'The Americans' Recap: Information Highway to Hell - Rolling Stone
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‘The Americans’ Recap: Information Highway to Hell

An early version of the Internet plays a key role in Philip’s latest assignment

Annet Mahendru Nina Sergeevna the americansAnnet Mahendru Nina Sergeevna the americans

Annet Mahendru as Nina Sergeevna on 'The Americans'

Patrick Harbron/FX

Hindsight is always 20/20, isn’t it, Philip? If only those computer nerds and Professor Falken, erm, Rosenbloom had put it in terms you understood, maybe you wouldn’t feel so guilty about killing your 575th victim. I mean, don’t you realize that all those “X’s and O’s on a virtual highway” a few decades down the road will lead to countless wasted hours viewing cute cat videos?

‘The Americans,’ A to Z

This latest episode, “Arpanet,” was chock-full of jokes about the nascent days of the Internet. There was the aforementioned professor hilariously attempting to break down the nuances of an “interstate highway system through which all information flows” to an in-disguise Philip posing as a journalist. (Nice Jew-fro!)  But for all of the geek-chic track jackets and talk of megamachines like “The Beast” that roamed the episode (David Lightman, Jim and Malvin would have fit in nicely among the college students), the scientific voice that haunted Philip wasn’t even the same room, let alone the same country. After emptying a college computer lab via a pulled fire alarm, Philip completed his mission without a hitch – stealing Arpanet data so the KGB can bug American government communications – until one lone student returned prematurely.

The glare in long-haired janitor Philip’s eye as the student was discovered and the immediate cut to Philip rolling away his garbage-can prop as the class returned to the lab, the alarm silenced, was all we had to see to deduce Random Computer Science Student‘s fate. Later that evening at a bar, Anton Baklanov‘s on-point accusations that Philip had lost his humanity could be heard as far away as Moscow. With tears in his eyes, Philip exhibited yet another step in his gradual unraveling as the season progresses – remember his frustration over killing the bus boy in the season premiere? – confiding in Charles his guilt-racked conscience over murdering yet another innocent bystander: “What was the point?” he asks. The scene was so well done, with Matthew Rhys taking Philip’s silent agony from “The Deal” and enhancing it with just the right notes of regret.

There’s nothing new about characters like long-term spies Philip and Elizabeth suffering from the consequences of their life’s work, but it was interesting to see them juxtaposed with the younger agents who still act like espionage is just a big game of Risk. New handler Kate, for instance, is chastised by Philip for wearing a babushka: “You look like a spy!” Lucia, the angelic-looking Sandinista, is so reckless in her plan to go rogue on the planned Contra-training-camp infiltration that she announces to Elizabeth that she’s going to kill Capt. Larrick once she’s on the inside. Dr. Elizabeth Frankenstein merely tells Lucia to hold her fire for the time being, because they still need him: “Larrick is a monster, but he is our monster.”

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

But it’s Nina who graduates from novice to intermediate in her spy training this episode, as she succeeds in outwitting Stan, an FBI polygraph examiner and the audience for the zillionth time in a row. With no choice but to submit to a lie-detector test, Nina enlists Oleg to help her “trick” the polygraph. Whether it was “squeezing her anus,” visualizing Oleg while being interrogated in the FBI safe house or using her own secretive techniques that none of us can decipher, Nina passes the exam with flying colors – although, come on, Stan, you didn’t notice her pausing and cocking her head before every lie? Now that she’s convinced Stan of her loyalty, she promises to “handle” Oleg before Stan has to relinquish those surveillance logs the KGB agent demanded. And by “handle,” Nina means going all Felicity Shagwell on the situation. The final scene has her luxuriating in a five-star hotel suite with Oleg, seducing him with lines like “You were my secret power” and that Stan “means nothing” to her.

Once again, Nina proves that she is better at this job than any of the 20-year veterans, because a) her soul hasn’t been destroyed from committing countless murders; b) we still have no clue whom she’s playing and whom she’s working for (Credit Annet Mahendru’s performance: “You can’t read her mind, which is brilliant for a spy,” series creator Joe Weisberg said back in February); and c) as Oleg says himself, “You are a very good liar, Nina Sergeevna.” Damn straight, Oleg. Who’s to say she needed your help in the first place?

Previously: Fantasy vs. Reality


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