'The Americans' Recap: Slow Boat to Russia

An international incident develops over the kidnapped Refusenik physicist

Matthew Rhys the americans
Craig Blankenhorn/FX
Matthew Rhys as Philip Jennings on 'The Americans'
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Philip Jennings' affinity for his adopted country has been an open secret since the pilot: Two-stepping in cowboy boots, praising the better food and basic comforts like heat, and even going so far as to suggest defecting. His children's safety and Elizabeth's staunch loyalty to the Soviet Union have kept him from following through on his fantasies, but now I wonder if the events of this episode — "The Deal"  — will change that. One would think the murder of fellow agents Emmett and Leanne (and their teenage daughter, Amelia) was enough to have him singing "The Star-Spangled Banner" at the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. Perhaps it takes wiping the ass of a Mossad agent to get you to re-evaluate your life choices. That and a Refusenik physicist totally calling you on your nonexistent humanity. 

'The Americans,' A to Z

As I briefly discussed in last week's recap, the Refusenik plot line touched a nerve in this Jewish girl who vividly remembers her own Bat Mitzvah's Soviet "Twinning" ceremony (Yana Teplitskaya, if you're out there — hey!). It remains to be seen how much of an impact Anton Baklanov's on-point tirade that Philip is "a monster" will have on the Directorate S agent going forward, but if Matthew Rhys' impeccable acting in that scene is any indication, Baklanov's blunt remarks were not in vain: "You're not a man. Whatever you once were they trained it out of you! No feeling, no humanity. You may as well be dead." Philip does indeed fulfill his mission, with no last-minute U-turn as he dumps Baklanov by the roadside and tells him to take his family and run. Nope, the scientist was loaded onto a freighter and shipped back to the USSR. But, without uttering a word before he pulled up at the dock, Philip revealed solely through his eyes that he knew everything Baklanov said about him was true.

What was all the more heartbreaking about Baklanov's story, though, was how even his own people couldn't save him. That combative man and woman who interrupted Philip and Elizabeth mid-kidnap last week? Turns out they were Mossad agents. While Baklanov was mostly unseen this episode, ostensibly under Israeli protection, he eventually became little more than a bargaining chip in the heady international-relations struggle between the Soviet Union and the Jewish homeland. At the end of "The Deal," Arkady relaxes in his office as he listens to a radio-news report announcing the fruit of his diplomatic labors: "The Soviet Union has granted the request of 1,500 Soviet Jews to emigrate to Israel." But just as we start thinking, "Oh, well, at least something good came out of it" and the newscaster says this could be a sign the "Soviet Union is changing its stance on human rights," we cut to Baklanov, chained to a pipe on the ship. I can just see the propaganda poster now: The USSR: Bringing Jewish Enslavement Into the Modern Age.

'The Americans' Keri Russell on Playing the Spy Next Door

Since Philip spent most of the episode camped out in a dingy safe house guarding the Unnamed Male Mossad Agent (not that exchanging calling cards would have made a difference – UMMA knows Philip's "name isn't your name, is it?") Elizabeth beat into semi-consciousness last week, his wife had to pick up the slack in his absence. That meant leaving Paige and Henry alone for several straight hours so she could get inebriated with Martha under the guise of Clark's geeky sister "Jennifer," as well as squeezing in a quick trip – and wig change – to Virginia Beach so she could get the files on Emmett and Leanne's suspected killer from her Navy dupe Brad (gifting him with a giant set of blue balls in gratitude). Other than learning she's getting short-changed in the lovemaking department from Philip, it's unclear if Jennifer's visit was productive: Martha's progressively drunken voice messages to Clark about how she's not going to perjure herself on her employment application for a more senior position at the FBI raised a red flag with the KGB agents tapping her phone. So "Jennifer" was dispatched to gently dissuade Martha from listing "Clark Westerfeld" as her husband. Through girl talk, white wine and a subtle reference to Keri Russell's Felicity days (remember when Felicity Porter had a temporary obsession with the word "buttinsky"?), it didn't take long for Martha to spill her intentions to "out" Clark on her job application. But Jennifer, ever the loyal sibling, still managed to slip in a warning against doing so in between Clark-bashing sessions. No clue yet if Martha took her sister-in-law's advice – or if Jennifer merely pocketed the application – as the night ended with Mrs. Westerfeld passed out cold in her bed.

Over at the Soviet Embassy, Oleg continues being cock-blocked by Arkady in his quest to usurp control from his superior, and his obvious whining doesn't go unnoticed by Nina, who blabs to Stan about the latest Rezidentura power struggle. What she interestingly doesn't mention to her lover is how Oleg, having read her "Beeman operation" reports, is deeply suspicious of how a "seasoned counterintelligence agent" fell for her ruse. Because luckily for Nina, her reports don't contain the fact that Stan caught her running stereo equipment back to the Soviet Union in exchange for stolen caviar. Still, Oleg is on to her, and as he proves during his late-night meeting with Stan at a sketchy-looking Baltimore port, she should be very scared. Looks like "budding student of capitalism" Oleg is about to get some in-the-field experience on the subject: He's going to blackmail Stan (most likely by turning him) in return for "Nina's safety." For someone who is so fascinated with capitalism, and who regularly puts his own needs over those of Mother Russia, it seems Oleg is less concerned with obtaining U.S. government secrets than he is wielding authority over those around him. In that sense, his behavior mirrors that of Israel, at least in this episode. According to UMMA, America is like a "father," and once in a while, Israel wants to borrow Daddy's car and "when he's not looking, we get behind the wheel and take it for a spin" – i.e. play around in an international incident and sacrifice an innocent man for the greater good. We already know what happened to Baklanov when Israel engaged itself in what was a Soviet-U.S. problem. The outcome of Oleg's involvement with Stan and Nina doesn't portend a happy ending, either.

Previously: Don't Start Believin'