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.
Into each life a little pork fat must fall. In last night’s Veep, Selina confronted the reality of flesh-pressing at a North Carolina hog roast. Pros: We got to see Air Force Two. Cons: The hat she wore made her hair resemble Pennywise the Clown in Stephen King’s It right before a very important teleconference about foreign hostages with military chiefs. Oh, and her daughter has a new boyfriend of Iranian origin. “That Rahim turns out to be a nice boy,” Selina tells her staff. “Let’s run a security check on him and his entire family and investigate their finances.” Here are the winners and losers from “Signals.”
Jonah. Selina might have called him “long tall Sally” and told him to do something very rude but he got to fly on Air Force Two and it was the happiest we’ve ever seen him. “Jonah, calm down,” said Mike. “It’s a plane with a logo, not Space Mountain.” Still, it made up for him having to bend over next to a roast suckling pig in order to keep Selina from discussing Israel in front of rotating pork.
Pilates. The scene where Dan tried to suck up to Kent by jumping on a machine he’d never used before was poetic in its truthiness, and only made more perfect when Dan himself was sucked up to by a more junior staffer.
Mike Allen. Said junior staffer told Dan he’d seen a reference to him in yesterday’s Playbook (the Google alert set up for Dan’s name alerted him to it). There was also a shout out to Charles Krauthammer’s column in the Post. In other words, a perfect DC moment.
National Enquirer. We knew Gary’s new girlfriend, Dana, was bad news, but we had no idea she’d leak the information about Selina’s “gesdictionary” to a friend, who’d pass it on to the supermarket tabloids. Poor Gary’s face when he found out was only marginally less sad than this.
Did you miss Selina Meyer? Was the sight of her bobbleheaded likeness floating around near the White House and gatecrashing the Presidents Race not enough? Did the pictures of JLD sitting in the West Wing with her real-life Veep counterpart Joe Biden offer any consolation?
Not really, because as last night’s episode proved, the real charm of this Veep lies in her unending uttering of profanities, strung together like twinkling holiday lights on a snowy front porch, and you can’t break out that kind of vocabulary while at a baseball game or sitting next to the second most powerful man in the country. The gap between season one and season two, during which Julia Louis-Dreyfus won an Emmy and was nominated for a Golden Globe for her role as Selina Meyer, gave us plenty of time to miss Selina and her spastic, self-involved team. Now they’re back, and the unthinkable has actually happened—the Veep’s stock is up (by 0.9 percent, but it still counts). What will this mean for season two? It’s anyone’s guess, but we’re grateful for the return of lines like, “There’s no ‘i’ in freedom. It’s not me-dom. It’s we-dom.” Here are the winners and losers from last night’s episode, “Midterms,” which interestingly enough was directed by elusive comedy genius Chris Morris.
Selina: Months of campaigning in dreary states such as Arkansas and Wisconsin have helped the Veep get her folksy schtick down pat. “I met a brave firefighter in a wheelchair,” she tells people on one stop. “Back then we didn’t know what HIV was, which meant he had to lose his kidney. He said, ‘You don’t remember me, but I am your grandpa.’” This is the kind of surreal but hysterical stuff Morris excels at (watch Jam and Brass Eye if you need more proof). Anyway, all this banter has actually seen a small bump for candidates in states where Selina’s campaigned, so the President’s giving her new foreign policy chores and 27 morning interviews to do on no sleep. This is what winning feels like.
Rape jokes: There is a way to do them, believe it or not. It just has nothing to do with Daniel Tosh. Gary going through Selina’s bag muttering, “Is this a rape alarm? Like she’s ever going to need that. I mean, she’s not ugly, but she’s got a wall of security,” should be in the textbook for emerging comedians who don’t hate women.
Google: Amy has a sister, Sophie, who’s horrendous (as all people named Sophie are). “Oh, my God, Amy,” she says in their father’s hospital room. “You work for the Vice President. It’s not like it’s Google.”
Nerdy, Nate Silver-esque numbers guys: I can’t find his name on IMDB because IMDB flat-out sucks, but Selina’s unlikely savior in “Midterms” is a wonky statistician who becomes her new best friend after he tells her that her campaign appearances have actually had a better bump than the President’s. “You’re like Neo from The Matrix,” he says. “Everything he does is awesome.” The bump is 0.9 percent, which isn’t even a real number, but it’s enough to get the Veep into the Oval Office and math back into the mainstream.
Everyone loves a good closing montage, and the choice of Roberta Flack’s “To Love Somebody” at the end of last night’s episode, “Only You,” was as deliberately perfect as the use of Fleetwood Mac was in the pilot. The lyrics “You don’t know what it’s like to love somebody” pretty much sum up all of the characters and their emotional stasis: Stan, Mrs. Stan, Philip, Elizabeth. Only Gregory seems to really understand love, odd as it is. Debating why Russian girls are tough, he tells Elizabeth, “That’s why I fell for you . . . because you’re committed, uncompromising, stubborn. Don’t take him back. He’s gonna soften you up. Find someone that’ll love you for being so strong.” In his eyes, Elizabeth is perfect just the way she is, even though just the way she is frequently makes her cold, dominant, and aggressive—all the things women aren’t supposed to be, and all the things he loves about her.
They may not know how to love, but there were a few moments of unexpected intimacy in last night’s episode. There was Stan showing up drunk at Philip’s hotel, for one thing, which was actually fairly sweet, even though their whole bromance is based on racquetball and lies. Stan was looking for someone who’d offer the same kind of brotherly love Chris used to, but when that fell through, he sought solace in his wife, confessing to her that he’d killed people and that the world is much darker and uglier than she thinks it is. Mrs. Stan wants to just run away, up and leave, but how is that ever a realistic option?
It certainly wasn’t for Gregory, who was implicated when Chris left his trackable ring hidden in the trunk of Philip’s car. The trail led to a car dealership and a racist who said two “black guys, drug dealers,” had left it behind. Stan happened to recognize Curtis from the Philadelphia episode, hauled him in, threatened him with being charged for treason, and got Gregory as a result. Gregory’s history of activism for civil rights led Stan to link him to the KGB, which had supposedly been infiltrating the movement to find support on US soil. With Gregory busted, Philip and Elizabeth could either send him off to Moscow (who didn’t laugh when Elizabeth told Gregory how “cosmopolitan” it was?) or take the other option, which presumably isn’t a cabana by a pool somewhere in Cuba.
The show continues to barrel ahead at its usual jaw-dropping pace. This week we got plenty of reminders that our characters are all deeply flawed people who, despite having the ability to solve others' problems and talk at a pace faster than normal humans, can't seem to manage their personal lives, even when they know the people they love are not good for them in any way. To the recap!
Charlie in the Storage Unit, With the Lead Pipe
The case of the week involves the season’s ongoing story arc: Late former CIA director Osborne’s widow comes to Olivia insisting her husband did not commit suicide but was actually murdered, which we already know. Her proof? His suicide note referred to her as “Susan,” when in 30 years of marriage he only ever called her “Susie” or “honey.” It takes the Dream Team approximately five seconds to figure out the widow Osborne is right—that envelope of cash in his freshly dry-cleaned suit was for betting on horses, and Molly, Wendy’s friend who first fingered Osborne as the mole, just had thousands wired into her bank account.
So the real mole is still out there, which means one thing to Abby: that Jerk Jeremy, briefly deposed from his perch on the HQ couch, is still in danger. She frantically rescues him from his apartment, and once back at HQ, he at least makes himself useful by offering to use his Department of Justice connections to have Molly put on the no-fly list. “Gladiators in helmets, right?” he says. He also takes the opportunity to ask Abby whether she still has feelings for him, and when she confesses she does, he says he can’t love someone who won’t admit to stealing his flash drive and ruining his life. Which, good point.
Harrison and Abby question Molly, who says the mole threatened to cut out her tongue and kill her if she didn’t help frame Osborne. Will you be at all surprised if I tell you Molly doesn’t survive the episode? She’s killed in a “hit and run,” further evidence of how dangerous the mole is.
Olivia calls Cyrus—who has apparently been staying in a hotel for nearly a month per Ira Glass Lite’s request (more on that later)—to tell him Osborne was not the mole as they drink wines on opposite ends of the phone. But twist! Cyrus doesn’t care, because El Prez already announced Osborne was the mole on national television, and now that Mr. Bean has clawed his way back into El Prez’s good graces he’s not about to rock the boat. He accuses her of trying to sabotage the administration, which offends her, but he tells her he has to ignore the situation.
Huck traces the wired money back to the mole’s bank account and finds a charge for a storage unit in Virginia. He and Quinn go to investigate, but he makes her stay in the car. He finds the unit, which contains only a wooden crate that appears empty—and as he’s looking in it, someone comes up from behind him and bashes him over the head with a lead pipe, Clue-style. When Huck doesn’t return to the car for a few hours, Quinn goes in to look for him—and demonstrating some impressive moxie, she goads the manager into showing her the security tapes, on which she sees a suspicious guy in a baseball cap. She eventually finds Huck, gagged with duct tape in the crate, and takes him back to HQ, where his PTSD comes flooding back to a paralyzing degree. The Dream Team surmises Baseball Cap Guy works for the mole—and we see, as he makes a call to Cyrus, that it’s none other than Charlie Brown.
Given the many, many hints at Stan’s dark past (when he was embedded in a cell full of white supremacists) that have popped up this season on The Americans, it was sort of inevitable that something at some point would tip him back over the edge. Was it also inevitable that the not-quite-kidnapping of his partner, Chris, might be the final straw that broke Beeman’s back? No. Were all the flashbacks with Chris outlining his playa’s guide to life a bit clunky? Sure. But the final scene of last night’s episode, when Stan shot a Russian agent (whose one crime was going jogging with Arkady on Mondays and Wednesdays) from such point-blank range that the bite of hamburger he was chewing shot out of his mouth along with his brains, was a shocking and visceral end to an otherwise less-than-thrilling episode.
The main problem seems to be Philip and Elizabeth’s separation, which, much like Stan’s breakdown, was precipitated by not that much at all. Here are two people who regularly sleep with others to get what they want, and yet Elizabeth, who up until not that long ago had her own fancyman on the side, suddenly can’t forgive Philip’s New York tryst with his former longtime love? Both developments feel driven by plot necessities rather than realistic character development, so it’s impossible not to side with furious Paige and poor desolate Henry and be really angry at the Jenningses for being so stupid.
The irony, of course, is that they’re the perfect couple. In the episode’s opening scene, when they had to go and ruin the kids’ picture-perfect American dinner of fried chicken by announcing their separation (as a child of divorce, I can tell you Henry will never want to eat KFC again), even their responses to Paige’s questions were perfectly synchronized. These are two people who can work together in perfect harmony, who clearly think the same way after years of working as a team, and who have real feelings for each other. The idea that they’d disrupt their children’s lives out of one case of deception just doesn’t ring true.
Also ironic: that the Jenningses would spend practically the whole episode trying to learn whom the FBI were targeting when that information was openly discussed by Agent Gaad at the Beemans’ party, and that if P and E had spent more time creeping and less time worrying about the consequences of their breakup (Paige’s sullen face, Henry staring into a glass of Kool-Aid, Mrs. Stan observing Philip leaving) they might have had a much easier time of figuring out that Arkady was in trouble.
This was, in my opinion, one of the best episodes of Scandal thus far. It had the dizzyingly fast dialogue and plot development, but it also had real emotional heft and a theme that resonated throughout all the storylines with more depth than usual. There was also some unusual character interaction—Quinn and Doyle, Abby and Harrison, FLOTUS and El Prez—that draws on the complicated relationships the show has been building over the course of both seasons. To the recap!
“Why is the devil our client?”
The case of the week involves none other than Hollis Doyle, who shows up at HQ with his fourth ex-wife and a tape of his only daughter saying she’s been kidnapped for a ransom of $20 million. I immediately think she’s scamming him for money, and hey! Doyle agrees with me. “That there is nothing more than the fruits of six years of film school, acting class, scene study, and whatever the hell else Maybelle wanted to take,” he tells Olivia. His ex is horrified, but Maybelle has been in and out of rehab multiple times and Doyle wants some proof she’s not just extorting him. Which they eventually get in the form of an ear delivered to HQ. Doyle immediately agrees to pay, and we finally see some humanity under the deep-fried batter of his personality in a nice scene with Quinn. She’s upset Olivia took on the man who ruined her life as a client, but Olivia says, “Even the devil loves his kids.” Quinn buries her ire under her gladiator suit, but when she comes upon Doyle crying by the window, she seems to gain some sympathy.
The Dream Team manages to retrieve Maybelle and take her to the hospital, and she tells them her ex-boyfriend kidnapped her. But then Huck figures out by the “frayed edge” of the ear they left just chilling on the conference table that Maybelle cut off her own ear (grosss) and is preparing to flee the country with her haul. They intercept her and sit her down for a talking-to. Il Papa is in fine form. “Poor little rich girl,” she tells Maybelle. “Whatever sad cliché you’re holding on to, it doesn’t matter—nobody feels sorry for you. You’re being offered a do-over. No one gets that. If you don’t take it, you’re not just spoiled and selfish, you’re stupid.” Doyle offers Maybelle a choice: the $20 million or a relationship with her family. She takes the money.
Welcome back, Scandal fans. After a few weeks off, the show returns with as many impassioned speeches, complicated relationships, and layers of intrigue as ever. To the recap!
This episode we see Olivia Pope making a welcome return to full crisis-solving mode. The case of the week centers on Sarah Stanner (played by Lisa Edelstein, a.k.a. House’s Dr. Cuddy) who is rumored to have had an affair with Murray Randall, whom El Prez has just nominated to the Supreme Court, when he was her professor in law school while both were married. The story blows up in very Scandal-ian fashion, with Sarah’s 13-year-old daughter, Annie, going to the front door of their house expecting the pizza delivery guy and instead finding a cavalcade of reporters brandishing microphones. Enter Il Papa, who’s dispatched by a friend of Sarah’s but who is also feeling some pressure from Cyrus, who wants the situation handled in order to get back into El Prez’s good graces. Interestingly, when the Dream Team walks in, Sarah immediately holds her hand out to Abby, saying, “You must be Olivia Pope,” to which Il Papa snaps, “Actually, I’m Olivia Pope.”
It was sort of inevitable that The Americans, a show that says it’s fundamentally about marriage but is really about the conflict that happens when you get it on with a coworker, would start wrestling with what I like to call the Meredith and Derek Paradox right in the middle of its debut season. Named after two characters from Grey’s Anatomy (whose romantic ups and downs took up the best part of eight years before they were finally allowed to be happy together), the Meredith and Derek Paradox rules that no matter how much an audience might be invested in characters and rooting for them to have functional relationships, they cannot do so because a love life that is all smooth sailing makes for bad television.
The Americans, which turned normalcy on its head by starting with a married couple who subsequently fall in love with each other, is dealing with this problem by throwing a new wrench into Philip and Elizabeth’s relationship each week. In episode three it was Gregory, in five it was a sadistic contractor, and in six it was the Jenningses being kidnapped and tortured and wondering who’d given up whom first. Last week there was Irina, who begged Philip to run away to Canada with her, and about whom he lied to Elizabeth at the end of the episode. Now, thanks to Granny, Elizabeth knows the truth and has somehow decided that this means the absolute end to any genuine feelings of affection between her and her husband in name only.
It’s a little sloppy as plot development. For one thing, Elizabeth has no reason whatsoever to trust Granny and should be savvy enough to figure out that the KGB wins by keeping her and Philip suspicious of each other. For another, there’s been genuine affection between the two of them for the past several weeks, and that kind of thing is impossible to just shut off. But Philip’s pronouncement at the end of the episode that they both live in a modern country and there’s no reason for them to stay married to each other if they don’t want to be was a fascinating trump card to play. Elizabeth, who responded to it by going into her children’s bedrooms and tearfully watching them sleep, is clearly more invested in keeping her family together than she’d like to be.
Scandal fans, mark your calendars: Il Papa herself, Kerry Washington, will be in Washington to deliver the commencement address for George Washington University on the Mall on Sunday, May 19. Washington graduated magna cum laude from GW in 1998 and will receive an honorary degree from the institution in addition to addressing the crowd of gladiators in gowns. In a press release, GW president Steven Knapp said the Django Unchained actress “has captured the imagination of our students, and they will benefit greatly, as they head out into the world, from hearing her perspective both as an alumna and as a highly successful actor on stage, in film, and on television.” The press release failed to mention whether Tony Goldwyn will be making an appearance to stare at her creepily from afar.