Tonight’s episode centers on the Jennings’ pursuit of their latest lead on the CIA’s Afghan Group: His name is Ted Paaswell. He’s the right hand man to the division’s head, Isaac Brelund, and has two things that make him vulnerable: he’s having a hard time selling his house quickly enough, and he’s undergoing a divorce.
Meanwhile, tensions in the Jennings home continue to escalate. When discussing a gift for Paige, it becomes apparent that Phillip is upset with Elizabeth for discussing Paige with Gabriel alone. They go to sleep that night with their backs turned to one another.
The next day, they attend Paaswell’s Open House in order to bug his possessions, and then begin their surveillance of him, tailing his car and listening in as he picks up his teen babysitter… who is uncomfortably flirty.
Unfortunately, they’re being tailed, and after several hours they’re unable to shake them as more and more FBI cars join in on the chase.
I think a lot about Drive when I watch episodes of The Americans like tonight’s. If you’ve never watched that film’s opening sequence, in which Ryan Gosling’s Driver executes a getaway, go watch it now. It’s a brilliant bit of tense visual storytelling that also completely dodges every conventional method of ratcheting up tension. Similarly, The Americans manages to construct incredibly tense scenes that are deceptively plain. There are no quick cuts, no music, no daring or unconventional cinematography. It is refreshingly simple in its suspense: Here are the characters, and here is the web closing around them.
The elaborate maneuvers that the Jennings have to pull off in order to get away aren’t daring or jaw-dropping, they’re calculated and deliberate. Phillip tucks and rolls his way out of the moving car when a parked car obstructs the pursuer’s view, and places a coded call to the Centre for backup before making his way home. At the agreed-upon rendezvous point, another agent tosses a radio into Elizabeth’s car, where she receives directions to an intersection where yet another agent stages a hit-and-run, providing enough distraction for her to ditch her car and make it into a getaway vehicle.
Back at the Jennings home, the couple embrace after such a close call—but then Elizabeth’s jaw injury becomes a problem. She’s been nursing it since the premiere, but never got it checked out, knowing full well that the FBI would be investigating any instance of a woman of her physical description seeing a dentist for an injury like hers. So Phillip takes her down to the basement to handle it himself.
What follows is one of the most strangely-moving-yet-also-cringeworthy scenes I’ve seen on television. As Elizabeth downs a glass of whiskey and Philip readies the pliers, the camera gets intimate and the music softly cues in for a level of intimacy usually reserved for sex scenes. Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell act the hell out of this scene—it’s the closest they’ve really been since the pilot and their rift over Paige’s future started to bubble to the surface. It’s a scene that’s definitive of their relationship—both lead lives that require them to use sex and physical intimacy under false pretenses in order to do their jobs, but here is something they can only trust each other to do: Pull out the rot that’s infecting each other’s lives.
The episode then ends with Phillip and Elizabeth deciding to make the incredibly risky decision to surveil Paaswell one more time as he drops off his flirty babysitter. They’re shocked to discover that, not only is she openly making advances toward Paaswell, but she’s the daughter of the man they wanted to pursue in the first place: the head of the CIA’s Afghan Group, Isaac Brelund.
HENRY WATCH: There’s an amusing trend for prestige dramas to portray families with teen daughters and younger brothers (Homeland is one, Game of Thrones is another) only completely neglect the youngest boy. In The Americans, it often happens with Henry. I’m happy to report however, that Henry has one whole scene, in which Paige finds a photo of Mrs. Beeman in a bikini among his laundry and he swears it’s not his.
MEANWHILE, AT THE REZIDENTURA: Not a lot happens here this episode. Arkady presents Oleg with a choice—sufficient strings have been pulled to transfer Oleg back to Moscow should he desire. He spends most of the episode offscreen debating whether or not to take the opportunity, ultimately deciding to stick around.
WIGS! There aren’t a whole lot of ‘em this time around. The Carl wig makes an appearance (more in a minute) and The Kindly Househunting Couple that Phillip and Elizabeth pretend to be have some pretty sweet wig action going on. Elizabeth’s blonde wig that she uses for training new recruit Hans isn’t her best, though.
MARTHAAAAAA: Martha really wants Phillip—excuse me—Carl, to adopt a child in need. Carl isn’t having it. Carl better be careful if he wants to hold on to his fake wife—Agent Aderholt totally hits on her in this episode, so it’s not like she doesn’t have options, mister.