Monday, January 19, 2015

The Americans: Echo Review


Slaughter Of The Innocents...

The season finale of The Americans continues the simply brilliant structure of keeping the balance between the private and professional lives of our leads, Elizabeth and Philip Jennings (Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys).  Echo also has the great Americans double meaning to their titles, where we not only refer to the object at hand, but also to how our own echoes (within and without) can be our greatest threats.

With Larrick on the loose and out of control, the Jennings spirit their children Paige (Holly Taylor) and Henry (Keidrich Sellati) to a surprise vacation to the mountains in the middle of the night.  Paige is uninterested in going, but Henry's more enthusiastic.  They are doing this to get the kids to some safety as the Centre attempts to capture the loose cannon.  However, Andrew Larrick (Lee Tergensen) is not to be denied.  He manages to track down both Elizabeth and Jared Connors (Owen Campbell), whom the Centre hopes to spirit away to safety.  Prior to that, Larrick had taken Philip (which in turn allowed him to take Elizabeth and Jared unawares).  Larrick now wants revenge for the killing of his 'brothers', and no longer cares about being arrested or outed.

To everyone's genuine shock and surprise, Jared pulls out a gun while Larrick is handcuffing Elizabeth and gets one shot before a stunned Larrick fires back.  Larrick is hit in the shoulder but Jared is hit in the neck.  In the confusion Elizabeth uses her legs to strike at Larrick, who fights back but is hit hard enough to stumble onto the trunk where Philip is trapped.  Philip manages to get hold of Elizabeth's gun which Larrick put in his pant back and fires behind him, finally finishing off with the danger.  As Philip and Elizabeth attempt to save Jared's life, he tells them he is the one who killed his parents and sister. 

Jared had become Kate's lover after she told him the truth about his parents.  Kate had also recruited him to join the KGB, and Emmett, Leann, and Amelia were killed because the parents had objected loudly over Jared joining the Soviets.  Amelia was becoming hysterical in the fighting at the hotel, and had to be executed.  He tells them he showered, went to the pool for an acceptable alibi, and then returned.  His final thoughts were of Kate, with him unaware that she is dead.

Meanwhile, the pressure on Stan Beeman (Noah Emmerich) to betray his country to save his mole/mistress Nina (Annet Mahendru) is growing.   The Soviets give him assurances that Nina will be allowed to leave if Beeman gives them information about Echo, but he doesn't trust them.  He also genuinely loves America, and does not want to be a traitor.  He struggles in his dilemma, but in the end, he slips this meesage to  Arkady (Lev Gorn), which he in turns gives to  Nina, "Tell Nina I'm sorry".  With that, Nina is sent away from the Rezidentura to meet her fate, with her other lover Oleg (Costa Ronin) unable to help her.

You'd think that with the Rezidentura now in possession of the paint through samples collected by shoe soles would be happy.  So what if their operative Fred (John Carroll Lynch) is killed over the shoes.  You'd think that with Larrick dead the Jennings would have some peace and not worry for their children.  You'd be terribly wrong.  Claudia aka Granny (Margo Martindale) has one more surprise waiting for them.  She tells them of the Second Generation Illegals plan.

Jared had been recruited to spy for the Soviet Union because the Centre realized that their original agents did not have all-American backgrounds, but the children of their agents did.  Thus, they could rise higher in agencies like the CIA or FBI.  Granny tells them that if she'd known about the program she would have opposed it and that she knew nothing about Jared's recruitment.  However, she also says that the Centre's mistake was in doing it behind Emmett and Leann's back.  Now the Centre has decided that Paige is next on their list to join the family business.

Philip and Elizabeth immediately say they will not allow Paige to become part of the KGB or reveal their true identities.  Granny in turn lays down the law.  "Paige is your daughter, but she's not just yours.  She belongs to the Cause and to the world we all do."  It looks like the Jennings are absolutely dead-set against allowing their children involved in all this, Philip going so far as to covertly get to Arkady and coldly tell him that if they go after Paige both Philip and Elizabeth will leave the KGB.  However, by the end, Elizabeth is warming to the idea, with Philip being horrified by even the vague prospect of seeing Paige involved on any level in their acts.

In many respects, Echo is still the brilliant Americans episode we've come to expect from them.  In others, I found it bizarre if not downright nonsensical.  Of particular note is the Larrick standoff.  Part of me simply rejects the idea that Andrew Larrick, this skilled killing machine, would not have searched both Elizabeth and Jared.  He had been observing Jared for some time, and at least knew that he was with the Soviets.  I just had a hard time wrapping my head around the idea that Larrick would have looked on Jared as not a threat when he saw just about everyone as a threat. 

I also wasn't too thrilled with the 'twist' of having Jared be the murderer.  I wondered how no one else in the hotel heard the argument that came prior to the killings.  The bullets yes, with silencers you could hide the shots.  However, the killings look like they were done by an expert marksman (which is why the Jennings insisted on thinking Larrick or someone with his skill was the culprit).  Jared Connors, however, didn't look like an expert marksman, at least with how he handled Larrick. 

Finally, the whole 'horrified' reaction to finding his parents and sister dead appears to now be a bit too convenient for everyone.  It's almost as if Jared knew the Jennings were going to stumble upon the crime and did this whole schtick for their benefit.  For this scene to work now, given what we know, it would have required there to be all these witnesses to Jared's horrified reaction.  

To me, it still feels like a bit of a cheat, and it robs us of some of the sadness and horror of the scene.  Oh, so the seduced boy who perhaps quickly and with little conflict went along with betraying what he had up to his first sexual experience thought was his country could easily kill his parents and sister.  I'm just not quite buying it.

I kept thinking the Centre took a terrible gamble with all this.  What if Jared Connors were a variation of Alex P. Keaton: a Reagan-loving Republican?  Alex P. Keaton was never thrilled with his parent's liberalism, but he loved them nonetheless.  If he'd been told that his parents were really Soviet agents, you'd think he would have at the very least, flipped out and rejected the whole idea.  He probably would have turned them in.  Now I'm suppose to believe Jared Connors pretty much went along with this nutty scheme?  Again, I'm having a real hard time believing/accepting it.

Fortunately, a lot of Echo works because we now see that what the Jennings had feared has come to pass.  In Stealth, Elizabeth had worried about Paige, thinking that the Church would indoctrinate her when she's young.  Now she finds that the Centre wants to do what she feared the Church would.  However, what was once a forbidden zone for both of them is up for debate, and not just because the Centre has given orders.

Elizabeth, the more devoted to the Cause of the two, sees in Paige something of herself, and thinks that joining the Cause will direct her away from religion and put her on a steady path.  Philip, the more Americanized of the two, is terrified of what this will do to Paige.  In many ways, the greatest conflicts in The Americans revolve around not espionage, but family matters.  It is reflective of the questions all parents have, whether their children should follow in their footsteps or chart their own independent course.  Here, it is being played out on a more exaggerated level, but at its core the struggle Elizabeth and Philip face is one of how to raise their children.

We also have in Echo another layer, as Emmerich's conflicted Beeman must not only make some serious decisions but also has echoes of his past come to literally haunt his dreams.  He dreams of going to the office (and we're tricked into believing it's reality when we see Martha slip files into her purse almost openly) and finds that instead of Martha at her desk, she's turned into Vlad, the man he killed in cold blood as vengeance for his friend Amador.  Stepping into Gaad's office to escape, he sees his wife Sandra in the midst of having sex with another man.  It's a shocking and well-crafted sequence, and we really are left wondering until the end what Beeman will do.

Emmerich really does a standout job in Echo.  Mahendru similarly does so much with no dialogue, but only her face to tell us of her fears as she is led away from the Rezidentura.  There is a lot of quiet and beautiful moments throughout Echo, which in a certain way is ironic. 

If it weren't for the "Jared is a KGB agent too" bit, I think Echo really would have been a truly brilliant episode as so much was packed within its running time.  I just have such a stumbling block to the revelation of the Connors family killer that for me, it killed some of the momentum.  However, the episode was helped by some excellent work by the cast.  It also had some great pacing; the opening sequence with a dying Fred and a mad scramble to get the shoes set to Golden Earring's Twilight Zone, works so brilliantly in being true to the time, amping up the tension, and being descriptive of the chaotic lives personal and professional of everyone.

Again, that whole resolution just seemed oddly odd, but it did leave the door open to what will be a fascinating Season Three, to wonder if the Jennings really will turn the Paige...


Season Two Overview

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