THE AMERICANS: DIVESTMENT
Apartheid is evil. American segregation was already bad enough, but despite the immoral legal boundaries placed on the African-American population blacks were able to still achieve greatness in the world of science (George Washington Carver), business (Madame C.J. Walker), and the arts (seriously, you have to ask?). As much as one loathes 'separateness' in South Africa, Divestment doesn't make a case for justifying a particularly brutal act of retribution. It does however, give yet more standout performances and a chance to see just how things are breaking for our favorite spies.
We have at least three stories going on today. There's Elizabeth and Philip Jennings (Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys), who are holding the two South African anti-anti-apartheid operatives hostage to get information out of them. The black South African Communist agent, Reuben Ncgobo (Dwayne Alistair Thomas), decides that there is no mercy for the enemies of the movement. He takes the older and more fierce of the two, Venter (Neil Sandilands), finds him guilty of crimes against the people, and gives him a tire necklace as a parting gift. To the horror of Elizabeth, Philip, and the other South African, college student Todd (Will Pullen), Ncgobo put a tire over Venter and set it on fire. Elizabeth and Philip, highly disturbed by this act, decide that once they get Todd to reveal his information, to let him go, over the loud objection of Ncgobo.
Meanwhile, daughter Paige (Holly Taylor) starts looking into their old friend Gregory, having some consciousness awakening apart from her sheltered world. If only things at the FBI were that calm and confident, as the investigation of Walter Taffet (Jefferson Mays) continues, and Martha (Alison Wright) continues to be evasive in her answers. She finally confronts Clark, her husband who is suppose to be doing Taffet's job, wondering who he is. Finally, our favorite traitor Nina (Annet Mahendru) reaps rewards for informing on her cellmate: a reduced sentence from death to a mere ten years. However, there is yet more hope. If she can get Refusenik scientist Anton Baklanov (Michael Aronov) to work by gaining his confidence, her debt to the State will be considered paid in full. Essentially, she will be released. However, it does mean having to work under Vasily (Peter Von Berg), whom she betrayed. The creepy old guy she slept with to get information isn't happy about this either, but work is work.
I think that Alison Wright's work on The Americans is coming into its own, and its a wonder to watch. The confusion, the hurt, the terror of this, yes I'll say it, poor woman, duped in love and now having betrayed her own boss Agent Gaad (Richard Thomas) is overwhelming her. She may not be putting all this together, but she knows that something just isn't right. Sometimes Martha appears to be lost in the shuffle of the great work of the others, but recently we see that Wright has been given something wonderful to work with and she makes the most of her opportunities.
Thomas for his part does excellent work too, beating up the mail bot in an unspoken rage about the whole situation.
The setting of Venter on fire is shocking, surprisingly graphic, and a sign that for even as someone as committed to the Cause as Elizabeth, some things are just beyond. One feels for Philip's insistence that they let the younger Todd go, a boy who fears being necklaced in the same way that his 'mentor' was. You see that Philip is starting to really have his conscience weigh on him, and it is tearing at him.
It's interesting to see how ethics play a large part of the work The Illegals do. For Nina, it is a question of survival. She is desperate to live, and with no one to serve as her advocate, not her FBI agent lover or the son of a powerful Soviet official to help, she must do whatever it takes, even if means betraying her trusting cellmate. Better her than me is the motto. For Philip and Elizabeth, two people used to killing, the immolation of Venter shocks and horrifies them (and let's face it, it takes a lot to horrify the highly loyal Elizabeth). Perhaps Reuben had a reason to do so, but I couldn't help think what the difference is between Ncgobo setting his opponent on fire and ISIS setting that Jordanian pilot on fire.
Perhaps because I am having trouble understanding why Martha is not more concerned about what is going on with Clark I think this episode isn't as strong as others. However, particularly with regards with Alison Wright's performance, Divestment is, and I never tire of saying it, another great The Americans episode.
Next Episode: Do Mail Robots Dream of Electric Sheep?