Wednesday, March 16, 2016

REVIEW: 'The Americans' - Philip Struggles with His Feelings as He Starts a New, Intense Mission in 'Glanders'

FX's The Americans - Episode 4.01 "Glanders"

Philip and Elizabeth deal with the fallout of all they've wrought. What will happen when the FBI finds out about Gene's suicide? How will Pastor Tim deal with the revelation that they are Russian spies? And will they be able to handle a dangerous, new bio-weapons assignment?

The Americans opens its fourth season with a lot of plots happening. "Glanders" is a very tense opening hour. But it's also very impressive to see how much story is happening in this first episode of the season. The third season was huge in letting Paige in on Philip and Elizabeth's big secret. It was tense and precarious when Paige and Elizabeth left the country to see Elizabeth's dying mother. But the show only signaled more trouble to come for the family this year with the season ending twist of Paige telling Pastor Tim the truth about her parents. That's only a very minor part of this first episode. But it is still a very significant part of this narrative. Everyone is still doing their best to do their jobs in service of their country while holding onto the values and beliefs that they hold so dear. It's a complicated time in everyone's lives right now. The stakes of the missions are only increasing while the personal cost is becoming much more devastating. And that makes for some very compelling drama.

Philip's beliefs and feelings have always been different than Elizabeth's. She is committed to the cause without any question. She does not falter. And yet, Philip is still choosing to see the world through a more personal and emotional scope. It's because of those feelings that he was able to arrange for Elizabeth to see her mother one last time. But Philip embracing his feelings more is complicating his mindset when he is out in the field. He wants to be able to listen to what he's feeling and trust that that will guide him through life with peace. He has done a number of truly grim and dark things over his life. The most recent is killing Gene in order to protect Martha's cover at the FBI. That was a very devastating moment that he now has to reckon with. He's not awake at night agonizing over what he did. Instead, he's grappling with what he's feeling about it and how the other people in this story are going to handle the news.

Martha has long felt like a character who could die at any moment. And yet, she is still alive somehow. She survived the recording device being discovered in Gaad's pen. She survived Clark taking off his wig and revealing what he truly looks like as Philip. Elizabeth and Philip found another way into the FBI - with a new bug planted in the mail robot - with the recordings being humorous to Oleg and Tatiana at the Rezidentura. Despite all of this though, Martha is still alive. Philip is intending to keep it that way too. In fact, their connection may be getting stronger because of how honest Philip has gotten with her. He does not keep Gene's death a secret from her. He tells her before anyone else at the FBI knows what has happened. She is understandably shocked and feels responsible for his death. She liked him and now he's dead solely to protect her. When she returns to the office, it's unclear what she's going to do. She could do some serious damage to Philip and Elizabeth if she told her superiors about what she did. She knows what Philip looks like now. But she doesn't betray that bond because she still miraculously has so much love for Clark. Their dynamic has changed. She knows that he is using her to get information. And now, she's a willing participant of it too. At first, she's furious at Clark for what he's done. But she eventually comes around and is grateful that he told her about what had happened. Philip is still masterfully handling this asset. Despite his hesitation elsewhere, he still has Martha under his spell.

And Philip is being a bit more cautious in the field too. Gabriel has to make sure that Philip and Elizabeth are still committed to their working relationship. Philip and Elizabeth have frequently been very difficult agents to handle. And yet, they still want to work with Gabriel. That relationship is going to need even more trust in the future as well because Gabriel has a very sensitive bio-weapons assignment for them. That's going to be so crucial to this season. It's much more dangerous than any other mission they've handled before. They go out into the field multiple times in order to get an item from another agent who may be under watch by American officials. It's a significant story because the man they are meeting with is William - played by Dylan Baker, who joins the show this season as a series regular. The object that he carries holds a very dangerous disease that could completely change the tide of this war. It's a mission that requires Philip and Elizabeth to be more cautious than they have ever been before.

And yet, Elizabeth's concerns are proven to have merit while Philip's are completely in his head. That's a byproduct of Philip being more in touch with his feelings at the moment and questioning everything that he is doing. He is still committed to the mission. But this new thought-process is affecting him out in the field. He has a bad feeling about this mission so he decides not to go through with the hand off. His bad feeling is all that he's basing it on. When it comes time to make another approach later on, Elizabeth spots a car that could be surveilling them. She pulls out of the mission because she actually notices something. That is such a strong distinction of where both of them are at right now in their lives. Philip is opening up to the world a little bit more. He is still going to EST and is able to talk about those experiences with Sandra and Martha. He can't be genuine at the meetings or with Elizabeth though which is only creating more complications for him when the situation really needs him at the top of his game.

Of course, Philip and Elizabeth are successful in getting this container holding this dangerous disease. But this hour makes sure that the walls are closing in on them in every aspect of their lives. They struggle making this hand-off with William because of the heightened surveillance. Philip carefully has to deal with Martha so that she doesn't turn on him. Elizabeth opens up to Paige a little bit but is still listening in on everything that Pastor Tim is doing in his office. Paige is struggling with what to do following her admission to Pastor Tim about her parents and swears him to secrecy for now. There is tension at both the FBI office and the Rezidentura with agents doing stuff without their bosses' knowledge. The world is tightening around Philip and Elizabeth. It becomes very combustive when Stan decides to confront Philip about being "intimate" with Sandra - who he still refers to as his wife. It's a very tense final scene. Philip is only worried about the dangers of the disease that he has in his pocket. Stan is throwing him around the garage wanting answers for what Philip is up to. The two of them have gotten close as friends. But now, that dynamic is ruined because Philip went on a search to better understand himself. The vile with the disease is still intact after the confrontation. But the same cannot be said of Philip and Stan's friendship. That moment shows that things are only going to get more intense over the season. As the pressures mount for Philip and Elizabeth, it should make for some very captivating episodes.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Glanders" was written by Joel Fields & Joe Weisberg and directed by Thomas Schlamme.
  • Nina has made enough progress with Anton that she feels comfortable making demands from her handler. After she explains the tactics she has taken with Anton, she also makes it clear that she wants to see her husband now. Her story is still just building up to something big that will eventually have repercussions for the characters stateside. But it still works because of how great a character Nina is.
  • Much like Sam Elliott on Justified, Dylan Baker on The Americans is such perfect casting that it's surprising that it hasn't happened already. I can't wait to see more of him.
  • The integration of Tatiana at the Rezidentura last season wasn't all that interesting. She was simply another person in that environment. But now, she's given importance because she is apparently a part of the bio-weapons mission as well.
  • The most devastating moment of this premiere probably comes with Paige listening in on her classmates reciting the pledge of allegiance and her knowing just how much more difficult that is for her now to do. Such a minor moment but very effective.
  • Paige reached out to Pastor Tim because she needed to let this secret and her feelings out to someone who wasn't one of her parents. He's worried about her. But he's also pushing for her to learn more about the kind of work that they do. Elizabeth opens up a little but Paige is in for a rude awakening once she sees how brutal her parents really are. That could alienate her for good.
  • Henry is nowhere to be seen in this premiere. And yet, Elizabeth and Philip are both more than willing to talk about him out in the field because of the horrendous cologne he is now wearing.