Tuesday, April 4, 2017

REVIEW: 'The Americans' - Elizabeth Delivers Some Shocking News to Philip About Their Mission in 'Lotus 1-2-3'

FX's The Americans - Episode 5.05 "Lotus 1-2-3"

Philip and Elizabeth receive surprising news about Henry - and shattering news about a past operation. Stan might be falling in love, but Philip wonders if something darker is going on.

This season of The Americans has been about the grain supply in the Soviet Union. On the surface, it would seem to be a boring subject matter. In reality though, it's been a compelling story because it has put Elizabeth and Philip in a very extreme and delicate situation where they don't know all the facts. They are not agricultural experts. Nor are the people running things at the Centre. And yet, they are led to believe that the Americans are sabotaging the grain supply that they send to the Soviet Union. To Philip and Elizabeth, it's more evidence to the horror and inhumanity of the Americans. They would target poor people's food just to win this war. It's been a horrifying realization for both of them. But more importantly, this mission has also worn them down. It's included much more travel than any previous mission. Both Philip and Elizabeth have to seduce people they don't even like. They do so for the greater good. They make these sacrifices knowing that it will protect their country. They can rationalize any decision that way. Knowing all of that is what makes this story so intense and what makes "Lotus 1-2-3" one of the most emotionally devastating episodes of the series so far.

It's absolutely chilling to watch as Elizabeth learns that they got this mission so wrong. The Americans aren't attacking the grain supply. They are simply trying to develop crops that can grow and survive anywhere in an effort to end world hunger. It puts everything into perspective for Elizabeth. Keri Russell does some stunning work in the scene where her mark talks about his work. He's this worldly man who knows a ton of information and wants to make a difference. That contrasts with everything Elizabeth believes he's doing at his company. And yet, he goes into detail about what he does. He wants to breed crops that can withstand the most destructive insects on the planet. He believes he's close to a breakthrough. Once he finds it, he can change the world. He's an idealist who feels like he's close to achieving that ideal. It makes his motives pure. In that moment, Elizabeth knows the truth. It completely changes her world. But she's also able to accept it. She understands that everything happened under bad intel but that doesn't change anything about herself or her devotion to the cause. There's very little that could change Elizabeth's feelings.

But that's not the case with Philip. He's been shaky in his beliefs for a long time. For most of the series run, he's not been as committed as Elizabeth. He would be willing to defect to America but he doesn't because of his love for his family. He holds them above all else. Family always comes first for him. And yet, this episode makes him realize that he's not doing well in any aspect of his life. Elizabeth returning home with this new information only forces Philip to agonize over his decision to kill the guy from the research facility. It was simply yet another case of a person being in the wrong place at the wrong time. He showed up as the Jennings were there which led to his tragic death. Philip was the one who killed him. He provided all the information they needed to know. But now, Philip knows that nothing more nefarious was going on. That rocks his world. He can't just shake it off or rationalize it the same way that Elizabeth does. He worries about what this makes him as a person. Plus, he knows that these feelings will never go away as long as he remains a part of this job.

And yet, it's also fascinating to see Philip fail as a parent this week as well. He and Elizabeth are completely shocked to learn that Henry is being placed in a higher-level math class. They ignore him so much that they didn't even know he was great at math. They don't know how to express themselves in congratulating him either. It's the show winking at the audience and showing its awareness of constantly sidelining Henry as a character for most of the series run. But it's a moment that shows Philip's shortcomings as well. Of course, it then hits even harder when Paige talks about her relationship with Matthew. It's something she wanted for a very long time. And yet, knowing the truth about her parents has corrupted it. It makes her feel like she's destined to be alone and unhappy for the rest of her life. She can never truly be herself with anything else in the world. It's a pressure her parents have put on her. It's an unintended consequence of their profession. And more importantly, Philip just doesn't know how to react. This isn't the life he wanted for Paige. But it's the life she has nevertheless.

Philip even tries to put on a normal face for his new fake son, Tuan. Elizabeth comes home to deliver this important news. He processes it by trying to focus on something else. He knows he needs to maintain this cover identity. But he's not able to escape the devastation of this situation by pretending to be someone else. He was trained to keep his emotions in check while on a mission by the Centre. But in this moment, he is very shaky in his beliefs. He's not able to be the normal dad that Tuan needs in this moment. Elizabeth is also wise enough to know that Philip is going through all of this. She even offers to handle all of the more personal and sensitive missions moving forward. She offers it knowing that it's not realistic at all. They both accept that they have different ideologies. They still respect and care about each other. But they have to remain a team no matter what. As Philip says, "it's us. It's always been us." That's a completely wrenching and chilling final scene for this hour. It leaves Philip in a very vulnerable and unstable place.

All of this doesn't even take into account that Philip's other son, Mischa, is finally in the United States and trying to find his father. Philip doesn't even know that this is happening. That could force him to spiral even more and risk further exposure of him and Elizabeth. It's instead up to Gabriel and Claudia to run interference. This story forces them to have one of their sit-downs to discuss all things Jennings. Claudia also notes how shaky Philip is in his beliefs for the cause. She knows that even though she's no longer interacting with him on a regular basis. She sees Mischa as a threat to the stability of this operation. Gabriel sees things different in believing that it should be Philip's choice whether or not to see Mischa. And yet, he's the one who ultimately has to meet with Mischa to dissuade him from this crazy adventure. That too is a very intense scene. Mischa came all this way. He's in a country where he barely speaks the language. He's not even successful in the end. Instead, he meets someone who tries to manipulate him into going back home. That's a very engaging scene that shows how precarious most of this universe is at the moment. All it really takes is one more thing to go wrong with Philip for everything to break apart completely.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Lotus 1-2-3" was written by Joshua Brand and directed by Noah Emmerich.
  • The audience has very wisely been suspicious of Renee this season. And now, Philip is expressing similar concerns in thinking that she is another KGB officer seducing Stan for information. He knows how much information he has given the Centre about Stan. He would make a good target. And yet, Philip's concerns aren't actually confirmed though. His awareness of the situation makes the show seem smart as well. It's not trying to trick the audience with some grand reveal most had already figured out.
  • That's also an impressive beard that Philip is sporting in his newest disguise as he follows Renee home after her date with Stan.
  • It's interesting to see Oleg go to the meeting with the CIA officers. And yet, no one is there to greet him. That shows that Stan's threat from last week actually worked. However, will it take the target off of Oleg for good? That seems unlikely.
  • The similarities between Stan and Oleg continue to grow as well. They are both doing things at work that they don't believe in. Tactics that their bosses approve of but they don't. That makes both of them just frustrated enough to lash out at the people they love.
  • Of course, it is pretty humorous to see Oleg's reaction upon returning home and seeing that his parents have invited three young women over for him. He's not interested at all and it leads to a big fight with his father.
  • Alexei's wife has also gotten a job teaching Russian to government officials. Elizabeth sees that as a potential way to know which CIA officers will be entering the Soviet Union in the future. So even though the main mission was bad, this other mission has some very promising leads.