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The Americans recap: ‘Tchaikovsky’

Life is still a frozen sea between Philip and Elizabeth. Last week’s season premiere ended with him coming very close to alerting her that elements of the Soviet government want him to begin monitoring her, but her chilly dismissal silenced him.

Now, he watches Elizabeth descend the stairs. He has heeded her advice. They’re still not talking.

Back at FBI headquarters, we see Stan Beeman in his new role. He’s discussing an ongoing sting, and although the name of the target is never mentioned, we can put the clues together (cocaine purchase, city official, alligator shoes) and know he’s talking about disgraced D.C. mayor Marion Barry.

He gets a call from Agent Aderholt to come down to his old office at counter intelligence and have a conversation in the Vault. Two of their past recruits, the courier Gennadi and his wife Sofia, are having troubles. Stan will have to help patch things up.

Meanwhile, there is other news: The FBI has picked up on Oleg Burov’s visit to the United States, allegedly for a seminar on Urban Transport Planning. Stan smells B.S.

“He’s been out of KGB for three years,” Adherholt tells him.

“You believe that?”

“That’s what sources in Moscow say.”

Smart money, however, suggests Stan and Oleg will be crossing paths again before long.

In a bookstore, Elizabeth is in the guise of “Megan,” a State Department employee, who orchestrates a chance encounter with an old “friend,” Patrick McLeesh, who is involved in the upcoming Soviet-U.S. nuclear arms summit. They swap gossip about how their respective departments are perceiving these talks.

“It’s no secret the Russians want to deal. They can’t afford an arms race. We are holding most of the cards,” he says.

“Do you think Reagan is just going soft?” Elizabeth asks.

He shrugs. “This summit could end up winning us the entire cold war.” McLeesh proposes meeting her for lunch — but he wants to do it at the State Department cafeteria. Yikes. She reluctantly agrees.

In one of Elizabeth’s many other operations, the wife of U.S. arms negotiator Glen Haskard is in agony from her terminal illness. Elizabeth, posing as the nurse, picks up that she may be planning to end her life through euthanasia.

Her husband is saving up a little bit of morphine from old bottles, and he expects to have enough saved to end her life within a month.

“You could put her in a coma or leave her brain dead,” Elizabeth tells him. “I can help you.”

What she really means is, “I can stall you.” The minute the wife is gone, her services are no longer needed, which means no snapping photos of his documents while he is in the shower.

“Just have to keep her alive through the summit,” Claudia tells Elizabeth later. Meanwhile, there’s yet another mission for her.

“The Center wants you to contact Lyle Rennhul — you’re to try and get a lithium based radiation sensor. Apparently the Air Force has 300 of them. I’m supposed to give you the order and say it’s from the person you met in Mexico. And I’m not supposed to ask any questions.”

Casual viewers may have questions: Rennhull was the Air Force officer who previously cooperated with Elizabeth and Philip, a partnership that ended with the general shooting and killing the KGB operative who recruited him, Sanford Prince.

Renhull had been supplying information about the anti-ballistic missile program. But Prince had turned FBI informant and was going to flip on Rennhull before Renhull flipped him for real.

Now, Elizabeth needs his help again. But their first encounter is not a friendly one. Still, he agrees to meet her later.

Back home, Elizabeth is curled up outside, smoking a cigarette. Philip, who has spent this episode dealing with not-very-exciting travel agent business, finally comes out to talk.

“Paige is pretty good at this, but she made a mistake the other night. Got someone’s name wrong,” Elizabeth says, straight-up lying to him. What actually happened was Paige let a Naval security guard take her ID, and Elizabeth had to murder the young man to get it back.

“It happens. It happened to us. You grow into it,” Philip says.

“I learned fast,” Elizabeth tells him. “Don’t tell her we talked about this.”

Back at the FBI, Stan briefs Aderholt on the Sofia-Gennadi peace talks. “Things aren’t good. I’m not a marriage counselor. He wants to keep it together, but she…I’m not so sure about.”

“Nobody’s life was on the line when I left my wife,” Aderholt says.

“Her being who she is, her new boyfriend could find everything out at lunch one day,” Beeman says. “I can’t tell you how much better I feel just dealing with murderers, drug dealers and corrupt politicians. I’m serious.”

Later, we see an example of what’s at stake. Gennadi is carrying a diplomatic package while being monitored by another Soviet agent. When he ducks into the bathroom, an American agent in a parallel stall uses a portable x-ray machine to scan the contents.

All of this seems like foundation for a future story, but there’s no payoff in this episode.

At the State Department, Elizabeth goes in as a tourist, then disappears to change into her guise as Megan for her lunch meeting with MacLeesh. The tour guide is no dummy. He kept a close count and knows exactly who is missing. Security searches the building, but she manages to talk McLeesh into going outside before she is nabbed.

It turns out to have been worth it. She learns that some of the officials in the Department of Defense fear Reagan is in the early stages of dementia. That’s shocking to Elizabeth, although we know now…it’s true.

This alarms Claudia. Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger is far more hawkish than Reagan, and if the president is going soft upstairs, then the hardliners will have more control over the summit.

At Claudia’s place, we get the title of this episode: Tchaikovsky. The handler plays some for Paige, as part of her cultural education from the Motherland. “He was one of Russia’s great composers. For a long time after the war it was the only music I could listen to,” Claudia says. “His mother died young and his life was full of loneliness.”

Outside the apartment, Paige tells her mother she has been reading about espionage techniques and asks if agents ever use sex to get information. Elizabeth is still soft-selling the profession. “In certain circumstances, if the information is critical enough, people may cross lines sometimes. Then that gets twisted by whoever wrote that book,” she says.

“It’s easy to see things as very black-and-white, but the world is complicated, and the more that you get that, the better off you’ll be,” her mother goes on.

Later, Elizabeth has a second meeting with Rennhull.

“Last time you came to me a man ended up dead. I still have nightmares about it,” he says. “All those people I killed in Korea, and this is what I have nightmares about. “

He tells her, “I’m not giving you the goddamn sensor or anything else. You may think I’m a traitor. I thought I was trying to do the right thing last time. Now I see how idiotic that was. You used me. That’s not going to happen twice.”

“If you don’t give it to us, my people are going to expose what you did,” Elizabeth answers. “Bring us what we need, it’s over. You retire from the air force and we have no need to come to you ever again.

We get a brief glimpse of Henry (remember him? Philip and Elizabeth’s son?) who is away at boarding school. He talks with his father, and his father sounds…bored.

Meanwhile, at their third meeting, Paige drives Elizabeth to meet Rennhull– at night and in the woods.

Rennhull hasn’t brought a lithium radiation sensor. He brought a gun.

Elizabeth goes to her knees, begging him to spare her. But of course, she’s just luring him closer so she can beat him senseless. In the struggle, Rennhull raises the gun to shoot and blows off the top of his own head.

Paige has already heard the previous shots and rushes into the clearing to see her mother, covered in brains and blood, lying beside the corpse. Elizabeth is screaming at her to leave.

Maybe using sex to get information no longer seems like the worst possible outcome for this profession she is entering. In any case, Elizabeth can’t make it sound so innocent anymore.