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The Americans - Lotus 1-2-3 - Review: “Fatherly struggles”



Midway through “Lotus 1-2-3”, Philip plays catch with Tuan as the pair of spies keep an eye on passing cars. It is a fun moment, but it becomes far dourer by the time the hour is up when contemplating the bigger picture. Because in an episode in which one of his biological sons is told he cannot see his father despite having travelled thousands of miles to do so, and in which Philip’s other biological son has become adept at math to the bewilderment of both of his parents (and viewers, and himself), the scene between Tuan and his faux dad displays more of a connection than to either of his actual sons.

Admittedly, Mischa was not allowed past Gabriel for fear of putting Philip in too much danger, but it is still a sad sight, for both parties. Mischa has been determined to make it to the United States to finally meet his real father, and when that meeting is within touching distance - he even thinks he is about to meet Philip in the park - that hope is taken from him, cruelly and swiftly. The concerns had by Claudia are real, yes, and a meeting would be a terrible, terrible idea, but that does not make it any less heartbreaking. Philip may not know what he was deprived of - it seems safer and more logical to keep it a secret - and any relationship between them would irrevocably change his world, and he may have had more pressing issues to deal with this week. Fundamentally, though, it is just another miserable thing to happen to him.

Because the final moments of “Lotus 1-2-3” are a gut-punch for Philip and, by extension, viewers. Upon learning from Elizabeth that Benjamin Stobert - the man whose CV reads “peace corps, Egypt, cooking exotic foods, science, sex” (*) - is looking to end hunger rather than starve an entire country, Philip’s first reaction is not to think about how much easier this makes the mission, or how his country is not being subtly attacked by the Americans, or how this could help the world. It is instead to Randy, the Deputy Director of Smith-Poole Research Laboratory, who he killed and stuffed into a trunk when he discovered the Jenningses breaking in. Randy, who was not the complicit-in-trying-to-destroy-Russia individual they thought him to be. Randy, who was yet another man in the wrong place at the wrong time murdered by Philip and Elizabeth.

(*) Between this and last week’s “carob-gorp-eating-hiking-expert” line, I hope we get similar long-winded descriptions for Stobert in every episode he features.

Death plays a huge role in The Americans, and characters - ranging from minor to major - meet their maker all the time. But the deft approach the show takes in making every single death matter is remarkable, and this is yet another example. We saw back in season two’s “Martial Eagle”, in which he was forced to kill three men on the contra training base before returning and finding the previously kidnapped truck driver had also died, that Philip’s conscience can only bear so much weight. Three seasons on and that is only more exponentially apparent. He could live with killing Randy before; the greater goal of saving millions of Russian lives was enough of a justification to prevent it truly affecting him. But now that he knows Randy’s murder was unnecessary, Philip broke down. (In contrast, Elizabeth seemed a little remorseful but mostly unmoved.)

By the end, he admits why. “This has been hard for me for a long time. You know that, right?” And then: “It’s us, Elizabeth. It’s us.”

Neither confession is particularly surprising, given everything we know about him. It is instead the fact that he admits it that makes those final minutes so powerful and so important in the overall progression of the show. He has had doubts before, and his heart clearly has not been in it as Elizabeth’s has for the past couple of seasons. Yet there is a sense here that this is something of a final straw - the implication that he only does this, and will continue to do this, because they are in it together is profound. His response to the suggestion of being more careful - simply questioning the phrase as though it was stupid - says plenty, and indicates that while his commitment to the cause is not in doubt as such, the carrying out of his job is nearing an untenable position. The fallout from this, both in terms of his life as Philip Jennings, and with Gabriel, could be monumental, and that is a wonderful prospect.

Full props, too, to Matthew Rhys, who is fully deserving of an Emmy (and should really have one by now) for his performance throughout the episode, but especially as he learns the truth about Stobert. His near-hyperventilation makes him appear desperately horrified, while his inability to focus his eyes is a small but great aspect to the scene. He is truly superb in every scene - another great one comes at the start as he appears wildly distant while having sex with Deirdre Kemp.

As for Philip’s other son, Henry, no one on the show seems to know anything about him or what he has been doing for the past two seasons - least of all his parents. The meeting with Mr Jeffries did not, as they feared, occur because Henry was causing trouble. Rather, he wanted to move him to an advanced algebra class, a suggestion that left both Jennings parents at a loss for words. From an outside perspective, it is slightly difficult to criticise them for their lack of knowledge here, given that their assumption of what he gets up to - playing video games on the computer - has been all we have seen of him for what feels like an eternity. Plus, they have been very focused on keeping Paige from accidentally exposing their secret.

But Henry is doing incredibly well without his parents pushing him at all (and without studying, it seems), which begs the question: is their hands on approach with Paige making things worse? Granted, leaving her to her own devices is potentially catastrophic since, intelligent as she may be, she is still a teenager and frequently makes poor decisions. And yet their meticulous handling of her leads her to suggest, in a thoroughly depressing scene, that perhaps she is so screwed up already that she is meant to be alone. At one point during their conversation, it felt as though she might mention having had suicidal thoughts. It is weighty and tragic, and it is simultaneously awful to watch and stunningly compelling. Holly Taylor remains magnificent and her performance right now is the personification of the sentence “I need a never-ending hug.” The way she balanced composure with Paige’s despondency was terrific, and it vastly raised the quality of that scene.

Strangely, it is Henry who finds himself in the best place out of his family. He gets good grades, is allowed to live without too much meddling from his parents, he may or may not have about a dozen girlfriends. If not for the ticking time-bomb dynamic of his parents and his sister, it would be difficult to not be jealous of his life.

For the remainder of the family, however, things continue to look bleak. Philip is caught up in the emotion of his sins, Paige’s involvement has put her at a real low, and Elizabeth is caught between both. It is tough work watching a show as devastating as The Americans, which drains positivity as though it feeds on the happiness of its viewers’ souls. But good lord is it brilliant television.

Notes:

Stan is spending a lot of time with Renee, which leads Philip to speculate that she was tasked by the Centre. It makes sense, not simply for the reasons he suggests but because of the aforementioned soul-sucking nature of the show, and because it seems uncharacteristic for her to just be a random woman at the gym. Philip follows her from a bar at one stage, sporting another fun disguise, and it will be interesting to see if his theory is right.

Stan regrets pushing his boss as far as he did, which he admits during pillow talk. I would say that he is right in questioning whether he said too much but, at the same time, if it leads to Oleg’s safety, he did the right thing.

Whatever Philip’s father brought home for dinner did not look like food. In fact, my notes simply describe it as “some sort of food that looks like coal”.

The more I see of Henry, the less convinced I am that this is Henry.

Oleg’s father is the worst wingman ever. Sure, setting him up with three women gives the illusion that he is a great wingman, but it is difficult to imagine that, had Oleg made a move, the other two would have been interested. Also, which was the more awkward dinner party: that one, or the Jennings-Tim-Alice-Stan dinner from late last season?

Oleg goes to the location indicated by the map but quickly leaves when no one shows and nothing else of note can be seen.

Since she can be entirely unfocused on it and instead scan the room, either Elizabeth has trained herself to be unresponsive to oral sex or Stobert is really bad at it. Since she mentions sex as one of his qualities later in the episode, I am inclined to think it is the latter and she was complimenting him for the sake of the mission. And, yes, I am almost certainly overanalysing this.

Apologies for the belatedness of this review. Forewarning: it may happen again next week.

What did everyone think of “Lotus 1-2-3”? Leave your thoughts in the comments!

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