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The Americans - Glanders - Review: "As strong as ever" + POLL



What’s most impressive about The Americans as a show is its unwavering ability to provide gut-wrenching and tense moments throughout entire episodes, despite a relatively slow-moving plot and a lot of focus on character-building. The fourth season premiere, Glanders, continued that trend, reminding us how great a show this is and set a high bar.

Let’s start with Phillip. In three seasons’ worth of episodes, Elizabeth has mostly stolen the spotlight in terms of backstory and flashbacks. Season three spent time building up to her mother’s death, using associated backstory to explain her joining the posting, while season one used flashbacks to her and Zhukov as Phillip’s past remained mostly unexplored. Sure, we saw he and Elizabeth meet all those years ago, and the brief flashbacks to his sex training last season gave us important history, but we still don’t really know all that much about his pre-Jennings life.

That changed here, and Glanders was all the better for it. Opening the season with a flashback to ten-year-old Mischa was a smart move, particularly given the brutality of it - perhaps setting the tone for the season to come? - giving us a jolting reminder of how dark this series can get. Later on in the hour, we were treated to the context behind that flashback at Phillip’s est meeting, and it was no less harrowing.

The Americans has a tendency to make scenes of this nature last as long as possible, just to twist the knife in your gut as much as they can. This was another horrible example of that, and that’s great.

It’s very interesting to see this as Phillip’s childhood, given what we know of him now. He’s very capable of slipping into killer mode, or letting his emotions get carried away - just look to this scene, one of the best of the show so far, for proof of that - but his everyday persona suggests a calm, friendly individual. And to an extent, that’s what we found in that flashback. Mischa was a normal kid who was being bullied, and when put in a difficult situation, he snapped. As Phillip told Martha, this may have been the defining moment in his life that made him into the person he is today.

That conversation raises a lot of questions about the state of Phillip’s respective marriages. Though both are technically fake, his relationship with Elizabeth is far from artificial, and though they’ve had a range of issues over the course of the show’s run, both in their connection with one another and surrounding the situation with Paige, it’s still real and it still means something to them both. Clark’s relationship with Martha is similar, save for her being unaware that his supposed feelings aren’t real - or are they? - and his getting close to her in order to gain access to the FBI.

What Glanders established here, through his conversations with both Martha and Sandra, is that while he does have this real relationship with Elizabeth, he still has an issue with opening up to her. That presents a problem for Phillip, since she’s the only person he can be fully truthful with. Suggesting to Sandra that “she would kill me” if he were honest with Elizabeth leaves me wondering where The Americans intends to take these two during the course of this season. Trust is a big thing in the world of spies, as Elizabeth implies to Paige early on, and the apparent reduced level of it between the Jennings couple could cause problems long-term.

It’s worth noting that throughout the hour, Matthew Rhys did some as-ever excellent work. It baffles me that the Emmys have ignored him for three years now, given how much he brings to this role. The scene at est, in particular, really stood out with Rhys’ held back emotion threatening to break through while he lied to protect his cover.

Rhys wasn’t the only actor to put in a great performance here. Alison Wright was fantastic as we saw Poor Martha (as many Twitter fans call her; the hashtag #PoorMartha even seems to have gained some traction) for the first time since Phillip dewigged back in season three’s penultimate outing. Last year’s finale left a lot of things up in the air, and Phillip’s next move with Martha was perhaps the biggest door left open. Glanders circled back to that story, as it needed to, and provided a fascinating insight into where she is right now.

The clock has been ticking down on her for some time now; Walter Taffet’s arrival appeared to signal the beginning of the end for our favourite assistant, and we were reminded the long and painful way in Do Mail Robots Dream of Electric Sheep what happens to those who see a dewigged Jennings. The most surprising thing may be that she’s lived this long. Interestingly, by the time she and Clark discuss Gene’s death being common knowledge at the FBI, things seem to be more business-as-usual than we’ve seen for some time. And yet, there’s a feeling of dread and anticipation present throughout that entire sequence. Now that she is willingly helping Clark despite knowing that he isn’t the man she thought, and with Stan’s suspicions growing, it’s hard not to think that Martha isn’t long for this world.

Wright’s performance in her opening scene, as Clark explained that Gene was dead, was simply sublime. A lot of the time, the show’s ability to make scenes difficult to watch comes through the quality of the writing as much as it does the portrayal; here, Wright’s realisation that she has, in effect, caused this to happen, shown in her gradual breakdown as Clark tells her more information elevated the scene substantially. It was her eyes, particularly in the moments where Martha begins to blame herself, that really sold it.

Between the ongoing problems involving Martha, Paige and Pastor Tim (which I’ll talk about in next week’s review), the biological warfare aspect and everything involving all of the other characters, Glanders didn’t much need more set-up. The final scene gave us more, though, as Stan confronted Phillip for having drinks with Sandra after est. With so much going on in the hour, this felt a little over-the-top in terms of cramming as much in as possible, particularly given that Stan’s girlfriend Tori (Callie Thorne) saw them together about halfway through, only for it to be dropped until the very end. It does provide a nice platform for the friendship between these two neighbours to break down, and I wonder whether we may now be heading towards Stan learning his friends’ true identities before the season is out.

One thing is for sure, though. This was a great way to kick off what I imagine will be another standout season of one of television's best shows.

Notes:

  • The Americans staged a crossover with Dexter as Phillip went for the full Dexter Morgan series finale look. No lumberjacking was involved.
  • Susan Misner is no longer part of the main cast, replaced in the opening titles by Dylan Baker. Mail Robot still isn't a main cast member though, which disappoints me greatly.
  • William’s sarcastic remark that he “thought random people couldn't stop staring at me because I'm so handsome” has me loving his character already.
  • This week on ‘Better you than me’: Nina suggests she was content with her prison cell, while Phillip and Elizabeth get vaccinations for “a type of meningitis” and deal with a virus that is “to meningitis what bubonic plague is to a runny nose.” To the former, I suggest that I’m quite content sitting in the chair at my desk; to the latter… I quite like my health.
  • Phillip pulled out of the first meet with William because he had a “bad feeling”. Can we bring in Han Solo to consult?
  • Tatiana was using the communications room in the Rezidentura, and is apparently “seventh floor” and works in “Department Twelve”. Based on Arkady’s comment about that group dealing with viruses or bacteria, and her mention of temporary use of Directorate S operatives, we could be seeing a lot more of her in the weeks to come.
  • So, Henry now has and uses cologne. The most entertaining thing about that is not that, as Phillip says, he doesn’t even shave, it’s that Henry seems to have aged three or four years since the end of season two.

What did everyone think of The Americans’ season four premiere? Vote in the poll below and be sure to leave a comment with your thoughts!



About the Author - Bradley Adams
17 year old based in England, currently Senior Staff at SpoilerTV. Most of his posts are news/spoiler based, though he is currently the reviewer of Person of Interest, co-host on the SpoilerTV Podcast. Created and is in charge of the yearly Favourite Episode Competition and currently runs the Favourite Series Competition. A big TV fan, his range of shows are almost exclusively dramas, while some of his all-time favourite shows include 24, LOST, Breaking Bad and Friends. Some of his current favourites include Person of Interest, Banshee, Arrow, The Flash, The Walking Dead, Game of Thrones, Better Call Saul and many more. He also runs an Arrow fans site, ArrowFansUK, and aside from TV, is a keen cricketer. Get in touch with him via the links below or via email bradley@spoilertv.com
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