marriage a shot, she sincerely apologizes for blaming him for the beating they took the week before and divulging that her husband was “enjoying America too much.” He then lies and tells her that nothing happened between him and Irina as Liz knows full well that she was his first great love.

This was another outstanding episode in what is turning into a remarkably well done, freshman drama. The characters are written brilliantly and every week a new layer appears. Being a spy is a non-stop job and this is really the first in depth look at the non-cloak and dagger part of it in a mainstream format. Phillip and Liz are not just living double lives; they are living an innumerable number of lives. But they have been doing it for so long that to them it is like tying your shoes. And tying your shoes has never been so enthralling on TV. Next week: Explosions!

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