THE AMERICANS: OPEN HOUSE
Open House contains what I think will be known to The Americans' fans (a suggestion: Rezidenturians?) as THE SCENE. It's one that even before viewing had become pretty well-known (and which I'll talk about later). I'll get into what I think is a point of logic as well, but in terms of acting and overall story, Open House keeps building on what truly is not just one of the best series on television, but one that is shockingly not as well-known as it should be.
Philip and Elizabeth Jennings (Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell), along with their mentor Gabriel (Frank Langella) are looking for the weakest link in the CIA Afghan Group. They zero in on Ted Paaswell (David Furr). He is facing financial difficulties due to a divorce, having lowered the sales price on his house twice. The Jennings take advantage of an open house to plant a bug, but from this a whole night of terror comes.
The CIA has been keeping tabs on things, and one night the Jennings discover to their shock that they are themselves being tailed. Philip manages to roll out of the car, but Elizabeth can't shake them off. It requires a lot of skill and coordination to get the CIA off their tail. Elizabeth is also finally ready to do something about her painful tooth, which has been causing problems since she faced down the FBI. She can't go to the dentist, fearing they will tip off the FBI. Instead, in good American tradition, it is do-it-yourself (THE SCENE).
The FBI wanted desperately to get the figures the CIA had been following, but lack of cooperation prevented that. One FBI Agent, Agent Aderholt (Brandon J. Dirden), who had been beaten up by Elizabeth, wants them captured. He also flirts with Martha (Alison Wright), who signals to her husband 'Clark' that she, unlike he, wants children, at the very least a foster child. Philip has his own child problem: the Center wants desperately to have Paige (Holly Taylor) join the Program, but unlike Elizabeth, Philip is adamantly opposed to the idea, period. He does not want Paige, at fourteen, have her entire life altered, knowing this will be a shock to her system.
At the end, the Jennings find that Isaac Breland, the head of the Afghan Group, has a daughter who is babysitting Paaswell's kids...and who is flirting with the recent divorcee.
When it comes to THE SCENE, I am of two minds. On the one hand, I think it is absolutely brilliant. AMAZING credit should be given to the editing, among the best of the series and I think that I have seen on television. The intercutting between Russell's eyes and Rhys' eyes reveals so much between Elizabeth and Philip. We see trust, we see fear, we see perhaps revenge (I kept getting the sense that Philip was getting back at Elizabeth for her insistence on Paige becoming a second-generation spy over his loud objections). It's quite gruesome and intense, and with THE SCENE alone Russell and Rhys prove a brilliant combination.
ON THE OTHER HAND, I kept wondering why Elizabeth simply didn't contact the Rezidentura and say, "I need a dentist desperately", and have some willing quack come pay a visit to the travel agency and do a little on-site work. Maybe there was a reason Mrs. Jennings didn't tell the Center the extent of her injuries, but one thinks that if they were so capable of engineering a distraction through a car accident to get the CIA off their trail, they could similarly get a Red or Pink DDS for such a time as this.
Just a thought.
Rhys and Russell are still hitting it out of the park. Her genuine terror after escaping the CIA is silent, but her face expresses so much. Rhys' silent joy at her returning is equally brilliant.
Regarding other aspects, Open House is still the top-level episode that has become the rule for The Americans. Guest star Langella continues to be effective as Gabriel, always a calm figure even with Rhys' Philip is raging against the Center for attempting his daughter's 'seduction'. The fact that Gabriel is always so calm I think makes him more dangerous. We get what is going on in the opening, when Gabriel and Philip are playing Scrabble. Gabriel provides the word "Stygian" (related to the River Styx). It is the river of the Underworld, the dead, meaning extremely gloomy, dark, and forbidding.
Oh, the subtle undertones of what is being said. Thank you, The Americans, for trusting my intelligence to get it...
We're also getting nice, subtle nods to future stories, such as Elizabeth's new protégé, Hans (Peter Mark Kendall), a German kid who takes a shine to his mentor, the Aderholt/Martha story, the Martha as Mother story, and the Svetlana story. In fact, when we hear the Soviet defector tell her William F. Buckley-type interviewer (who is secretly working with the Soviets) about how the Soviets are wasting time, treasure, and lives in Afghanistan. She might just as well have expressed a view on American involvement in Afghanistan and/or Iraq.
The using of the past to speak about the present is a benefit of period pieces, and The Americans takes full advantage.
I still wonder whether THE SCENE made since in a strict sense. Still, the overall effect is one that lingers, which will be remembered by The Americans fans for as long as the series continues (it's already been renewed for a fourth season...will they get to the fall of the Soviet Union?). This is simply a brilliant, brilliant television series, and while not for family viewing, The Americans is simply too good to remain in the shadows.
Next Episode: Dimebag