Tuesday, May 2, 2017

REVIEW: 'The Americans' - Philip and Elizabeth's Real and Fake Children Surprise Them in 'IHOP'

FX's The Americans - Episode 5.09 "IHOP"

Philip and Elizabeth are thrown off balance when things with Tuan take an unexpected turn. Henry makes a startling proposition. Stan has a disturbing encounter with Frank Gaad's widow.

"IHOP" takes a fascinating but tense look at the relationships between parents and their children. That has always been a strong theme of the show. Philip and Elizabeth's work has alienated Paige to the point that she doesn't feel normal. Oleg was running away from his father's government shadow. Stan's work at the FBI destroyed his family. But this episode provides a very different prospective. Philip and Elizabeth are still dealing with the erratic behavior of children. But for once, Paige is the missing Jennings kid this week. Henry and Tuan are the center of focus. Both of them have big declarations for Philip and Elizabeth. Those two are parents to one and make belief to the other. But both of them are at crucial tuning points regarding what they want out of their lives moving forward. It's strong thematic material that shows how Philip and Elizabeth differ in their parenting styles for all of their children - both real and fake.

Henry stopping Philip and Elizabeth in the kitchen for a serious conversation is very reminiscent of the time Paige did the same thing and learned about their true identities. It sets up the feeling that that's about to happen all over again. Philip and Elizabeth are already juggling so much right now. They still have a precarious situation with Paige in addition to their missions with Tuan and Kimmy, their trips to Topeka and adjusting to Claudia as their handler. Adding yet another mission could really force them to break and risk exposure. However, that's not what occurs. Henry has had newfound importance this season. That stems from him suddenly doing well in school. It's been a consistent story. And now, it has the potential to take him away from the family. He wants to go to a boarding school in New Hampshire. He's been making plans and building a future his parents know nothing about. And surprisingly, it's Philip who has a problem with all of this seemingly because he doesn't see Henry as that kind of kid. That's defeating and shows that he really doesn't care to learn more about Henry at all.

Meanwhile, Philip is perhaps a bit more sympathetic to what Tuan is trying to do right now. This kid has been begging for the Jennings to spend more time with him. He's lonely. But that plan backfires immediately when Elizabeth decides to go over there and he's nowhere to be found. She finds no evidence that something more nefarious is going. No clues as to where he may be. It's the big mystery of this episode. Where is Tuan going in the middle of the night? It's a mystery the show does provide an answer to as well. After surveilling and confronting him, he reveals that he's checking up on the brother he had in his previous foster family who is battling leukemia. It seems to be a believable story. Tuan has shared how much he loved that family. He's working as an agent for his government now. But he still has these personal feelings. He cares about them and wants to do something. That's something that Philip can identify with. He wonders if Tuan is doing this in the hopes of being sent back to Vietnam. That's more than likely Philip projecting his own feelings onto the situation. He would love to stop this work and return home. And yet, he lacks the courage and determination to do anything about it. So instead, he's still here doing the job even though it's becoming harder and harder.

Philip is hit with a major realization about the work in this hour as well. When listening to the tapes of Kimmy's father, he hears that Afghan freedom fighters were killed by something that may resemble the virus they took from William's body. Philip is incredibly shaken when he tells Elizabeth what he has heard. It could ultimately be nothing. A simple coincidence or misunderstanding. But it seems more likely that the Soviet government has instead weaponized the virus for their personal gain in the war in Afghanistan. It's a crushing realization for Philip because it means the handlers and the Centre have been lying to them. Both he and Elizabeth do this job because it's a cause they believe in. And yet, they have both been far removed from the current state of things in their country for a long time. What they're fighting for may not match up with the current ideals of their country. This season has exposed just how destructive and oppressive the Soviet Union was during this time. It's a harsh life filled with corruption. It's not a happy place for any assets recruited to the cause to go. Philip and Elizabeth still believe they are fighting the good fight. But that depends entirely on the information they have. And now, things are only growing more murky.

All of this only works because of the show's conviction of following characters after they go to Moscow. In the beginning, whenever a character was sent away, it felt like the end of their time on the show. And yet, the drama has been consistent in showing what their lives in Russia are like. It started with Nina in prison. And now, Oleg is working a new job while Gabriel, Martha and Mischa are wandering around the city as well. Oleg has emerged as a really sympathetic character as the series has gone along. His story fits well into the themes of this hour too. The pain in his father's voice as he tells Oleg about the harsh realities of his mother working in a camp is palpable. It also mirrors the situation going on across the world with the Jennings. The parents tried keeping the kids away from the truths and mistakes of their lives. But now, one of them knows just enough to see their parents differently while the other is completely in the dark. Oleg wanted answers but they are very painful as well. Of course, that allows him to be more effective at his job too. The pain and clarity of his family situation allows him to finally get a name for who is at the top of the food corruption. But he's still being monitored by the CIA and Directorate K. So, he may not be able to change anything despite those ambitions.

And finally, this episode includes another surprising but welcome appearance by Martha. When she showed up in the supermarket earlier this season, it felt like a sad coda to her story. She fell in love with the wrong man and this is now her life. She's alive but miserable. She lives in a country where she doesn't know the language and has no friends. It could be a relief when she sees a familiar face in Gabriel. But that only serves as a reminder for all that has happened. There was a time when she truly believed that Clark loved her and thought about her even single day. But now, her eyes are open to the truth. She knows that she was just a mission to him. A way to get inside the FBI to steal crucial information. She was a tool that had a purpose but has now been discarded. Gabriel checks up on her seemingly because he cares and has nothing else in his life in Moscow. But she's angry and resentful. The worst has already happened to her. Her world had been torn apart. Now, she's barely surviving. But she's still alive which always has the potential to be an interesting complication later on. 

Some more thoughts:
  • "IHOP" was written by Peter Ackerman and directed by Dan Attias.
  • It's been a long time since Kimmy has been seen. This is her first appearance of the season. But it's always important to be reminded that this is still an ongoing mission for Philip. It still has the potential to produce meaningful intel at any given moment.
  • The scene with Philip and one of Gabriel's other agents could be seen as this very random thing. And yet, it's also Philip bluntly recognizing that he's juggling too many operations right now. He simply can't add another one. He has that power now because Gabriel's replacement hasn't come yet.
  • Henry continues to say that Chris isn't his girlfriend but he has been spending a lot of time with her and her family. So much so that her father would write him a recommendation letter for this elite private school. That's significant. 
  • Wolfe was very supportive of Stan when he forced the CIA to stop trying to recruit Oleg in Moscow. But now, he's coming to Stan with a changed mind and talking up the value that Oleg could have for the agency. Why the sudden push now though?
  • Stan also gets new proof that the KGB killed Frank Gaad. He then goes to see Gaad's widow who says that he would have wanted to get revenge. So, Stan's feelings for Oleg are getting in the way of him honoring his former boss. 
  • Oleg is still mad about what happened to Nina. He couldn't save her. Plus, he doesn't even know all of the details. It's nice to be reminded of all for this. But it also has the sense of foreshadowing something else, right?