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WashingTelevision: The Americans Recap, Episode Nine, “Safe House”

Two men on different sides met unfortunate ends, thanks to a whole lot of bungling.

Their bromance was as vibrant as their sweater patterns. Maximiliano Hernandez as Chris and Noah Emmerich as Stan in The Americans. Photograph by Craig Blankenhorn for FX.

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.

From the moment Chris was bundled into Philip’s trunk, it was clear he never had a chance. He’d seen both Philip and Elizabeth’s faces, bewigged though they might have been, and he’d spent enough time macking on Elizabeth that there was little chance he wouldn’t recognize her. His glib, “We’ve met before,” ended up being turned into a joke about them meeting in a bar and hooking up, but who’s to say he didn’t really twig?

This was an episode filled with pathos for the people who become unnecessary collateral damage during war time: Chris, who’d come back from Vietnam with enough demons of his own; Vladimir, whose terror was clear in the way he kept begging Stan not to kill him, saying, “Please,” over and over again; and even Stan, whose relationship with Nina has effectively been ruined by the “us versus them” mentality and his (probably wise) inability to trust her. Plus it’ll take a whole fleet of Sunshine Cleaners to get the blood out of that Eastern Market studio now.

The Americans’ take on the Cold War (and war in general) seems to be that in most cases, it’s sheer inefficiency and bungling that leads to people’s lives being taken or ruined. Three FBI agents and a scientist were killed last episode because the KGB couldn’t get in touch with their West German assassin and the Jenningses couldn’t stop him in time. In “Safe House,” Chris’s inappropriate stalking of Martha led to his being taken by Philip, which then led the FBI to pursue the KGB because they assumed they were responsible (and to the death of Vladimir at the hands of Stan’s rage). Good people and good agents die because a lot of mismanagement is going on. It makes you wonder exactly how often showrunner Joe Weisberg saw this kind of thing go on during his time at the CIA.

Some thoughts:

Stan’s speech about hunting with dogs and their soft mouths was terrifying, as was the seeming smile in his eyes after he shot Vladimir while pretending to get him a drink.

An eye for an eye gives the whole world conjunctivitis. Or something.

Henry is the most sympathetic character on television right now, and his essay for social studies class on the Revolutionary War was minimalist genius. (“The Americans won.”)

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

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