Wednesday, April 18, 2018

REVIEW: 'The Americans' - Elizabeth and Philip Struggle with New and Repeated Failures in 'Mr. and Mrs. Teacup'

FX's The Americans - Episode 6.04 "Mr. and Mrs. Teacup"

After picking up a distressing piece of intelligence, Elizabeth takes extreme measures to get close to a Soviet negotiator. Philip shares some stunning news with Henry.

Elizabeth's lesson of the week for Paige is that a lot of the time they put in so much hard work for these missions only to get no results in the end. It's her trying to make sense of the latest mission that doesn't pan out. But it's also a part of a significant pattern for the show this season. It really is confirming that this isn't a job that anyone can do alone. Before, it was all about the agents needing someone they could talk to openly about every single aspect of this job. But now, the show is delving into the tactical benefits of having someone else in the field that an agent can trust completely. This entire series has presented so many examples of people failing because they tried going at it alone. It's because of their singular radical views that they didn't ultimately succeed with their various missions. They only created more headaches for themselves and the people around them. But now, Elizabeth and Philip are the ones operating alone. Neither of them are actually succeeding in their missions either. There is the ideal of them having new partners whom they can rely on as they embark on these new missions. Philip is reporting to Oleg while Elizabeth continues to train Paige. But those relationships aren't as tangible as one would be led to believe. Oleg cautions Philip that this is probably the last time they'll ever meet in person because the FBI is following him very closely. Meanwhile, Elizabeth is still keeping crucial details away from her daughter about this job. They understand the true realities of this kind of work. They know it's important to have ideologically sound reasons for everything that they do. But now, everything is just becoming so compromised that it threatens to ruin everything that the two of them have built across these six seasons.

Elizabeth still comes up short in trying to get her hands on the radiation sensor. She still doesn't have any clarity on how to use this device to aid in her secret mission. She just knows that it is important. But so far, it has eluded her on multiple occasions. Both instances could have been beneficial to have Philip in the field with her. He was the one who had the relationship with Rennhull. Philip understood why the general was giving information to his enemies. He wasn't betraying his country. He was just trying to protect the world. Philip could have cautioned Elizabeth from acting too aggressively. And now, Rennhull is dead. That was such a brutal sight for Paige to see. However, it seems like she has fully bought into the story that he killed himself. That's deeply troubling to Philip. He sees Paige becoming exactly like Elizabeth. He still wants to emotionally connect with his daughter. He wants her to think independently and feel the same emotions she has always had. He doesn't want to change her even though he must accept that she is joining the family business. He wants her to see that Rennhull was pushed into committing suicide. That Elizabeth was still responsible for that action even though she wasn't the one who ultimately pulled the trigger. He doesn't want her to just compartmentalize that trauma and move on to the next aspect of this job. He doesn't want that for her life. But he also feels incredibly distant from Paige and Elizabeth. He doesn't know every detail about their new bond and their lives. At times, Elizabeth even seems to say that Paige is her responsibility while Henry is Philip's. But even then, it seems like animosity that only further pushes them apart when they need to have an honest conversation about their struggles.

Elizabeth's failures in "Mr. and Mrs. Teacup" come from bad decisions of hers. She feels the pressure to get this radiation sensor as soon as possible. She knows how important it is to her mission. It's vital that she gets this before the summit. She needs to rely on it during this mission. But here, she storms the facility that houses it by herself. It's such a disorienting sequence because it is so dark. It's one of the longest sequences that takes place almost completely in the dark that I've ever seen in television. And yes, gritty prestige dramas have been darkening the optics of scenes for awhile now. It can sometimes be difficult to make out exactly what's going on. But here, the audience only has a few visual clues to key us in on what's going on. It's important that Elizabeth once again is forced to kill people. Even though she fails, her body count continues to rise. She continues to have to deal with collateral damage. But it's also important that the audience doesn't know it's a failure until Paige asked her how it went afterwards. Meanwhile, Elizabeth pushes Erica to attend a World Series viewing party because she hopes to listen in on some of the conversations that Glenn is having with the Russian on the negotiation team. But it's because she pushes to be there in person even though the atmosphere makes Erica so uncomfortable that ultimately derails this mission. She isn't able to get any helpful intelligence. In fact, it may only further destroy her relationship with the couple because they could easily blame her for pushing too hard for this. It also would have been so simple for Elizabeth to bug Glenn's jacket and listen to the recordings after he returns home not knowing if anything of value was actually discussed. That seems like a better way to go about this mission.

Meanwhile, Philip is dealing with personal failure in trying to adhere to the American way of life. For this entire series, he has been in love with America and the culture more than Elizabeth has. She still hates being in this country despite her being so good at her job. He sees it as a potential good thing that the Soviet Union seems to be willing to connect and have a relationship with the rest of the world. It's so fascinating to see Oleg and Philip meet each other because they both have had deeply conflicted feelings about this country. They love America even though they are completely devoted to the Soviet Union. They understand that this country isn't the enemy in the way that would make this job easier to do. The Americans are simply built with different values while still engaging in spycraft just like the Soviets. They are different but that doesn't make them evil or oppressive. But now, Philip is trying to live the American Dream of expanding the travel agency. That was a business decision that seems to be a massive failure. It has only sunk him into more debt while leaving it uncertain if he can continue paying for Henry's private school. He is so proud of the growth Henry has shown in this new environment. He wants to continue to support his son's dreams. But he also has to disappoint him with this news that he's failing because he tried to grow too quickly. Elizabeth still works at the travel agency as well. But she's not personally invested in it. She's too busy going out and working a dozen other missions. She's juggling a lot. And yet, these financial burdens are the only conversation that Philip and Elizabeth have that is genuine and real. She may not understand the scope of things. But she recognizes that it's a serious problem that is currently causing Philip a lot of strife.

Philip is also failing in his mission of spying on Elizabeth. He is trying to get closer with Elizabeth and Paige to understand what's happening. He genuinely does care about the well being of his daughter. He wants to know that she's not being placed in life-threatening situations. Elizabeth believes that she has never compromised Paige in that way even though it's very clear that she has. She has to accept that and promise that something like Rennhull will never happen again with Paige. It's Elizabeth continuing to rationalize a lot of the ugly realities of this job by believing that it won't be like this for Paige. She will be working a completely different job where she will have access to state secrets that she can report back to the Centre. She won't have to go out and kill people just because they happen to be at the wrong place at the wrong time. She won't have to set honeypots just to work a source and get information. And yet, that's something that is still tempting to Paige. At school, she is becoming friends with a guy who is also a Congressional intern. It's strange and surprising to see Paige just casually having sex with a guy. But it's also very ominous to watch as she's looking at his ID badge knowing what she could possibly do with it. Elizabeth doesn't believe Paige is ready for a mission like this. She's probably right with that assumption. But it's something that is happening nevertheless and could create more problems. Philip and Elizabeth really are feeling no support in their missions right now. All they see are a growing list of problems and time that's running out. They understand the stakes and want to continue serving their country. Philip is forced to question if he has taken too much of his life for granted. He may also be wondering if he could ever blend into the American life for good. These are some profound questions that are being asked in such an internal way because Philip and Elizabeth can no longer trust each other with the truth. It's still so tempting and intense when they are in bed together. But that moment is powerful because of all that is left unsaid between the two.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Mr. and Mrs. Teacup" was written by Peter Ackerman and directed by Roxann Dawson.
  • Claudia informs Elizabeth about Gennadi and Sofia defecting to the Americans. As such, she is tasked with following Stan in the hopes that he will lead them to where they are currently being stashed away. Claudia takes this defection personally because it's the Americans not only stealing one of their curriers but also one of their best hockey players. It also sets up such a destructive future for Elizabeth and Stan. She is finally targeting him after all of these years. That's bound to end in a horrible way.
  • It's also noteworthy that Elizabeth tells her fellow agents that Paige - aka Julie - is too fresh and inexperienced to be involved in the Stan mission. Of course, that's just a lie. She is keeping Paige far away from that operation because she knows it's going to be incredibly personal to her as well. Stan has been in her life for a long time too. Elizabeth exploiting that connection and possibly killing him may break Paige in the end.
  • Oleg is getting Philip's intelligence back to Moscow simply by calling his father and talking in code about the new transportation business tactics he is learning at this conference. Oleg's father than passes that information on to Arkady. It's a tense sequence where Oleg's two paternal figures meet. It also highlights how everyone in Oleg's family is extremely worried about his wellbeing while he's in America.
  • Philip is still running his mission with Kimmie as well. And yet, that too is a relationship that has changed significantly over the years. In the beginning, Kimmie was a rebelling teenager with daddy issues that Philip could fulfill. But now, she's been away at school and no longer needs to rely on that connection. It provides Philip with fewer opportunities to switch out the recordings in her father's briefcase. But it also establishes that Kimmie mostly keeps up this relationship because she sees Philip as a sad and broken man who has nothing else going on.
  • Philip goes country line dancing with his employees once more. However, it's not a celebration like it was in the premiere. The first time this happened it was a phenomenal payoff to something established in the first episode of the series. And now, it's laced with irony about Philip not being able to enjoy this any longer because the business is failing and he's about to ruin all of these people's lives.