This The Americans review contains spoilers
The Americans Season 4 Episode 3
There’s a certain kind of alchemy that only a superior piece of art is capable of. It involves turning an otherwise ordinary item into one of the most important totems in the world. The movie Inception does this literally when it equates the outcome of a spinning top into the outcome of what we’re seeing is reality or not.
Imagine walking into a theater at the very end of Inception and feeling bewildered as the entire audience watches a top spin with bated breath, clutching the armrests of their seats for dear life. That’s narrative magic pure and simple.
The Americans is one of those aforementioned superior pieces of art and in “Experimental Prototype City of Tomorrow” it commits some alchemy of its own. As if The Americans needed another literary device to prove its excellence, the show takes four tickets to Disney World and turns them into a death sentence for two innocent people.
Not much happens on the surface of “Experimental Prototype City of Tomorrow.” Paige begins her first mission whether she’s aware of it or not, Stan begins tracking Martha and Elizabeth tries to infiltrate the life of a Korean-American Mary Kay saleswoman for reasons as yet unknown. Instead the majority of the action takes place exclusively in the characters capable, yet tortured heads.
Elizabeth, Philip and Gabriel, with an assist from Claudia, have a tremendously difficult decision to make regarding Pastor Tim. And the majority of the episode deals with the nuts and bolts of that decision. Obviously the easiest, most direct solution is to kill him. And that decision is represented by those aforementioned tickets to the happiest place on Earth: Disney World. Or more specifically: Epcot Center – Walt Disney’s idealistic Tomorrowland where all human cultures are represented in harmony.
Epcot, which opened in October of 1982, is supposed to be a “permanent World’s Fair” – a celebration of human achievement across the globe. So of course it is perverted into a symbol of two innocent lives sacrificed into a pointless geopolitical conflict.
Elizabeth and Philip try meeting with Pastor Tim to gauge whether turning him to their cause is realistic enough that they won’t have to “go to Epcot.”
“You know. What we do isn’t so different from what you do,” Elizabeth tells him. After last episode featured a dream sequence in which Pastor Tim was killed, it is initially hard to even comprehend that what we’re seeing now is reality. But it is. Elizabeth and Philip are actually speaking openly with their daughter’s Pastor about their undercover spy identities. It’s a truly surreal moment in a show full of them.
Having laid the groundwork to “turn” Pastor Tim and his wife, Alice, Philip then prepares Paige to on what is essentially her first “mission” even though she’s not fully aware of it. He instructs her to go talk with Pastor Tim and gives her some subtle tips on how to work him. Paige isn’t supposed to come across as angry. That doesn’t help when trying to bring someone over to your side. That’s a tall order for Paige, however, being a teenager and all and she gets a little too explosive with Pastor Tim.
Elizabeth and Philip’s meeting with Pastor Tim wasn’t promising and neither was Paige’s. Surely the only option now is to take that fated family vacation to Disney World. This is where Philip goes full Hamlet. The only logical solution is to kill this innocent man and his wife. Philip and Elizabeth haven’t been living as Americans all this time for their health. They have a mission and Pastor Tim is now in the way of it. The only solution is to kill him. Still, Philip has another one that he likes better: to run.
Philip proposes leaving to Gabriel when he’s dropping off the glanders for the umpteenth time (“Can’t seem to get rid of this, can I?” Gabriel says).
Gabriel tries to convince Claudia to let the Jennings run but she is steadfast otherwise and soon the actual, physical tickets to Epcot Center are purchased; Tim and Alice’s death warrants are signed.
Once it’s a reality, Philip is even more adamant about running. But Elizabeth points out that even that’s not an option. “You don’t think they’d hate us then? The things we built here matter. “It all matters,” she says.
And she’s right. The annoying part about becoming Americans to take down America is that, at the end of the day…you’re Americans.
Elizabeth is just like her new Korean-American friends Young-hee and her race-masking Mary Kay makeup. “I tell my friends they don’t have to look like Martians,” Young-hee says. “We are all Americans now.” Elizabeth then has a fun time at Young-hee’s Korean family dinner and even gets to do the pepper dance (not a euphemism for anything).
Philip is just like Martha, who has created a fresh hell for herself in which Stan is suspicious of her actions. The mail robot, god bless him, is acting up and the copying machine at the FBI has six copies unaccounted for. Shoddy record-keeping according to Agent Gad but a potential nefarious action according to Stan Beeman, the man who sees Boogeymen everywhere – even when his friendly neighbor is seen chatting with his ex-wife. Still, Martha has nowhere to run. She’s a part of this.
Philip and Elizabeth are Americans, they can’t run. And if they did, the life awaiting them back in Russia wouldn’t be so grand as evidenced by Nina being held in a dank cell, awaiting the results of her treason trial.
Still, there is this undeniable yearning Philip has that he cannot deny. “For the last few days I’ve had alarm going off in me: run, run, run,” Philip says. ”But you don’t. So we stay. It seems Paige loses whatever we do.”
Undeniable yearning to run? An alienated child? All Philip is missing from being a real American is a trip to Disney World. Maybe he’ll cross that off the list after this little glanders-influenced quarantine with Elizabeth, Gabriel and William.