For two seasons now, The Americans has been one of television's best kept secrets. It's the type of show that everyone will probably hop the bandwagon on in a couple of seasons, but for right now, we've got it all to ourselves. We've got the wigs (my personal favorite part) and the mom jeans (my personal second favorite part) and the paranoia of the Cold War era all to ourselves. So let's talk about it, shall we?
With all the talk of stealth in this week's episode of The Americans, "Stealth," it's very easy to ask: If everyone knows about a top secret computer program specifically designed for stealth utilization, exactly how secret can the program actually be? Kind of like a secret society, you know? I actually came into this Americans recap wanting to do a lot of communism jokes, but I realized immediately after I had the thought that I don't really know any communism jokes. Something something nuclear family, something something nuclear war. So instead, I'll go the serious route and get to business; because with only two episodes left in the season, this week's Americans is certainly setting up for something big.
Everything's spiraling out of control, which is essentially what you don't want to happen if you're a spy.
"Stealth" opens with Anton at work back in Russia, talking about how he needs the aforementioned top secret computer program, Echo, to determine whether or not the planned design for a stealth aircraft will be invisible to radar. But what they also really need is RAM, the Radar Absorbing Material, to ensure that that aircraft will be invisible. Philip has the task of finding out what that material is, and that's where the always terrific Zeljko Ivanek comes into play, as cancer-ridden John Skeevers. Ivanek is one of those character actors who should be a lot bigger than he is (and I'd hoped he would be post-Damages), so while it is lovely to see him, it's a little upsetting that he's in such small role. But proving that there are no small roles, only small actors, he absolutely makes the most of it.
Skeevers is a broken man, having worked as an engineer worked on SR-71—the stealth plane, not the pop punk band—and gotten sick allegedly as a result of the materials used on the plane. After quickly working his way into Skeevers' life as a war veteran named Ted (with an amazing goatee and ponytail situation), Philip offers him money for information on the RAM. As it turns out, the RAM is paint—"microscopic iron balls suspended in paint," to be more exact.
Philip is not the only one who has a role to play in information for the stealth plans. Arkady briefs Nina on the fact that Stan has clearance on Echo and that surveillance reports will no longer do. "His personal life is in shambles, and he's in love. With you, Nina Sergeevna. Now is the time to act." Honestly, Nina does not look like she wants to act, but right now, it's a toss-up between whether or not it's because she might still actually care for Stan or because if she fails at getting Echo—which she has a very high chance of—she will be sent back to Russia and tried for treason. Meanwhile, Stan is getting commendations when it looks like he's at a point where he can barely do his job without constantly falling apart.
"Stealth" actually reminded me that Stan is never at his best more than when he's actually working the job and taking pride and confidence in it. Henry interviewing Stan for his report on his greatest hero isn't even a little about Henry; it's all about Stan and why he's doing a job that has done him no favors on the homefront.
Just look at the way Stan lights up when he's talking about why he always wanted to be in the FBI. That is a guy who has a reason for being, for doing such an emotionally and physically crippling line of work. At this point, it's extremely easy to forget that we should probably be rooting for Stan. He's an FBI agent trying to take down the KGB, which by definition should make him the good guy. However, his affair with Nina and overall self-sabotage when it comes to his homelife does quite the opposite. Honestly, watching scenes between him and Nina, I always find myself rooting for her as a member of Team Centre. Whoops.
And now, Sandra is back from her… Rendezvous? Tryst? Lover's weekend? Whatever you want to call it, Sandra admits that she's come back feeling better about herself; even though neither party looks like they feel better about his or herself in anyway. If I have to chose between the Paige church (or any) storyline and the Sandra/Stan broken marriage storyline, I'm going to go with Paige every single time.
It could just be me, but watching Stan destroy his marriage in the first season ruined any investment I had in it, and having Sandra's retaliatory affair doesn't make any of it more interesting to me. While Philip and Elizabeth have their own marital problems as well, theirs come from a way more complicated place (being in an arranged spy marriage will do that to you), and they actually make efforts to work on their relationship.
On the other end of the spectrum, Sandra's enjoyment of her time away from Stan only causes him to be become more obsessed with Nina, to the point where his dialogue to Nina comes out sounding more like an abusive boyfriend from a Lifetime movie than the words of someone in a healthy relationship. "I will find a way out. For you and for me. Nothing will come between us Nina. Ever. Nothing." Smart money says Nina will find a way out, but it won't involve keeping her life.
The problem is, Nina's at a crossroads. While I feel like Annet Mahendru has done well this season portraying Nina as a woman on a mission, dedicated to her country, "Stealth" potentially reaffirms that she does care about and for Stan. It could be that she's just afraid that she will fail her mission miserably, but in the back of my mind, it all goes back to "feelings." Any feelings for Stan that Nina has will be her undoing and downfall.
Outside of the Echo plot (as far as we know for now), R.I.P. Kate. I haven't found her to be the most compelling character this season, but I'd be lying if I didn't say she went out like a champ. She remained true to the cause to the end, and she was able to lead Elizabeth and Philip toward a path that didn't realize would be so important: Jared.
The message at the end of the episode, "Get Jared Out," is nothing short of cryptic, but if there's a chance that he's more than just an orphan teen boy, color me intrigued. The fact that he meets with Kate without her having to be in disguise pings Elizabeth's radar, and with Stan trying to get Jared to identify the sketches of disguised Philip and Elizabeth, we're now not exactly sure how much this kid knows, if he knows anything at all.
I'd also be remiss if I didn't talk about Lee Tergesen and his performance as Larrick. Larrick continues to be an intimidating force of, well, intimidation. Whenever I see Tergesen pop up in something, I always think back to the first thing I recall ever seeing him in (as opposed to the first thing I probably did see him in, Wayne's World), Weird Science. The television show. It's a program I hold near and dear to my heart, for sure, but I always find myself in awe how versatile of an actor Tergesen's shown himself to be as the years go by.
Watching him as cold, vengeful Larrick, I feel like we haven't even scratched the surface on this character yet—not even in an episode where he beats, bounds and gags, and snaps the neck of a woman—we still have yet to see how sadistic he will be when he finally comes face-to-face with Philip and Elizabeth. My mind keeps flashing to a Terminator vs. Spy scenario, which somehow hasn't been a hit comic yet.
Seemingly out of the stratosphere of everything else in the show, the Paige storyline is far from my favorite thing on the show. Perhaps that's the caveat of being a best kept secret type of show—any children present will have to suffer through the obvious "rebellious" phase, courtesy of God. If this goes anything like The Good Wife, next season might actually feature Paige deciding to get really into breakdancing (these are the '80s, after all).
This is actually the episode when the Paige/religion stuff has works the most, because it isn't about Paige (very stupidly, if we're being honest) giving away her money to a church or sneaking off to study the Bible instead of her schoolwork. It's about the ideologies she has versus the ones her parents have (and can't necessarily tell her upfront). Elizabeth argues at first to Philip (who thinks they should let Paige go to church camp after all) that she doesn't want Paige to be indoctrinated by the church, because they get them when they're young. Pot, kettle, etc.
The turning point is Paige finally being able to articulate that despite her parents' restrictions, they can't control how she thinks or feels. Elizabeth and Philip never had that luxury growing up in Russia, and if there's one thing Paige has an American, it is that right to intellectual (or religious or what have you) freedom. Plus, Paige really wants to go with her church to protest an air force base in Pennsylvania, and that's probably about as close as the Jennings are going to get to their little girl fighting the American power.
Elizabeth allows it and later realizes that Paige is just like her, "[wanting] to make a difference in the world...just looking in the wrong place." Who knows where this path will lead Paige, especially next season. But despite how bumpy this storyline has been, it does look like it's stuck the landing. Paige, for any problems I have with her as a character (and I admit those are mostly due to her being a child character) is a good kid. We should just be happy she's not breaking into neighbors' homes to play video games, am I right?
"Stealth" is definitely a set-up episode for the end of the season episodes, but it's a fine hour of the show, nonetheless. There's a moment in the episode where Skeevers asks "Ted" who he is, only to receive the response "Does it matter?" It was my favorite exchange of the episode, and all I've been able to think since I heard it is about much it does matter, now, more than ever on The Americans. Who are all these characters? That might actually be the biggest question of this season. Maybe the last two episodes will answer that.