Wednesday, May 18, 2016

REVIEW: 'The Americans' - Pastor Tim Goes Missing and Alice Threatens to Expose Philip & Elizabeth's Secret in 'Munchkins'

FX's The Americans - Episode 4.10 "Munchkins"

When Paige's long-ago indiscretion threatens to resurface and destroy the family, Philip and Elizabeth find themselves scrambling - and Paige finds herself reevaluating who her parents really are.

Philip and Elizabeth have been able to relax a bit more with their family and their jobs lately. The threat of exposure and danger for their assets is not as high as it was earlier in the season. Just because the tension has decreased a little bit doesn't mean these last few episodes aren't any less great. Even though Philip and Elizabeth are happy and stable, anything could happen at any moment that could threaten their livelihoods once more. They were juggling so many threats at the start of the season. They weren't given any good ideas to handle any of them. They simply did the best that they could given their circumstances. So, they forced Paige to work Pastor Tim and Alice to keep them from exposing them as Soviet spies. Plus, they got Martha out of the country before the FBI could arrest her. Neither of those threats have completely gone away. "Munchkins" points out just how fragile this ecosystem still is while Philip and Elizabeth still need to focus on the big mission at hand as well.

Pastor Tim goes missing during his relief trip to Ethiopia. It was a mission he was very excited about doing. And now, he has suddenly and mysteriously disappeared from the camp. Everything points to Philip and Elizabeth having a role in all of it. They certainly would have motive. Pastor Tim wanted to sit down with the whole family when he returned to discuss the state of things. Paige has been working him and been very cooperative with her parents. But this is still a sensitive arrangement that could go wrong any number of ways. All it takes is the fear of this situation to send Alice into a tailspin. Philip and Elizabeth don't believe the Centre had anything to do with Tim's disappearance. But it's easy to see how they could have done it. It was something the Centre was planning on doing before Philip and Elizabeth told them not to. They need to rationalize that the Centre would have told them before disrupting their lives like this. So they feel innocent in all of this but that doesn't stop Paige and Alice from questioning just how deceptive and lethal Philip and Elizabeth can really be with their jobs.

Paige desperately wants to believe that her parents are finally being honest with her about every part of their lives. It is meaningful that both of them open up to her about their pasts and their childhoods. Life in Russia is different than the United States. It's not like Paige's experience of the world. She is inquisitive about that and both Philip and Elizabeth have been more than forthcoming with her. And yet, the stories only further showcase just how tough and strict the society they come from is. She doesn't truly know what her parents are capable. She wants to believe that they are doing good things for the world. Actions that the American government may not agree with but are good and humane nevertheless. But Paige simply doesn't have details about Philip and Elizabeth's missions. She doesn't know about the assets they are currently maintaining. She wants to believe that they wouldn't orchestrate Pastor Tim's kidnapping. But she also can't take them at their word anymore.

All of this leaves Paige in a very vulnerable position once again. It's this kind of disconnect with her parents that led to her telling Pastor Tim the truth about them in the first place. She comes to learn that her parents are planning on fleeing to the Soviet Union should they be exposed to the American government. That's not something that Paige wants. Life in America is all she has ever known. She doesn't want to change that. Neither do Philip and Elizabeth but they have to remain practical about the situation. That's an incredibly daunting challenge for Paige. She is still able to connect with Alice in a meaningful and genuine way. They rely on each other during this difficult time. And yet, Paige is also proving herself to be a very capable spy just like her parents. She relies on Alice for support but that connection also gives her intelligence that Philip and Elizabeth desperately need about the situation. More importantly, her blossoming dynamic with Matthew could be important later on because he knows details about Stan's job that could prove to be beneficial to Philip and Elizabeth. Who knows if Paige will be comfortable going into the family business. But she is proving to be much smarter this season than ever before. And that is a very engaging and compelling quality to have right now.

Plus, it turns out that Pastor Tim is totally fine. He and his friend just got lost and were hopelessly wandering the countryside for a few days. But this story shows just how precarious things still are for this family. Much of their lives are stable right now. The threats are building in new ways though. Paige still has a connection to Tim and Alice. A connection that should come in handy later on. But nothing is too pressing that pulls Philip and Elizabeth's attention away from the main mission. Their own conflicted feelings are fueling their struggles in that regard. Elizabeth is enjoying the relative happiness in her life right now. She has enjoyed the friendship she has created with Young Hee. She doesn't want anything to destroy that bond that she has. And yet, that's exactly what she is meant to do in this mission. She needs to get the access codes from Don so that William can get the very dangerous bioweapon the Americans have. That's much more important than any kind of family or personal drama the various characters are dealing with what now. But that doesn't mean they can disregard their own feelings on the matter either. These characters' feelings are important. Paige is right to question her parents and how truthful they are to her. And Elizabeth is right to want to enjoy this friendship with Young Hee for a little while longer.

So many stories are just teetering on the edge right now just waiting for something to happen. It's a great way to draw stakes through so many disparate parts of this narrative. Many things are happening right now. Stan and Aderholt are still continuing their investigation into what happened to Martha. That includes them reaching out to her father to see if he can provide any more clues. Meanwhile, Philip and Elizabeth are just continuing their missions with Kimmie and Young Hee. Both are going to be called to do more very shortly. It's significant that Kimmie makes her debut for the season here. It reminds the audience of just how important that bond really is before Philip is asked to do something that could risk all of it. Elsewhere, Elizabeth knows she needs to act and destroy Young Hee to get to the information she's after. But it's difficult for her to do that because of the close friendship she has formed with her. Gabriel understands and respects that. He even gives her a way out by offering to ask the Centre if there is any other way to get the information. That probably won't lead to anything significant though - which will only make the situation much worse for Elizabeth even though she is continuing to serve her country.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Munchkins" was written by Peter Ackerman and directed by Stephanie Green.
  • Gaad dies during his vacation to Thailand. That's a surprising turn of events. Him being forced into retirement could have been all the resolution he needed as a character. But the show put the extra effort in to kill him off.
  • Arkady gets word that one of his missions didn't go according to plan. So, it seems like he is connected to Gaad's death in ways that should become more clear over the final few episodes of the season.
  • Peter Jacobson has been cast as Stan and Aderholt's new boss at the FBI. That makes perfect sense considering all that Stan has said about this guy and his rule-following ways. He pops up solely to complain about Aderholt's inappropriate margin lengths.
  • Oleg's relationship with Tatiana is getting very serious. She opens up to him about the work she is really doing at the Rezidentura. She needs something from him and is more than happy to share why because of the connection they now have.
  • Paige raises a very important question of when Philip and Elizabeth are going to tell Henry the truth about them. Not knowing was a horrifying experience for Paige. But knowing the truth has been just as agonizing. And yet, everyone is still walking around making sure that Henry doesn't accidentally hear anything he shouldn't. That doesn't seem destined to last.