Wednesday, April 4, 2018

REVIEW: 'The Americans' - The Weight of Elizabeth's New Mission Starts Affecting Her Work in 'Tchaikovsky'

FX's The Americans - Episode 6.02 "Tchaikovsky"

Elizabeth targets an old source who could tip the balance of the upcoming summit, as Philip deals with business at the travel agency. Stan learns an old friend is back in town.

The season premiere established the premise for the final season with a conflict between Philip and Elizabeth over the best direction for the KGB moving forward. It's a conflict that threatened their marriage. And now, the weight of that reveal is becoming apparent in their interactions and actions. Elizabeth is now planning for a future where she might not be alive for much longer. She wants to ensure that Paige continues to be trained in this work by Claudia. Philip is incredibly skeptical that Elizabeth would be doing anything that could jeopardize all of their lives. And yet, he is also completely aware that there is much more troubling her than simply worrying about Paige in the field. It's such a tense dynamic between them right now. And yet, they barely interact with each other at all throughout this episode. In fact, it's a pretty light weak for Philip - possibly because Matthew Rhys directed this episode. But that growing distance between Philip and Elizabeth is important for this conflict as well. It's a story that lives in the grey areas of life and this profession. Elizabeth has always been steadfast in her belief that this is a just cause and she will do whatever her country asks of her. Even when she is already extremely overworked and tired, she will add even more responsibilities to her plate. Meanwhile, the job was physically and emotionally exhausting to Philip. He could be distraught over the consequences of his actions and whether or not it was worth it. He needed to get out when he did. But now, he is coming to realize just how much the world has changed in the three years since he left this job. It's a reveal that shows just how empty and lonely his current life actually is.

"Tchaikovsky" is also an hour that sees a significant blast from the past return. The show isn't asking the audience to remember every single character that has ever appeared on the show and which ones can still cause lingering problems for Philip and Elizabeth. And yet, it's still significant when the show reaches way deep into its past to bring Colonel Rennhull back into the fold. He was the colonel who told Philip back in the first season that the Strategic Defense Initiative doesn't really work. It was all completely fake. He gave that information to the Soviets because he feared that the belief that it was real would only lead to further bloodshed. In getting that information, it put Philip and Elizabeth's lives in significant jeopardy. But it was also critical information for them to pass along to the Centre. Rennhull has never been important since that moment. And yet, that interaction forever changed his life because someone was killed because he leaked information. He is forever haunted by that death. That fuels his interactions with Elizabeth here. He is now a general and could potentially provide even more intelligence to the Soviets. The Centre has never exploited that connection again. But now, it needs to because of a device that Elizabeth may eventually need for her top-secret mission. She's given the instructions by Claudia who speaks cryptically because she has no idea what's actually going on with Elizabeth. That's a meaningful change to their relationship. Claudia has always been the handler guiding her agents through their missions and keeping them calm and focused. She continues to control Paige's Soviet lessons. But here, she's in the dark and not demanding more information despite the danger it puts Elizabeth in.

And yet, the relationship between agent and handler is still so critical. It's almost therapeutic. Elizabeth enjoys having that connection where she can speak openly about her precise view of the world. She doesn't understand how someone like Erica can just spend her whole life painting. She's obsessed over the arts and it doesn't seem to contribute anything of importance whatsoever. When Elizabeth looks at her pieces of work, all she sees is what they literally are. She doesn't attempt to explore the depths of what Erica is trying to portray. That's frustrating to Elizabeth because she's willfully keeping this woman alive through the summit even though she desperately wants to die. Elizabeth is agreeing to help her and her husband figure out the best way to commit suicide. But it needs to be carefully handled. It's enough for Erica to tell Elizabeth to pick up a pencil and only draw the dark parts of the mug in front of her. Those are instructions that Elizabeth doesn't understand at all. But it also puts things in stark contrast for this episode. Paige asks Elizabeth about agents using sex to get what they want from their targets. Elizabeth tries coming up with an explanation where the lines are blurred and the world is much more complicated than the black-and-white depictions that are described in books. And yet, Elizabeth is saying that as someone who would never betray her country or question an order. She is completely and blindly devoted to the cause. She's saying it to protect her daughter. But she's also speaking down to Paige in order to control her mind and keep her with the program. She's allowing complexity into the situation as a way to protect her daughter's beliefs while still revealing to her the realities of this specific profession. Elizabeth is clinging onto the idea that Paige will have a much better life as a spy than she ever did. That's one of the sole things keeping her going right now.

Elizabeth's interactions with her many assets are so incredibly varied this week as well. She is trying to be nurturing and understanding with Erica and Glenn. She is very forceful and demanding with Rennhull. And then, she's very friendly and flirtatious with Patrick McCleesh, a government official she's been working with for a few years now. Unlike Rennhull, this is a completely new character for the final season. Elizabeth's relationship with him flourished during the time jump. He's one of her many sources. She has worked her way in by pretending to be an employee at the State Department. That leads to a very precarious situation where she has to break into the State Department cafeteria just to have lunch with him. It proves to be a very beneficial and eye-opening exchange of information as well. It introduces the idea that senior officials believe President Reagan is growing senile and not making the best decisions lately. It's a bombshell for Elizabeth and Claudia to deal with. They have to reflect on if this actually changes anything for them or if it just places even more power on those close advisers actually making all of the decisions now. It doesn't ultimately change anything for them. But it was also a huge risk to get that piece of information. Elizabeth came so close to being discovered. She managed to avoid it simply by getting McCleesh out to a picnic table in time. This is a very intense and intimate relationship the two of them clearly have. Elizabeth points out that he is very much smitten with her. As such, it seems likely that Elizabeth will do or has already done the one tactic in this job that she told Paige she never did.

However, Paige also witnesses a particularly brutal moment with Elizabeth at the end of the episode. Elizabeth surprises Rennhull to inform him of her demand for this machine. He shows up for the official meeting to talk about how it was a mistake in the past to work with the Soviets. He doesn't want to share anything with them ever again. Elizabeth points out that they could easily end his career by revealing him as a traitor. That leads to a second meeting in a completely different park. It's in that place where things take a tragic turn. It's so ominous and scary when Rennhull pulls a gun on Elizabeth with the intention of killing her for compromising his life. Of course, Elizabeth has youth on her side in being able to overpower him in this fight. And yet, Rennhull still chooses to kill himself instead of giving anything more to the Soviets. It's a tragic moment because Paige comes running up to the meeting worried about her mother only to find Elizabeth covered with blood. It's such a horrifying sight. It's Paige seeing Elizabeth in a new light. In that moment, all of Elizabeth's cover identities are dropped. She is simply a mother trying to protect her daughter from the harsh realities of this life. And yet, this isn't something that Paige can unsee. It's a moment that will probably shape her story this season. Paige has witnessed her mother kill people before. But then, it was just some random muggers who chose the wrong person to attack that fateful night. Here, it seems like Elizabeth killed this man after getting what she wanted from him. It's a case where Elizabeth will need to embrace the grey moral area in order to explain the situation to Paige. It has the potential to cause even more pain and hardship in this family unit - which may be just enough for it to completely explode before the summit.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Tchaikovsky" was written by Joel Fields & Joe Weisberg and directed by Matthew Rhys.
  • Stan is no longer working in the same office at the FBI. Instead, he is working on drug and homicide cases. The only business he has with Aderholt is in maintaining themselves as the handlers for Sofia and Gennadi. That proves to be a little difficult here as Sofia kicks Gennadi out of the house. She's furious because he never listens to her, is sleeping with other women and she's fallen in love with a co-worker.
  • It too is very therapeutic in the scene where Gennadi confesses everything to Stan knowing that he's the only person in the world who can truly understand what is happening in this relationship. It's a risk for Stan to move forward with the latest mission with Gennadi. But it's also just a lot of fun seeing the system that's been worked out over the last few years - in a sequence set to Talking Heads' "Slippery People."
  • Stan also learns that Oleg is back in town. He's not here on diplomatic business either. He's instead visiting on a Visa and attending a seminar for public transportation. It's a solid cover as he is now working for his father back home. And yet, Stan and Aderholt remain very skeptical about whether he has actually left the KGB. The audience knows that they are right to feel that way too.
  • When discussing Tchaikovsky, Claudia notes that his mother died when he was young and he was a very lonely person. That could also describe Philip right now. Yes, he has the life he has always wanted. But both of his children are out of the house - Henry at school, Paige at her own apartment. Elizabeth is working all hours of the day. Plus, the travel agency has expanded so that he no longer has time for even his most personal clients.
  • It's also just so difficult for Philip and Elizabeth to talk right now. He is willing to help lift some of the burden off of her shoulders. He wants to hear about the various missions she is working on. And yet, she feels the duty to keep things to herself to ensure the safety of those missions. Instead, she tells a story of Paige mixing up a name in the field. It's only something minor but it also proves that the two can't really be genuine with each other anymore.