For a season that’s been built heavily around issues of parenthood, “The Deal” does a surprisingly moving job of bringing The Americans back to some of its earlier concerns of home and sense of place. Philip, especially, gets to spend most of the episode thinking about his homeland and how his American life is so different than his one prior to being spy–even the superficial differences like the temperature, which can create icicles in one place and the need for air conditioner in the other. Very rarely does The Americans ask us to blatantly side with one or more of its characters. Instead, episodes present these people in their most unabashedly grotesque and beautiful states, each with their own set of codes and ideals. We’re used to seeing Philip acclimated. His comfort level in the United States was a major part of the dividing force at the very beginning of this series. However, “The Deal” brings out that deeply buried void left by the move. No matter how long you come to live in a new place, the idea of “home” is something that no longer has the same meaning. What we don’t see (and won’t see, unless The Americans takes several strange turns in the next few years) is that the dissolution of the term is two-way. As strong as the pangs for the Soviet Union might be at a certain moment, if Philip were to ever return, it would never be the same for him.
After the events of the season premiere, Philip and Elizabeth have spent most of these episodes doing missions together. Elizabeth’s season one injury was certainly a part of that at the beginning, and now that she appears to be mostly recovered, it makes sense for them to cover more ground. Yet, I wonder how smart it is to spend too much time apart until some of the heat has died down. It doesn’t seem to be much of an issue for them in “The Deal,” though, since Elizabeth goes off to tie up a few loose ends while Philip remains stuck in a safe house that is more than just a few furnishings short of a palace. Elizabeth’s con with her military friend she met last week at the record store pays off here as she’s able to get the files she needs. This is probably the most superfluous part of “The Deal” in terms of how the narrative moves from place to place, but there’s this glint in Keri Russell’s eye as she’s breaking things off with the guy that makes the scene worth it (especially when the camera pulls back to reveal a much wider shot set against the ocean, evoking the distance between pretty much every character in this entire series).
The more necessary and easily the more entertaining of Elizabeth’s dealings is when she gets into costume as Clark’s sister to pay a visit to Martha. We see that Martha’s phone has been tapped to keep an eye on her, giving Elizabeth the chance to intercept the application Martha is close to sending in. The sequence works on so many levels, but like the wedding ceremony from last year, it’s just stupid and mind-blowing how elaborate some of these plays are. Forgetting the conversation that Elizabeth and Martha have, the fact that the two are in the same room like this is the product of meticulous plotting, which I hope viewers don’t take for granted. The conversation, though, is a big part of what makes the sequence sing so well, as we get to see Elizabeth’s reactions in real time to things that Martha is saying about the husband they share. I don’t know how believable it is that Elizabeth would ask about the things Clark does in bed unless she’s trying to give off a very weird vibe to Martha regarding that sibling relationship, but it’s an otherwise fantastic way of bringing two people together on the show who have such few reasons to interact–and it’s also great to see Martha have a few drinks and let loose.
Philip’s travails are a little less entertaining (as in fun) and much more dangerous and troubling. The agent he’s keeping tabs on in the safe house tries to pull a fast one on him after Philip helps him use the bathroom (the man admits he had to try, which makes sense to everyone). And during the whole experience, we get introduced to Kate, Claudia’s replacement. Kate doesn’t get much to do, and her inexperience seems like an odd characteristic when you recall how deathly worried Claudia seemed to be about her agents last week. But, whatever. When you look at characters like Nina, Oleg, Paige and Claudia, it’s hard to be pessimistic or resistant about new characters in The Americans, since the supporting ones complement the leads so well. Both the agent and Anton get to Philip psychologically regarding his relative homesickness. Anton’s plea, in particular, is devastating to witness because of how earnest it is, and you can absolutely see the cracks being made in Philip’s exterior. Philip is way too professional and focused to let the plea get him to change his mind about handing Anton over, but Anton’s descriptions of how he’s made himself a home couldn’t have come at a worse time for Philip.
In the final scene of “The Deal,” The Americans is able to bring it back around to this season’s themes of parenthood as an alarm clock goes off and Paige starts calling out to her parents. Attention should be drawn to that shot of Philip crawling into Elizabeth’s arms on the sofa, totally exhausted and not ready to start another day, which lingers on the couple long enough to suggest a brief moment of rest before having to go through the motions once again. Yet, despite the cyclical nature of the story, again, I appreciate how “The Deal” returns to some other, big issues for both Philip and Elizabeth. And Stan, for that matter, who winds up in a position in which he’ll be pitting his national loyalty against his love for Nina. If Philip and Elizabeth are still able to feel a certain longing in their quiet moments for a home that no longer is, Oleg is someone who fully embraces his current place in life, both geographically and professionally. It is his manipulation of the information at his hands that is the most intriguing thread of story as The Americans chugs along towards the midway mark of its second season. Hopefully, as with the Elizabeth-Martha scene, we’ll get to see some more of these threads intersect.
[Photo via Craig Blankenhorn/FX]