Saturday, January 17, 2015

The Americans: Yousaf Review


Foreign Entanglements...

Yousaf has many stories colliding with one new story coming in.  We see that sometimes emotions get the better of us even when we don't want them to, and that a crisis to someone may literally be a matter of life and death.

Philip and Elizabeth Jennings (Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell) are assigned a new mission by their handler Kate (Wrenn Schmidt).  They are to make contact and seduce Yousaf Rana (Rahul Khanna), a Pakistani ISI official who is second-in-command for covert actions.  A former professional cricket player, ladies man, and one too fond of Western living, he is seen as the most likely to be turned.  Elizabeth is seen to be the logical seducer, but for once Philip is opposed.  He offers one of his lovers/contacts, Annalise (Gillian Alexy), who is married to a foreign diplomat.

The Jennings' have problems at home.  Their daughter Paige (Holly Taylor) is becoming more rebellious...she wants to go to a Youth Fellowship Camp!  In what could be seen as mockery to them, both the application and the seduction of Yousaf are time-sensitive. 

If they only knew what their neighbor, FBI Agent Stan Beeman (Noah Emmerich) was up to.  He is investigating the disappearance of the Russian Jewish physicist they had a hand in repatriating, and now he's stumbled into the killings of their fellow Illegals Emmett and Leann.  He hasn't quite put it together but with a little help from the newly-restored Agent Gaad (Richard Thomas), he finds that the Connors were Soviet agents.  Where does that leave their son Jared (Owen Campbell).  Did he know the truth?  What does he know of the murder of his family?

That's the question everyone wants answered. 

Stan also has to worry for Nina (Annet Mahendru), his mole/mistress, who is coming close to danger trying to balance Beeman with her new love, Oleg (Costa Ronin), whom Beeman suspects of being involved in the Connors murder. 

Underneath all this is Larrick (Lee Tergensen), the closeted Navy captain who is ruthless and dangerous to the Soviets blackmailing him for his private life.  He has returned from Nicaragua, enraged about the deaths in the secret Martial Eagle camp, and wants revenge.  Through his vast experience he traces the call service the Soviets use and kills George (David Adkins) the message administrator.  George tries to knock the power out but doesn't quite succeed.  Larrick manages to call Kate at home and now can being to trace her...and then the Jennings.

Yousaf has already something unique in The Americans.  In the "Previously, on The Americans" voice-over, this is the first time I remember that phrase being spoken in Russian (spoken by Mahendru).  That's just a nice tidbit, for the real meat is in the always fascinating dichotomy between the work and family.

Rhys is excellent as the more emotional and gentle Philip.  He for his part wants desperately to apologize to Paige for how he's been with her, and he is open to signing his permission to let Paige go to the Cedar Grove Fellowship Camp.  We also see this in how he is opposed to Elizabeth being the seducer.  It's as if Philip wants to have some semblance of a home life where he can be a real husband and father.  Rhys has a great moment with Alexy's Annalise, when a visibly hurt and enraged Annalise throws things at him, accusing her lover of turning her into a whore for Yousaf.  He comforts the woman he loves, telling her this is something that needed to be done.  However, you get the sense he was attempting to say that to Elizabeth with Annalise substituting for the woman he cares for.

Russell is again his match as the more ruthless Elizabeth.  She is the one who pushes Philip to not apologize, insisting Paige's actions (down to attempting to forge her mother's signature) merit punishment and condemnation.  She also is stubborn in her refusal to let Paige go to camp, seeing it as dangerous.  She also is great when having to assassinate the top Pakistani diplomat. 

When you put them together, you have some of the finest moments of drama in Yousaf and The Americans.  Seeing them discuss their daughter and seeing how different their parenting is in some ways is almost bizarre, but it is also almost familiar, as if pointing out how children are still sources of complexity even with people as complex as Philip and Elizabeth.  The Americans has always excelled at being about a family as opposed to just a spy thriller, and Yousaf is no exception.

I confess not remembering Alexy from a previous episode, but she did a good job as the woman of easy virtue who has some standards.  Khanna had a very small part but made a strong impression and one hopes he does make a return appearance to allow a more expanded role.  Same for Owen as the sole survivor of the late Soviet agents.

The editing between the killing of one Pakistani by one agent and the seduction of the other Pakistani by a substitute is extremely well-crafted.  The stories also have a strong connection working in a parallel form.  Paige wants to go to Youth Camp, while Nina recalls her happiness when she attended a Young Pioneers camp back in the U.S.S.R.  We also have the parallel lives of Gaad and Arkady (Lev Gorn), his Rezidentura counterpart.  As they come to an understanding in front of Gaad's home (where Arkady tells him the Soviet Union 'accepts' the Americans' version of events regarding Vlad's death), we see yet another parallel.  Arkady tells him Vlad would have washed out within a few years and would have returned to his real goal of being a doctor,  Gaad for his part brings up his late agent and friend Amador.

Parallels are a dominating theme in Yousaf, where we see the characters match their lives so inadvertently.  Paige and Nina.  Gaad and Arkady.  Beeman coming close to solving his case and Larrick (played so dangerous by Tergensen) coming close to solving his case. 

Perhaps in many ways, unexpected though they may be, people are more alike than we think.


Next Episode: Stealth

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