Since this week’s episode is entitled “New Car,” it’s appropriate to describe it as the point in a long road trip where you leave the rest stop or “Last Chance for Gas” ghost town, with only the final leg of the journey ahead of you (until the season finale, at least – it was announced today that The Americans has been picked up for a third season). Make sure you have everything you need to fortify yourself (i.e. water, snacks – or in this case, plot threads figured out) for the bumpy ride that’s inevitably ahead.
There was a lot to sift through this week, and given how important Henry‘s initially benign unannounced visits to his neighbors’ house wound up being, it would be unwise to dismiss any further seemingly unrelated story lines. No matter how insignificant something appears at the outset, rest assured it will pay off at a later date. Until that happens, though, we were stuck this week with a bunch of road-to-nowhere storylines like Martha‘s guilt over helping “Clark” spy on her colleagues – the fact that it was resolved so quickly leads me to believe this story ain’t over yet. There were also the brief reappearances of disgraced Season One rezident Vasili and the forcibly exfiltrated physicist Anton Baklanov. Baklanov’s new home is an all-expenses paid stay at a laboratory Gulag in the desolate, snowy wastelands of the Soviet Union (represented by a single red star over the building). His new gig is researching the early-version Internet data Philip stole last week (the Arpanet), which, ironically, Baklanov offered to Philip in a desperate plea for his freedom minutes before he headed home on the “Cruise in Chains” package deal.
And, as always, there’s poor Stan, whose forgettable story line about demanding clearance to investigate Baklanov’s kidnapping and Oleg’s involvement paled in comparison to the FBI agent’s solitary scene in his cramped garage. In a solid, wordless performance, Noah Emmerich flawlessly summed up Stan’s trapped, lonely existence that could have been soundtracked to the Talking Heads’ “Once in a Lifetime.”
“New Car” is a turning point in the Jennings family’s saga, because while Elizabeth exhibited distress in the aftermath of incidents like getting shot, as well as Emmett‘s and Leanne‘s murders, she still kept chugging along in her duties without a hint of guilt. Her steely veneer received two big cracks this week though: First, when she watched Larrick murder a rogue Lucia – who was botching every facet of the Contra training-camp infiltration with her personal agenda of trying to kill the Navy SEAL (really, she had it coming). And second, Henry’s full-on meltdown in the wake of his breaking and entering escapade. In the case of Lucia, the young Sandinista’s death was a no-brainer according to Elizabeth’s strategic way of thinking: It was either Lucia or Larrick, and the latter was of more use to the mission. But what Elizabeth didn’t count on was a crisis of conscience following Lucia’s strangulation. She let her surrogate daughter die! Which of course begs the question – and I have to believe the writers kept her out of the episode on purpose – has anyone seen Paige lately?
Before Elizabeth can track down her daughter and reconnect over ear-piercing and Jesus, she and Philip receive a stern dressing-down from the unlikeliest of critics: themselves. They’ve barely entered Henry’s room to read him the riot act when he turns the tables and shines a light on their hypocrisy, in the form of a profuse apology. Through sobs, Henry begs his parents’ forgiveness, insisting he’s “a good person,” and not a “criminal.” Philip and Elizabeth’s only course of action is to remain silent, the guilt emanating from their faces as Henry’s innocuous words hit every nerve in their bodies. “You guys weren’t here!” he wails. He’s got a point – why shouldn’t he have some fun while Mom and Dad are off stealing propeller schematics that wound up being fake anyway? It’s not Henry’s fault Philip and Elizabeth’s line of work caused the deaths of 160 members of the Soviet navy. How can they be upset with him? Not only is he going to make an excellent spy someday with his kind of stealth skills, but he’s hardly a criminal in comparison to what Philip and Elizabeth have been up to for most of their adult lives.
It’s unlikely a joy ride in Philip’s new white Camaro (talk about hypocrisy though, Phil – what’s with the James Bond driving gloves and sunglasses after you chastised Kate last week for “looking like a spy”?) or a trip to the mall for several pairs of “beautiful shoes” will turn Elizabeth into a tempted defector like her husband, but a life of conspicuous consumption may be better than the alternative. I turn to one of the worst instances of movie dialogue to make my point here, quoting Ryan Phillippe in the 2001 disaster Antitrust: “When you kill people, they die.” Maybe it’s time to put the gun down and just rock out to some Stray Cats on the Camaro’s souped-up stereo.
Previously: Information Highway to Hell