Son of a Preacher Man
by ALEX CARNEVALE
creator Joe Weisberg
“Anger is a concept,” Philip’s therapist explains to him on this fourth season of The Americans. He follows up an energetic session with a bald man who is a subtle parody of Walter White by taking Stan Beeman’s ex-wife Sandra (Susan Misner) out to dinner. For a certain type of man anything is more gratifying than being with his wife, no matter how silly.
The Americans is now the Philip show. We see the world through his flashbacks, which revolve around smashing a little boy in the head with a rock. (The boy in question suggested that dating your co-star was maybe not the best career move.) To suggest that he regrets this one, first murder above all the other deaths he has caused describes an invigorating softness that has begun encroaching on all of his life.
Philip infects everything around him with this sentimentality. It is not kindness, because he rarely does good things for anyone he meets. When Beeman violently explains that Phillip was seen laughing at a restaurant with Sandra, he does little to assuage the FBI man’s concerns. He uses an innocent moment as a excuse for something else, a way to push things in the direction that most benefits his own interests. Such a morality could never suit a loving father.
This suggests a calculated, sociopathic nature from which Philip can never quite free himself. Whatever closeness on The Americans brought Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys together in real life is being shied away from now. He is at peace in his relationship with Elizabeth, but it is no longer his prime relationship. Watching them walk down a block together was the creepiest part of this first episode. They looked like they had done it a million times.
The Americans thrived on an illicit intimacy. The show feels strangely cold without there being someone desperately in love with someone else, since wasn’t that the entire point of international espionage to being with? Even Nina Krilova (Annet Mahendru) has been reduced to a cold fish who can’t even get a Jewish scientist sexually involved with her. Is no one attracted to anyone else since Reagan termed their country the evil empire?
Philip has unwittingly passed although this cold, dangerous naivete to his daughter Paige. Never look up Holly Taylor’s Instagram — you will suddenly come to the conclusion that there is no Paige, and there has not been one for years, maybe even thousands of years.
But it is not just Paige, a patriot so devout she cannot stand to make the Pledge of Allegiance under these trying circumstances. One lie gets so out of control it ruins the lives of other, peripheral people, who are engaged by the deception on a subconscious level. Stan Beeman takes this falsehood with him wherever he goes, like a picture in his wallet.
Stan is flipping through the newspaper while his new squeeze, Tori (Callie Thorne),is getting dressed. Her makeup and clothes take over an hour to prepare, so he must kill the time before she is ready to emerge with him into the world.
It is not quite accurate to say that Stan loathes her, he just senses she is passing through, and maybe he is managing a similar transparency. He hasn’t been the same since he met Philip Jennings; no one has.
Philip’s relationship with Martha (Alison Wright) has come to a natural end, but I guess they still wanted to keep her on the show. It is believable that she has grown so accustomed to the idea of Clark (Claaaaark) as her husband that she would forgive the death of a colleague. After all, she knew what she was getting into when she married him. But the fact that he committed the murder himself and told her about it, even describing the circumstances, makes him a monster so complete that it would appall virtually any person’s inner sense.
If she was going to accept him as she is, The Americans should have made a bigger deal of that, since it would made his faux relationship more honest and engaging than his marriage.
In past seasons, we have fully exorcised the demons which haunted Keri Russell’s sleeper agent; her rape at the hands of a colleague, the development of love for a husband thrust upon her. The Americans struggles to find a dilemma of the same importance in her adopted country. Elizabeth is not a natural mother, and her scenes with Paige seem strange and disconnected, so there is no precarious line of trust or love with which to balance the ongoing reveal of information about the Jennings’ life as spies. It just seems like two people talking to the air.
This leaves a real emotional gap on the program. There is no new villain, as of yet, nothing for Philip and Elizabeth to overcome. All their enemies have been reduced through innuendo and murder to mere shreds of what they once were. At this point I am really wondering how Russia did not manage to win the Cold War.
Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording. You can follow him on Instagram here.
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