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The Americans - Tchaikovsky - Review: "Time for her to stop?"



This season may well be centred primarily on Elizabeth, but there is a recurring theme already developing: protecting Paige. It’s no different to last season, or the season before, or the four seasons before that. Ever since the series began, Elizabeth and Philip have protected their family as an equally important objective as serving their country. The Center’s request for second-generation illegals hindered that, and they have found it more difficult ever since she discovered the truth about her parents.

“Tchaikovsky” serves as a welcome reminder just how steep a mountain they must climb to keep their daughter safe. Elizabeth murdering the naval officer who spoke with Paige provided a stark image of the lengths she’ll go to, whereas this week saw less brutal means. The lie that Elizabeth doesn’t use sex to get information protects Paige. Not bringing her in on the Haskard mission protects Paige. Elizabeth telling Claudia that she could finish with her alone and have her working in the State Department or the CIA protects Paige. Although she was the parent more enthusiastic about telling the truth all those seasons ago, Elizabeth quite clearly doesn’t want Paige realising the harsh realities of this work.

The episode’s final scene only emphasises why that is. Elizabeth hasn’t been in any real physical danger since her antibiotic infection early in season four, but here was a moment where she ended up getting lucky. General Rennhull (Victor Slezak), last seen as Colonel Rennhull in the season two premiere, could very easily have shot her, either when she knelt and begged for her life or when he ultimately shot himself in the head. If Paige became as fully committed to this cause as her mother, threats like this come at any time and as much as her training has come a long way, it’s not the sort of experience Elizabeth will want for her. She can serve Mother Russia, sure, but not at the risk of getting shot in the head.

But even the more regular, less dangerous things are being shielded. Elizabeth uses sex as a weapon so frequently — her mission with Young-Hee among the most gut-wrenching we’ve seen — and yet is quick to distance herself from that when Paige asks. “Those relationships could turn into something different. You get very close to people, get to know them very well and, in certain circumstances, if the information’s critical enough, people may cross lines sometimes,” she says.

It’s something that Philip knows all too well after Martha, and something that neither of them would want Paige to experience. The more integrated she becomes, the more integrated she cannot become. Certainly, she is only young and, in a universe where the Jennings continue without detection or returning home or whatever will happen in eight weeks’ time, her development could lead to being a full-blown KGB spy and see her taking on missions where sex is needed, or where she is sent to murder people. But she has an affinity for the work so far, and questioning how far officers go to gain information indicates how wary she is to become like her mother.

Looking at her parents right now, they have just as much a reason to be worried.

This is Matthew Rhys’s third episode as director, and having helmed the season four episode for which he gained his maiden Lead Actor Emmy nomination, his on-screen presence has reduced in the two he has done since. He takes a supporting role in “Tchaikovsky”, with his wife the focus for much of the hour. And yet his involvement on both sides of the camera is more than enough to represent the problems the Jennings spy family are having.

Two shots, in particular, stand out. It’s only Rhys’s third appearance of the episode, but as he searches through the living room bureau in a close-up, the camera eventually shows us Elizabeth stood outside smoking — earlier, a similar shot saw her walk downstairs and outside with her not even glancing in Philip’s direction. She’s distant, locked away, but she doesn’t consciously realise it. “I’m sorry if I’ve been… just so busy,” she says when he goes outside to see her. Keri Russell doesn’t have the look of someone who is busy. At the start of that scene, she has the look of a junkie whose high is beginning to wear off, and who needs more.

Elizabeth’s drug is work, and more of it is the exact opposite of what she needs.

Again, we can see Philip for proof. He reminded her last week that quitting was the best thing he did, yet here is someone hell bent on more. It’s easy to see why this work is addictive. There’s an allure to it, even amid the horrors and the risk and the breaking of any moral boundaries. Serving your country is an honour; doing this job makes it fun.

But this so clearly is no longer fun for Elizabeth. It’s not even close. Philip may often look bored to tears at the travel agency — “You sound like you’re about to jump out of a window,” Henry comments — but it is a far better, far safer option. No setting people on fire, no killing innocent scientists, no dealing with deadly diseases. Instead, he deals with employees who aren’t going above and beyond, and calculators.

Strangely, in questioning Philip’s decision of outsourcing his customer, Jeremy, Henry unknowingly makes the most pertinent point of the hour. “I can’t deal with every single customer,” Philip says.

“Yeah, but he kinda sounded like your customer,” Henry replies.

In a way, the whole issue surrounding Jeremy neatly sums up the problem with Elizabeth. There’s a reason the KGB send agents as married couples — yes, it makes it easier to blend in, but this job is so difficult to do alone. Philip’s desire to quit is understandable and acceptable. But apply his logic here to Elizabeth, and it becomes very clear just why even the most patriotic of agents is beginning to grow weary.

Perhaps it’s time for her to stop too.

Notes:
A thousand words of review feels insignificant to the return of the greatest television character of all time: Mail Robot!

Elizabeth’s in a tight spot trying to maintain her position in Glenn Haskard’s life, with his wife Erica wanting to put an end to her suffering. Euthanasia was (and still is) illegal at that time — trust Elizabeth to get involved in something else illegal — but she will have to keep Glenn from doing it until after the summit. She did start learning how to draw, though, so that’s something.

Reagan was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 1994, and here, Patrick tells Elizabeth that he’s “been forgetful, not focused”. The series will probably end with the collapse of the Soviet Union, but some nice foreshadowing of future events here, particularly given how important information like that would be to Soviet spies.

Stan boldly proclaims that he isn’t a marriage counsellor when Sofia and Gennadi’s relationship looks doomed. It’s a shame, because I’d watch a show where Noah Emmerich just sits and listens to married couples rowing. I think he could pull it off. Anyway, Gennadi made his regular semi-live drop; given that the episode went to the effort of showing it to us, I suspect there will be further developments with that.

What did everyone think of “Tchaikovsky”? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!

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