The Americans: Animal

 Posted by on March 27, 2014 at 9:19 pm  The Americans
Mar 272014

la-et-st-the-americans-recap-fates-of-scientis-001Is your face your face? Are your children your children?

These are easy questions for most of us to answer. But when Philip Jennings hears them from a Mossad agent he’s held prisoner overnight, they don’t sound simple at all.

That agent, taken prisoner when physicist Anton Baklanov escapes from Philip and Elizabeth at the start of The Deal, is a valuable commodity to his handlers. He knows the exact opposite is true for Philip, whose association with the KGB will always be more important to him than to Mother Russia.

I go home for Passover. I hide what I do: I don’t hide what I am. – Mossad agent

And this, pretty much, is Philip’s day: keeping watch over the one valuable asset he holds, while trusting that the wheels are still in motion for Baklanov’s capture. It’s another long leap of faith in a career full of them, and Philip looks tired. Worse than tired: done.

Elizabeth, back home with Paige, gets a call from “Columbia House.” An annoyed-sounding operator named Alan (really a guy with a wiretap on Martha’s home phone) lets her know that her husband’s account is “three months overdue.” Uh oh!

Some of us Eighties people would run for the checkbook or tell the guy to take a hike. Not Elizabeth: she slips on her Jennifer wig and goes over to Martha’s house for a nice in-law drink or two. It’s ingenious, if a little creepy.

He’s an animal. Some of the things that he DOES? … (giggle) – Martha to “Jennifer,” on “Clark”’s sexual prowess

While Elizabeth girl-talks with Martha to insure “Clark”’s undercover privacy, Arkady’s team at the Rezidentura actually is working on a prisoner exchange with Israel. It’s clear that the Israelis are taking a hard line on these negotiations, ensuring that what they get in return for their agent is worth what they’re being asked to give up — in this case, Anton Baklanov.

Russians will die for principles. Jews will die for their tribe. – Arkady

When the deal comes through, Philip looks neither surprised nor relieved. He leads his prisoner out to freedom, takes Baklanov in exchange, and gets right back to work: driving a very unhappy dissident to the ship that will take him home.

All of which is a mystery to the hapless Americans. While all this is going on, Stan, his boss John-Boy Agent Gaad, and their teammates are playing walkie-talkie tag with Oleg Igoravich’s impossibly-cute imported car. Oleg leads Stan — the one member of the team who followed him onto the interstate — all the way out to a dock in Baltimore, and now he’s the one asking the questions.

We need to talk about Nina Sergeevna. What’s really going on here? – Oleg

Oleg knows what Nina means to Stan; he also knows that Nina’s information led Stan on this loopy late-night drive. Describing himself as a “budding student of capitalism,” Oleg mentions the possibility of trading on these things.

He’s not the only one getting pitched. Silent Philip, miserably driving Anton to his final ride home, gets offered a lot of things.

ECM. Electric counter measures! I can give them to you. I will put you on the ARPANET.  Don’t send me back. Please. – Anton Baklanov

But Philip doesn’t have a choice. He’s not the one making the deals; he’s just the enforcer, as Anton knows. “You’re just obeying orders, like Eichmann … You’re a monster. You may as well be dead.”

That’s the kind of thing that tends to stick in the mind on a long, solo drive home.

Final thoughts on this episode:

The people mentioned in the news report on Arkady’s “deal” were Refuseniks. These were the people, most of them Jewish, allowed to emigrate in the decade or so prior to Gorbachev’s dissolution of the Soviet Union. Many settled in Israel, but more than a few came to my home city of San Francisco. My city is unimaginable without them.

In this week’s note-perfect Touch Of The 80’s, Hill Street Blues is on TV when “Jennifer” arrives at Martha’s house for a chat. I was in high school when that show started, and the voice of Joyce Davenport put me right back in my parents’ living room.

Speaking of Martha: How creepy was that Meeting of the Wives? Elizabeth/Jennifer takes it all in admirable stride, though. “Clark has some explaining to do,” she says, as her exhausted husband collapses next to her on the couch.

Columbia House still exists, you guys! I know the place mostly as the outfit that ran interminable ads for pop-music compilations on TV (these ads are the reason I still expect “Return to Sender” to morph suddenly into “My Heart Has A Mind of Its Own”). They were also the last people in the 80’s still selling 8-track tapes. Groovy.

“I’m Kate, Claudia’s replacement.” These were the four most depressing words in last night’s episode. Considering how dark it was, that’s saying quite a bit.

How dark was it? The anti-Semitism was flying! From mocking his prisoner’s accent to his comments about “shekels,” Philip came across as the worst of a generally bad Russian lot. Ew, Philip. Put that s**t away.

That Mossad agent was a complete badass. Our first clue? As Philip and Elizabeth drag him from the scene of the attack, the bloodied guy throws off a police patrol by drunkenly singing a song they can hear from a nearby bar. Slick move there, dude!

The song? “The Gambler,” by Kenny Rogers. Such a nice thematic touch … and I gotta say, I don’t know any Russians who can’t sing the whole thing by heart.


  5 Responses to “The Americans: Animal”

  1. Between the exchange between “Jennifer” and Martha, and Philip having to wipe the Mossad agent’s hiney, this episode was high on squick factor.

    • I thought that was a nice bit of “professional courtesy” – roles reversed, Mossad might accomodate KGB the same way. I wonder, would the dissident scientist have gotten the same courtesy? Do traitors rate as highly as adversaries?

      Does Philip’s “animal” performance mean he’s enjoying his role a little too much – or actually enjoy’s it? Or is he, like Elizabeth, merely a superb actor?

  2. Saying “shekels” was not anti-semitic. The shekel (now called “old shekel”) became the unit of currency in Israel in 1980.

  3. Doctor Strange said (two episodes back): “Paige’s new friend from the bus is the operative that the Center sent to keep watch on the kid”

    Do we still believe that? Paige’s new friend is pretty young for KGB. I suppose she could be in deep cover within that church and youth group.

    The part that kills the proposition is that Center (through Claudia) would notify Momma and Daddy that they have some survelliance help. Wouldn’t they?

    • It wouldn’t be the first time that a young looking adult went undercover as a high school student. That was how the story behind Fast Times At Ridgemont High was written (which premiered in 1982), and the whole premise of the TV show 21 Jump Street (in the late ’80s/early 90s).

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