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WashingTelevision: The Americans Recap, Episode Five, “Comint”

Elizabeth does all the work Philip does, only backward and in high heels.

Keri Russell in a trunk. Photograph by Craig Blankenhorn for FX.

Between the zavarka, Stan’s marriage, and Philip’s fury at the scars on his wife’s back, there was a lot more than tea brewing in last night’s episode of The Americans. “I won’t say this job is twice as hard for women, but it’s something close to that,” says Claudia to Elizabeth, just a few minutes before we see literal representation of this when E is forced to clamber gracefully between car trunks like Catwoman while her partner gets to smoke cigarettes and pick up doughnuts.

One of the most interesting elements of “Comint” was the way it made Philip look slightly feeble in comparison to his wife, who literally closed the episode with a bang, not a whimper. Things open with Elizabeth in possibly her mousiest disguise yet, acting as a DoD security agent interviewing someone on the ballistic missile program who’s still grieving his late wife of 30 years. She left it as long as she possibly could out of respect, she tells him, and she seems troubled by his loss. But this is no ordinary fishing expedition: The man is a KGB mole who’s “spinning,” in the FBI’s words, or has the “jitters,” in the KGB’s. E quickly susses out that an idiot (a “trustworthy idiot,” perhaps) could break him without too much effort, eliminating their best inside contact in the program.

The FBI surveillance team are using new encryption on their radios, so the nice KGB boss at the Russian embassy can’t reach his contact to reassure him. Claudia tells E and P they need to find a way to get the codes to resume communications, but things get complicated when the grieving agent calls his boss from a payphone in Bethesda and tells him he feels like he’s standing on a diving board at the edge of a pool with no water in it. Somehow, this pure poetry tips off the FBI, who zero in on an opportunity. So Stan, when he isn’t driving Philip to work after racquetball and somehow irritating Elizabeth by reminding her she doesn’t have the luxury of downtime, has to find Nina and persuade her he’s a wall that’s protecting her and she has to use her feminine wiles to get intel for him.

Of course, that’s not something Stan will ever admit he did, hence his faux outrage when Nina told him what she did to get the information about the agent with the jitters (thank goodness for the tea, is all I’ll say here—this is a family publication). “I never said that, Nina. Jesus. I wouldn’t,” he claims, but Nina knows better, obviously. Stan’s intriguing relationship with Nina is getting more complex, despite the fact that his negligee-wearing wife is getting the cold shoulder at home. None of this makes me feel any better about Nina’s long-term prospects for survival as a character, especially when Stan starts talking about her future (inevitable doom in a show like this one).

At one point in the episode, there’s a lovely, lingering shot of Nina’s shoes when a KGB agent bursts in on his boss (I did worry she was dead, because I’m obviously hopelessly naive). It’s a nice visual parallel with the shoes Martha wears for her date with in-disguise-CIA Philip. This is one of P’s easier cons, and conveniently, it doesn’t force him to cheat on his wife. He can chastely claim he doesn’t want to put his organization at risk while worming intel out of Martha as Muzak plays softly in the background. From her, he learns the name of the guy who develops the FBI’s surveillance technology. Then it’s up to Elizabeth to close the deal, despite the fact that Karl Schultz turns out to be a sexual sadist who beats her with his belt until she screams and frightens him into stopping.

She’s no quitter, though. “If my boss knew what you were into, he probably wouldn’t want to buy our company,” she tells him, needling his ego, and leading him to brag about the off-the-books work his company’s done developing portable surveillance equipment that FBI can drive around with in the trunks of their cars. Philip is furious when he sees the marks on Elizabeth’s back later at home, and wants to get revenge, barbecue-fork-style. “If I wanted to deal with him he’d be dealt with,” says E, equally furious at the implication she can’t fight her own battles. “I wanted the intel and I got it… . You are not my daddy.” Ouch.

The next day, Philip puts on what is now my favorite Philip disguise ever, a mustache so creepy he could walk right onto the set of Argo, and he and E plan an elaborate car crash so she can climb into the FBI agent’s trunk and copy the codes in a cool spy makeup-case thing. Only the FBI’s car is ready before anyone expects, and they drive off with her in the back. Somehow she manages to climb out without anyone seeing her, pulls off her hat, and swaggers past the FBI security team with a nonchalant “G’night.” (I am learning so many tips on how to be a good criminal from this woman.) Philip is waiting with coffee and vanilla cream doughnuts, because that’s what women want. He wants to make up, it seems, and she opens up to him about how she goes to sleep worrying every single night. “You can’t live like that,” he says. “Show me another way,” she replies. (Um, I think he did back in the pilot, but she wasn’t so keen on saying das vadanya to Mother Russia.)

The KGB are thrilled to have the encryption codes, and they signal to the jittery agent, Udacha, for a meet. But Nina, on her knees, overhears, and tells the FBI the Russians have cracked their codes again. John Boy Walton is thrilled, because now they can follow the KGB to the meet and implicate them all. But Vasili, the gentlemanly KGB boss with the absurdly formal pillow talk, is now in a lose-lose situation. If he leads the FBI to Udacha, he’s screwed. If he doesn’t, they’ll risk losing Udacha anyway. “We have no choice,” he concludes. Except they do, because it turns out the weaselly KGB guy who bust in on him went over his head, and on official orders, Elizabeth shoots Udacha in the head, pauses for a moment, and walks away.

Now the KGB know they have a mole, and ultimately this is not good news for Nina, Vasili, or anyone else in this episode (and probably not for Elizabeth, let’s face it).

Some thoughts:

Stan’s wife tells him they used to do things like line dance and host bridge night. So they used to be retired seniors in Tampa?

I want Philip to get his balls back. This episode emasculated him in a way that was quite fascinating, but we know from prior episodes that he isn’t exactly afraid of a fight.

Zavarka. Just do it.

Poor Stan’s schlubby partner. All he wants to do is pay a compliment, but this is the ’80s, so he has no idea how to do so without being reprimanded for being a sexist jerk.

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

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  • Jordan

    I like the role reversal, with
    Elizabeth as the more take charge agent, while Philip plays the more passive
    one. I was working late at DISH when this episode of The Americans aired.
    Fortunately, I had my DISH Hopper along with its 2,000 hours of storage space
    set to record it for me. Not only am I able to record the full season, I’m also
    recording the full seasons of my other favorite shows. There is so much room
    available I’ll never have to worry about deleting them.

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