Tuesday, March 21, 2017

REVIEW: 'The Americans' - Philip and Elizabeth Reveal More About Their Mission to Paige in 'The Midges'

FX's The Americans - Episode 5.03 "The Midges"

Philip and Elizabeth tell Paige more about the family business, but pressing new questions arise when an operation takes a ghastly and unexpected turn. A sensitive package jeopardizes Oleg's life back home.

"The Midges" features the most surprising moment of the season so far. It's such a minor moment as well. And yet, it could be incredibly telling of what's to come in the future of this season as the show prepares for its end game. So, Alison Wright makes a brief cameo appearance as Martha. It's such a shocking moment because the audience had no idea whether or not she was still alive. When she had to leave the United States, it was under the guise that she was being relocated to the Soviet Union. That's what Philip hoped happened. He's under the belief that she's still alive and adjusting to her new environment. Of course, he hasn't actually got that confirmation. He hasn't talked to her since she got on that plane. The Centre could have lied to him. Martha could be seen as an inconvenience or a liability to them. There's no reason to keep her alive other than keeping that promise to Philip. The ambiguity of the situation was very poignant. It showed the true cost of doing business with Philip and Elizabeth. If their asset doesn't end up dead, this is the life that will be waiting for them in the Soviet Union - a country Philip and Elizabeth haven't returned to since the 1960s.

Martha's appearance doesn't seem like a throwaway cameo either. She puts a personal face on the food crisis that is currently defining so much of the narrative. It could just be an abstract conversation about the lengths the United States is willing to go to in order to destroy the Soviet Union. It really is a horrifying strategy when you think about it. Of course, Oleg's story shows that the food supply in the Soviet Union is more complicated than that. There is corruption throughout the industry. That's what he is investigating at the moment. That's what he returned to Moscow to do. All of this shows the type of life Martha has in Moscow. She has adjusted to it but it's also starkly different than what she is used to. She is isolated and broken in this foreign country. But she's still alive. That can't be a coincidence, right? Two major characters cross paths in Moscow. Both are known for betraying their countries. One was exposed and had to flee. The other is still being recruited to do more work. Showing that they are on in close proximity of each other could prove important. If Oleg ever identifies her, that would be a huge thing for him to give his new American handlers. Perhaps it's even a way to get his freedom again and send Stan on the path to discover Philip and Elizabeth's secret.

Elsewhere, it's fascinating to see Philip and Elizabeth continue to tell Paige more and more about what they do for their country. Telling her the truth about their profession has never worked in the past. They were forced into revealing their true identities to her. Ever since then, it's been a precarious relationship where any false move could destroy their entire lives. Telling Paige even more could build a stronger connection with her. It could foster intimacy that would make her cherish and support her parents even more. This mission is probably as good as Philip and Elizabeth will ever get in making a convincing argument that America is evil and wishes their country harm. The audience has seen the two of them do so many monstrous and heinous actions. They've stolen many things in the pursuit of protecting their country. They were singular things for them to steal as well. However, this new mission is much more complicated because of how foreign it is to the two of them. They are still just trying to understand how these bugs work and how devastating it would be to the Soviet crop supply if they were released. But it's also important that they do share some details with Paige as well as the fact that they have to pretend to be other people to get the information that they need.

Just that tiny amount of information is enough to send Paige spiraling for the week. She is still able to keep it together with Matthew. Philip suggested telling her more in order to make their concerns about Matthew seem trivial in comparison. He wanted to show her the importance of their work - even though he's not as committed as Elizabeth is. It shows that she is stressed out about this information when she goes out on a date with Matthew. But she doesn't tell him anything and confesses to Elizabeth how difficult that was. In that moment, it was clear that Elizabeth didn't know if she would have to kill Matthew for something that Paige had said. It was comforting when Paige revealed that nothing was exposed. But that only leads to yet another tense moment between mother and daughter. Paige doesn't know how her parents can lie so easily all of the time. Whenever she does it, she gets a knot in her stomach and feels horrible about it. Elizabeth tries rationalizing it by saying that relationships are complicated and people are always keeping secrets from each other. That doesn't seem to be all that comforting though. It's certainly true from Elizabeth's perspective of the world. But to Paige, it seems like just another manipulative trick.

And of course, Philip and Elizabeth are still not telling Paige everything that happens in regards to this mission. They tell her about the defector and their new identities with him. They tell her about traveling to Oklahoma to gather intel. They inform Gabriel of what they are doing with her. But they are keeping Tuan a secret. They will more than likely keep the guy they killed a secret as well. It's not surprising that a break-in to gather information leads to an unexpected encounter that ends with death. It's something Elizabeth and Philip have had to do a number of times now. It's not anything new for them. This isn't the first body they've had to dispose of. But it is still brutal to watch as they get information out of him. They don't have to be that threatening. All it takes is one knock against the glass for him to become cooperative. And yet, there is disappointment and disdain in Elizabeth's reaction when she says he should have asked what the bugs were for. That's the moment that seals his fate. He was simply a part of this process with no larger understanding of what his work was being used for. He provides a clue for the Jennings to investigate next. But in the grand scheme of things, he's disposable. He's simply another death on Philip and Elizabeth's consciences. But it's still worth it to them because it's for the good of their country.

Some more thoughts:
  • "The Midges" was written by Tracey Scott Wilson and directed by Stefan Schwartz.
  • Philip has a major moment of reflection as well. He questions why the Soviet Union doesn't grow more of their own crops? Why is his country so dependent on the United States in this regard? It has vast land to farm as well. Of course, Elizabeth is able to bring him back to reality with sex once again.
  • At the rate that Mischa is traveling, it's going to take awhile before his grand reunion with Philip. It's a fascinating story because it shows just how difficult it is to travel in these countries. But hopefully, the show doesn't drag it out too long.
  • What are Stan and Aderholt up to? They are seemingly trying to recruit new assets who have defected from the Soviet Union. And yet, no one is willing to work with them. Of course, it is pretty amusing to watch Aderholt eat the food after the first guy leaves.
  • It's devastating to watch as Oleg learns he's being blackmailed into helping the CIA. His new story shows that he is a decent and capable man. He's come a long way since his introduction in the second season.
  • Every week Tuan seems to show more and more disdain for the United States. He's going to become a major issue for Philip and Elizabeth in the future. And yet, Philip is seemingly forging a connection with him because of his own experience going hungry as a child.
  • This very well could be the only glimpse the audience will ever see of Martha in Moscow. I hope not because Alison Wright is so good on this show. Logistically though, she's been doing a lot of work elsewhere as well - like Amazon's Sneaky Pete and FX's Feud: Bette and Joan.