As Henry is interviewing his neighbor, Stan Beeman, the separation of ignorance between child and adult is on full display. To Henry, the fact that Stan is in the FBI, presumably taking down bad guys, means he’s a hero. That’s what heroes do. But Stan is so repelled by the word that he can’t even let it go in his conversation with Henry. Henry won’t understand what Stan means, of course, when he says he’s not a hero, but he says it anyway. If you’ve ever called one of your friends who writes a “writer,” you’ll maybe have experienced something similar, depending on the friend. People want to earn labels not in the eyes of other people but in their own. And the fact that we are usually our harshest critics means that earning them becomes an almost impossible task. Stan won’t even tell Sandra about the commendation he’s received. It’s just work stuff in a box. The idea of being a hero is ingrained in such a large portion of works of fiction (and you can specifically find neat parallels in current TV by looking at the episode of Arrow that aired the night before The Americans‘ “Stealth”). What does it mean to be a hero? Who can and cannot be heroes? Is being heroic something that should be aspired to?
In a series like The Americans, which is full of characters whose allegiances are constantly being tested, it’s even harder to answer these questions. What I will make a claim about, though, is that Oleg does a heroic act by telling Nina that if she doesn’t think she can turn Stan, she should run. The Oleg we’ve seen all season is someone who is naturally charismatic, but he also seems to care mostly about himself (which could be said of pretty much everyone, really; the slight difference here is that Oleg throws his weight around to climb up the ladder in any way he can, whereas other people might just be quietly conceited). Either I missed something a few episodes ago or else it’s still not clear what his feelings for Nina are what her feelings for him are. They both feel like they’re constantly playing one another, on top of playing other people, like Stan and Arkady. So, I don’t know how much I buy into how genuine or important the romantic things going on there are, but Oleg didn’t need to warn Nina about what might happen to her. If anything, someone loyal to the Motherland would want treason to be punished accordingly. Oleg, though, doesn’t seem to be governed by conventional rules, which is an important distinction than him also being slightly wooed by American culture. He may think things about his countrymen are dated, but he mostly believes in his own moral code, which apparently allows for second chances. In that sense, to me, it isn’t Oleg warning Nina because of any feelings he has for her. It’s Oleg warning Nina because he thinks it’s the right thing to do–to give someone the opportunity to preserve her own life after making a thoroughly regrettable mistake. That, more than anything else in “Stealth,” seems like an act of heroism.
Of course, Kate not budging on any information while being semi-tortured by Larrick isn’t something to balk at. I think both the Jenningses and viewers/critics have doubted Kate’s ability as a handler and her place in The Americans. Now that she’s gone, there’s probably not enough information at hand to give a full evaluation, but she proves her worth at the expense of her own life in “Stealth.” It’s hard to say I’m going to “miss” her, because she’s not made an impression anyone near the level of Claudia, but her scene with Larrick, in which he’s pushing her strung-up body like a swing, shows the kind of power she possessed–a kind that someone like Elizabeth or Philip could probably relate to appreciate. On top of that, she’s able to leave behind a message: “Get Jared out.” It’s a brutal death when you see it on the screen, amplified by the fantastic sound effects team, and although I can’t rightfully say it’s “enjoyable” to watch, it makes for fine television by kicking the season into full gear and raising the stakes.
The Americans‘ second season continues to gracefully handle Paige’s storyline in this episode, giving Elizabeth the opportunity to allow her daughter to go on a protesting trip. In Paige, Elizabeth sees herself. And she admires how she wants to make a difference. She’s just looking in the wrong place. This is a storyline that most likely wouldn’t work very well in another series in this kind of genre, but the writers have tied in so many threads together that have to do with family and wanting to be independent that it still feels right at home. Also at home is Zeljko Ivanek in The Americans, and after his brief stint on this past season of Banshee, I really hope he finds a recurring role on a quality drama. Like in Banshee, Ivanek’s character in “Stealth,” John Skeevers, has cancer. Philip takes advantage of Skeevers’ deteriorating condition and extract some information about the secret project, RAM. The scenes are rather haunting in a disturbing way, Ivanek barely seeming present in human form. There is something otherworldly about Philip’s trip to Skeevers’ house, in which he brings John some soup and returns a wallet that Skeevers probably doesn’t even remember losing in the first place. It’s a weird interlude in an episode that actually has plenty of action, as far as The Americans is concerned (for a spy series that manages to create great amounts of tension each week, it’s surprising how few events that are actually important happen on an episode-to-episode basis). However, The Americans is rarely slavishly following its genre blueprint. A lot of its domestic scenes, like Ivanek’s, are among its best, and that the crew can execute them so well is a great show of confidence this late in the season when things should be heating up more and more.
[Photo via FX]