Despite the sex and secrecy, the injections and break-ins, the threats and secrets, episode 2 of The Americans shows us a softer side of our favorite communists, Phillip and Elizabeth Jennings. The couple is up to their usual shenanigans of extracting American secrets through sex and lies, but what separates this episode from the pilot is the sudden switch of emotion.
This episode begins as the first one did, by using sex as means to obtain information. Phillip Jennings is playing the roll of the secret lover of the assistant to the undersecretary of defense. He plants a secret camera on her in order to obtain information on the man’s home and office. However, this assistant is not a key part of the episode. She is just another example to prove how far the Jennings will go to complete their next mission. This mission then switches direction towards the housekeeper of the undersecretary of defense, Viola. The overall plan? Find a way to eavesdrop on this undersecretary. The way to accomplish it? Through vengeful tactics and cruel behavior.
Elizabeth injects Viola’s son with a sickness inducing serum, it can kill a man in 72 hours. Phillip then breaks into Viola’s home as her son begins to show symptoms. He then threatens her son’s life by forcing her to steal a clock from her employer’s office so he can implant the listening device. I was initially under the impression that Phillip was the softie out of the dynamic duo but this episode proved otherwise. I saw an anger out of him that I would have never expected when confronting Viola. He was ready to kill both her and her son if the goal was not achieved.
Meanwhile in a different part of town, Agent Beeman and his part are going communist hunting. They suspect a woman making a hasty exit out of a stereo shop to be a Russian spy. Beeman and his partner harass and abuse the stereo salesman until he comes clean about who the woman is, only to have the agents steal his extremely expensive can of beluga caviar. Being that agent Beeman still has an “inking” about his friendly next-door neighbors, he brings the caviar over to the Jennings residence to try and read Phillip’s reaction to the delicacy. Phillip does a great job at playing dumb but manages to keep the can for himself and Elizabeth to indulge in later.
The best part of this episode though was watching Elizabeth Jennings. In regard to the plot, we see Elizabeth take a step back from her manic “I must stand with Mother Russia” ways and think about her family. We see her worry allowed to Phillip about her kids, whether they will be ok if she is captured or killed in action or whether they will find out the family secret. Elizabeth’s ability to care is finally unearthed. Underneath all the layers of portrayal of a spy and pride for her country, she is just another mother who deeply worries about the state of her children. This concept climaxed as Elizabeth pierced her daughter Paige’s ears. The music playing underneath the scene demonstrated a bonding moment which I though I would never see judging from the first episode.
The lesson to be learned from all of this is that looks can be deceiving. I originally thought that The Americans would be a high energy, high action television show about Russian spies and the Americans trying to capture them. Instead, it is about the psyche of the spy. The trouble they encounter can cause so much harm, but when their children are threatened, there is no telling what kind of damage the Jennings will go through to protect their young ones.