“Open House” had all the elements we’ve come to expect from The Americans: car chases, marital maneuverings, Rezidentura intrigue, and another intimate, cringe-worthy scene of violence (something that is quickly becoming a trademark of the show). Yet at the end of the episode, we are pretty much at the same point we were the previous week: Nina’s (Annet Mahendru) fate is still in limbo, the FBI is no closer to capturing Philip (Matthew Rhys) and Elizabeth (Keri Russell), there is no plan on how the KGB will infiltrate the CIA Afghan group, and, despite what seemed like a definitive shift the week before, Paige’s (Holly Taylor) future with regard to the second generation illegals program is no closer to being determined.
Not that I’m complaining. It’s structurally impossible to make every episode of a television series an earth shattering surprise. Well, unless you're Shonda Rhimes, then anything goes. But otherwise, there have to be a few episodes in every season that are plate spinners. And when the plate spinners are as entertaining as “Open House,” who really cares? Better to just sit back with a bottle of Stan’s single malt Irish whiskey and enjoy the ride.
“Open House” begins with Philip, seemingly wrecked and resigned to losing Paige to the KGB at the end of last week’s episode, squaring off against Gabriel (Frank Langella) in a game of Scrabble. Since last week, though, Philip appears to have bounced off the canvas, ready to fight over Paige’s future with Gabriel and Elizabeth. I guess it’s more accurate to say that Philip is ready to fight, really, really passive aggressively (nobody can read an issue of Time in bed more angrily than Philip!). Upset that Elizabeth has been colluding with Gabriel against him, Philip ignores Elizabeth’s not so subtle come on (Goodnight, moon), and picks a fight over Elizabeth’s birthday present idea for Paige. “Maybe you think she’d like it because you like it,” he tells her, obviously referring to more than the necklace Elizabeth wants to buy for her, before turning away from her in bed. For some men this shoulder roll wouldn’t even register as an act of aggression. For Philip, it’s a declaration of war.
Never allowing their marital issues to get in the way of their work, however, Philip and Elizabeth resume their attempt to break into the CIA Afghan group, zeroing in on an agent who they hope might be having money problems from an ongoing divorce. They catch what they think is a lucky break after they begin running surveillance at an open house for his family’s home. The operative makes a surprise appearance to pick up some possessions, including a tape recorder that Philip has bugged. Cutting short their tour to tail him, the operation starts out pathetic (Air Supply, self-flagellation), becomes titillating (babysitter, flirting) but winds up perilous when Philip and Elizabeth realize they have fallen into a CIA trap, and it’s they who are being hounded.
The ensuing cat and mouse between Elizabeth and the CIA keeps not only the viewers, but also Philip—who in the course of their escape, becomes separated from Elizabeth—on edge. When Elizabeth finally walks safely through the door, Philip’s relief is profound, as is hers. Their razor close call has brought them together again. But instead of heading to the bedroom for some much needed make-up sex, Elizabeth’s infected tooth interferes, sending them down to the basement for an impromptu dental session. Unable to go to a real dentist for fear of being reported to the FBI, Philip has to yank not one, but two of Elizabeth’s teeth out, with only a pair pliers and a bottle of Stan’s whiskey as aids. In an impressive piece of directing, Thomas Schlamme elevates the scene from one of mere torture (of Elizabeth and the audience) to one about the state of the Jennings’ relationship. Through extreme close-ups of Philip’s and Elizabeth’s eyes, he communicates the doubt, trust, and eventually love that is still present between them.
“Open House” was Philip and Elizabeth heavy, leaving scraps for everyone else to chew on. Highlights from the rest of the cast include:
Stan (Noah Emmerich), after recollecting his undercover days with white supremacists, figures out that the defector he is babysitting is in fact a double agent, fooling everyone by telling them what they want to hear. “People love hearing how right they are,” Stan observes.
Apart from a mild flirtation with Agent Adahalt (Brandon J. Dirden), Martha (Alison Wright) is back to being her old nattering self, pushing Clark to become a foster parent with her. Please bring back Kama Sutra Martha, pronto.
Oleg’s father pulls strings with his buddy Andropov to bring Oleg (Costa Ronin) back early from his American exile, but Oleg refuses. Will his father dangle Nina as a carrot to come back or will Oleg’s insolence be rewarded with a delivery?
Henry (Keidrich Sellati), essentially absent from the first two episodes, comes roaring back with one of the funniest lines of the season, telling Paige that the seductive picture of Mrs. Beeman she finds hidden in his book, on his bed “ . . . isn’t even mine!” With lies like that, something tells me they won’t be asking Henry to join the KGB.
Good thing Philip didn’t challenge Gabriel’s first word in Scrabble, too. Phlox is a real flower.
Finally, I can pull those stonewashed jeans and denim jacket with the REO Speedwagon patch out of the closet. My time has come again.
Read all of Court Haslett's posts for Criminal Element.