In Which We Enter The Theater Of All Our Operations

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The Only One

by ALEX CARNEVALE

Wonder Woman
dir. Patty Jenkins
141 minutes

Screen Shot 2017-06-05 at 8.27.25 AMWhen Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) sails into London in 1918, all she can think of is how ugly the city is. Long before landfall, Diana’s mother Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen) was fearful of how she might react to the idea that she is a mutant. Hippolyta create an elaborate mythology to explain why she has no living father and lives in a cloistered society of immortal women without men or children. As explanations from single mothers go, I have heard far worse. Herodotus placed this Diana’s tribe of women on the coast of Northern Turkey – in Wonder Woman, this paradise has become a safe haven from the civilized world. When Diana goes to leave Turkey, her mother says, “You may not return.”

I was very confused by this milquetoast comment: did Hippolyta mean there was a chance she might not make it back, or that she was not allowed back? Maybe I missed something. In any case, the disappearance of Diana’s mother and aunt from the narrative of Wonder Woman is a massive loss, because in the rest of the movie she never has a significant conversation with another woman.

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This turns Wonder Woman into quite a boring slog of male faces. It is Diana’s mindless desire to reach the war’s battles, because she has various abilities which could aid the Allies. Her assistant Steven (Chris Pine) is absolutely tiny, and in his fake German uniform that he uses to spy for the United States, he looks something close to Humpty Dumpty. Steven has no loved ones, or anyone in his life that he cares about, so when he meets Diana, he cannot wait to make her his entire life.

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Other men react to Gadot’s presence in a similarly typical way. In a meeting of various politicians, they all loudly object to the appearance of a woman. Steven’s three associates are a Sunni Muslim, an American Indian and a Scotsman. They relate to Diana only as an object, but after they see her deflect bullets with the plates on her arms, they are devoted to her because of the protection from harm she offers during the war. Wonder Woman manages to make a film about global violence which barely ever shows death at all.

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Gadot plays Diana Prince as a straightforward innocent. She does not really appreciate any of the subtleties of espionage, which is meant to be a credit to a direct approach in times of trouble. Wonder Woman goes to great lengths to excoriate generals who wish to pursue an armistice with the Central Powers, but by the end of the film Diana is giving everyone soft hugs, even the Germans who gassed a Belgian town.

Gadot herself unsurprisingly offers little as an actress. Both Robin Wright Penn as her mentor and Nielsen are fantastic in Wonder Woman; they look a lot more like warriors than Gadot does, and generally highlight the Israeli model’s struggles to portray basic emotions in this role. When she becomes angry, her Diana Prince is frantic and hotheaded, but there is no acceleration between the two mental states. The saving grace is that her chemistry with Pine is very good, and it is a disappointment that the film leans so little on their romance.

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It is unclear how such a person could become a hero to her gender, since we never see Diana’s conduct appraised by any actual women in Wonder Woman, just men who are so overwhelmed with her physical prowess that they assume a greater wisdom behind it. Unfortunately this reductive attitude, while useful in identifying warriors, is mostly reinforcement of the patriarchy. All the best moments in Wonder Woman happen before she ever enters the male-dominated world.

After she thinks back on the events of her life, Wonder Woman evinces Diana Prince in an office inside of the Louvre. She is tapping away on a tablet and has become something of a typical bourgeois drone. It is quite sad to see her reduced to a normal existence, but I suppose if she was doing something important, she would have no time to team up with a bunch of yet another bunch of men for 2018’s Justice League. Who knows? One day, in the far future, she may deign to speak to another woman again.

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording.

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In Which Katherine Waterston Wears A T-Shirt With No Sleeves

Mother May I?

by ETHAN PETERSON

Alien: Covenant
dir. Ridley Scott
122 minutes

Alien: Covenant has one truly great scene and a bevy of variously amusing ones. This great scene happens when Oram (Billy Crudup) walks in on David (Michael Fassbender) communicating with a gigantic white alien/humanoid hybrid. He is appalled at what he is seeing, and the fresh corpse that shimmers in a nearby fountain. Still he waits an additional second beyond what might be appropriate before blasting the creature to bits. He tells David, who is an android stranded on the planet Oram has navigated his colony ship to, that he must explain everything to him.

The concept of a megalomaniacal android has never been explored too fully, since once such qualities are embodied in an individual, we generally regard them as human. Daniels (Katherine Waterston) is second-in-command on Oram’s ship, and she does not need things explained to her. She walks into a room where David displays a series of drawings which explicitly detail the intersections between alien and human life with which he has occupied the past ten years. She has found the lair of a monster, and she looks for a weapon to destroy it.

Waterston is as subtle and expressive an actress as there is. Unfortunately, Fassbender looks pretty bored/confused in his scenes with her, and there is a serious paucity of human-on-human scenes in Alien: Covenant in general. It probably would have been a far better movie as a silent film, since there is really no relationship at all between any of the human characters. As far as the android ones, David is bestowed an extended scene where he teaches the Covenant‘s resident android Walter (still Michael Fassbender) how to play the flute. It is cute, but not really something you want to think about for more than a minute.

In Alien: Covenant‘s opening sequence, Daniels loses her husband Branson (James Franco) when the crew of the Covenant is prematurely woken from cryosleep. The ship’s internal A.I., called Mother, cannot prevent damage from a solar flare. Branson burns up in his little coffin, and they pump Franco’s corporeal body into deep space. It is kind of funny, but not really since Waterson was planning on building a log cabin with her life partner and now she has to do it alone.

The crew sends an expedition team down to a nearby planet which seems to be hailing them. (The cast of Alien: Covenant looks like one of those movies that is going to be picked off by casting directors for years to come: every member of the crew is gorgeous and limber except for Danny McBride.) Although the seed planet has land mass and clean water, they quickly discover there is no animal life at all. This is probably a good tip off that long-term existence would not be possible in this biome, but they decide to explore anyway and find a small ship and their antagonist.

In 2012, Damon Lindelof and Ridley Scott came up with some ideas for the evocative masterpiece that was Prometheus. Determined to focus on the themes of that story rather than the characters, Alien: Covenant is rather boring for a film in this milieu. Yes, the expedition is in danger, but by the time they even realize how dire their straits are, they have no actual narrative time in which to be terrified or make plans to destroy these beasts.

Without much in the way of a tangible script, Scott focuses on what he does so well, better than almost any director in history. That is make visuals which shatter our preconceptions and approaches to familiar material. There is nothing really new about the art design or circumstances of the Covenant‘s space travel, but Scott and his team manage them more slickly and believably than almost anyone working in this genre. Scott has a fairly good grasp of how much science to bring into this story, and he decides the answer for Alien: Covenant is, not much.

Alien: Covenant is more a fantasy film about how a bunch of hapless humans become prey and stay prey. They were never fit to explore the stars, Scott argues, any more than a monkey could surmise whether or not a God was responsible for his existence. It is a not a good feeling to see humanity as so useless, and so I suspect Alien: Covenant will never be very well liked for its sad ending and the downer way it sees humanity: as a bunch of fragile containers for wildly disparate emotions.

Ethan Peterson is the reviews editor of This Recording.

 

In Which We Find Faith In Candace Cameron

Your Local Library

by DICK CHENEY

A Bundle of Trouble: An Aurora Teagarden Mystery
dir. Kevin Fair
Hallmark Channel

Candace Cameron Bure, 41, is a somewhat puzzling choice for a female sleuth. Because of her inner religious convictions (someone, perhaps an angel, told her she and she alone came out of God’s love if I’m not mistaken), she does not do any onscreen nudity. “No problem,” I thought as I curled up with my wife Lynne on what I believe is referred to as a settee. “Was I really expecting her to go topless like Alison Brie on basic cable? This isn’t every single Anna Kendrick movie.” I began to enter full-blown panic mode roughly the same time I realized that not only does Bure not become startlingly nude in A Bundle of Trouble, she never moves the romance beyond a chaste kiss on the lips.

When the boyfriend (Yannick Bison) of Aurora Teagarden (Candace Cameron Bure) stays over for the night, A Bundle of Trouble makes one thing very clear: this is a man who sleeps in the guest room. I had to close my eyes and pretend that in the middle of the night, Aurora tiptoes down to the tiny bed her man sleeps in and envelopes her guy, who is a former federal agent named Martin, in a foul embrace.

Aurora’s previous boyfriend was a writer of murder mysteries. This seemed to suit her better, but he sort of subtly implied that no sex before marriage was a Puritan impulse and left the small Georgia town where Aurora makes her home. Aurora is the founder of the Real Murders Club, where each week one of the members presents the case of a famous killer. Even though this true crime group seems like a lot of fun to me, Aurora’s mother (Marilu Henner) finds her daughter’s impulse rather macabre.

Aurora often is at odds with the local police chief Lynn (Miranda Frigon) who feels that she meddles into the particular details of homicide investigations where it is inappropriate for a civilian to be involved. Aurora’s best friend, a reporter named Sally (Lexa Doig), is also single and appears to be harboring a deep crush on her friend, but it never comes up, reportedly because Candace vetoed this storyline.

In A Bundle of Trouble, Aurora once again finds a body at her house. This time it is the husband of Martin’s dear, sweet niece. Instead of feeling upset or concerned, Aurora has an emotional reaction that could charitably be described as the quiet ripples on a placid, sociopathic lake. When she is not amateur sleuthing, Aurora works at the local library, where she has a combative and eerily flirtatious relationship with the head librarian, a reserved woman named Lillian (Ellie Harvie). At first I was rather sad that none of these unconventional relationships could be consummated becaus of the lead actress’ religious fervor, but then I realized it was at least opening the door for a shitload of fan fiction.

I fell in love with Nancy Drew because of the meaningful relationships she had with men. They supported her, especially that Ned fellow. She went all the way with Ned several times, but he never intruded on her well-deserved spotlight. After all, she was the daughter of a very rich man. Hold on for one second while I confirm that’s all true. Aurora Teagarden prefers to hold her suitors at arm’s length, making for a very frosty five TV-movie series.

Aurora finds herself investigating a private adoption/baby sale gone wrong. The amount of money involved to secure the child appears to be around $10,000, which results in this humorous, thoughtful image of the protagonist:

Aurora has to take care of the baby through much of A Bundle of Trouble, which has an important double meaning which reflects both the hard cash and the presence of the human child. She does not really like children and often forces the people around her to change the baby’s diaper. Among Lynne’s friends, this is the main characteristic of a mother.

This entire adoption storyline seems to set up a way that Candace Cameron Bure can reproduce without actually having sex, since her boyfriend sleeps in the guest room. Having a child will probably take away substantially from her crime-fighting, but then again a part-time librarian typically has a lot of hours in a day. I would not recommend the Aurora Teagarden series to anyone, since there is almost never a person of color involved, even in subplots, and Candace Cameron Bure’s outfits look like they were purchased at the K-Mart in Sacramento.

Hallmark has other series which have white women detectives in a similar vein. One has Courtney Thorne-Smith playing an archaeologist, another has fellow Full House-alum Lori Loughlin as an amateur sleuth. It is apparently against Hallmark Channel directives to make any show about an actual police officer, since women can only solve crimes in their spare time. I resent this. ITV recently released Prime Suspect 1973, a period drama about Helen Mirren’s hot youth. She got it on with almost everyone at the station, and when her sexist bosses asked her to make the coffee, she did it, but she did not like it. At least she was able to solve crimes as part of her actual job. You know things are rough when you find yourself agreeing with Jessica Chastain.

Dick Cheney is the senior contributor to This Recording.


In Which We Wait For Him To Return Home

Hard to Say is This Recording’s weekly advice column. It will appear every Wednesday until the Earth perishes in a fiery blaze, or until North West turns 40. Get no-nonsense answers to all of your most pressing questions by writing to justhardtosay@gmail.com.

Hi, 

Recently a girlfriend of mine, Lois, asked me a question I did not have the answer to. For the last four years she has dated a guy named Jake.

Jake is kind of a mixed bag. He’s a wonderful guy but his job is unusual (I can’t say more about it). He is gone for long stretches and can’t necessarily be relied on to be present at particular dates and times. He is very apologetic about this but over the course of time I have sensed he could have told Lois more but he just doesn’t for whatever his reasons. 

It’s like when you have a valid excuse for something, sometimes you can chalk up a lot to that, beyond which is actually attributable to reality? That’s Jake. He’s hard to argue with. So Lois asked me if I felt she was being run over in this. She gets upset from time to time but she is never sure how upset she is justified in being.

Can you think of a way to handle this without writing Jake off?

Frederica S.

Dear Frederica,

It is a very powerful situation to be able to explain anything you do in private through one convenient excuse. By nature this is not a fair situation, and trust would be key in making this work long term.

It sounds from what you say that Lois does not have this trust, which is not to say she could never obtain it or would never be offered to her. Wives are often permitted knowledge never offered to long term girlfriends, even. Still, your friend has more power than she knows; she is just probably wary of using it for obvious reasons.

On some key level, instinctual level she must be the judge of this man’s character. It is not for you to make this choice for her, or even define the parameters of her decision. Without knowing anything more about these individuals, I would say she is far enough down Jake’s road that she will not be bailing no matter what he tells her.

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There are two possibilities to account for Jake’s behavior. The first is that he is truly innocent. If this is the case, virtuous people who are cavalier about accounting for innocent actions can quickly be turned into darker lifestyles. If you question something who is not doing anything wrong, he or she will quickly be able to surmise that he could get away with what he is being accused.

If Jake is already guilty of something, as seems more likely, offering him amnesty is a great way to ensure he will not be doing this again, because few people believe they will be forgiven twice.

Illustrations by Mia Nguyen.

In Which We Enter The Life Of A Doug

The following review covers episodes three and four of Twin Peaks: The Return.

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Hello!

by ELEANOR MORROW

Twin Peaks: The Return
creators David Lynch & Mark Frost
Showtime

Watching David Lynch the actor gives you a basic idea of why David Lynch the director is so great. The only other all-time directors who were as skilled in front of the camera were Orson Welles and John Cassavetes. Welles often seemed distracted onstage, and sometimes was forced to play roles that did not really suit him for one reason or another. Lynch never has this problem, since the singular role of Gordon Cole represents a law enforcement side of him that should probably come to pass in the real world. We desperately need an FBI director who knows when to mind his own business.

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The type of comedy that Lynch excels at in this role is pretty unusual; it can potentially be described as either the wackiest satire or the most photorealistic farce. Smartly he uses the talents of another understated performer, the late Miguel Ferrer, to play off him as the ideal straight man. In Twin Peaks: The Return, we observe the FBI as an organization taking on many hats. David Duchovny was the only disappointing aspect of this journey: it felt like he was mugging for the camera.

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When Cole receives word that Agent Dale Cooper is in a South Dakota prison, he rushes there with Ferrer and Chrysta Bell, the singer with whom Lynch has produced two albums. Bell sayshays like some kind of alien FBI agent, doing the familiar Twin Peaks work of making something beautiful into an absolute nightmare once you look beyond that initial appeal.

A man’s return to Earth from another dimension should come as a tremendous relief. Instead Agent Cooper finds himself in the life of a man named Doug, who visits prostitutes. Janey- E (Naomi Watts) is his relieved and angry wife. In other hands the Stranger in a Strange Land routine would seem quite silly and predictable, but MacLachlan surprises with wonderful timing. Twin Peaks: The Return features a lot of characters who are neither particularly perceptive or particularly bright at first glance. Yet we are all promised, as children, a measure of intuition.

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The only real lost people are those without that innate quality. Wally Brando (Michael Cera) and Sheriff Truman (Robert Foster) would under other circumstances have enough chemistry to manage the investigation of crimes of their own accord. Cera presents himself in Twin Peaks fresh from the road, and he is perfectly suited for the town, capable as he is of switching from an overly broad view to an overly specific one in the turn of a scene. His mother Lucy (Kimmy Roberson) possesses an innate misunderstanding of the possibilities of cell phones that was as hilarious as anything in these new episodes.

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In recent days Twin Peaks‘ low ratings have cause some critics to sneer, but it is so far ahead of anything else on television that it will probably become popular again much in the same fashion of the original. While the original series was deeply amusing at times, the somber tone of Laura Palmer’s death pervaded everything, and the more hilarious elements did not quite cohere with the overall mood being broadcast by the setting and music.

So many years later, no one would dare contradict any of Lynch’s creative imperatives. Sorrow, pain, and wonder come and go with differing levels of clarity depending on the image. The resulting atmosphere of Twin Peaks: The Return feels completely new as a result, a vast and unimaginable playground like that of a peculiarly vivid dream.

Eleanor Morrow is the senior contributor to This Recording. You can find her review of the first two episodes of Twin Peaks: The Return here.

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In Which We Direct All Attention Upwards

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Necessity

by LINDA EDDINGS

Since attention is inclined to direct itself upwards and remain fixed, special provisions are necessary to ensure the effective compatibility of equality and hierarchy.

– Simone Weil

At the top there is a lancing. Of the spring’s ghastly storehouse of agendas, all my feelings about what I tell you float down to the bottom of the glass. I am empty with this.

Q: Give an example of a time when you sacrificed your needs for his.

A: It would be easier to say the times I did not.

Christmas, 2014. He is the brother of my friend’s boyfriend Tom. He wears these incredibly soft sweaters, and draws his curly hair straight back. Of his little brother, Tom says, “Imagine a bird with something in its mouth. You can see what it has captured in flight, but the bird can only taste it.”

The week before Christmas I threw out all the bad evidence of my last love affair, Chris. He moved to Barcelona. You should see the woman he is with now; she might have come out of a pinata. She is so surprising she comforts you in how much she rubs against him. I miss Chris, but it was time to remove the pictures of us together. I burned it all. That’s the kind of gesture I don’t generally find therapeutic, but seemed required for me to move on.

I vaporize my diary too, but not with fire. I drown the ideas in it.

Q: You say he is brilliant. That is a value judgment.

A: It is wonderful to be with someone truly intelligent, I think, better and more satisfying on every level than treating with the kind.

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What should I call Tom’s brother? This is not the only account of him – there might be one on Vox – but even though I have little faith in my descriptive abilities, I am already sure it is the finest account of him.

Tom tells us that his brother was engaged to a woman from Kentucky. He had bought a ring for the girl, even, but her family did not approve of the speed of the romance and forced her an end to it. “Did you meet her?” I asked Tom. He said no, but he showed me a picture of her with no pants on.

Tom breaks up with the woman, Ellen, he has been seeing that precluded my meeting Tom’s brother. I ask what happened, realizing that Tom is probably more of my friend than Ellen ever was. Ellen looked in the mirror too much, Tom says. He can’t stand that; it makes him want to claw his eyes out. “There was nothing different,” he squeaks, “to be staring at yourself again and again!”

Q: Did you feel some sort of attraction for Tom?

A: I think I feel some sort of attraction for most people.

February 2014. Tom’s brother and I stay on an isolated island on a great lake. His best friend lived there since he was a kid. The man is a garbageman now, with angry eyes. Tom’s brother tells me not to worry about him, or anything. When I go to the grocery store locals are fascinated by me the entire time. It is freezing, which is fine, since we are forced to warm each other.

It is a smell surrounding me for years. Fresh soap, and a natural musk which feels like it is radiating inside, precipating the act. Shell game. Tulips touching the glass, bending the function of the abbatoir. What I gave to Tom’s brother was in its own way never ending, slightly spiteful. At times I sense that if I ever received exactly what I wanted that I would die of shock.

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Q: What kind of man are you typically attracted to?

A: The kind that uses the expression “riddle me this,” before an explanation. A lot of men do that, even ones you think won’t.

Tom’s brother convinces me, one night when my resistance to his animal intensity is at its very lowest, not to use a condom. If you are reading this you maybe cringed, or you want to know if I got pregnant. I didn’t, but I was scared as hell along the way.

Chris e-mails pictures of a boxer pup he has adopted. In one of the snaps a woman’s hand rests on a pillow. Chris’ fat paw offers a bone. Tom says, “He sends you that shit because he knows it makes you scream. The question is, do you like the sound?” Tom is always kind enough to pretend he doesn’t know me or my type, but I fear that he probably does.

Q: What is your type? Not your type of guy, but what kind of person do you classify yourself as?

A: INTJ

Tom’s brother actually wrote a personality test, for one of his degrees. It featured a variety of ethical decisions, all centered around the concept of altruism. He believes that when we do something for other people, a part of ourselves remains. It is another way of instructing servants to choose their masters. In order to believe in such transference, you must put your faith entirely in the idea that enslavement is only possible with permission.

Tom’s brother left academia, but he still talks about it a whole lot. I did not mind listening to his stories about it – isn’t it so revealing what people tell you no matter the subject? “I wanted to work with my hands,” Tom’s brother often says, with his mouth. Use the tools you are given, I guess.

Q: Picture me. 1994. I was having the same problem with a boy. You break out of it. You lose the recipe.

A: Which of them are you talking about?

A friend of mine has a lavish country home outside the city. There is always work to do on it, improvements to make. Small things, like a lamppost or a division of a larger garden. These projects never become all-consuming for them. I was never much for hobbies.

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May 2014. Chris is in Vienna, then at a conference in Leipzig. They sent the dog to stay with Chris’ mother until they get back to the U.S. I picture it flying all alone, at the whim of its owner. He tells me the dog cost 550€. “I thought he was a rescue,” I write back. It is the first thing I have said to him since we broke up. You can erase something from your mind, but that is all you did. Don’t ask me where it lives now.

European cities are ancient compared to us now, but when you have lost your sense of history, does it matter just how much has vanished? “The Egyptians had working plumbing centuries before it was rediscovered. A great civilization.” I don’t admire the people of the past, I told him. I don’t admire anyone who cannot receive my admiration.

It is wonderful that these people take such a gainful pleasure in visiting the places of the world. I don’t deny them their accomplishments, I only wish that the opposite of wanderlust was given a similar affectation. “That is all my brother is,” Tom’s brother tries to convince me. “A series of affectations.”

Q: I say this with no pleasure, but you need to talk things over before you destroy them. Not everything is so final.

A: I know.

Chris catches an eye infection and stays in a German hospital. Eventually they fly him back like his dog. He only has partial vision in the eye now. When he views it in the mirror it does not look lazy, but it never focuses. His new girlfriend is on writer’s retreat in California for the next six months. He is miserable.

Back on the island, I had someone to be around, which was itself a relief. It is all right to use people, Tom says, if you use them for the right reasons. He has gone for coffee.

Linda Eddings is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in New York. You can find an archive of her writing on This Recording here.

Paintings by Peter Sculthorpe.

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In Which She Was There For More Than A Few Years

Oh, Say. Can You See?

by ETHAN PETERSON

The Americans
creator Joe Weisberg
FX

Keri Russell, 41, and Matthew Rhys, 42, changed everything through their love. At the beginning of The Americans, they fought a lot and never seemed to penetrate each othe’s emotional defenses at key times. Their real-life marriage altered the deal. Now in the middle of this fifth, penultimate season, one addresses questions posed for the other. Their daughter Paige asks if they feel like their names actually are Phillip and Elizabeth Jennings. “Yes,” Rhys answers for both of them. “But I miss my old name.” He does not say it, or tell it to his daughter. But we know it well.

Finally these married spies are thinking about going home to Russia. A part of us knows that they will never make it there, or survive in that unforgiving place. For the first time in the show’s history, this season has attempted to give us a taste of what life was like before the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. Before, during, and after the Cold War most Americans did not know what life was actually like in the Soviet Union. The Americans depicts Moscow as a sinister, unforgiving limbo. The mere idea of leaving Washington D.C. and its environs for this place fills us all with a deep and abject horror.

Life in D.C. has become sufficiently ridiculous for the only son of these two spies, a growing boy named Henry (Keidrich Sellati). Henry is at the age when he has no real use for his parents, and he has devised a plan to separate himself from them permanently. He has met a lovely young woman named Chris with whom he plans to abscond to a New Hampshire boarding school. “Senators went there!” he shakily announces to his parents, who are gobsmacked. I don’t actually believe any parents would stifle their boy’s dreams in this fashion.

Paralyzed by the fear of what their retirement might mean, every murder or act of sabotage takes on additional heft. So they hold Russia up, as their last impossible dream, and the American writers who shape their lives tear it down. In order to show us what would await them, The Americans has given us Oleg (the marvelous, pleasantly scrutable Australian actor Costa Ronin) was moved from his duties in the U.S. home to be near his family. He occupies a small room in his family’s apartment. All the women he loved are dead or gone. His mother and father are even more devoted to him than ever, since his brother has perished in Afghanistan.

Oleg learns that his mother served more than a few years in a camp as penance for some non-crime. It was beyond his father’s capabilities to help her then, and she explains that in return for fucking the camp doctor, she was given perks such as a blanket and extra food. His knowledge of what happened to his mother in the society he props up through his work in the KGB makes him deeply jaded. In one powerful scene he stares out at Moscow; the wish in his eyes is to burn it all down.

Some societies – now that I think of it, every society – comes to this burning point, where they feed on their own inefficiencies and collapse if they do not have certain basic operating principles that allow healing on a macro scale. True democracies always have the opportunity to take this positive step. The Americans does not really explore the various foibles of their own country, except when it comes to the fetid, cliquish FBI, the only mirror of the enemy which does not come across as a resounding win for the United States. It is not moral scruples which prevents Agent Stan Beeman (Noah Emmerich) from eclipsing the fervor of his enemy. He just has better things to do.

The best scene in the entire season featured a double date, KGB and FBI. It was the first time Keri Russell’s “character” had met Renee (Laurie Holden), a woman Stan had begun dating after the collapse of his marriage. Team KGB openly wonders whether she is a plant to spy on Stan and keep him in check, and regretfully decide they will probably never know the answer.

The concept of having another person’s happiness in your hands comes up again and again in The Americans. It is akin to a weird sort of godhood in a country whose main figure of worship is Ronald Reagan.

It took far too many episodes to resolve the subplot of Paige Jennings (Holly Taylor), who finds her priest’s diary entries about her. All in all, Paige took this information in good stride, and she seems to finally understand how much her parents must trust her to make her complicit in their work lives. Taylor is a phenomenal actress who ably communicates a sterling range of emotions lurking beneath the surface. The writers of The Americans, knowing how little is actually required to make her scenes interesting, probably have lingered on her too long as a crutch.

Every possible dilemma the spies have faced in their personal life has now been explored. A subtlety of purpose and horror has replaced conventional twists and turns. The Americans has always been fairly short on action, but in the eleven episodes remaining in the show’s run, we get to build to the ultimate moment: when Stan Beeman is informed of what a total oblivious, hot dog-eating chump he really is. If Phillip’s son Mischa never gets to meet his father, I will take it very personally.

Ethan Peterson is the reviews editor of This Recording.