Sunday, July 20, 2014

The Americans: Covert War Review


Vengeance Is Mine, Saith The Spies...

As much as I love The Americans as a show, the escalating nature of revenge killings is slowly starting to wear me down.  Covert War dwells on retribution, a tit-for-tat in the Cold War, but eventually the storylines will have to move away from all that.

General Zhukov (Olek Krupa), friend and mentor to Elizabeth Jennings (Keri Russell) has been assassinated in Moscow by orders of FBI head Agent Gaad (Richard Thomas).  Upon learning this from Grannie/Claudia (Margo Martindale), along with the man who ordered the hit, CIA Director of Soviet Planning Richard Patterson (Paul Fitzgerald), Elizabeth swears she will kill Patterson.  Both Grannie and Elizabeth's estranged husband Philip (Matthew Rhys) insist that she not do this, but at the moment she is too blinded by rage to think clearly.

She does have enough foresight to play to Patterson's weak spot: beautiful women who are one-night stands, so she abducts him, intent on torture and execution.  Philip reluctantly agrees to help her take him.  However, Patterson is more than a match for Elizabeth, for he targets her own weak point.  He points out that no one who has been killed is 'innocent', then asks if there is anyone she has ever loved or cared about.  Despite herself, the conflicting emotions of both Zhukov and Philip overwhelm her, forcing her to leave the room before she breaks down in front of Patterson.  Philip urges her to not go with her plan and comforts his distraught wife. 

Agreeing to that, she and Philip return Patterson alive.  However, Elizabeth and Grannie now all but declare war on each other.  Elizabeth is convinced Grannie told her about Patterson in order to have an excuse to get rid of her, and doesn't believe that Grannie and Zhukov had been lovers.  Elizabeth tells Grannie, "This isn't going to end well for you, old lady."

In a subplot, Nina (Annet Mahendru) who is the FBI's mole, has found herself promoted.  While she still doesn't believe that her operative/lover Stan Beeman (Noah Emmerich) didn't have a hand in the murder of her friend Vlad, she does learn about the bug that was placed in Secretary Weinberger's office.  Philip, for his part, now must go through the awful ritual of meeting the parents of Martha (Alison Wright), his unwitting mole. 

I love how well Martindale and Russell work together.  These two loath each other but also see that the other is a formidable foe not to be underestimated.  Both have similarities that they'd rather not admit to: that of being women who find their devotion to duty conflicts with their own passions.  Russell in particular again showcases her range and that Felicity is now far from memory.  Her angsty freshman now has become a cold, calculating operative.

However, Russell shows us the cracks of her conflicted life.  She genuinely wants Philip as a person to return home, her disappointment about him moving to an apartment instead of back home almost well-hidden.  When she does crumble at Patterson's interrogation, we see that she now is being confronted by the fact that as devoted as she is to The State, she cannot deny her own human frailties.  Similarly, we see with Matthew Rhys the issues that get to Philip.  He is shown with their children, and he is openly affectionate and protective of them, as if he were the more maternal of the pair.  He also shows his discomfort when meeting Martha's parents.  It goes beyond merely 'meeting the parents' to in some vague way, moving past Elizabeth (which he isn't prepared to do).

We even get moments of lightness and comedy, such as when Elizabeth and Sandra Beeman (Susan Misner) go to the 1980s version of clubbing (a disco) and when Stan is surprised to see his son Matthew (Danny Flaherty) in drag, unaware of The Rocky Horror Picture Show and briefly fearing his son may be gay.

Therefore, with everything going for Covert War, why was I not as enthused as I was with other episodes?  I think again all the "I'll kill one, you kill one" business is starting to wear me down, not emotionally but story-wise.  Eventually we are going to have to turn away from all this, and we are getting hints of this with the discovery of the bug from long ago.  That to me shows that like Claudia, The Americans is playing a long game, which is good. 

Covert War was a solid episode and much better in hindsight.  Hopefully though, we'll put a stop to the cycle of violence that is starting to become old hat.


Next Episode: The Oath

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