Tooth aches suck.
Last summer, I had a filling placed in one of my molars. My dentist (who I visit because every room in his office is decorated with different Cleveland sports memorabilia) did the job and then told me to come back in if my “bite” was off. I didn’t know what he meant by this until when a few weeks later, I was suddenly in constant, shooting tooth pain. I thought something was horribly wrong. The pain was shockingly strong and damn near Biblical. It felt like I was being cosmically punished for everything I had ever done wrong. Surely, there was an infection. I needed a root canal or an exorcism. But all that was wrong was that stupid bite. My top row and bottom row teeth didn’t line up and, slowly over time, biting down generated more and more pain.
So when Elizabeth broke her teeth in The Americans season 3 premiere, I felt her pain. I felt like I knew what the show was trying to imply by her pain. The Symbolism 101 dictates that tooth pain is a nagging, persistent pain as punishment. As Elizabeth’s sins mounted, as she hurt more people and grew more and more open to the idea of exposing her daughter to a dangerous life, her mouth punished her more intensely.
Nope. Elizabeth’s teeth hurt so it could lead to the absolute pitch perfect scene in last night’s “Open House,” where her husband must extract the damaged teeth in a beautiful, mostly silent moment. It’s physically brutal, emotionally affecting and perhaps even more strangely erotic than anything 50 Shades of Grey will offer this weekend. The criticism industrial complex of the internet (of which I am regrettably a card-carrying member) can at times watch television as cryptographers: looking for any possible symbol or motif. The Americans is TV’s best drama because it doesn’t care about the symbols, it cares about the people.
And Philip’s amateur passion for dentistry is a perfect, human moment largely because of what precedes it. Technically, the laundry room dentistry is amazing in its long, lingering shots of Elizabeth’s eyes that reveal so much. But without the shared history, without the scenes of Philip arguing about Paige with Gabriel over Scrabble, or ignoring his wife’s obvious sexual advances* – it all means nothing.
*The Americans continues to use nudity pitch perfectly. Elizabeth’s butt-shot happens so suddenly to shock the audience into attention, and then lingers just long enough to make clear that Philip is not having any of her subtle advances without overdoing it.
The Jennings’ marriage appears to be in the rockiest place since season one. But season one did not have tonight’s dentistry scene or its exciting, slow-paced car chase. Even when Elizabeth and Philip are disagreeing on one of the biggest questions of their marriage: what to do with Paige, they still can’t help but be a team – they’re lives demand it. There is still work to be done.
Philip and Elizabeth are still pursuing the C.I.A. group dealing with Afghanistan. Thanks to Yousaf’s intel, Philip and Elizabeth now have some names and faces to work off of. The KGB believes that Agent Ted Paaswell is their best bet. He’s going through a rough divorce and selling his house.
After planting a listening device, Philp and Elizabeth drive around the neighborhood in disguise, listening for intel or any strategic weaknesses they can exploit. Practically in mid-sentence Elizabeth notices that a Lincoln has been following them. Her tracking skills are superior to Philip’s and have been sharpened from training Hans (who is suddenly into her because come on: Keri Russell).
We’ve seen all manner of car “chases” on TV and movies but I’m not sure we’ve seen something quite like this. It’s more like a naval battle than a car chase. The cars move so slowly so as to not reveal that they’re being followed/following. Meanwhile, Philip and Stan pore over maps like sea charts, looking for the perfect route of escape. Philip rolls out of the car to be able to make a phone call to the Rezidentura and they are able to eventually extract Elizabeth via a tactical car chase. It’s just great, tense stuff.
Much like every other action set-piece on this season, this serves as a reminder to Philip that this is the life his country wants for their daughter – a life of car crashes and amateur tooth extraction.
“Not everything is worth the risk, Philip,” Gabriel tells Philip about returning to the neighborhood to listen in more.
“You’re right. Not everything is,” Philip responds.
In this Cold War, domestic turbulence is the biggest sign of weakness. The KGB knows how to exploit it with Ted Paaswell and later when the tapes reveal that the head of the Afghan Group’s daughter was in the house. Elizabeth and Philip keep the peace not just for their family but because strategically it’s the best move for their country and their cause. Even “Clark” may soon have to revise his “no babies” policy to keep the peace with Martha.
Ironically, it’s domestic problems that will eventually lead to the collapse of the U.S.S.R. Zinaida says as much in her first TV interview as Stan looks on, unaware of the irony of his own “domestic life” being in ruins. Everyone on The Americans knows this, but much like most human beings, they still can’t manage to keep their houses in order regardless.