So much tension in the second episode of the final season of The Americans! In “Tchaikovsky,” Elizabeth (Keri Russell) looks so tightly wound that she could snap at any moment, but somehow she’s powering on.
It turns out last week’s episode was a fake-out as far as Henry goes. Keidrich Sellati is still playing the most elusive member of the Jennings family, and this week he had a banner moment of talking to his dad on the phone from boarding school, where we actually saw him.
Aside from that, the tangled webs everyone was weaving in the season premiere dictate most of the action in this episode. Elizabeth is still running her surveillance operation regarding the Summit, Paige (Holly Taylor) is still part of her team and Philip (Matthew Rhys) is still trying to find a way to talk to Elizabeth about her work.
Heightening the tension for Elizabeth are new orders related to the assignment she accepted in Mexico City and a new dimension to her role as night nurse for surveillance-subject Glenn Haskard (Scott Cohen).
While debriefing with Claudia (Margo Martindale) in the safehouse, just before Paige enters and Claudia introduces her to the music of lonely old Tchaikovsky, Elizabeth learns that she’s been tasked with procuring a lithium-based radiation sensor from General Rennhull (Victor Slezak). Rennhull volunteered classified information about the “Star Wars” program to Philip in 1981 in a misguided effort to ensure peace between the US and Russia, and now Elizabeth must remind him of his past actions and leverage them to get him to steal military technology.
She approaches the General in a dark park, surprising him with a demand that he meet her a few days later in a different park at nighttime and bring her the sensor. When the appointed time comes, he shows up to the meet without the package, adamant that he will not deliver it. Elizabeth tells him cooly that her people will expose and ruin him if he does not comply, then names another park and another night and tells him to bring her what she needs.
This time, she’s chosen an especially remote spot in a very dark park where no sensible woman (or man) would ever go alone at night. He’s waiting for her, but instead of the sensor he’s brought a loaded gun. She plays the hysterical mother to distract him long enough that she can hit him with her purse and overpower him, forcing him to fire the gun up through his own head.
Before she has a chance to recover from having blown his brains literally all over her own face, Paige comes charging onto the scene. Already in this episode, Elizabeth has confided in Philip that Paige got someone’s name wrong on an op, we know she fouled up with the military security guy last week, after their classical music sesh with Claudia she expressed disapproval of using sex as a tool to gather information and now here she is gaping open-mouthed at her brain-splattered mother, clearly not where she’s supposed to be. Elizabeth prevails in getting her to go back to her car and follow the plan, but the amount of time that passes first, in which Paige is openly in shock, bodes ill for her future in espionage– especially when added to her growing list of spycraft shortcomings.
Elizabeth may have had to kill one contact, but she’s simultaneously working to delay the death of another. During one of her nursing shifts, she overhears Haskard and his ailing wife, Erica (Miriam Shor), discussing what sounds like a plan to end her life. At first it seems that Elizabeth is ingratiating herself strategically by dissuading Haskard from using the morphine he’s been hoarding to do this, volunteering to help him get it right because his amateur mercy killing might go terribly wrong. In fact, she is attempting to make sure Erica lives through the Summit so she can maintain her in-home surveillance setup. Tricky!
On top of all this night shift action in parks and nursing scrubs, Elizabeth almost gets caught by security in the State Department cafeteria, where she’s snuck in to have lunch with an unwitting informant. The risk pays off, though, since the talkative older gentleman not only gabs about how the treaty negotiations are going, but tips her off to the possibility of President Reagan having dementia.
Meanwhile, Philip’s major drama stems from having turned over a longtime client to one of his travel agency employees. The employee loses the client, and Philip is pretty upset about it… until his son/pal, Henry, suggests that maybe he shouldn’t have turned over a client of that caliber to someone else. He may not be getting Elizabeth to open up about anything at work other than Paige, but at least he has Henry.
Beyond the Jennings clan, Stan (Noah Emmerich) and Renee (Laurie Holden) are definitely married (and she is DEFINITELY a spy). He’s wearing a ring! We also know now that he has indeed left counter-intelligence and is working in a department that “just” deals with murderers and drug dealers and the like, and that the FBI is on to Oleg being in town. Somehow, switching departments hasn’t released Stan from his obligation to Sofia (Darya Ekamasova) and her now-husband, former hockey hero Gennadi (Yuri Kolokolnikov).
Since Stan and Agent Aderholt (Brandon J. Dirden) (who now appears to be the boss of counter-intelligence) recruited them they’ve apparently been invaluable– especially Gennadi. Now, however, their marital discord is threatening everything.
Sofia has met a man at work who listens to her, and Gennadi is hurt and confused about why his wife gets so mad when he asks her to bring him beers in front of the TV. She’s ready for divorce, but they, like Oleg and Aderholt, have had a child since we saw them last. Between child custody and the risk to the sweet deal the FBI has X-raying Gennadi’s diplomatic pouches in airport bathrooms, it’s important for them to save this marriage.
Notable music placement in this episode: a stand-out from Talking Heads, “Slippery People,” which plays as Stan oversees the airport X-ray operation.
No lyrics I want to highlight this time– the magic here is definitely the song’s title and the way the beat underscores the action as the FBI’s humiliating/ingenious plan unfolds.
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