Thursday, July 31, 2014

Summer TV Rewind: The Americans 1.08: "Mutually Assured Destruction"

“I cannot lie to everyone. Too dangerous.”

“Mutually Assured Destruction” is an interesting episode of “The Americans” in that it focuses on a mission that Phillip and Elizabeth ultimately fail to complete. I think this failure is going to propel the rest of the season. It sets Phillip and Elizabeth on a different emotional path, and it raises the tension between the FBI and KGB. What is especially interesting is that Elizabeth blames herself and Phillip for the failure, even though they had hardly any information to work from. They actually did find the person they were supposed to find, but they were too late. Her position is that they should have done whatever needed doing to complete the mission, no matter how the deck is stacked against them because that’s their job. I think Elizabeth is a little too committed for her own good. And holy crap is there a lot of sex in this episode. I rewatched it on the plane home from San Diego, and it was hella awkward. Let’s say I figured out how to hide the video very quickly. I think my seat neighbor kept giving me the side eye, though.

So, like I alluded to in the introduction, the premise of this episode is that somebody at the KGB took out a contract to kill fourteen scientists who were working on the anti-ballistic missile shield (aka “Star Wars”) program. Now the Center has changed their minds, so they want Phillip and Elizabeth to find the assassin and call them off. They know nothing about him. All they know are the names of the fourteen scientists who were supposed to be killed. Their first step in the mission is to try to get the American government to start protecting these scientists. They do this by setting off a bomb in one of their cars. They are careful to wait until the scientist and his wife have stepped out of the car before actually setting it off. They don’t want to hurt anyone. They just want to make sure that the Americans know there is a threat.

Meanwhile, at the FBI, Stan’s boss gives him the key to a studio apartment in Eastern Market that Stan can use as a safe house to meet with Nina. Stan is a little hesitant given that things have turned a bit romantic with Nina and he doesn’t want to encourage her further, but he accepts the key. Let’s just say that Nina really, really likes the new place, and this was just one of many times when I had to minimize the video in this episode. Later in the episode, Nina gets called into a meeting with Arkady. He starts questioning her about how she likes it in America, and it seems like he might suspect her of sending goods back home to sell. We find out when she talks to Stan later, though, that she actually got a promotion. She offers to use her new position to try and get into the Directorate S files, but in exchange she really and truly wants to be exfiltrated. She’s not optimistic that it will actually happen (she knows spies bleed people for information for as long as they can), but she wants it.

The one bit of information Phillip and Elizabeth can get on the assassin is that he’s East German. They get this information by finding the guy who sold the assassin some explosives. This guy has a rifle-toting small daughter (maybe eight or nine years old), which is both terrifying and kind of awesome at the same time. Meanwhile, Phillip also uses Martha to get more information on the scientists. Again, I had to use the screen minimization button. Phillip tells Martha that he’s in danger of losing his assignment to another team, and Martha offers to bring him some files so that he can be a hero and get a promotion. Oh sweet, naive (but kind of kinky) Martha. Amador almost catches Martha while she’s copying the files, which would not be a good thing at all, considering he’s her ex-boyfriend and has an axe to grind with her.

Throughout all of this, Phillip and Elizabeth’s marriage continues to unravel. Early in the episode, Elizabeth takes a meeting with Claudia, and Claudia says that Phillip slept with Anne (the ex-lover from the previous episode). Elizabeth doesn’t believe it at first, but the doubt starts creeping in. The Jenningses and Beemans have dinner together, and as per usual, it’s interrupted by a call from work for Stan. Elizabeth manages to hear a few snatches of the conversation. Later, Elizabeth calls Phillip on what Claudia told her about what happened in New York. Phillip admits he cheated on her, begs forgiveness, and asks to start over. Elizabeth refuses. Prodded by Claudia’s words, she wants their relationship to be all business now.

Putting their marital difficulties aside, Phillip and Elizabeth locate the assassin in his motel room. Cornered, the assassin points out that he has set up an explosive device for just this sort of occasion. He refuses to call off the attack on the scientists. Phillip and Elizabeth shoot him, and they throw the explosive in his direction. By the time it’s over, the assassin is pink mist in the kitchen, and Phillip and Elizabeth are speeding away before emergency services arrives. They think they have completed the mission successfully, but they turn out to be very, very wrong. All the scientists are in a safe house, and a bomb planted by the assassin before he died goes off. All the scientists and some FBI agents are killed in the blast.

The rest of the episode deals with the fall-out from the explosion. The meeting at the FBI is tense. Some of the guys want revenge for their fallen comrades. Their boss doesn’t think that is going to happen, though. The Administration doesn’t want to risk open war with the USSR. Amador seems especially peeved about this. He ends up following Martha home after work, which is more than a little creepy. Phillip and Elizabeth are equally upset at this news. Elizabeth is convinced that they failed because she was emotional over the break-up of the romantic part of their relationship. Phillip reminds her that the deck was stacked against them. The Center had conflicting orders and couldn’t give them enough information to sort things out quickly. Elizabeth refuses to let up on herself. Phillip mentions that people separate all the time now, and if she doesn’t really want to be married to him anymore, he doesn’t think the KGB would care. Elizabeth ponders this and goes to say good night to Paige and Henry.

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