It feels like the song ‘Tainted Love’ can be used almost anywhere, including terrifically exciting and off-putting scenes like the one I watched this week. While picking up exactly where ‘Glanders’ left off, ‘Pastor Tim’ is a good reminder that The Americans functions like a chess match. The series smartly handles its setup, but every now and then it makes a striking move, often underscored by a lovely pop song.
This week’s flashiest event comes in the form of an exchange going haywire, as Philip cannot keep his disguised comrade under control. Luckily this happens on an empty bus, where the only other passengers are either asleep or listening to Soft Cell on their Sony Walkman. Unfortunately, it means Philip has to kill another innocent man to cover another person’s screw up.
Some of the joy in this series has always revolved around us rooting for the Jennings, even though we know their loyalties will not pay off in the long run, based on history. Unless this show eventually decides to go for some sort of Tarantino-esque form of rewriting history, we are always aware the greater good for the Jennings only matters so much. Watching scenes like the one in ‘Pastor Tim’ playout don’t often have me thinking one of the Jennings will be outed as a Soviet spy, but rooting the show in this sort of tension, with an undercurrent of disbelief in the mission, is an interesting perspective to have.
Of course, this occurs near the middle of the episode and plenty of other things surround Philip’s pop-infused misadventures on the bus. Last week Philip actually had the most to work with, as far as having us caught up with his emotional state. Every one of his kills continues to tell us something about how his emotions play into his work, but this week also gives us more Elizabeth and her matter-of-fact attitude concerning certain objectives.
Even before Paige confesses about Pastor Tim, we are already aware Philip and Elizabeth know. The situation easily turns into whether or not they will have to kill the man who Paige trusts more than anyone and now also knows the biggest Jennings secret of them all. Greater good plays a role here again, as Elizabeth knows the easy answer to all of this, even if it means destroying their daughter’s emotional state and possible trust of her parents for good.
We will see how this plays out soon, but we also go one step further with Elizabeth. Gabriel informs Elizabeth that her mother died. Keri Russell’s performance has never been less than authentic on this show and it is a credit to her skill to see how subtle the reactions she has to this news are. The same goes for when she learns that Philip has been going to EST. It takes a lot of effort to balance having an emotional reaction and holding onto a cold understanding of news, but that is what separates the two leads.
I like mentioning how well this series works thanks to its dedication to making the marriage and family life its most important element. Putting the talk of greater good aside, it is seeing Philip talk to Elizabeth about EST that makes for an exciting moment as well. It could have blown up into an argument or it could have gone the way we actually saw. This matters little as far as results, but seeing this show create tension from these types of character interactions means a lot for a show so dedicated to maintaining a grounded tone held against a very flashy premise.
Elsewhere we get to deal with Nina. This show is practically teasing us with the thought that she will be coming back to America sometime soon. First we have Stan hearing some news about the situation, only to learn a different Soviet will be in play. Then we recall Nina’s move from last week, where she manages to have her estranged husband brought in for a visit. It is an attempt to catch up and pass along a note to Anton’s son. This attempt is halted and Nina’s chances of being free dwindle back down.
It continues to feel like a bold move for The Americans to not only have a plotline surrounding the KGB’s presence in America, outside the Jennings, but also a whole storyline set in the Soviet Union. Where this is headed, I’m not sure, but given the deliberate pacing of this series, I am enjoying these brief updates as a way to know something big must be brewing.
By the end of this episode, Paige has made her confession, the Jennings still possess a deadly bio-weapon and Pastor Tim holds key knowledge. The pieces are in play for some big moves to happen next and for all the confidence the Jennings generally have, it is interesting to hear them announce they are in trouble. This is largely due to how close to home the trouble really is. Fortunately there has rarely been a time when these two couldn’t get themselves out of a bind.
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