Wednesday, May 11, 2016

REVIEW: 'The Americans' - The Family Gathers Around the TV to Watch a Movie in 'The Day After'

FX's The Americans - Episode 4.09 "The Day After"

The Day After premieres, making the stakes - and terrible consequences - of the Cold War plain. Even with that in mind, will Elizabeth be able to complete the painful process of the "Patty" operation?

The pressure and tension have been alleviated on The Americans following Philip and Elizabeth's months long break from dangerous and compromising missions. And yet, the looming sense of dread is still apparent in every storytelling beat. The Jennings family has been able to relax and enjoy their lives again. The stresses of the work are still apparent. But they aren't as all consuming as they were throughout the previous eight episodes of the season. However, Philip and Elizabeth are still spies and will have to be a part of some precarious espionage. That's never going to change. As long as they have their cover identities, they can be called to do anything at any time. The war is still escalating between the United States and the Soviet Union. The family can never be too comfortable. That's precisely where "The Day After" finds its tension. Pain and destruction are underneath the surface of all of society. But that is especially true with the Jennings where something simple like teaching Paige to drive is contrasted with Elizabeth needing to once again seduce a potential asset.

Parts of this episode do feel very introductory and transitional. Last week's episode had so much resolution to the Martha storyline that wonderfully took over the entire narrative for a little while. And now, the show is pivoting to the next stage of the season. In doing so, it has to spend the time setting up a couple of new dynamics in order to make the later devastation feel earned. This break has been very good for Philip and Elizabeth. They are more well rested now than they were before. There's still so much uncertainty in their lives. And now, the narrative is kicking things up a little bit as new stories take priority. William reaches out with new information of an even more deadly virus the Americans have just gotten. That in turn forces Elizabeth to make her big move with the Young Hee operation. All of this has been very delicate and precise character work. The show is setting up big reveals for later on this season. They are going to be so devastating but rewarding too.

This hour also has a fantastic premise in centering so much of the mood around the broadcast of the made-for-TV film The Day After. That movie captivated America by showing the true devastation that can happen in the wake of a nuclear missile being dropped here. It unsettled everyone. It's meaningful that the entire Jennings family sit down to watch as a family. But it's just as important to see several other characters of importance watching this movie. It truly feels like an event that needed to be seen. The movie's themes and stories were so important and sensitive that it came with a recorded message warning people about what they were about to see. That's intense. That feeling of dread wonderfully fills the narrative in the aftermath as well. This film helped bring the reality of this cold war into focus again. The tension between the two countries is only getting worse. It would be so easy for either side to fire on the other. This series is very personal and intimate with the characters but it never looses sight of the mood of the entire world at this period of time.

Philip and Elizabeth need to believe that the work they do makes a difference in this world. If it doesn't, then they would start to question why they were doing it in the first place. Their actions have been meaningful in the past. They have proven themselves to be some of the best Directorate S agents. But now, they have been placed on a break. That has given them some time to relax. But it's also time to think. Philip made the right call in getting Martha out of the country. But it was a decision he made by himself without the support of the Centre. And now, he once again finds himself needing to make a huge decision that could greatly impact this war. William reaches out for the first time in months with knowledge of a virus that can liquify organs. It sounds horrifying. It's something that the Americans have. But it's up to these agents to decide whether or not the Soviets deserve it as well. Both sides are armed with nuclear weapons. America is the only nation to have dropped a bomb. This war already has vastly lethal weapons. But should either of them have this new disease? That's the question Philip, Elizabeth and William need to ask themselves.

Philip and William want to get rid of this virus. Destroy it before it can harm anyone. However, Elizabeth once again stands opposed. She understands their feelings. But she also believes this is something the Centre needs to know about. The Americans have this weapon and the Soviets do not. That puts them at a huge disadvantage. As agents, Philip and Elizabeth need to do whatever it takes to help their country prevail in this war. So that means Elizabeth needs to finally make her move with Young Hee's husband, Don. She has slowly been working her way into their lives. She hasn't acted quickly even though Don can provide William with the access he needs to get the really nasty biological weapons that the Americans have. Elizabeth has been very careful. But now, she needs to act. William has warned them and she needs to do something about it. And yet, she still doesn't have anything to manipulate to her advantage with this mission. She has formed a nice and lovely friendship. But that's not enough. She needs more than that. So, she creates a situation to destroy this dynamic which hurts her much more than she ever expected.

Elizabeth is the one struggling with so much over the course of this episode. Philip and Paige have their own worries. Paige is concerned about the world after seeing The Day After and the role her parents play in that situation. Philip is worried about Paige learning how to drive. But Elizabeth has the daunting task of seducing Don in order to manipulate him for information. Until this point, her dynamic with Young Hee hasn't really had a point. And yet, it's been a ton of fun. It has allowed Elizabeth to be a brighter personality for a little while. That has been such a joy to watch. But she needs to take things seriously because of the stakes of this mission. She uncovers nothing scandalizing in the house. So, she needs to create a situation that she can use later on. However, it's meaningful that she only makes it look like she and Don slept together. She doesn't actually do it. She views Young Hee as a friend now. She enjoys that bond and is devastated by having to destroy it for the cause. She has no trouble getting Don over to her apartment, slipping him something in his drink and letting him wake up naked in bed with her. But it still weighs very heavily on her. The mission is changing. There is no going back now - which is only further confirmation that things are going to get tense once more in the next part of the season.

Some more thoughts:
  • "The Day After" was written by Tracey Scott Wilson and directed by Daniel Sackheim.
  • Pastor Tim is going on another mission trip. This time it's to Ethiopia. The church is saying goodbye to him which means Philip and Paige need to make a lasting final impression before he leaves. And yet, he wants to sit down with the family to re-evaluate the state of things. So, that's a potentially troubling dynamic.
  • Oleg and Tatiana have really gotten close over the past few months. They are full on sleeping with each other now. They first bonded over their brothers being called to fight in the war. But now, it's much more than that. Though it's also apparent that they come from two vastly different worlds.
  • Stan keeps talking horribly about his new boss at the FBI. All of this build up better be worth it when he is finally introduced. That has to be happening soon, right?
  • Is the show trying to make Paige and Matthew happen again? It seemed that way back in Season 1 but it got dropped as soon as Paige became a more important character. But now, they are trading glances once more.
  • Those new disguises Philip and Elizabeth put on to see William for the first time in months are fantastic. Some really solid looks.
  • Also, William is a wonderfully amusing character. His reaction to learning that Philip and Elizabeth have been on a break for a couple of months is delightful.