WashingTelevision: “The Americans” Recap, Episode 12, “The Oath”

Philip gets hitched, Nina fesses up, and Grannie plays Pac-Man.

By: Sophie Gilbert

To misquote Sir Walter Scott, “Oh, what a tangled web we weave, when first we disguise ourselves as CIA agents then commit bigamy in order to get an FBI secretary to plant a secret bug in an agent’s office.” Philip and Elizabeth have done a fair few terrible things for Mother Russia on The Americans—poisoning then threatening to smother Grayson with a pillow being my contender for least ethical—but for some reason it was Philip’s flagrant abuse of Martha’s trust in the penultimate episode of the season that really made him seem callous. To shoot someone in the head when you can persuade yourself they’re an enemy is one thing; to toy with a person’s emotions and convince them that they’re heading for eternal happiness and commitment is another altogether.

It implies a degree of sociopathy—or at least extraordinary detachment—in Philip that he’s able to divorce his real life from his fake ones so comfortably, and that he’s also been able to close off the lengthy chapter of his life he spent married to Elizabeth now he’s settled in a cozy bachelor pad instead of a motel. One minute he’s horsing around with Paige and making her mother jealous; the next he’s proposing marriage to an FBI employee he’s tricked into becoming a mole. This episode, which gave so much face time to vows and their ultimate significance, showed how shockingly easy it is to deceive someone and compel them to trust you even when they have a long physical list of reasons not to. Even Elizabeth doubted Philip would be able to compel Martha to plant the bug in Gaad’s office, but he, with ample experience of her pliant and faithful responses to him, knew better.

While Philip was making vows he had no intention of keeping to Martha in front of God and her family, Elizabeth, decked out in her most hilariously frumpy outfit yet, was mulling over what it might have meant for her own marriage had she and Philip actually had a marriage ceremony instead of being assigned to each other by the KGB. Philip had already echoed her thoughts to Martha when he confessed that he’d been married once already, saying, “We cared about each other, but we didn’t know how to be married.” This, along with Nina’s sudden decision to risk her life and confess her role as an FBI mole to Arkady after swearing allegiance to Russia, suggests that vows have some inexplicable magic to them, even though they’re only words.

Other highlights of the episode included Sanford being arrested for not paying child support, even though his misdeeds as someone involved in selling secrets to the Russians were so much larger (a bit like Al Capone being finally busted for tax evasion), and Grannie admitting she loves Pac-Man because of the mazes, and because he gets to eat food nonstop and the calories don’t count. Viola finally confessed everything to Mrs. Weinberger, which led to a gorgeous shot in which she was talking to her boss one minute and to the FBI the next. And Paige was confronted with every teen girl’s nemesis—the pretty, fearless blonde who plays guitar like Jimi Hendrix.

Given the way the season’s unfolded, it’s tempting but probably impossible to speculate on what the season finale might bring. Here’s what we have so far: The KGB have a bug in Gaad’s office, which the FBI don’t know about. The KGB also have a bug in Weinberger’s office, which the FBI do know about and are using to spin false information to the Russians. A colonel in Air Force intelligence wants to sell blueprints for an anti-ballistic missile system to the Russians, and while Elizabeth doesn’t trust the setup, her bosses are convinced that nothing that advanced would ever have been used in a trap. (It’s worth bearing in mind that they’ve been wrong before.) Stan’s mole, Nina, is turning triple agent and will presumably be used to thwart the FBI in some way. In many ways, it’s advantage KGB all round. But as we know in TV series that’ll most likely be picked up for a second season, things are never that simple.

Some thoughts:

There wasn’t nearly enough Henry in this episode, again. I did like that he buried Paige’s keys to her father’s apartment in the backyard, though.

Between Nina and Elizabeth, the Russians have two extremely savvy agents to work with. Nina knows Stan lied to her, even though she has no obvious reason to suspect it. Both she and Elizabeth work primarily on instinct, and in many cases, it’s been extraordinarily effective.

Martha thinks Clark is her “steady Freddie.” I hate you, Clark.

“We see what we need to see in people,” Elizabeth told Paige. “Things that aren’t really there.” But she also acknowledged that this wasn’t true of Philip (she could have been lying, but it didn’t feel like it). So was she talking about the KGB? Will she be the one to suggest jumping ship after all?

Nina and Stan both used the same word to describe Directorate S: “illegals.”

What did you think of last night’s episode of The Americans? Let us know in the comments.