Wednesday, April 6, 2016

REVIEW: 'The Americans' - Elizabeth Makes a Decision About Pastor Tim While Nina Faces Punishment in 'Chloramphenicol'

FX's The Americans - Episode 4.04 "Chloramphenicol"

A devastating flaw during a mission forces Philip, Elizabeth, William and Gabriel to confront the depths of their patriotism - and their mortality. In Russia, in striving to be a better person, has Nina put her life on the line?

At its very foundation, The Americans is a show where the characters are constantly in life-or-death situations. Philip and Elizabeth are operating as Russian spies on US soil. They can be discovered at any point in time and completely destroy the family unit they've created here. Their missions are very dangerous. They put other people in precarious situations as well just in order to get the information they need for their country. It's delicate and severe work. The pressure this season is immense. They're at a higher risk of detection because of Pastor Tim and Alice. Plus, the work has gotten much more sensitive and lethal. They've made decisions in the field that have complicated their lives. And now, they are forced into a situation where they may die for their country and destroy Paige and Henry's lives forever.

The threat in "Chloramphenicol" doesn't come from anyone new finding out about Philip and Elizabeth. Nor does it come from one of their assets choosing to push back and take control of their lives. This time the threat comes because the Centre is dealing with something that they don't fully understand. They have the capability to understand it back in the Soviet Union. They have the scientists to examine and recreate everything that Philip and Elizabeth find from the Americans. But that doesn't help when everyone is struggling to get such mysterious entities and information out of the country. William has some understanding of how this infectious disease can be weaponized and treated. But that's not enough to ease the tension when four agents are trapped in an apartment together where the outcome is very uncertain because of the disease.

Philip, Elizabeth, Gabriel and William all find themselves exposed to glanders. They quarantine themselves in order to prevent an outbreak throughout the city. Their mission was to get this vial out of the country so that the Soviet scientists can study it. Instead, it has compromised their health and safety. This situation trumps all other concerns in these characters' lives. They can't risk exposing the rest of the world to this disease. They need to keep this mission as covert as possible. But that raises a number of complications that only furthers the divides between Philip, Elizabeth and Paige. This quarantine means Philip and Elizabeth can't take the family to Epcot while the Centre arranges for Pastor Tim and Alice to be killed. That plan has to be delayed for now as Philip and Elizabeth battle this disease.

Elizabeth starts experiencing symptoms that force her to change her stance on a couple of problems currently occupying her mind. She is so committed to this cause. She needs Tim and Alice dead so that she and Philip can continue with the work. She hasn't been thinking about the long term effects it will have on Paige. But now, Elizabeth is weakened by a bad reaction to the medicine. That's ultimately all that it was. But it's still enough for her to break down and have a couple of emotional realizations about her life and her family. She wants to prepare for the future as best as she can. She wants to protect her family so that they can still have happiness even if she's gone. She's even fine with Philip placing all the blame on her should she die just so he can continue to live with the kids as an American family. She knows that that's a reality he enjoys living. She doesn't say that with condensation either. She knows that this life has changed him. It's altered his perspective on things. But he still wants to do right by their family - just like she does.

Of course, Elizabeth doesn't die during this episode. It seemed unlikely that she would - even though the four characters could still have severe repercussions because of this disease. All of them emerge unharmed by this and are able to return to their ordinary lives. But this time together also highlights how each of their experiences in this country doing this work is different. Gabriel's job is to be Philip and Elizabeth's handler who makes them see how the Centre wants things done and makes the Centre see things from the agents perspective. Elizabeth and Philip have been able to have a solid life in this country. They've had the ability to rely on each other and worry about the normal things of life - like wondering if Henry ever studied for his biology test. That's in stark contrast to what William has been living all of this time. He's been all alone doing this very sensitive work. He hasn't been able to interact with anyone in a genuine way for decades. All he knows is handlers and dead drops. That's it. He is able to help Gabriel in his time of need. But that doesn't foster any deeper connection with Philip and Elizabeth. It just shows how vastly different their worlds have been.

Philip and Elizabeth aren't the only ones facing life-or-death consequences in this episode either. And that produces the single most shocking moment of this episode. A death does occur. But it has absolutely nothing to do with Philip and Elizabeth, their family struggles and the complication from their mission. Instead, Nina is finally executed for her crimes against her country. It has been a long time coming too. Since the very first season, her existence has always felt like it was limited. She has always managed to find a way to survive though. She has expertly been able to manipulate both sides of the conflict in order to get what she wants. She wasn't able to evade capture for becoming an informant for Stan though. She was sent back to the Soviet Union to pay for her disservice. Her skills have still come in handy though. She is still an asset to the country. That arc has played out in a very interesting way. She has been able to work to get her sentence reduced. But it has also brought about a significant change within her. Now, she's fighting to be seen as a good person. She wanted to get that message to Anton's son saying that he was okay. She wanted to escape to a life of happiness with either Stan or Anton. But that was never in the cards for her. Instead, she is finally killed for crimes. It's a startling moment that closes the episode. Stan and Oleg have been fighting tirelessly to get her back. All of the fighting is for nothing. There was nothing that anyone could have done. And now, Nina lays dead on the concrete floor of a Soviet prison. It's a stark image to end on. It proves that the show is finally pursuing punishment on its characters for their actions. That adds exciting momentum for the rest of the season - even though it's sad that it means Nina will no longer be around.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Chloramphenicol" was written by Tracey Scott Wilson and directed by Stephen Schwartz.
  • Paige doesn't know enough about the kind of work her parents do to know what to expect when she gets the phone call that they won't be coming home for at least a day. She believes it's just an added complication to her telling Pastor Tim about them. She's in a very vulnerable place right now. Philip and Elizabeth put her in a very emotionally compromising position here because she doesn't know enough about them. However, her push for more answers could only further push her away from them.
  • Elizabeth's plan to work Tim and Alice instead of killing them could go wrong any number of ways. They don't hold any interest to the Centre. They are simply a complication that should be dealt with swiftly. They are only alive to keep the possibility of recruiting Paige to the cause one day open.
  • Philip also puts Martha in an emotionally compromising situation because she can't reach him when she is uncertain about what to do with her dinner with Agent Aderholt. She seems pretty disinterested during the dinner as well. And yet, she also opens up about the married man she's been seeing and just how honest and rewarding the relationship has been. That's new knowledge that could further risk exposure on Philip's part.
  • Aderholt only takes Martha out to dinner so that Stan can break into her apartment and see if there is anything suspicious. All he really finds is her gun in the drawer and the book with the adventurous sex positions.
  • Henry continues to reach out to Stan as a father figure. It's a dynamic that is flourishing because of how often Philip and Elizabeth are away from home. It's also the most significant story that Henry has ever had.
  • Nina's death is made even more surprising because Oleg actually returns to the Soviet Union following his brother's death and asks his father to protect her once more. It's sly and effective manipulation on the show's part that only makes that final moment even more devastating.
  • But this hour isn't full of doom and gloom either. It still makes time for the Jennings family to go out bowling together. Elizabeth even makes a joke. That scene shows the value of this family. It never has a ton of focus but it's still important to see how vital this dynamic really is to keep.