'The Americans' Recap: Fantasy vs. Reality

In between missions, Philip and Elizabeth spice it up in the bedroom

Matthew Rhys the americans keri russell
Craig Blankenhorn/FX
Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell as Philip and Elizabeth Jennings on 'The Americans'
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I'm sorry, were there missions Philip and Elizabeth attended to in this episode ("Behind the Red Door")? Because it was pretty damn hard to concentrate on their interrogation of Emmett and Leanne's alleged killer or his involvement in a U.S.-funded Nicaraguan-Contra training program when Elizabeth insisted on having rough sex with "Clark."

'The Americans,' A to Z

"Door" offered no shortage of plot-driving narrative, but the more important scenes tended to focus on the overriding themes of family and marriage. Martha's loose lips about Clark's "wild animal" tendencies in bed during her drunken gab session with "Jennifer" last week hit a major nerve with Elizabeth, but her demands to find out what she's been missing all this time only left her with a painful memory of her rape 22 years earlier and a fear that she's set her newly affectionate marriage back several steps. Also, with Paige pulling away from her parents more – she quit the volleyball team in favor of "music and snacks" at the church youth group (nice Rick Springfield poster on her wall) – Elizabeth channels her idle parenting into her burgeoning relationship with Lucia, the young Sandinista she helped out of a jam several weeks earlier. Now that Lucia has been enlisted to directly help the KGB get intel on Operation Martial Eagle (the aforementioned program that trains Nicaraguan Contras in a secret base on U.S. soil), she is treated like a daughter to be groomed and mentored by Elizabeth. And boy, does she need it.

With Anton Baklanov back in the USSR and Mossad agents taking a breather, Philip and Elizabeth were able to concentrate on the search for their friends' assassin this episode. Posing as CIA investigators – Keri Russell looking like Marilyn Monroe in How to Marry a Millionaire with her marcelled blond wig and chunky glasses – they stage a meeting with Capt. Andrew Larrick (thanks for the files, seaman recruit Brad!). But in Larrick, Philip and Elizabeth have found a worthy foe: He's seasoned military, he's cocky and he's immediately suspicious of them. While he denies killing Emmett and Leanne, he claims he "got close." This guy is so brazen you wonder if he might actually be smarter than Philip and Elizabeth – especially when Philip stakes him out at a gay club (populated entirely by Village People "Leatherman" look-alikes). Post-sexual encounter, Larrick calmly stares down Philip, who is pointing a gun at him, with a correct assessment: "You're not CIA." It's just as well Philip and Elizabeth don't believe Larrick murdered Emmett and Leanne, because not only is he the key to exposing Operation Martial Eagle, but the hunt for this mystery killer just got juicer: In the episode's final scene, a remorseful Claudia reveals to Elizabeth that she may be culpable. That's right, even the imperious "Grannie" faltered in her duties, making her no less human than her charges. Simply put, Claudia got lonely on the job and admitted her true identity to an unnamed lover, making it quite possible her honesty caused the destruction of the Connors family.

Elizabeth and Philip need to trust that their new handler, Kate (Boardwalk Empire's Wrenn Schmidt), briefly introduced last week as the eager-beaver antithesis to her predecessor, can keep it in her pants until the Cold War ends. Eh, she's young – you can hold out another seven years, right, Kate? If anything, they should be more worried about her tell-tale drink of choice. Philip's silent "What the hell are you doing?" stare at Kate's "vodka, straight up" order at the bar was such a brilliant understated moment. Order a Budweiser next time, sweetie. Her Russian-libation leanings notwithstanding, Kate wastes no time in tasking the Jenningses with their next official mission: Using Larrick to infiltrate Operation Martial Eagle. "The American people deserve to know what their government is doing behind their backs," says Kate. Wait, we're still in 1982, not 2014, right? (It's early March 1982, to be exact – the Beeman family's casual dinner discussion of John Belushi's death pinpoints the time frame.)

Anyway, I've stalled long enough. Let's get to the scene everyone's going to be talking about this week: Now that Philip and Elizabeth are finally building on a foundation of love, they're going to hit the inevitable marital growing pains. Elizabeth gets a harsh "careful what you wish for" lesson when she demands a taste of Clark and Martha's sex life. She quickly learns that the fantasy rarely matches up to the reality, especially in her case. Not only does she instruct Philip to keep on the "Clark" wig and glasses – no, that's not weird at all! – she presses him to leave his gentle touch at the door. What follows is little more than a re-creation of her rape by her KGB superior back in 1960: Philip flips her over, brutally taking her up the ass and riding her until she yelps in pain. And all of a sudden, "Behind the Red Door" has a much more sordid meaning than Sandra Beeman's choice of "Tomato Tango" for her new entryway. Afterward, while she's crumpled up in a ball and sobbing, Philip rips off his "Clark" wig in frustration and regret. It's such an upsetting scene, but Russell and Matthew Rhys are superb at conveying so many emotions at once. Their relationship is again at a crossroads, but at least Claudia leaves Elizabeth with a sound observation that will be critical to mending their marriage: "You're lucky to have [Philip]."

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And, as always, let's not forget Stan and propensity to destroy his, Nina's and his boss' lives in one fell swoop. Oleg is a man of his word, and Stan's blackmail is in full swing. Task Number One: Obtain all FBI surveillance logs pertaining to one Oleg Igorevich Burov – Stan complies, although we don't see him handing off the copies to the Soviet agent. But there's one thing I don't get: Oleg admits in his clandestine meeting with Stan that the KGB doesn't know about his little side project – so what's to stop Stan from snapping his neck right then and there? He's managed to hide Vlad Kosygin's murder this long! Since he's decided to go cold turkey from killing Russian nationals, Stan instead digs an even deeper grave for himself when, fearful of Nina's life, he pays a visit to his censured supervisor, Frank Gaad. Why was Gaad censured? Oh, because he's taking the fall for Stan's botched James Bond behavior last season! So it's understandable when his response to Stan's cry for help can be translated into "Fuck you."

But it's Nina and her opaque allegiances who is poised to end up six feet under when she balks at Stan's suggestion that she take a polygraph in order to prove to the FBI that she's worthy of their protection. Her web of lies and deceit has entangled her in such a mess that she has no choice but to walk out on her lover. Truth be told, would a lie-detector test really shed light on her loyalties?

Previously: Slow Boat to Russia

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