Wednesday, May 2, 2018

REVIEW: 'The Americans' - A Holiday Brings the Jennings Family Together and Then Apart in 'Rififi'

FX's The Americans - Episode 6.06 "Rififi"

A sudden assignment pulls Elizabeth away from her family at a crucial moment. At the FBI, a major development leads Aderholt to approach Stan about an urgent investigation.

There have been so many potential tipping points for the Jennings marriage over the course of the entire series. That has been amplified immensely throughout this final season because of Elizabeth working overly hard now that Philip has retired from the spy game. And yet, the story of this final season has pitted them against each other. It's understood that the two of them had no problem navigating this new status quo during the three year time jump ahead of this season. But now, the stakes are incredibly high because of the changing ideologies of their country. They are faced to really double down on their beliefs and how they actually stand in opposition to one another. There is so much love and affection between Philip and Elizabeth. They understand each other and will do whatever it takes to protect each other. But there has been so much distance between them this season. Philip's trivial problems at the travel agency seem ridiculous to Elizabeth who is literally risking everything just in order to complete her mission before this life-changing summit. The two of them have such vastly different takes on the world. But now, they are both forced to engage in spycraft once more. It seemed like the narrative pushed them past the point of no return in last week's episode with Philip ultimately deciding not to go through with the plan to kidnap Kimmy to extort her father for information. He's not secretive about that decision either. He made a choice to betrayal Elizabeth at this moment even when she is telling him that this is the only way they can succeed. It's so completely fascinating to see how immediately this changes their bond while still allowing them to fundamentally go back to normal as well. It's such a fraught relationship well informed over so many years of this story. And now, the audience gets the sense that tragedy is lurking around the corner just getting ready to strike them as soon as they act.

It is genuinely surprising that Philip confesses his actions to Elizabeth about Kimmy right away. She is understandably furious. She knows what's at stake if she doesn't get this intelligence before the summit. She saw this as the only possible way of getting it. She angrily yells at Philip about him only wanting to sleep with Kimmy. He never really cared about the mission or what she is asking of him. She says that despite all of the evidence to the contrary. She knows just how painful maintaining that relationship was for Philip. She knows the anguish it has caused him over the years - especially with how it shaped his own relationship with Paige. But in this moment, she sees Philip as the enemy who is ruining these relationships because he's absolutely done with his work and his country now. She sees a man who no longer has a mission or a purpose. She just sees someone who is walking around his life not really being engaged by it or making a difference. She still values the importance of her job. She doesn't have time to explain everything to Philip. They haven't been connecting in a long time. Part of that is because she needs to keep secrets from him. When he goes to the storage lot, he is getting a glimpse into this completely other life that Elizabeth is currently living for her country. The audience understands the importance of the wigs, outfits and drawings. But Philip just sees questions that further make him curious about the mess she has gotten into. And yet, she runs off for another critical mission and leaves Philip behind to clean up the mess. That's what their marriage has become at this point.

It's also notable because of the time of year this takes place in. The Americans are celebrating Thanksgiving. It's a holiday that Philip and Elizabeth don't cherish at all. It's not a celebration for them to feel patriotic. In fact, it only makes them feel more vitriol because they see a country talking about how free and independent they are when they have such suspicious views of the way the Americans have always operated on the global stage. It's easy for Stan to get swept up in the moment when he is delivering a speech at the Thanksgiving dinner table. This job is so passionate to him as well. He is proud of the work he does and the country he serves. But he has just suffered another devastating loss. He releases some of that burden of Sofia and Gennadi's deaths to Philip who in turn gets confirmation from Elizabeth that she's not as depraved and vicious as Stan is making the killer out to be. But it also fuels Stan's anti-communism rhetoric around the dinner table. All Philip and Paige have to do is sit there and smile even though they have a much more complex view of the world. They have spent so much of their lives in America. They understand the values of the people and how someone like Stan operates. But now, they are much more sympathetic to the Soviet Union. It's awkward for all involved. It also highlights the glaring absence around this event. This is a time for families to come together and be grateful for all that they have. It brings Henry down from his private school to interact with the family for the first time this season. But that also further shows just how independent he has become from the rest of them.

It's simply standard that Philip and Elizabeth tell lies and make last-minute trips for business reasons. Henry has grown up in a household where he was always the forgotten child. Paige was the one who was always yearning for connection and desperate to know the truth. She got exactly what she asked for and was immediately horrified by it. She put her entire family into jeopardy because she didn't know how to be loved within this truth about their family. Henry has never had that sense of yearning. Instead, he's always had to go off and find his own path in this world because his family never completely made him feel included and loved. Yes, he cherishes the phone calls he still has with his father. And yet, Philip is upset that Henry decided to talk to a friend's father about the failing travel agency. Philip is so reluctant to say that the travel agency is now a failure. He still believes it can still be salvaged simply by firing a few of the costlier employees. But it showcases a pattern where Philip and Elizabeth are constantly surprised by what Henry is up to. They've never had to worry about him. Now, he's inserting himself into their business. He's talking about the travel agency with other people when Philip wants to keep the struggles private. He warns that all of Elizabeth's smoking is doing immense harm to her body. Even after all of that though, it's clear that his parents are so self-involved that they barely listen to him. That's what makes it so strange when Elizabeth calls during her business trip to simply ask him about school and what's going on in his life. It's weird because he has never had that kind of relationship with her. But it also signals to Philip that something is definitely going wrong on this new mission she's been assigned.

Elizabeth has gone to Chicago because one of the illegal operatives there is being followed by the FBI. It turns out that the Gennadi operation actually produced meaningful intelligence. Aderholt was able to get a huge tip on the type of weapons the illegals were targeting from the Americans. It presents as this logical conspiracy that the Soviets are trying to exploit these weapons while publicly negotiating peace. It leads to this illegal in Chicago. He too is working on the top secret mission that Elizabeth learned about in Mexico. It's so personal for Elizabeth and makes her desperate to get there as soon as possible. Once there, she realizes just how daunting the odds are going to be in actually pulling this guy out of this dangerous situation. The FBI is monitoring his every move and learning about the various ways he is passing along information and conducting business. Aderholt points out that it's a goldmine of information. As such, he recruits Stan back to this work in order to sift through all of this data in the hopes that it will lead to the illegals operating in D.C. as well. That's an ominous tease solely because it comes just as the show is amping up to its final episodes. Any possible detail could be the thing that ultimately leads to Elizabeth and Philip being exposed. It could be something as dramatic as them trying to rescue this illegal in Chicago. Or it could be something as simple as how they paid for the storage space where they keep their disguises. Philip knows that things are very dangerous right now for Elizabeth. He understands the importance of that phone conversation with Henry. As such, he's willing to get on a plane and join her in Chicago. He's willing to put in the work as a spy again because he loves her. She's not asking for his help but she also desperately needs it. This is such a fraught hour between the two of them. And yet, it closes with the two of them about to be in the same physical space during the work that their country asks of them. They've been at odds for so long but this mission could be the thing that actually brings them closer together once more.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Rififi" was written by Stephen Schiff & Justin Weinberger and directed by Kevin Bray.
  • It's so late in the game for the show to be spending time on Elizabeth starting a relationship with a new contact. And yet, that's exactly what happens here. She is continuing to work her connections and form new relationships in order to help her ultimate goal. She must do so quickly because of her deadline. But she's also not operating under the fear that she's about to be caught either. She still sees this as something necessary. And thus, the show is too because of its placement in the final season.
  • And so, Elizabeth flirts with a young man named Jackson while at the movie theater seeing Rififi. She is forming this connection because he also works in the office for a congressman. It seems to be her taking advice from Paige about where to get information for her missions. But it's also her moving things very quickly because she needs to get her hands on this radiation detector as soon as possible.
  • Elizabeth drawing while on this mission in Chicago could mean any number of things. It could mean that Erica is making a personal impact on Elizabeth like so many of her previous long-term sources. Or it could simply be Elizabeth doing the homework that was assigned to her by this woman to ensure that she stays alive until the summit is over. It feels more personal because it comes after her facing the daunting truth about this new mission.
  • It's so wonderful whenever the show reveals the minor details of life as a spy. It has formed so many personal details about it as well - with so many of them in the laundry room of the Jennings house. But it's also fascinating to see Oleg have to translate this note from Philip by mixing together two liquids that he had to hide away in his belongings and placing them gently on a specific piece of paper. It's time-consuming but also time well spent.
  • With this being the final season, there is always the sneaking suspicion that whenever a recurring character pops up it could possibly be their final appearance on the show. That's certainly how things feel when the mail robot appears on the elevator with Stan and Aderholt. It confirms that the mail robot can travel from floor to floor by itself. But it's also just a wonderful moment of levity because of the way that entire sequence is staged and shot. It's fantastic.