TV Review: FX’s The Americans 4×10, “Munchkins”

THE AMERICANS -- Pictured: Richard Thomas as Frank Gadd. CR: James Minchin/FX

It is now time to feel bad for Gaad, a respectable man from the FBI undone by his desire to just stay out of everything. The Americans put a panicked situation together to address Pastor Tim, but things got truly shocking with this final appearance of the former Special Agent in Charge. “Munchkins” works better than the table-setting in last week’s episode by digging into what it means to split apart families and continuing to prove how ruthless this season has been in excising extra weight.

Things actually get painful pretty quickly, as the ‘Previously On’ segment ends with a reminder of what Elizabeth had to do to her friend Young Hee and the episode begins with Liz having dinner with Young Hee and her husband Don. Disgusted with himself, Don eventually leaves the table quietly. Later on in the episode, Elizabeth receives a message from Young Hee explaining how she doesn’t know what’s wrong but there is a big problem.

This ties into the greater plan involving the biochemical materials William is attempting to smuggle out to the KGB. For those a little less aware of what the exact purpose of Elizabeth’s mission with Young Hee is, her husband has access that could help this process. I personally think the details have been a little unclear on purpose, as we are mainly watching how the emotions play a role in what is required of Mrs. Jennings through all of this. Clearly it is having an effect, given the end of this episode, but we’ll get back to that.

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The greater issue in “Munchkins” is the sudden arrival of pregnant Alice at the doorstep of the Jennings home. She comes in to announce Pastor Tim is missing somewhere in Ethiopia and accuses Philip and Elizabeth of being involved. Making things more stressful, Alice claims to have a tape ready to go, were anything to happen to Tim. The interesting thing is how Alice is completely right to go this route. We, as an audience, obviously don’t want the Jennings to have to face down something like this with extreme prejudice, but Alice and Paige are not wrong to have these suspicions.

Credit goes to The Americans for even letting the idea of whether or not Pastor Tim was taken out linger for a few scenes, before getting true confirmation that no actual plan had actually taken place. Regardless of how this plays out, it brings up the thought of having to run. Paige freaks out at this idea, concerned about moving to Russia, Henry’s reaction and other things. Philip and Elizabeth are practically caught without any sort of idea of what to do, given that an external threat is challenging their way of life. Things all eventually calm down, as Pastor Tim just simply got lost in the woods.

Gaad’s role in this story is part of another family; one that makes up a team of dedicated Americans at the FBI. We begin with Aderholt getting some information from the new Special Agent in Charge, who is referred to as a Munchkin by Stan. Later we see Stan and Aderholt continue to have to talk out the whole Martha situation over dinner. That may have ended with this crew looking foolish for not knowing about Martha, but at least no real harm was done. The same can’t be said for Gaad.

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While vacationing with his wife in Thailand, Gaad is encountered in his room by three Soviets. Refusing to listen to what they have to say, Gaad runs for the door and ends up smashing through the glass, mortally wounding himself in the process. It is a horrible, unceremonious death, with only an apology offered by the man who had no intention of things going this way. I don’t know where that was going to go, were Gaad to have cooperated but this was a shocking moment and quite sad.

Still, with all the dispiriting moments involving the possibility and actuality of families breaking apart, we see quite a bit of bonding too. Stan and Aderholt continue to be best friends at work. Paige gets to have two heartfelt moments with Alice and with Stan’s son Matthew. We even get the return of young weed and older man-obsessed Kimberly. Philip is undercover as James and has a conversation with Kimberly, where she tells him that her father is CIA. Now Philip already knows this, but it allows for a moment to have him discuss the sanctity of trust between a parent and their child.

This finally brings us to Gabriel. While attempting to pull the strings in regards to what William needs and how the Jennings and their agents will help, he gets to speak with his favorite agents. It leads to a conclusion of the episode where Elizabeth gives in to her own empathy. She doesn’t want to break Young Hee and Don apart and actually takes the offer of seeing if there is another way to handle this situation. Given how this episode begins with Elizabeth being juxtaposed against a story told by Philip about his own tough-as-nails mother, that’s a pretty big breakthrough.

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“Munchkins” is getting us steps closer to the endgame of this season and I continue to be plenty excited for where things are headed. Whether or not it means we’re going to see this show continue to sell a level of ruthlessness, I am certainly happy to see this strong work at throwing us all over the place in terms of the emotional states of these characters. And it would be also nice if Young Hee and Don did actually get to stay together. Given how many lives our ‘Americans’ have ended, hopefully taking this stance can actually work out for the better.

Other Things Behind The Red Curtain:

  • We see more of Oleg and Tatiana this week. Tatiana reveals she has a much more important role at the Rezidentura than people are aware. Given the time spent keeping these characters in the loop, I continue to grow curious about where they are headed.
  • Speaking of which, Arkady looked rightfully upset at the news about Gaad. The two had an interesting relationship, which has now ended. Poor Arkady.
  • Also, Gaad’s death may be the thing that pushes Stan to go after Oleg in a more aggressive way again, especially after getting some incentive from Gaad in their final meeting together.
  • Henry Watch: He’s being a real smart alec about cleaning his plate this week.
  • Paige is good at cooking noodles.
  • RIP Agent Frank Gaad

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Aaron is a movie fanatic. He is from Orange County, California, but earned a degree or two at UC Santa Barbara. He describes himself as a film reviewer, writer, podcaster, video game player, comic book reader, disc golfer, and a lefty. There are too many films, TV shows, books, etc. for him to list as favorites, but he can assure that the amount of film knowledge within his noggin is ridiculous, though he is always open to learning more. You can follow Aaron on Twitter @AaronsPS4, see what else he is up to at TheCodeIsZeek.com, and check out his podcast, Out Now with Aaron and Abe, on iTunes.
  • Your first sentence summed up how I felt about the entire episode. Also, isn’t there a law somewhere that says you can’t kill off John Boy? :/

    I’m interested in what the Wall Street Journal had to say about the chain of informal reports on Gaad’s visit to Thailand. It’s a great catch by WSJ! Will this nag at Stan in the back of his mind? He has excellent instincts and this may bother him. It went from Stan to Philip to Gabriel and from there, who knows where? Will Stan take note?