Wednesday, May 4, 2016

REVIEW: 'The Americans' - Philip & Elizabeth Finally Break in 'The Magic of David Copperfield V: The Statue of Liberty Disappears'

FX's The Americans - Episode 4.08 "The Magic of David Copperfield V: The Statue of Liberty Disappears"

The Jenning's approach their breaking points as both Philip and Elizabeth must handle loyal agents. Will they make it through with their patriotism - and sanity - intact?

This has been yet another terrific but intense season of The Americans. The pressures continue to mount for Philip and Elizabeth. They haven't been able to catch their breathe lately because so much is happening that threatens to ruin the very foundation of their mission in America. They have been faced with near-constant threats and close calls. It's clear that the show is moving its story forward with purpose because it's approaching its end date. That has made for yet another thrilling season of television. Philip and Elizabeth have done their best to keep things together. And yet, both their family and their operations have changed. And now, the two of them finally break in a truly remarkable episode. It's a nasty explosion but one that is also very indicative of all the pressures they've dealt with as of late as individuals and not as partners or a family. It's mesmerizing to watch.

The need to protect Martha has taken over the entire narrative over the last few episodes. She has provided so much valuable intel for the cause. But now, her cover has officially been blown. Philip had to protect his agent or risk his cover being exposed and destroying his entire family and their livelihoods. After a tense couple of weeks, Philip and Elizabeth can finally stop worrying about Martha. Philip manages to get her on a plane that will take her to the Soviet Union. It's been a very precarious situation. Martha has meant so much to Philip. Now, his life will be incredibly changed without her in it. He's never in danger of being lonely. And yet, Martha gives him the opportunity to be happy once she's leaves - which he extends to her as well. This story has put so much pressure in the narrative. And now, everyone is allowed to relax a little bit and come to grips with what it really means to them in their most vulnerable states yet.

Elizabeth understands that Philip was able to talk to Martha about certain aspects of his life without fear or judgment. She doesn't know the true depths of their relationship but she knows that it had a significant impact on Philip. Losing Martha is really hitting him hard right now. It gives him the opportunity to be a more active part of his children's lives again. But that declaration doesn't fix the broken bonds within the family right now. Elizabeth wants to fix their partnership. She goes to an EST meeting just to see why he's so entranced by it. It's a startling image seeing her there surrounded by people who want help with their lives. She does as well and she does genuinely listen to what the people have to say. When she returns home, it's with a much better understanding of its appeal to Philip. But she never completely gets it either. Philip and Elizabeth are vastly different people when it comes to their ideologies and commitment to the cause. EST is such an American concept to Elizabeth that she can't take it seriously. And that is the straw that finally breaks the camel's back between Philip and Elizabeth.

There is such a deep and painful history between Philip and Elizabeth. They are committed to each other and their family. They have been there to support one another out in the field. But they've also each found comfort away from this marriage. There is love between them but there is distance as well. Right now, they need to be united in order to handle all of these threats to their way of life. They are not. They are still an effective team. But now that they have time to think, it's really destructive of the bond that they have between them. Philip is agonizing over losing Martha. Elizabeth tries to be supportive but there is only so much she can give. Philip has been acting irrationally with the whole mission as of late. He gets the ultimate validation when he learns how disastrous things have been with Stan at the FBI. But even that's not enough to make him seem like the expert agent he has always been.

Gabriel and Paige get pulled into this ugly mess as well. Philip and Elizabeth each lash out at them in order to cope with what their lives have been as of late. It's enough for Gabriel to complain to Claudia that his two agents are acting so naive and childish. It's gotten a lot worse and he just doesn't know how to get through to either of them that things could be a whole lot worse. Meanwhile, Paige still wants to believe she is entitled to her own feelings and emotions regarding the Pastor Tim situation. She wants control over her life again. When she's having a bad day, she just wants to come home and be alone. And yet, she can't do that as her mother harshly explains. Because of the choice she made in telling Tim after her parents, she has to remain a constant part of this life. He has become her own personal mission. This area of her life used to bring her so much joy and understanding. But now, it's just a part of a harsh reality that forces her to pretend instead of being able to let her true emotions out. That's a situation that Philip and Elizabeth can understand. But neither one of them is in a place to actually help Paige with this adjustment period.

Philip and Elizabeth fighting with each other isn't going to help their lives either. The true turning point comes when Elizabeth once again needs to make contact with Lisa. That whole story last season wasn't all that great or particularly memorable. It largely just gave Elizabeth something to do that eventually meant something important to the season's endgame. It still wasn't worth all the time spent on it. This is the first time Lisa has been seen this season as well. So, it's a little weird that her presence is the event that brings a change to the family and their mission. And yet, it is so phenomenally handled as well. Lisa is just the latest asset that Elizabeth and Philip aren't able to control. She is so determined to go to the police and tell them about what she has done. The only way out of this situation is for Elizabeth to kill her. It's a harsh and violent moment. But one that continues to show that everything seems to be going wrong for Philip and Elizabeth as of late. They've had to accept so much added pressure in their lives and it's starting to become too much for them to handle.

After Elizabeth kills Lisa, Philip is there to comfort her. So is Gabriel who sees just how defeated and broken down this pair have gotten. He knows that things have been difficult for them. But it's not until that moment that he worries that they've been asked to do too much from the Centre. All of the pressure and tension of the season has been building towards this moment. And now, Gabriel is finally giving them some relief so that they can continue to be effective agents for the Centre. Philip and Elizabeth have always come through in the past. They get the job done no matter what the odds are. Their cover identities are still intact despite so many threats to them this season. That's huge. They have earned some time off - or at least as much time the Centre can give them. Gabriel agrees that they shouldn't be taking on any additional work right now. They need to be focusing on their family. They need to get Paige used to the new dynamic with Pastor Tim while also maintaining their relationships with Young Hee and Kimmie. That's all that they should be handling right now. It's still a lot. But allowing them this moment to take a break will ensure that they'll be able to work for a long time to come.

The show also makes a point in showing just how much the Jennings' need this vacation. The end of the episode has no trepidation about just casually jumping ahead seven months. It allows for everyone to relax into their new dynamics while not forcing the audience to sit through those slow moments. It showcases just how healthy Gabriel's decision is for this family. But it's also important to remember that Philip and Elizabeth are still Soviet agents spying on Americans in the hopes of winning this cold war. It's a reminder that Gaad gives to San during those closing moments. The Jennings are the enemy in this situation. They've survived to live another day. But that's another day that will be filled with horrifying deaths and tragic consequences. Nevertheless, this episode is a turning point for the season and it should be interesting to see where the narrative goes next.

Some more thoughts:
  • "The Magic of David Copperfield V: The Statue of Liberty Disappears" was written by Stephen Schiff and directed by Matthew Rhys.
  • There was just no way of getting out of Gaad being fired as the FBI supervisor. Too many crucial and devastating mistakes have happened on his watch. But hey, at least his new free time gives him the chance to visit his wife's family in Thailand.
  • Will this be the last time Martha and Gaad will be seen this season though? These last few episodes have been terrific for them. But again, they've reached their narrative conclusions. So they could very easily not be brought back again - unless they become critical to the main story again somehow.
  • Pastor Tim's wife, Alice, is now pregnant. So, that could be an interesting but really twisted complication for that story later this season. 
  • We still don't know what the purpose of Elizabeth's mission with Young Hee is. And yet, that really isn't that bothersome because it's so refreshing seeing Elizabeth in that environment because it's so light and playful. It will only make the inevitable reveal that much more devastating.
  • Those final moments also play wonderfully into the idea that the Jennings are once again becoming a nuclear family unit. They are finally planning that trip to Epcot, they watch David Copperfield make the Statue of Liberty disappear, they play in the yard with the kids. But again, there is so much darkness just brewing underneath the surface.