'The Americans' Recap: Church of the Poison Mind - Rolling Stone
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‘The Americans’ Recap: Church of the Poison Mind

Guilt, deception and that ol’ time religion drag Philip and Elizabeth to hell and back

Keri Russell Elizabeth Jennings Lee Tergesen Andrew Larrick The Americans

Keri Russell as Elizabeth Jennings and Matthew Rhys as Philip Jennings on 'The Americans.'

Patrick Harbron/FX

Sunday, they say, is the “Lord’s day.” But perhaps Philip and Elizabeth should have taken a page out of “Clark” and Martha‘s marriage playbook and opted for a “lazy morning” instead of going to church mere hours after infiltrating a contra training camp. Elizabeth, as cold-blooded and atheistic as ever, scoffs at the longhaired pastor’s proclamations of God’s love. Philip, on the other hand, is still reeling over the latest batch of innocent lives claimed during the raid. He may not have been raised to believe in hell, but he’s starting to think there’s a one-way ticket there with his name on it.

‘The Americans,’ A to Z

The Jennings’ long-planned mission to sneak onto the U.S.-government-funded contra training camp was completed less than 10 minutes into the latest episode, titled “Martial Eagle” (fun fact: The man synonymous with the Iran-contra scandal, Oliver North, has a “story by” credit). The ramifications, however, lasted through its final moments. If anyone has doubted Matthew Rhys’ worthiness for an Emmy nomination up until now, they should rethink their stance following his performance here. This is a man whose shame over his murderous actions has not only bubbled to the surface after years of repression, it’s now being conflated with a lifelong indoctrination against acceptance of any kind of higher being. And who does he take it out on? Why, his neglected 14-year-old daughter, of course!

While attending a “Youth Day” service at church, Philip and Elizabeth are blindsided when it’s revealed that Paige has donated $600 to their unnamed charity. Back at home, they’re ignoring all the flashing neon signs that scream “YOUR LONELY DAUGHTER IS SEEKING LOVE AND AFFECTION ELSEWHERE BECAUSE YOU’RE TOO BUSY PLAYING BORIS AND NATASHA!” Philip furiously tears out the pages of his daughter’s Bible, sneering and snarling at her for ostensibly loving God more than her parents. (“You lie because this book tells you to do that? You respect Jesus, but not us?”) Elizabeth’s tone, meanwhile, is less “Phil, stop, you’re scaring our daughter” and more “Phil, calm down, you’re blowing our cover with that borderline Soviet talk.” Later, she rubs salt in Paige’s emotional wounds by waking up her daughter and giving her a Cinderella-worthy list of household duties to teach her the value of a ruble.

Most of all, “Martial Eagle” was a good episode for Martha. Moving away from the comic-relief role, Alison Wright’s character has now positioned herself as the link between many of the loose plot threads permeating the series. Her research skills connected a Department of Defense meeting regarding the Stealth Program and the murders of Emmett, Leanne and Amelia Connors (all happened on the same day, in the same town), prompting Stan to start rifling through the Connors family’s personal effects. It’s also going to take more than a few bad moods for her to become suspicious of Clark. In professing her undying devotion to her husband – “I’m not afraid of the different sides of you” – she proves that she can handle whatever he throws her way, assuring the KGB of much more unwitting assistance.

‘The Americans’ Invade New York’s Paley Center

Quick note on Stan this episode: Don’t look so shocked that Sandra is packing for a getaway for a guy she met at EST, dude. You’ve barely said two words to your wife all season – all the while shtupping Nina and stealing bootlegged Meryl Streep movies for her. The only mistake Sandra made here is waiting this long to take control of her life. Also, anyone else catch the quick cut from Clark and Martha’s non-intercourse to a bottle of lotion next to the radio in the Beemans’ bedroom – and Dr. Ruth Westheimer’s disembodied voice giving advice on lubrication and penetration?

Philip’s ability to play Martha like a balalaika may be one of the last vestiges of his detached state though, because his powers of intimidation are even failing a goodhearted minister now. In the episode’s final scene, Philip enters the church, his black gloves and creepy walk give off a murderous vibe. But the hippie-ish Pastor Tim calls Philip on his “I’m gonna kick your ass” stance and offers to return Paige’s donation. (For a church that seems pretty legit, why had Pastor Tim not contacted the parents of a 14-year-old forking over $600?) “I see that you’re in pain,” he says. “There is grace and forgiveness for you, for everyone.” The look of fear and utter entrapment in Matthew Rhys’ face as he storms out of the church is that of a man who cannot handle any of his feelings, let alone those of guilt and the desperate need for a higher power to pull him out of this, for lack of a better word, hell.

Previously: The Lady or the SEAL?


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