Philip and Elizabeth go head to head with a formidable foe - religion - on 'The Americans' - Rolling Stone
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‘The Americans’ Recap: Don’t Start Believin’

Philip and Elizabeth go head to head with a formidable foe: religion

Keri Russell Jefferson White The AmericansKeri Russell Jefferson White The Americans

Keri Russell and Jefferson White as Elizabeth and Brad on 'The Americans'

Patrick Harbron/FX

Sure, Stan is still a morally ambiguous murderer and Elizabeth and Philip are just trying to keep their kids safe while fulfilling their duties to their country. But this week, the murky good vs. evil nature of The Americans was clarified a bit, as “A Little Night Music” offered a heavy historical reminder of the USSR’s sordid past. I say “a bit,” because showrunners Joe Weisberg and Joel Fields are too smart to let Elizabeth and Philip make that much of a dramatic shift in the space of one episode. Shortly before she participates in a forced exfiltration of a Refusenik physicist, Elizabeth reinforces the audience’s compassion by recounting her real-life experience as a rape victim in order to dupe an innocent Seaman recruit into becoming her lap dog.

‘The Americans,’ A to Z

The Jennings have a pretty packed schedule this episode. Not only are they juggling two missions – in addition to recapturing the now-Yankee Doodle scientist, a surprise appearance by an oddly contrite Claudia (Margo Martindale, playing hooky from The Millers) has Elizabeth hunting down Emmett and Leanne‘s murderer – they have some major teenage rebellion on their hands. Paige is experimenting with a drug far worse (in Elizabeth’s eyes, at least) than heroin or cocaine: that “opiate of the masses,” religion.

No time is wasted in establishing Philip and Elizabeth’s prime enemy in “A Little Night Music”: the houses of God as sanctuaries. Before the credits roll, we’ve been treated to a moving speech by Anton Baklanov, the aforementioned physicist, extoling the virtues of his adopted homeland to his fellow Jews at Shabbat services, and to Paige’s new friend Kelli welcoming her to a church basement where a group of smiling youngsters are enthusiastically singing “This Little Light of Mine.” There’s a familiar-looking member of the synagogue’s congregation that day. Philip, sporting a goatee (but no yarmulke), listens intently as Baklanov speaks of the Soviet Union’s “society in which Jews are turned into non-persons,” and quickly deduces that this guy is “not recruitable.” I kept hoping the service would include a Bar Mitzvah Soviet “twinning” ceremony (remember those, Jewish kids of the Eighties/early Nineties?) to really send Philip over the edge, but he had to make do with Baklanov’s unwavering love for America and his wife and son.

Over at the Soviet Embassy, Arkady relays Philip and Elizabeth’s report that Baklanov won’t be helping out his old comrades to Oleg. Arkady is content to move on, but Oleg isn’t taking no for an answer: “[Baklanov’s] research is key to the Americans’ development of radar cross-section reductions.” Wow, he knows his Blondie, hockey and stealth technology – come on, Nina, can’t you give this guy a chance? Up until now, Oleg just seemed like nuisance, a spoiled brat enjoying the perks of his connections. But it’s in this episode we see how dangerous someone like that can be. After pulling a few strings, Oleg obtains a higher security clearance with the intention of ordering Baklanov’s forced repatriation. Arkady, irritated by Oleg’s “western” behavior (lousy work ethic, relying on his daddy’s friends, going over his superior’s head), reasserts his authority – and subsequently turns Baklanov into a pawn of what is little more than an intraoffice power play – by announcing such an operation “is already under way.” A couple of nights later, Philip and Elizabeth are stuffing Baklanov into the trunk of their car while singing “You don’t know how lucky you are, boy.”

‘The Americans’ Keri Russell on Playing the Star Next Door

In the days leading up to Baklanov’s nocturnal kidnapping, Elizabeth was keeping herself plenty busy down in Virginia Beach, coquettishly batting her eyelashes and listening to the first movement of Mozart’s “Eine Kleine Nachtmusik” (“A Little Night Music” – hence the episode’s title) with her latest prey, Brad Cullen, a virginal, classic-music-loving Navy recruit. According to Claudia, sweet little Brad is their link to her number-one Emmett-and-Leanne-murder suspect: Andrew Larek,”believed to be developing a special mission unit inside the Navy SEALs,” who was being blackmailed by the deceased Directorate S couple. Donning a tight pink sweater and flippy black wig, Elizabeth orchestrates a Meet Cute with Brad in a record shop, proceeding to wrap him around her finger by feeding him a not-entirely-untrue story (just replace “Larek” with “Timoshev”) about how Larek raped her and that he’s being protected by the Navy. Brad immediately offers to steal Larek’s files for his new girlfriend, but he wusses out, necessitating a hand-job pep talk from Elizabeth.

The Larek mission remains incomplete by the end of the episode, but Philip and Elizabeth have enough to deal with now that Paige has found God that justice for Emmett and Leanne needs to take a back seat for the time being. Elizabeth’s reaction to her daughter reading the Bible for kicks was so visceral and, well, characteristic of someone raised in the Soviet Union that it’s impressive she didn’t blow her cover right then and there. Mama Jennings manages to keep her thoughts to herself long enough for Paige to totally call her parents on their hypocrisy (“I thought we were supposed to have privacy!”). But once she and Philip are staking out Baklanov’s visit to his mistress (dude’s still human!), Elizabeth unleashes a torrent of Karl Marx-worthy fury over religion being “the opiate of the masses” – oh, yeah, she actually says that. She speaks with a mother’s sincere concern over her child’s rebellious behavior, but it is downright hilarious that the subject of her rage isn’t drugs, skimpy clothes or promiscuity; it’s the fact that her daughter was “praying” at the dinner table! Elizabeth can handle Paige listening to bubblegum pop like “I Melt With You,” but America has gone too far when it commits the sin of “indoctrinating” kids “with friendship and songs and cute boys cooing about Jesus!”

Philip and Elizabeth’s parental spat has to be put on ice when Baklanov emerges from his mistress’ apartment and they go into spy mode. The exfil is going swimmingly: Physicist gagged? Check. Shoved into trunk of car? Check. Physicist’s mistress attacking Philip with a suspiciously familiar set of combat skills? Wait, what? And who’s that guy going to town on Elizabeth? Whoever he is, he’s got a neck of steel – seriously, how do Elizabeth’s repeated trunk-door slams on this guy’s head not kill him instantly? Maybe it was Philip silently telling his wife with their secret eyes-only language to chill out. Whatever the reason, Elizabeth’s split-second easing up allows for the mistress to get behind the wheel and spirit Baklanov to safety, leaving Philip, Elizabeth and the unconscious unidentified enemy to the USSR in the middle of a deserted street.

So, who’s going to tell Mrs. Baklanov the truth about her husband?

Previously: Road Trippin’


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