Two weeks ago, Claudia resurfaced to tell the Jenningses she believes a Navy SEAL named Larek killed off fellow Soviet spy couple Emmett and Leanne. Last night, after an episode and a half of scoping him out, Philip and Elizabeth finally get in a room with Larek, and they’re more unsure than ever about exactly who murdered their friends.
Larek, it turns out, was flipped by the KGB, which discovered his homosexuality and blackmailed him into dishing on a Reagan administration program in which the US military trained the Nicaraguan “contras” who went back to their home country to fight the Sandinistas. As much as Claudia wants Larek (played by Lee Tergesen) dead, the Jenningses, masquerading as CIA agents, are so thrown off by his cold, emotionless answers, nobody—most of all the audience—knows if this guy is the real killer or just another diversion from the truth.
The episode title, “Behind the Red Door,” is a not-so-subtle nod to the 1972 pornographic feature Behind the Green Door, and appropriately enough, this installment peers in more than others on its characters’ private lives. Series creator Joe Weisberg has said The Americans is a show about a marriage, but in this episode, Elizabeth starts on the sidelines, still curious about Martha’s bragging last week that Philip’s alter-ego “Clark” is a maniac in bed.
Philip and Elizabeth get busy twice this week. The first time is intimate but vanilla, and segues into some postcoital pillow talk between a fully nude Elizabeth and a still-clothed Philip. Their marriage is far from a love story, but as the series has progressed, both of them have seemed to be more interested in the other’s extramarital work duties.
“Clark” finally shows up near the end of the hour, coming back to Elizabeth after a day’s “work” with Martha, leading to perhaps the most uncomfortable moment in the show’s run to date. Martha, who doesn’t even make a physical apperance in the episode, might like it rough, but for Elizabeth, the painful sex with “Clark” cues up memories of her rape as a young KGB recruit. She sobs on the bed while Philip glares at himself in the bathroom mirror, disgusted with what he’s done.
With Larek involved in the Navy’s Nicaraguan operation, we get reacquainted with Lucia, the young Sandinista spy Elizabeth helped out of a drug-addled jam a few weeks back. She’s still posing as a graduate student for her boyfriend, Carl, a substance-seeking congressional aide, and coming to Elizabeth for advice. When they first met, Elizabeth gladly helped Lucia deal with a passed-out Carl, signing off with a warm acknowledgment of the Communist uprising in Nicaragua. But now the relationship is morphing into something like the one Elizabeth has with Claudia, but instead of being the operative, Elizabeth is now the operator, and quickly sends Lucia to darker places.
As Lucia’s go-to spymaster, Elizabeth orders the young agent to get even more depraved with Carl, culminating in Lucia and Carl breaking into his boss’s office and doing it on the desk under a smiling portrait of Ronald Reagan while Elizabeth watches. Then to really cover their tracks, Elizabeth encourages Lucia to amp up Carl’s drug use, which goes from a plate of cocaine to a needle of bad heroin. Goodbye, Carl, whom we never saw sober.
Stan and Nina’s relationship takes a dive, too, and they don’t even get between the sheets this week. Early in the episode, Stan bugs a late-night FBI technician for some files, which he gets after a brief but funny explanation of the early era of digital archiving. Stan needs those records because he’s agreed to Oleg’s blackmail scheme. But once he fesses up to Nina, she smolders.
“I’m finished,” she says. That probably means Stan has lost his girl in the Rezidentura, and possibly that Nina is finally going to deal with Oleg’s reputation as the Rezidentura’s resident pain-in-the-ass.
On the homefront, Paige gets a tiny side plot that involves quitting the volleyball team to spend more time at that church youth group. Elizabeth’s not pleased, probably because spending time at a church only helps kids realize their militant atheist parents are actually deep-cover Soviet spies. And Henry? He’s absent for the second week in row. Did he get taken out like Emmett and Leanne, or is he just getting the Cousin Oliver treatment?
“Behind the Red Door” also goes a bit into Claudia’s personal life. She’s been treating Emmett’s and Leanne’s deaths as a very personal matter, and finally we get a possible explanation why.
“I got involved with someone,” she tells the Jenningses. “I was lonely.” And now she believes the relationship with an unnamed paramour might have led to her spies getting bumped off, or so Elizabeth and Philip are led to believe. The best thing about Margo Martindale’s brief, random appearances is that the delivery of the lines constantly leaves us wondering whether Claudia is sincerely concerned about the Jenningses’ safety or is just spinning them. We know she has a love life, but she’s also there to make sure the KGB’s mission is successfully executed at any cost.
Maybe Larek killed Emmett and Leanne. Maybe he didn’t. But he’s not spooked by the Jenningses, and even taunts Philip after being spotted having sex in an alley behind a gay nightclub. “You’re not CIA,” he sneers with a disguised Philip’s pistol in his face. This one’s not going to be resolved easily.