Phew! For the first time in weeks, nobody on The Americans was lit on fire, no one was stuffed into a suitcase, no little old ladies were killed, and no teenage girls lost their innocence. And you know what? I’m fine with that. The audience needed a break after the emotional wringer it’s been put through this season. With only two episodes left, and the eye of the storm on its way, it was a good time to breathe deeply and mentally prepare for the question Gabriel (Frank Langella) asked Philip (Matthew Rhys) last night, “Can you handle whatever might be coming at you next?”
Not that I would call “One Day in the Life of Anton Baklanov” a light-hearted romp through the park (the title is a play on Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s novel, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich). Characters spend much of the hour struggling to digest the tumultuous events of the last few weeks, events that have placed many of them, like Ivan Denisovich, in their own private “gulags.” Paige (Holly Taylor) has emerged from her daze to go on the attack, demanding answers from her parents about their deception; Anton Baklanov (Michael Aronov), seduced by Nina’s charms (Annet Mahendru), opens up about the pain he feels for his son in America; Philip continues to stew over Gabriel’s treatment of him and his family; and Martha (Alison Wright) must contend with Walter Taffet (Jefferson Mays), the man with a “mind like a computer.”
But the emotional focus this week was on Elizabeth (Keri Russell). After telling Gabriel that Paige knows the truth about her parents, Gabriel gives Elizabeth another tape from her mother, warning her that there might not be many more. This news hits Elizabeth hard, reacting in a way that would be unremarkable for most people, but for Elizabeth amounts to a nervous breakdown. First, she opens up to Paige in a touching scene that might as well have served as the eulogy Elizabeth will never be allowed to give at the funeral. In it, we learn more about Elizabeth’s difficult upbringing and the sacrifices her mother made for her. Paige is moved, though she doesn’t give Elizabeth the bonding moment she was hoping for, justifiably asking her, “How can I believe anything you say?”
More surprising is how Elizabeth behaves during and after her seduction of Neal (Bill Heck), the hotel manager (in service of their CIA/ISI operation). Perhaps because she is feeling vulnerable, Elizabeth’s encounter with him becomes more intimate, and pleasurable, than she was expecting (either that or Elizabeth is channeling her inner Meg Ryan). After this initial dalliance, she returns home and breaks down crying. Whether it’s guilt over what just occurred with Neal (because it felt more like cheating than a job) or guilt for not being there for her dying mother (or some combination of both) is unclear. But after another heated interaction with Neal, she reacts in just the opposite way, forcing herself on a sleeping Philip, who barely opens his eyes to oblige her. Given these subtle, but odd (for Elizabeth) reactions, maybe Gabriel’s concern about Philip cracking under pressure would be better directed toward Elizabeth instead.
Other plotlines advanced in small but important ways. Let’s address these developments by folding them into the current death odds of some of the players:
Hans (2-1): My favorite bet on the board. Having Hans (Peter Mark Kendall) run surveillance on Martha’s house sets him up as the perfect fall guy if/when Stan (Noah Emmerich) follows his hunch and begins monitoring Martha. And if it comes down to taking a bullet or turning on Elizabeth, Hans will no doubt take the lead for his dream girl.
Maurice (7-1): It’s never smart to threaten Elizabeth, even implicitly. You may think you know what’s going on, Maurice (Thaddeus Daniels), but you don’t.
Martha (15-1): Because the gun is still in her drawer, still waiting to go off.
The Mail Robot, aka, Zephyr (20-1): 582 beeps? Really, Mail Robot? Come on, you’re better than that.
Yusaf (25-1): A conscious is a bad thing to carry around in The Americans (especially if you are carrying it around in a suitcase).
Anton Baklanov (25-1): Things don’t end well for anyone who associates with Nina, even if she seems genuinely touched by Anton’s love for his son. Also, his claim that he won’t let the Soviets “decide who he is” was a little too ominous for my taste.
Oleg (30-1): Oleg’s (Costa Ronin) bonding with Tatiana (Vera Cherny) could lead to him learning the truth about Zenaida, setting in motion his risky plan to free Nina. If that happens, you’ve got yourself one live longshot. Speaking of Zenaida . . .
Zenaida (30-1): It’s possible you get safely swapped for Nina. It’s also possible you die from eating too many Milky Ways and BLT’s.
Neal, the Michigan State Spartan (50-1): Because the female Praying Mantis really does eat her mate after procreation.
Gabriel (50-1): There have been a lot of idle threats from Philip directed at Gabriel this season (including another last night). These repeated warnings have to be leading somewhere, right?
Agent Gaad (75-1): He’s not exactly handling the stress like a seasoned vet now is he.
Pastor Tim (100-1): Because he’s just too damn happy all the time, and if we’ve learned one thing this season, it’s that with the exception of Henry (Keidrich Sellati), nobody is allowed to be happy in Falls Church, VA. Nobody.
Read all of Court Haslett's posts for Criminal Element.