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WashingTelevision: The Americans Recap, Season Two, Episode Two, “Cardinal”

The outcome of the season premiere resonates through the season’s second episode.
Elizabeth is even jumpier than usual after the death of her fellow spies. Photograph by Craig Blankenhorn for FX.

Bad news, Philip—or Clark, I guess. The follow-up to last week’s Alexandria massacre of the other spy family opens with Martha in hair rollers obsessing over the bloody scene. But the real shock for Philip is that Martha may have job ambitions outside the FBI’s counterintelligence division. Could it be that instead of marrying a well-placed secretary for Mother Russia, Philip has pointlessly shacked up with a typical career bureaucrat trying to climb the GS scale?

Actually, that’s not the biggest shock Philip gets this week. That honor goes to, well, an actual electric shock he gets while snooping around the Chesapeake, Virginia, home of Fred, the premiere’s brush-passer, played by John Carroll Lynch. Philip makes his side trip to the Hampton Roads in full disguise—this time playing a hirsute handyman. (Is it just me, or does Philip’s getup look a lot like the 2012 incarnation of True Detective’s Rust Cohle?)

We’ll get back to Fred and Rust-ish Philip in a bit. In the meantime, the murder of alt-spy family Emmett and Leanne and daughter Amelia last week drives many people to new extremes. Elizabeth can’t walk ten feet without looking over her shoulder—maybe it comes with the profession, but she seems jumpier than usual. Philip comes back from his business trip to see Elizabeth, not Martha, and apologizes for exposing Henry during the handoff with Fred, who can’t shake the image he saw in the newspaper of the dead bodies.

And then there’s Martha. She’s getting a gun! And if the slightly off-kilter sham wife of the male lead says she’s buying a gun in the second episode, well, you know the deal.

But back to Fred’s house. Philip, sussing out the place in an attempt to figure out just what happened to Emmett and Leanne, finds a lockbox under the floorboard. Unfortunately for him, Fred hot-wired the box to deliver a knockout shock. He wakes up to Fred freaking out and pointing a handgun in his face. Philip has to save himself by explaining that he’s actually in disguise, and so was Emmett every time Fred saw the dearly departed KGB agent. Turns out Fred was passing Emmett vital information about some newfangled propeller. Once Philip calms down the panicky mole, Fred has one more bit of vital information: The propeller factory is on the move.

That’s a head-scratcher of a twist. Really, though, Fred’s biggest contribution is as a trove of early 1980s arcana. He’s got a stack of cassettes next to his bedroom dresser, a copy of the September 1981 issue of Playboy featuring Bo Derek in the bottom drawer, and a model of one of the Imperial Walkers from The Empire Strikes Back.

And while we’re talking vintage ’80s stuff, Elizabeth gets to indulge, too, when she ditches her kids at Raiders of the Lost Ark to help out a young Sandinista in distress. Called to a rough DC block—played, apparently, by a run-down stretch of downtown Brooklyn—Elizabeth finds a pretty young Nicaraguan operative freaking out about her passed-out date, a staffer on a congressional intelligence committee. It was some date, too.

“We smoked a cocaine,” the Sandinista says. Insert crack epidemic remark here.

Elizabeth sobers up the Sandinista and sends her home with a smirk and a “Your revolution is beautiful.” Aw, Elizabeth got herself a spy friend.

This week’s master spy, though, is definitely Nina, especially with things buzzing at the Rezidentura. The Soviets get a “walk-in” who’s looking to dish. Nina relays the visit to Stan, who later IDs the guy as a disaffected World Bank employee named Bruce. Nina still reports Stan’s find back to Arkady, revealing the latest turn in Nina and Stan’s emotionally conflicted affair.

Nina types out the latest tryst in cold, clinical terms, writing that she “serviced the subject orally before allowing him to penetrate me,” but she does so with a touch of sadness. Perhaps she, too, is allowing her Soviet loyalties to erode in the face of love. But this being Nina, she could be sick of her position—or maybe Stan just made her watch another dreaded Meryl Streep movie.

There is one other possible explanation for Nina’s disaffection: new KGB arrival Oleg. It’s still not totally clear what his espionage role is, but so far, he’s done a bang-up job establishing himself as the Rezidentura’s resident jackass.

But then we still come back to the deaths of Emmett and Leanne, or whatever their real names were. Philip and Elizabeth end the episode as shaken up as ever, unsure of who offed their colleagues. They’ve never seemed as ready to give it all up.

Unless, of course, Paige fingers them first.

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Staff Writer

Benjamin Freed joined Washingtonian in August 2013 and covers politics, business, and media. He was previously the editor of DCist and has also written for Washington City Paper, the New York Times, the New Republic, Slate, and BuzzFeed. He lives in Adams Morgan.