Tuesday, April 18, 2017

REVIEW: 'The Americans' - Gabriel Reflects on the Sacrifices He's Made in His Life in 'The Committee on Human Rights'

FX's The Americans - Episode 5.07 "The Committee on Human Rights"

As Paige becomes even more enmeshed in her parents' world, tensions with Matthew Beeman come to a head. Philip and Elizabeth's honeytraps take surprising turns. Stan faces the consequences of overplaying his hand at the FBI.

"The Committee on Human Rights" is all about the weight that comes from making sacrifices for a greater good. That's been a core theme of the show for its entire series run. The characters are frequently forced to do these awful, inhumane things but are able to justify them by the beliefs that it's necessary for the betterment of their country. But this hour is primarily concerned with how all of these actions weigh on the individuals over time. They just continue to stack up and up. The people just have to live with it. That's easy when they are completely committed to the cause. But if there is any doubt or remorse, it can be absolutely devastating. That seems to be what this season is ultimately about. These characters can continue to go through these missions in the hopes that they'll be the key difference in changing the Cold War. But there's no guarantee that their actions will actually accomplish anything. Gabriel is getting out of this life because he's old, tired and keeping a secret from the Jennings. He's very introspective about his life and his affection for both of them. But it's also clear that his departure is going to be a major turning point for the show. One that may ultimately doom Philip and Elizabeth as covert Soviet spies operating in America.

Unsurprisingly, the episode opens with the continuation of Gabriel and Paige meeting for the first time. That was a very surprising but enticing conclusion to the previous episode. It was Philip and Elizabeth allowing Paige to learn more about their work. She's falling further into their world. And yet, this meeting is awkward as well. All of the characters are in impossible situations. Paige simply doesn't know the right questions to ask. She knows the mission her parents are currently on with the wheat supply. However, she doesn't know to ask about all of the specific sacrifices they have to make to succeed in this line of work. Similarly, Gabriel has so much affection for Paige because he's known her for her entire life. And yet, this is his first time actually meeting her. He's seeing what she is like in person. It's not just secondhand reporting from Philip and Elizabeth. He does talk about the great work that they all do as spies. But he has to be very careful with what he says as well because he doesn't want to make Philip and Elizabeth's lives anymore difficult - especially when they should be focusing on their current missions.

None of this ultimately brings clarity or meaning to Paige. She continues to feel isolated. She's questioning the entire world around her. Gabriel commends Elizabeth for raising a daughter who doesn't expect happiness given to her. But right now, Paige is really struggling. There are so many people in her life telling her what to feel. There are adults from both corners of her life telling her the importance of sacrifices. With Gabriel, he quotes Karl Marx - an author Paige has just started reading - in order to honor the sacrifice Philip and Elizabeth have made for their country. To him, they are heroes who should be rewarded despite the horrors they endure in this work. Later on, Pastor Tim provides a similar argument by using Jesus as an example for the importance of sacrifice. All of it is ultimately more confusing for Paige. It finally pushes her to break up with Matthew. That's a brutal scene because she simply can't provide a reason for why it's happening. Plus, things get a little physical as well. She can't be honest with anyone in her life. She's had to deal with a lot lately. And yet, she still wants to be a teenage girl who is able to come home to loving parents who'll help her through a breakup. Instead, she returns to an empty house. It's a familiar sight to her. But right now, she needs more. Philip and Elizabeth can't provide it to her. Even when they finally return and talk with her, there is still so much distance between them.

Meanwhile, Philip and Elizabeth's goodbyes with Gabriel are completely different. It shows the unique relationship both of them had with him. He was crucial to their stability as operatives. He was able to bring comfort as the world only got more difficult for them. He's also an old man at the end of his career who is looking back on his actions with the benefit of hindsight. He's still loyal to his country. He still believes in everything that they are doing. He's happy with how Elizabeth continues to work as an operative. And yet, he is very similar to Philip because of what they are feeling about their past actions. It's absolutely brutal when those two characters sit down for their final conversation. Gabriel has been very forthcoming with information about Philip's past this season. But now, he's delving into his own. He's providing new context for the horrors of post-war life in the Soviet Union. Gabriel has lived a life where he believed in the clarity of the situation. He believed strongly that the cause was strong and right. But now, he's realizing the horror that came from simply following orders. He committed some truly despicable acts in the name of country. He killed innocent people. It was his job. And now, he has to live with that while going home to a country where he has very little family. Philip and Elizabeth are his surrogate children and he can't be honest with them about everything he knows.

However, this final scene takes quite an interesting turn as well. Philip has always needed careful handling as an agent. He's unpredictable which could compromise a mission at any possible moment. In the beginning, the two are able to agree it's nice to go out on a high with the latest mission being a success. Gabriel is returning to the Soviet Union with the crop that will hopefully solve the country's food problems. Of course, it's a tainted emotion as well because the characters and the audience know the horrors that came before this moment. The two have that sit down conversation. But things turn once Gabriel heads to leave for good. Philip simply needs to know if the Centre sent Renee to spy on Stan. This is the final conversation he is going to have with Gabriel. He needs to know the truth. He puts it in a very blunt way. Gabriel responds with a very blunt answer as well. This interaction shows the growing instability of this dynamic. Gabriel seemingly provides an answer in saying that Renee isn't one of them. But he also casts more doubt on the situation by adding that maybe the Centre didn't tell him about it because Philip might ask this very question. So, it's not really a definitive answer at all. It will continue to just frustrate Philip. But the real curveball comes when Gabriel says that Philip was right about Paige. She isn't suited for this line of work. The Centre pressured Philip and Elizabeth into doing this. They've had to delicately handle the situation. It may have ruined Paige for the rest of her life. And now, Gabriel is saying with complete conviction that Philip was right all along. Nothing can be done to change that. Paige still feels all alone and misunderstood. There is nothing Philip and Elizabeth can do to help her. Knowing this will more than likely keep Philip spiraling - which will create a nice situation for whomever the next handler will be.

Some more thoughts:
  • "The Committee on Human Rights" was written by Hilary Bettis and directed by Matthew Rhys.
  • It's important to note that Philip and Elizabeth don't tell Paige that the wheat mission isn't what they first thought. They keep her in the dark in order to continue to vilify America. It's all a ploy to get her to see this country in an unflattering light just like they do. Paige was born here and conditioned into believing the good of the country. Philip and Elizabeth are responsible for making sure she sees the realities of the world - even if they too are fantasies at the moment.
  • Things aren't totally going according to plan with Philip and Elizabeth's respective honey traps. Philip's mark largely just wants him for sex and has picked up on how everything is such a big deal to him. Meanwhile, Elizabeth's mark is actually going out with another woman in Memphis.
  • Philip comforting Elizabeth for the fact that she actually likes Ben is very telling about their dynamic. Elizabeth has accepted that Philip falls for his marks and gets overly attached to them. For her though, it's simply something she can't do. It sets a high standard for her that becomes complicated when she can't stick to it.
  • Stan and Aderholt are struggling with their mission to recruit new informants. They have one potential option. But she is very worried because they can't promise safety and protection for her and her child. Stan thinks being honest is the right approach while Aderholt thinks it may have ruined things for good.
  • Of course, Stan needs this operation to actually become something major as well. It's the only thing keeping him at his job. The Deputy Attorney General got the CIA to back off Oleg. But now, he wants Stan out of the department. This ongoing case is the only thing keeping him there. If it doesn't go anywhere, Stan could lose it all.
  • Oleg tells his mother about the CIA not showing up for the meetings. So, they can breathe easier knowing that his future isn't in danger. This story is also fascinating because it continues the theme of children learning more about their parents. Here, Oleg gets the file of his mother's record while in a work camp.
  • The show has many characters in the Soviet Union right now - including Oleg, Gabriel, Mischa and Martha. The only one of ongoing importance is Oleg. Will that change in the future now that Gabriel is there too? That's unclear. This feels like his big exit on the show.