Wednesday, April 11, 2018

REVIEW: 'The Americans' - Elizabeth Yearns for the Past While Philip Enjoys the Idealistic Future in 'Urban Transport Planning'

FX's The Americans - Episode 6.03 "Urban Transport Planning"

In the aftermath of a disastrous operation, Philip and Elizabeth clash about how to handle things with Paige. Stan struggles to contain the growing risks of Sofia and Gennadi's fraying relationship.

A pattern has started to emerge in the final season of The Americans. Every episode so far has featured Elizabeth killing someone near the end of the hour. It's a brutal plot point to be aware of. That aspect of the job has been apparent since the very beginning. Philip and Elizabeth have killed so many people over the course of the series. But now, death is being used to highlight just how difficult and chaotic this job has become for Elizabeth because she is no longer working with her partner. Yes, the two of them killed people when the other wasn't involved in that specific mission. But they always had the confidence and understanding that they could return home and tell their spouse everything. And now, that is no longer the case. Elizabeth is dealing with the realities of this job all by herself. She has replaced Philip in the field with Paige. And yet, Paige is still just learning the ins and outs of this job. She is still prone to making mistakes that could have major consequences. Plus, Elizabeth always needs to be careful not to scare Paige aware with the true reality and the messiness of this profession. Philip completely understands the ugliness of meeting a mark and having to kill them because they represent a threat to their country and the mission. But here, it's just such an innocent comment that leads Elizabeth to kill. Her mission still requires this radiation detection device. She still doesn't have it. But now, she has an understanding of the building it is located in and the security protocols she'll have to work around. This source is great for information but dies because he happens to mention he's dating a co-worker who would easily see through this security audit charade. That's why Elizabeth has to kill him. It's such a tragic moment because it again showcases the strength of the character while being so uncomfortable that she needs to do this yet again in a world that keeps putting her in these circumstances.

Elizabeth just narrowly escaped death last week. It was such an ominous moment when Paige came running towards the meeting only to see General Rennhull's brain matter sprayed all across Elizabeth's face. That moment had the potential to completely destroy Paige's faith in this profession and what her mother is actually doing. The handling of this further highlights just how separate Philip and Elizabeth's lives currently are. Paige retreats to the family home because she needs love and nurturing right now to understand the brutality that was on display. Philip is able to give her the advice from EST that she needs to allow herself to feel these emotions. She can't just repress them in the hopes of forgetting them one day. He tells her that she can lean on Elizabeth for emotional support during times like this. That is followed rather unfortunately by Elizabeth storming into the house to yell at Paige about abandoning her post and putting the entire mission into jeopardy. She has no sympathy for what her daughter has gone through. She just sees a spy not following the plan which may potentially invite suspicion to their family. She can't have anything jeopardize their lives because the work she is doing right now is too important. Of course, Elizabeth still feels like she is comforting Paige by showing her this tough love. The two of them have gotten so close this season. They are working together. Their bond is significant because it represents a connection back home for Elizabeth. This is the way she was raised in this system and she's hopeful that it will produce the same results with Paige. It's only the next day when she actually tries to explain what happened and how best to deal with the fallout both emotionally and realistically throughout the world.

This also calls to attention just how significant those cultural teachings are at Claudia's safe house. It plays as family bonding. Elizabeth and Claudia are teaching Paige their culture. They are showing her a part of their world so that she can understand where she comes from and the importance of everything. It's a sly way to make her relate to that world and their beliefs on how society should work. It's comforting to Elizabeth as well. During that precious time, she can just let her guard down. She doesn't have to be a spy. She can just be a proud Soviet woman teaching her daughter about the world. It's only upon leaving that room that she is hit with the reality that she isn't actually in that world. She so desperately wants to share this experience with Philip. There is clearly a yearning on Elizabeth's part to make this marriage what it once was. It's significant that she is still talking to the man who married them in secret. He is willing to talk with them at the same time as well. But here, it's crucial that Elizabeth is trying to mend their bond simply by bringing some food home for Philip. It's such an emotional and taunt scene because it's problematic for this food to be in this house. They would be poor spies if they just had Soviet food in their refrigerator. It's tragic because Philip can't enjoy it in the same way that Elizabeth, Paige and Claudia can. He has to be resigned to just eating a bite. He already had Chinese takeout. It was a sweet gesture on Elizabeth's part. But everything lands with a thud as soon as she has to wash the food down the garbage disposal. That, in turn, stirs a new debate about how the world is changing and whether or not Philip and Elizabeth can change with it.

These opening episodes have shown just how isolated Philip is from the rest of the family. Yes, he and Elizabeth still work together at the travel agency. She is still working there as well. But she's not devoted to it the same way that he is. It's a full-time job for him. He's the one making motivational speeches and trying to face the realities of expanding the business too quickly and possibly not being able to pay for Henry's private school. And yet, he no longer has the security clearance to know everything that's going on with Elizabeth and Paige. He doesn't know anything about the missions they are running. As such, it seems like he no longer has a say on what's going on with Paige. He is trying to still be a parent to her here. But it's also clear that Elizabeth is handling her in her way. That's devastating. It's also difficult when Philip and Elizabeth get into a huge fight about their ideals for their country. Philip doesn't think that it's so bad that the Soviet Union is opening up and willing to change to better identify with the rest of the world. To him, it's a merging of his two worlds that he could really appreciate and enjoy. He has been so happy in America for so long. He still loves his country. But he's also open to the idea of it being like someplace new if he should ever return. Meanwhile, Elizabeth is still holding onto the ideas of the past of the Soviet Union being strong because it stands in opposition to the rest of the world. It's not bowing down and conforming to one way of thinking. It has its own independence. To her, that is so inspirational. It's a mission she is still completely devoted to. And yet, it's through this interaction that Philip realizes that Elizabeth may not be changing with the times. It may be best to monitor her and work with Oleg to figure out if she is working with the people who are a threat to the future of the country. It marks the return of sad Philip as he goes to this meeting while also betraying the person he loves the most in this world.

Meanwhile, Stan has to make a decision regarding Sofia and Gennadi. He needs to figure out if it's time to pull this operation. He sees it as in jeopardy because Sofia told one of her co-workers about this arrangement. As such, it makes it seem like it has out-lived its usefulness. Stan and Aderholt discuss it for a bit. Then, they make the move to pick Sofia and Gennadi up to offer them political asylum in America. It's a move that they weren't expecting at all. Gennadi sees it as the end of this relationship. He still wants to fix it because he loves Sofia and her son. But now, they are presented with a world of living new identities and never being able to communicate with anyone from their old lives. It's such an unfortunate thing that happens to them. It happens because they could no longer keep going on the way they have been. Of course, the amount of time spent on the two of them this season likely signals that this isn't the end of their story. They weren't the most memorable characters to join the series last season. The time jump could have allowed the writers a way out of including them in the narrative. But they stuck around for a reason. Perhaps it's to serve as a warning for the kind of fate that could be awaiting Philip, Elizabeth and their family. It would be tragic if that relationship was split up and forced to live in a country that neither one of them loved. Everything that they have become comfortable with in this world would be taken from them. That includes the children as they would have their own futures to worry about possibly away from Philip and Elizabeth. The love is still present in everything that they do. But the show is winding down and the tension is really amping up as Philip and Elizabeth don't know if they can trust each other and their ideals anymore.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Urban Transport Planning" was written by Tracey Scott Wilson and directed by Dan Attias.
  • Stan finally meets Oleg at his hotel. It's such a powerful scene because it addresses everything that that relationship has been about over the course of the series. Oleg wonders if Stan ever thinks about Nina like he does. Stan also feels the need to apologize for the actions the CIA took to try to recruit Oleg. Oleg is furious that an apology is all that he's getting from Stan. But it's also two well-trained officers sizing each other up and trying to warn the other that bad things are coming if they continue.
  • The Sofia and Gennadi operation was the only thing keeping Stan connected to the office he served in for the previous five seasons. Now, he has a new role in the FBI. He is working to stop bank robbers and money launderers. He's no longer working counter-intelligence. And yet, the narrative will more than likely find a way to keep him partnered with Aderholt as well as be involved in whatever happens with the Jennings family.
  • Renee is envious of Philip and Elizabeth's marriage because they work together. She doesn't know the half of it. She doesn't see the strain between the two because she doesn't know the full story. She just likes that they don't have to pretend to be interested in how the other's day went. Of course, that leads to an odd suggestion where she asks Stan if she can join the FBI and he says no because she is too old.
  • The American-Soviet negotiating committee is just going out to lunch when Elizabeth and her team are surveilling them and listening in. It's a pretty innocuous conversation that doesn't have anything to do with their jobs and the negotiations. But it is significant because it proves that the younger generation is more open to new ideas in the hopes of forming better international relations - as explained through an interest in baseball.
  • It really is a lot of fun seeing Philip try to motivate his employees at the travel agency into action. He's desperate to turn around the business in order for there to be less of a financial burden on him. It's clear he's in a transitional period at this job - which is made more ironic by the audience knowing that the death of travel agencies isn't too far into the future. But Philip not being able to pay for Henry's school could bring Henry back into the family fold very quickly.