Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Summer TV Rewind: The Americans 1.12: "The Oath"

“But the thing to understand is that we see what we need to see in people. Things that aren’t really there.”

“The Oath” featured two actual oaths. One was a special oath Nina had to take to essentially move up a security level. The other was the vows at Phillip and Martha’s wedding. Both oaths changed the direction of the story leading into the season finale. Not a lot of action really happened in this episode, but what each side knows about the other is about to change fundamentally. People start taking oaths seriously, and it doesn’t bode well from anybody who wants to keep the spycraft status quo. Spies get in trouble when they or their assets start having a conscience.

Sanford Prince, the asset Elizabeth is handling, is the instigator of many of the events in this episode. He tells Elizabeth that he has some amazing intelligence from an Air Force Colonel who is ready to be turned to the Soviet cause. This Colonel has the details on Star Wars (so Sanford says), so of course he is of high interest to Claudia and the Center. Elizabeth is wary of the intelligence being an FBI set-up, but Claudia (following the Center’s wishes) says that Elizabeth and Phillip need to meet the Colonel at the time he specified in the sample intelligence he provided.

Phillip and Elizabeth are worried, so Phillip suggests a way to find out if the Colonel is a set-up. He can have Martha plant a bug in Agent Gaad’s office. His theory is that if the FBI is running an op this big, they won’t be able to help but talk about it. Phillip also has an ace up his sleeve to convince Martha to do something as crazy as bugging her boss’ office. At a fancy dinner, “Clark” asks Martha to marry him. Martha says yes, of course, because she’s a sucker like that. Later in the evening, when Phillip asks her to put the bug in Gaad’s office, she very hesitantly says yes to that, too.

Meanwhile, Nina’s recent promotion comes with a lot of extra responsibility. Arkady tells her she’s going to be given a big new assignment, but first she has to take an oath of loyalty to the Party and to the Motherland. She does so, and Arkady informs her that she is going to be helping him coordinate the activities of Directorate S. This could put her in the position to give some great intelligence to Stan, but given her look when taking the oath, it’s pretty clear that’s not going to happen. There are big events that happen in this episode, but when she meets with Stan, she acts like nothing much of importance happened. Then she distracts him with sex. As you do.

Also having a crisis of conscience is the maid from the Secretary of Defense’s house. Early in the episode, we see her dusting the Secretary’s office and looking at the bug she planted there with regret. Then we see her in church, where the pastor basically preaches hellfire and damnation on all liars. She’s feeling really guilty now. She ends up confessing what she did to the Secretary’s wife, and she gets interviewed by Agent Gaad and his FBI cronies for her trouble. Luckily, she’s not going to be facing any charges, probably because she described in detail how her son was put in jeopardy. Agent Gaad has big plans for this information. He doesn’t want to take the bug away just yet. He wants to use it to feed misinformation to the KGB. Also, Stan seems to be getting a little closer to figuring out the identities of the Directorate S couple who have been giving him so much trouble. He’s got sketches from two witnesses now, although the sketches don’t look all that similar.

Martha starts to have second thoughts about the whole bugging her boss’ office thing, even if Phillip did say he wanted to marry her. Phillip’s cover story as a sort of FBI internal affairs investigator means that he has to pretend that if his relationship with Martha (an employee in a department he’s “investigating”) was found out, he could lose his job. So it seems a given that the wedding would have to be kept secret, too. Martha is not down with this idea at all. Phillip eventually lets Martha tell her parents the happy news, but he draws the line there. Martha also has another ultimatum. She wants to get married right away. Phillip agrees to this, too.

The Jenningses are still dealing with the fallout of Phillip and Elizabeth’s separation, and events that take place are frequently analyzed through that lens. Paige is spending time over at the Beemans’ because she has a crush on Stan’s son, Matthew. Matthew plays in a band, and Paige is watching one of their rehearsals, full groupie style. Much to Paige’s chagrin, a new girl named Sarah stops by to join the band, and she totally takes up all of Matthew’s attention. Later, Paige despondently tells Elizabeth about how Matthew compared Sarah’s skills to Pat Benitar. This, of course, devolves into Paige asking Elizabeth about why she and Phillip are splitting up, basically about whether or not they were enough for each other.

The “Clark”/Martha wedding itself is kind of painfully awkward. Phillip needs to manufacture “Clark’s” family, so Claudia plays his mom and Elizabeth plays her sister. The Elizabeth being the sister thing is what’s really awkward. The officiant gives a really pretentious homily about the importance of oaths. Of course that makes Phillip and Elizabeth a little uncomfortable. After the ceremony, Elizabeth asks Phillip if he thinks that if they had actually said vows, they might still be together. It’s a good question, really. It’s also another example of the Jennings separation providing the lens through which many of the characters view events.

Nina’s oath appropriately leads to the second paradigm shift in this episode. At the end of the episode, she barges into Arkady’s office late at night and gives her confession. She admits to sending product back to the USSR, to giving intel to the FBI, all of it. She says she will accept if Arkady decides to send her back to Moscow to be punished, but she could perhaps be more useful if she was instead allowed to redeem herself. Nina's future as a triple agent certainly won't be boring, that's for sure!

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