Review: 'The Americans' - 'The Oath': Til death do you part?
A review of tonight's "The Americans" coming up just as soon as I like the maze part and the eating without eating part...
"The thing you need to understand is we see what we need to see in people — things that aren't really there." -Elizabeth
Late in "The Oath," Elizabeth has to watch her fake husband get into another fake marriage with a woman who thinks it's real(*). It's a sequence that's at once hilarious — and not just because of Elizabeth and Grannie's disguises — and sad, because Martha has no idea what's really happening, while Elizabeth realizes that she and Philip never had a wedding, real or otherwise.
(*) It's a kind of inverse of the Jennings "marriage," in that Martha believes she's married but can't tell anyone, where the world believes Elizabeth and Philip are married when only they and the KGB know they're not.
But though Elizabeth suggests to Philip, in a conciliatory tone, that things might have gone very differently for them if they'd had to say those words, "The Oath" repeatedly suggests that vows are meaningless, and actions speak far more loudly.
Philip doesn't love Martha. He's using her fairly ruthlessly — albeit in a manner that now seems to make her life safer than ever (unless the KGB has designs on killing her parents and the clergyman who performed the ceremony) — and will discard her when the time she's outlived her usefulness. The vows mean nothing to him.
Arkady, meanwhile, draws Nina in deeper by telling her about Directorate S, and having her recite the oath about being a worthy daughter of the homeland. But those words aren't what stirs her to rebel against Stan. Rather, it's the look on his face when she catches him off-guard with the question about Vlad's murder — a pretty brilliant, subtle piece of spycraft worthy of more seasoned professionals like Mr. and Mrs. Jennings — that signals that her lover has been lying to her, perhaps about everything, and that her best course of action is to come clean and try to become a triple agent.
On the other hand, words — specifically, her preacher's sermon about the Devil's handmiadens — are very much what stir Viola to finally tell the authorities about the bug in Caspar Weinberger's library. One might question why she waited this long, given that her son's been out of danger for quite some time, but she still comes forward, and further signals to Stan (if not to all of his superiors) that they're on the lookout for a male-female couple with a knack for disguises.
As the season's penultimate chapter, "The Oath" offers an awful lot of plot movement: not only Nina and Viola's turns, but one Soviet bug (in the clock) being discovered while another (in Gaad's office) is planted, and a potentially huge new source of intel courtesy of gambling addict Sanford Prince — which Elizabeth, given her understandable paranoia about Grannie, suspects as a trap.
There's so much in play right now, in fact, that I can't imagine next week's finale will resolve it all, unless Joe Weisberg and friends have a Zemeckis circa "Back to the Future"-like gift for tying every loose thread together at the end. But you have to think they were banking on a second season when this one started, and that the finale will be pointing the way towards year 2.
But after something of a dud last week, "The Oath" was pretty fabulous from start to finish — the sort of episode where my notes became littered with profanity as I realized the very risky place so many scenes (Arkady telling Nina about Directorate S, Philip's proposal, Nina seducing Stan, Nina's confession to Arkady) were heading. The stakes are incredibly high for a lot of characters right now, and while I expect the series to have a long and healthy life of exploring the ups and downs of Philip and Elizabeth's relationship, I feel anyone not in the immediate Jennings family (and maybe Stan, but even he's not entirely safe) could be in serious jeopardy in the finale. And yet all of this crazy plotting flowed directly out of what had been established about each character over the course of the season to date, rather than contrived craziness thrown in late to make us more excited for the finale.
I have no idea what's going to happen next week. And I can't wait to find out.
Some other thoughts:
* Okay, new FX web series spin-off, to be paired with "Wynnipeg" (the adventures of a perpetually surprised Wynn Duffy as he tries to establish a new criminal empire in Canada): "Arcade Ire," in which we watch Claudia play classic video games of the early '80s while she and Elizabeth insult each other.
* Then again, first we need to keep Margo Martindale a part of the show, since she signed to do a pilot for CBS (a still-untitled one created by Greg Garcia and starring Will Arnett). If that gets picked up, I believe it would have her in first position, contractually. I would not be happy to lose her from this show, even though a CBS sitcom surely pays her better than an FX drama will.
* How many takes do you figure were necessary for Matthew Rhys to throw the grape right into Holly Taylor's mouth? Or was it all CGI? Either way, it's nice to occasionally see characters on this show enjoying themselves, since it's a fairly grim enterprise overall.
* Matthew Beeman's band seems fairly terrible, but their new addition Sarah (or her guitar double, since the actress's hands are out of frame) has some chops.
What did everybody else think?
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org