Sunday, June 29, 2014

Spywork Can Be Real Torture



THE AMERICANS: TRUST ME

The secrets and lies of the Jennings family extends to all members, though for different reasons.  Trust Me also has an incredibly tense hour where we really are thrown for a loop until the last ten minutes, and then we see the parallel worlds between the Jennings (who find truth buried under piles of lies) and the Beemans (who find lies buried under all that truth). 

Philip Jennings (Matthew Rhys) is about to make contact with his unwitting mole, FBI secretary Martha (Alison Wright) when he is abducted.  His abductors aren't buying this 'I'm a travel agent' story.  They know he's a Commie!  That isn't all: Elizabeth (Keri Russell) is at home alone when she hears something.  Despite her great efforts (sorry Philip, she put up a better fight), she too is taken.  Will they break?  They certainly are being tortured in ways both physical and psychological until one of them breaks and tells all.

Of course, we can't have everything related to the beatings the Jennings are taking.  At the Rezidentura, Nina (Annet Mahendru) is still sleeping with the 'enemy', Vasili (Peter Von Berg).  They too are hunting for the mole within the KGB, but Nina's handler, Stan (Noah Emmerich) has a plan to keep eyes off her while simultaneously getting Vasili out of the way. 

In a separate storyline, Philip and Elizabeth's children Paige (Holly Taylor) and Henry (Keidrich Sellati) are waiting for their parents to pick them up from the mall.  With them no-shows for some reason, Paige decides to hitchhike, over Henry's loud and whiny objections.  They find a ride with Nick (Michael Oberholtzer), who appears nice but seems to get creepier and creepier, insisting on taking them to a local pond to 'feed the ducks', then offering them alcohol and generally frightening the Jennings children.  With careful coordination that would have made their parents proud, they outwit and outfight Nick and manage to flee home.

At the end, we find that Philip and Elizabeth have been taken by the KGB, who wanted to know if THEY were the moles.  Claudia aka Grannie (Margo Martindale) comes to stop the torture, but an enraged Elizabeth beats the living crap out of Grannie, furiously shouting that her beat-down was her response to those who thought either were traitors.  However, because Elizabeth once reported that Philip liked the U.S. too much, that was the reason suspicion fell on them. 

Both Jennings parents and children come up with cover stories to stop either from knowing just how close both groups came to disaster.


Bitches Brew
I found it curious that the KGB torturers who were doing the brutalizing of Philip and Elizabeth simply went about it the wrong way.  They were quite sexist and I am not sure that they really understood the dynamics of the Jennings psychology.  With Philip, they beat him mercilessly, and with Elizabeth, they locked her up with family photos and threatened her family.  I could never shake the idea that if the torturers had flipped the tortures the Jennings would have cracked, or at least Philip.

If anything, Philip Jennings is the more emotional and compassionate of the pair, while Elizabeth is the stricter and more loyal to The Cause.  This isn't to say Elizabeth doesn't love her children, but she still struggles with connecting with them and for her, Mother Russia always comes first.  She is also someone who could put up a far stronger fight than her husband.  Philip on the other hand has a wavering towards the Soviet state, seeing how America really isn't all that bad.  He is the one who has bonded better with the children, and if the KGB had put his kids in danger, he might have immediately gone through with defecting. 

Still, Trust Me was one wild hour of The Americans, giving us more and more danger and thrills than most television series have.  From the possibility that the Jennings have been unmasked to the revelation it was an inside job already gave us a series of thrills.  However, when Elizabeth laid the smack down on Grannie it's in turns shocking, brutal, and appropriate.  I remember writing in my notes for Trust Me "Claudia got what she deserved".  I felt no sympathy for her, but it still stunning to see how brutal Elizabeth could be to a clearly stunned Claudia who was doing her job.

What really worked in Trust Me was that we had a very slow and clever build-up to the three primary situations: the Jennings' torture, the junior Jennings' danger, and the framing of Vasili.  Curiously, I felt more sympathy for the Rezident than the old woman getting punched and kicked around.  It comes from the fact that Vasili is innocent and we all know that but Claudia is nowhere near innocent. 

If anything pushed Trust Me down, it was the younger Jennings' dangerous situation, which at times felt like something to lengthen the story.  It isn't to say that either the performances or the storyline was bad or weak but it did feel like the weak link in the chain. 

Trust Me is not just about the psychological/physical torture of Philip and Elizabeth, but also about the state of our two marriages.  The Beeman's marriage after 23 years is slowly unraveling, and while the Jennings' false marriage is coming closer it also is suffering from the strains of mixing work and home.

The question of the mole is important, but the central question is now can anyone trust those they work for/with? 



8/10

Next Episode: Duty & Honor

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