Wednesday, March 15, 2017

REVIEW: 'The Americans' - Philip and Elizabeth Teach Paige Some Chilling Spycraft in 'Pests'

FX's The Americans - Episode 5.02 "Pests"

Stan and Oleg wrestle with the harsh consequences of their complicated history, as Philip and Elizabeth face a new mission with devastating implications for their country.

The Centre trained Philip and Elizabeth to be spies. They endured all of that training and abuse because it was a cause they both believe in. They see and do such horrifying acts all of the time. And yet, they do them nevertheless because it's for the greater good for their country. The Centre trained them to compartmentalize their emotions. It trained them to remove emotion from any physical action. Of course, there's only so much training that can help them once they are in the field and forced to deal with ever changing situations. Nothing could prepare Philip and Elizabeth for everything they have to do with Paige. But again, they are willing to make that sacrifice because they believe in their country. However, this season sees them passing down their knowledge onto Paige. Her discovering the truth about her parents is both a blessing and a curse. That has long been apparent. Elizabeth loves being able to tell Paige where she comes from and the history of this family. But that also comes with the realization of what Philip and Elizabeth actually do for a living. Paige still doesn't know all of the horrifying and monstrous things her parents have done. But perhaps the most horrifying is the chilling way they are conditioning their daughter just like they were by the Centre all those years ago.

It's sickening to watch as Philip and Elizabeth need to have a serious conversation with Paige about her relationship with Matthew. It's something she has to be extremely careful with. In the brief moments where it is just Paige and Matthew together, it's a break from the extreme world she is living in. With him, it's her chance to just be a normal teenager. And yet, that's a reality that is just not possible for her because of everything she knows. She can't be a normal teenager who goes through wild mood swings and changes in her emotions. She has to be trained now or risk doing or saying the wrong thing that will lead to the capture of her parents. Stan is already picking up that things aren't alright in Paige land. That's a chilling scene to watch because Philip knows it to be true but has to pretend that everything is fine. Stan being an FBI agent poses a serious threat to the Jennings. They've survived for so long because of Philip and Elizabeth's skills. But with Paige getting closer and closer to Matthew and Stan, it could risk everything for this family. She could blow their covers without even realizing that she's done it. That's why they are so concerned about her and the state of this relationship with Matthew.

Seeing Philip and Elizabeth actually take action with this story takes things to a whole new level though. They've both struggled to get through to Paige in the past. They grow more and more angry that Paige seems to be defying them. But the idea that they will stop treating her like a kid is chilling. Parents sitting their child down to have the sex talk is already awkward enough. With Paige though, it has even more disturbing intensity to it. Philip and Elizabeth have to train her how to control her emotions. They have to give her tricks to make sure she is in control at all times. It's the same tricks that they learned to do this job. So, they are molding her into a spy just like them. No, she probably won't be wearing wigs and going on high-risk missions any time soon. But Paige learning how to disconnect her emotions from sex is a major step in that direction. It's still intense to think about the montage of Philip going through rigorous sexual training with the Centre. This situation isn't like that at all. Underneath it all, Paige has feelings for Matthew. She actually likes him. That could complicate this whole process. Philip didn't have feelings with Martha until he was with her for years. So even if Paige masters these techniques, there's no guarantee they will ultimately help her. Dating Matthew is still a huge risk.

Of course, it's still important to see just how much power and influence Stan really has as an FBI agent. He's unable to stop the CIA from approaching Oleg in Moscow hoping to flip him into a full-blown asset. It's a mission he doesn't believe in at all. He knows that Oleg only turned on William because he had serious doubts about his country's ability to handle such a delicate biological weapon. Even though William died before giving up any crucial information, Stan still saw that as a major victory. It was also the only thing he thinks Oleg would deliver. And yet, it also made him see Oleg as a good guy for the first time. Those two have a complicated history. But turning William over really covers Stan's opinion of Oleg. But again, he's powerless to stop the CIA from moving on him. In fact, they are even evoking Stan's name to make Oleg believe he's complicit in this operation. That can only go awry with enough time and pressure. Stan doesn't know that just like he doesn't know the Russians still got their hands on the weapon that killed William. It will be such a big moment when he finally does learn the truth about Elizabeth and Philip. Maybe Paige will be the one to expose the truth. But will he be able to do anything about it? He has sway in the department now but his career would easily be over as soon as his superiors find out he's been friends with Soviet agents for years.

And lastly, Elizabeth takes a trip to Illinois to inspect some grain. Of course, the story is a lot more complicated than that. Her new mark, Alexei, is the one overseeing this project. Gabriel warns Philip and Elizabeth that the Americans may be tampering with the crops to dwindle the food supply back home. It's a tactic they are horrified by. They believe this to be a serious line for the Americans to cross. Elizabeth making the trip out to Illinois seems to confirm that something suspicious is going. That's such a well-executed and creepy sequence. It's shot as if someone else is in that greenhouse with Elizabeth. She's constantly hearing noises and looking over her shoulder. There's the feeling of her being watched. But ultimately, it's just about her discovering that a certain portion of the crop is being ravaged by bugs. Bugs that are quickly drawn to her as well. They linger too. So, it even further evokes the feeling of being uncomfortable in one's own skin. Elizabeth is scratching and scratching but bugs still seem to be appearing. This is a mission that could easily consume her life and destroy her homeland. But more important than that, she's at a loss for how the Centre can actually address it. They need Alexei to work with them. But that seems like an impossible task at the moment.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Pests" was written by Joel Fields & Joe Weisberg and directed by Chris Long.
  • The women in Stan's life never ultimately become that important. So, who knows if Laurie Holden will get more to do than Susan Misner or Callie Thorne. Hopefully, she does. Her character has defined a lot of Stan's personal arc this season. She makes him happy. But it's unclear what will come of that.
  • When Elizabeth and Philip come home from digging the hole, Paige is not in her bed. They flip out worrying about where she is and the risk it has on their covers. But instead, she's actually sleeping in her closet. That just shows how traumatized she still is by everything she has seen from her parents.
  • Of course, Paige is accepting of her parents' lessons as well. She's still being physical trained by Elizabeth who's forcing her to follow through even when the conversation gets awkward about sex. Plus, she listens to the advice they give her in the end not realizing just how damaging this will ultimately become for her.
  • Philip tells Gabriel that he thinks William would have been proud that they collected the bioweapon from his body. And yet, that's not true at all. William even confided in Philip that he doubted their country had the technology to handle this disease.
  • Tuan is committed to his mission with the Jennings while also commenting on how annoyed he is with the privilege of Americans. It sure will be interesting to learn how he was recruited for this mission. Philip seemingly didn't know that he lived with a family for five years in Seattle.
  • Philip and Elizabeth are really worried about Paige doing or saying the wrong thing in front of Stan. They are right to worry because she knows the truth. And yet, will they ever be worried about Henry too? He's not seen in this episode but he spends a lot of time with Stan too. If he ever questions what his parents are up to, he would likely go to Stan just like Paige went to Pastor Tim.