Tag Archives: The Americans

“A Red Wheelbarrow:” Sam and I chat about Homeland, Episode 8

Screen Shot 2013-11-19 at 12.16.09 PM

Jay: Initial thoughts: not as great as all the reviewers promised. There was a flurry of Twitter activity suggesting that this episode would be a return to all things great about Homeland. But while some of the excitement returned, I’m not at all convinced we’ve reached any kind of turnaround.

First of all, you just knew Carrie was going to defy orders at the motel. Yes, I get that this is completely consistent with her character, but at some point it just gets tiring. I actually rolled my eyes when she got out of the van and started following Franklin. I understand that she’s impulsive and headstrong, but at what point does it become completely unbelievable that she could keep her job after so many betrayals? Similarly predictable was the fact that Carrie was clearly not going to die, no matter how ominous Dar Adal and Quinn tried to sound while warning her from continuing.

Mira’s lover being some sort of spy was decidedly less predictable, but I’m not at all persuaded that that plot point makes any sense. And speaking of nonsensical moments, Carrie being so open with her doctor about her job (referencing the “father” in relation to her work) was an absurdly risky moment in a series in which characters are supposed to be devoted to secrecy and information security.

Slightly more intriguing was Saul’s visit to Venezuela to visit Brody. It’s confusing on a few levels, actually: why was Saul so cagey with Carrie when she asked about his conversation with Javadi? And why the hell is he visiting Brody if he knows he didn’t do it? What could Brody possibly do for Saul now that he’s been shown to have been uninvolved with the bombing?

I guess I don’t see this as much of a step forward. Do you? Continue reading “A Red Wheelbarrow:” Sam and I chat about Homeland, Episode 8

This one’s for “The Colonel:” Sam Lim and I lament Season 1 of The Americans

Screen Shot 2013-05-03 at 4.47.01 PM

Sam: I will admit that I really did not want to watch this episode, but it actually surprised me with keeping my attention throughout nearly the whole episode. Sad that I couldn’t say the same about just about every other episode, but I’ve beaten that dead horse silly already.

The main part about this episode that kept my interest was obviously the whole double meeting assignment given to Phil and Elizabeth, especially leading up to the moment Phil swoops in his old car and carries Elizabeth away to safety (but not before she apparently gets shot in the stomach).

As interesting as that was, though, there were way too many silly story lines that pulled that together. For one, Nina’s whole double agent bit has just gotten ridiculous. You touched on it from last week’s episode: she basically got off for treason with nothing more than a slap on the wrist. Um…didn’t the KGB take out one of their own they didn’t trust in an earlier episode? She works in the frickin’ US office, so she seems like she’d be an even greater threat.

Screen Shot 2013-05-03 at 4.47.19 PMStan’s character is also interesting, because he plays this stone cold agent on one hand who detects that one dude was “off” so wants to keep him closed up in solitary confinement until he hollers. But on the other hand, he’s not attentive enough to tell that Nina played him? Her reaction to his response that exfiltration would NOT be happening was absolutely absurd. Shouldn’t she have flipped out about 100x more than she actually did? Frankly, he should’ve then been comforting her, not the other way around.

One more major gripe: has Paige really NEVER tried to go to her parents’ room when she’s had a nightmare before? How old is she now? Like 13? NOW she decides to go to her mom’s room? And that whole thing about the laundry room. Good for her for asking Elizabeth why she didn’t hear the washing machine, but that whole last scene of the episode/season was just stupid. Yes, Elizabeth is great about covering her tracks, but the dragged out way in which Paige went downstairs would make you think she’d never seen the basement/laundry room in her own home before.

Oh, and we finally saw the Granny/Arkady in the car scene. After watching that scene, I have to say: they went through a lot of work just to shoot that one scene…

What were your thoughts on this season finale? Continue reading This one’s for “The Colonel:” Sam Lim and I lament Season 1 of The Americans

After Episode 12, Sam Lim and I take “The Oath” never to watch The Americans again

Screen Shot 2013-04-29 at 3.29.18 PM

Sam: A couple of unexpecteds happened this week, but I think this show lost me so long ago that it didn’t even interest me. (I suppose my overall negativity toward this show doesn’t spruce up the conversation much, does it?)

First, I forgot to mention last week that the developments with Clark/Phil and Martha are entertaining in a terrible way. I feel horrible for her, since she’s getting completely duped. But it is funny to watch Phil in these moments.

This week took it to a whole new level though. Granny playing his mom and Elizabeth playing his sister? Martha’s mom’s comment that “I can see the family resemblance!” just made it that much better. I laughed, not because it was funny, but it was just so…laughable.

I did not think Nina would get out alive whenever Arkady and team found out she was the mole, but the way it happened when it actually did just saved her for Season Two, I think. Somewhat lame, but better than perhaps the cliché “she’s gonna get shot” story. I now shift my money to Granny getting axed in the last episode. (On a side note: we still haven’t seen that scene of her and Arkady in the car shot by SIPA, have we?)

The Paige-Matthew dynamic was somewhat predictable, and honestly, I’m not sure how much it actually adds to the story as a whole, except that Paige can talk to Elizabeth about her relationship problems. Not so interesting.

Overall, I just can’t wait until this season is over, so we can go back to reviewing some actual good shows. Your thoughts? Continue reading After Episode 12, Sam Lim and I take “The Oath” never to watch The Americans again

“Covert War” on the audience: Sam Lim and I detest Episode 11 of The Americans

Sam: I’m just bored at this point. This episode did nothing for me, since I honestly don’t think it presented anything new.

Nina and Stan almost broke it off, but it didn’t seem to last. Stan’s wife is mad at him, and so is his son. Phil and Elizabeth are still apart, although it seemed like she was going to ask him to move back but then her passive-aggressiveness got the best of her so he’s still not moving back home yet. And Elizabeth and Granny had not one but TWO utterly ear-splitting dialogues that made me want to gouge out my eyes.

Oh, and they decided to bring back flashbacks because another underdeveloped character died. I will say I thought it strange that the dude compared Elizabeth and Phil’s relationship to his own relationship with his dog.

Did I miss anything?

Jay: Nope, you really didn’t.

Episode 10, “Only You:” Sam Lim and I discuss The Americans‘ continued character purge

Screen Shot 2013-04-11 at 1.23.34 PM

Sam: After last week’s action-packed (we’re speaking relatively here) episode, this week’s episode dragged on through a whole bunch of relationship crap. From the get-go, we’d see Phil and Elizabeth give each tired looks of annoyance or sarcastic comments about their living situation.

Am I surprised? Nope. I didn’t really expect one decent episode to make things all better to begin with. One of the few positives of the show, though, is that Stan is solidifying his place as the best actor/character on the show. The way he hunts down people (including Phil, even in a sort of drunken stupor) leads him eventually to what the KGB hopes is the end of the Amador trail.

I thought his scene with Nina was particularly telling of where his priorities lie. She asked him who killed Vlad, and he responded multiple times with “I don’t know.” He even added, “If I find out something, I will let you know.”

Now, contrast that with Elizabeth’s closing scene with Gregory before she (and Phil) let him walk out the door, even while both hold guns ready to take him down. For someone who’s supposed to be steely and unforgiving, she seems to hesitate whenever she has a personal connection (i.e. Timoshev in Episode 1).Screen Shot 2013-04-11 at 1.24.41 PM

Which leads me to the part where Gregory ends up doing what he says and gets into a shoot out with police. Doesn’t the KGB/Granny know now that Phil went against their orders to do what he knows he’s “supposed to do”? Or did they just not care?

What did you think of this episode?

Jay: I’m actually excited this week because, for the first time in quite awhile, we have substantively different opinions on an episode of The Americans! It’s nice to actually have something to discuss for a change, instead of our usual wholehearted agreement on how subpar each episode generally is.

Speaking of things that are subpar, I want to briefly touch on something we’d discussed after Episode 9. In that review, I said, “As for what comes next, I’m most curious about Stan’s relationship to the FBI. What scares me most is that his extrajudicial execution of Vlad will be summarily dispensed with in the next episode’s first two minutes, and all will continue as usual as if it were a simple tantrum that everyone will get over. I hope that doesn’t happen — because if it does, that’s hopelessly unrealistic.”

To which you presciently responded: “Unfortunately, I fear what we do not want to see is exactly what will happen. We’ve seen it happen before (that I can’t remember exactly when speaks to the fact that they did not make what seemed like a huge moment very memorable).”

So…yeah. That happened. Are we just too young to understand the brutality of Cold War counterintelligence, or (as seems to me) it’s just unrealistic to assume that a high-ranking FBI officer such as Agent Gadd would be unperturbed by the extrajudicial execution of an innocent person? Again, it’s not as if this were the CIA: it’s the FBI, an ostensibly domestically-focused organization. I just have a hard time believing events would have transpired as they did.

Like you, some of this episode’s moments felt contrived to me as well. I eye-rolled a little to myself after Stan came knocking on Phil’s hotel room door, and even more so after the conversation switched immediately to the death of Amador. There is just no logical reason to believe that a seasoned FBI agent would be so free-wheeling in his discussions of intra-agency topics with outsiders, even if they didn’t happen to be Soviet agents.

Nevertheless, carrying over from last episode, which noticeably sped up the pace of action, I felt that this one did a decently good job of driving the story forward. Particularly interesting to me was the standoff with Elizabeth, Phil, and Gregory in the hotel room, in which each character was conflicted between competing interests in one way or another. Phil would have been glad to be the one to kill Gregory, but ironically was still too in love with Elizabeth to do it in front of her. Elizabeth was torn between her loyalty to her country and her loyalty to Gregory. Gregory himself seemed to agonize the least of the three: he knew what he had lived for, and he knew his time had come. Going to Moscow was never really an option for him.

Screen Shot 2013-04-11 at 1.25.47 PMTwo final points: First, as you did, I enjoyed virtually every aspect of Stan’s character in this episode. Even when he’s given bad lines or unrealistic situations to work with, the character is played almost flawlessly, and this episode was no exception. Secondly, I hadn’t even thought about the element of disloyalty to their handlers exhibited by Phil and Elizabeth by letting Gregory walk. (Speaking of which, I’m pretty sure Gregory’s shootout with the police was filmed on West 122nd Street in Morningside Heights.) Given what happened in these past two episodes with regards to Stan’s assassination of Vlad, though, I doubt we’ll see much in the way of repercussions for the Jennings.

Where do you see The Americans going from here, for the final few episodes of Season 1? Perhaps a better question — and one we asked each other towards the end of Homeland‘s second season — is who do you think will be dead at the conclusion of Season 1 here?

Sam: I just chuckled out loud at your last question. Let me respond to other parts first, and then I’ll give you my morbid prediction(s).

I agree that it seemed pretty unrealistic that Agent Gadd had (seemingly) no problems with Stan’s extrajudicial killing of Vlad. But perhaps you’re right: we don’t feel the same way as perhaps others who really lived through and understood the Cold War. For this reason, I didn’t quite know how accurate Agent Gadd’s comment about an invisible war was. For the first time though, I wasn’t overly annoyed with his character, given that his lines now were, for the most part, from the heart (and not all cheesy lines).

I will say that I thought Granny was going to pull out a pistol and take care of Gregory herself. Perhaps just for a second. Did it strike you as strange that she and Phil decide to have a conversation about finishing Gregory off directly outside his door? It reminded me of Brody shouting “Nazir!” into his cell phone when CIA agents were right down the hall.

The character conflicts in this episode were certainly what made it intriguing; I guess I was just hoping for a faster-paced episode. Funny though, I had the same thought that Gregory’s shootout was right by SIPA, and I wondered when they filmed that, especially as I imagine it would’ve been a loud day of filming potentially.

Screen Shot 2013-04-11 at 1.25.20 PMAs for where things are going, I think the season will end with a scenario where Stan is on the verge of discovering Phil and Elizabeth’s true identities. It’s cliché, but how else will they make people excited over Season 2? I do think someone will be dead by the end, and I come back to Nina. I’d throw in Martha as well. I feel like they’re secondary characters who have been central enough to warrant lots of attention but still expendable in the grand scheme of things. If anyone is safe, it’s Stan, Phil, and Elizabeth. However, one of them may get shot or injured or something between now and the end of Season 1.

Your thoughts on who makes it and who doesn’t?

Jay: I had a very similar reaction to the scene between Granny and Gregory. However, I was more of the mind that Gregory was going to be the one to do something sudden: kill himself, or maybe even Granny. And yes, I also thought it was strange how Granny and Phil discussed Gregory’s fate just outside his door. In fact, that scene makes even less sense when you consider that, at some point later on, Elizabeth was in the apartment with Gregory too, having what was presumably a private moment on the couch. Was Phil waiting just outside the door that entire time? (It seems as if he was, since he comes in at the end as Elizabeth is preparing to leave.) And if so, I don’t understand what happened earlier, following Phil’s conversation with Granny, in which it appears that Phil is about to enter the apartment himself. What happened immediately after that? There’s never any indication that Phil and Gregory had spoken to each other in this episode, prior to the point at which Phil enters with a gun.

Anyway, I agree that Nina is an obvious candidate to get knocked off. In some ways, it seems almost too obvious — as in perhaps the show’s creators want us to believe she’s doomed in order to pull off a different surprise? Almost from the moment she first appeared, Nina has had a huge bullseye on her back: it would be understandable if, for that reason alone, The Americans was hesitant to actually do what everyone expects and kill her off. I can imagine Martha being killed, but I’m actually going to go with Arkady and/or Granny as my top two candidates for early termination.

Find yourself a “Safe House,” or a relative close by…you’re probably wanted for murder — Sam Lim and I discuss The Americans, Episode 9

photo_3
Shooting a scene of The Americans just outside Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs. Thursday, March 28, 2013.

That’s right: two references in one headline. “Safe House” refers to this week’s episode of FX’s The Americans, and the rest of it…well, just have a look at this. As for the recap of Wednesday’s episode, you’ve come to the right place. And away we go.

Jay: I gotta say, when Amador showed up in that parking lot behind Phil after having already run into him at the Beemans’ party, I really thought they’d stolen our April Fool’s Day fake episode narrative and turned it into a real storyline on the show.

Screen Shot 2013-04-05 at 4.33.40 PMBut that might not have even been my favorite part. Even better was when the FBI agents began to discuss plans for killing Arkady (a conversation that took place in the kitchen of a dinner party, improbably: welcome back, The Americans) — and I immediately knew it couldn’t possibly happen, because I’d just seen the actor who plays him filming a scene on the Upper West Side last week.

The usual complaints still apply here, although they were slightly mitigated by the uptick in action. Throughout the episode, it seemed as if neither Phil nor Elizabeth had any real idea what they were going to do with Amador. In some ways, this echoed their indecision of the pilot episode, which ultimately also ended in the victim’s untimely demise. (The general rule on The Americans seems to be that, if you’re working for either American or Soviet intelligence and you end up in the Jennings’ custody, you’re probably screwed. If you’re just an innocent bystander — like the son of that poor old lady who got poisoned by Elizabeth — well, you’ll be OK eventually.) Continue reading Find yourself a “Safe House,” or a relative close by…you’re probably wanted for murder — Sam Lim and I discuss The Americans, Episode 9

Strangers passing “In the Dark:” Sam Lim and I discuss Episode 9 of The Americans

Screen Shot 2013-03-31 at 7.34.05 PM

Jay: Wow, I think I can safely say that this was the best episode all season. Normally, I’m against using plot twists for the sake of using plot twists, but in this case I think they actually got it almost perfectly right. Agent Gadd is one of those characters who the show never even slightly hinted might be a villain, and yet here we are.

The best part about this surprise is that it puts a lot of central characters into some very vulnerable positions. Most obviously, Nina is screwed. But the genius of this scenario is that Gadd can’t move too quickly to eliminate her, because Stan’s a savvy veteran (having been undercover with white supremacists for years) and might catch on to anything strange happening to Nina — especially considering his romantic/sexual attachment to her, which Gadd obviously knows about. At the same time, Gadd himself is on thin ice, precisely because Stan is such a consummate professional (minus the small detail of his affair with a confidential informant) and may be quick to catch on to Gadd’s double-crossing of his own agency.

I also loved Amador’s creepy stakeout of Martha’s place when Phil came over again. I do have a slight beef here, as usual: there’s absolutely no way Phil would take off his mustache, wig, and everything in his car right after leaving Martha’s place, even if he thinks there’s no way anyone could see him. Relatedly, it’s highly unlikely Amador could actually see anything in the dark of night like that, even with his binoculars. But OK, I’ll let those small details slide. Whatever the realism or lack thereof, the fact that Amador now knows A) Martha is sleeping with someone else and B) this guy is clearly not whoever he tells Martha he is, the stage is definitely set for some big surprises. Continue reading Strangers passing “In the Dark:” Sam Lim and I discuss Episode 9 of The Americans

“Mutually Assured Destruction” on The Americans: Sam Lim and I discuss Episode 8

Screen Shot 2013-03-24 at 7.54.44 PM

Jay: Ho hum. Another episode of The Americans, another sigh of disappointment. This is getting to become a ritual weekly event.

This time we have Granny telling Elizabeth the truth about Phil and Irina. We have Stan and Amador’s colleagues getting blown to smithereens. We have Amador himself starting to suspect his former girlfriend…of something. And we have a West German loose cannon on the prowl until he, too, gets blown to smithereens.

What a lot of these moments have in common, or how they tie together, is not always clear. Why, for instance, did Granny feel it necessary to sabotage Elizabeth’s marriage? Was this her backhanded way of exacting revenge for the beating she received at Elizabeth’s hands: a ruined marriage for a bruised face? Or was there some larger strategic calculation at play? My first thought was that this could set up a situation in which Elizabeth sells out Phil to her bosses for his lack of commitment, as revenge for his infidelity. But by the end of the episode, their tension had mostly dissipated into familiar marital discord.

Nina’s conversation with Stan at the end, meanwhile, was certainly bizarre. What exactly is going on at the embassy? Is she really being promoted, or is Arkady moving her up to keep a closer eye on her? Something about that situation seemed funky.

Also, it was never explained why the West German hired hand would have a problem with following directions from the KGB. What’s it to him whether or not a scientist lives or dies? As with so many aspects of The Americans, this is left unexplained.

Also, I guess I’m supposed to care that Phil’s and Elizabeth’s marriage is falling apart, right? Well, I don’t.

Do you? Continue reading “Mutually Assured Destruction” on The Americans: Sam Lim and I discuss Episode 8

“Duty and Honor” and infidelity: Sam Lim and I discuss Episode 7 of The Americans

 

Courtesy of TV.com.
Courtesy of TV.com.

Jay: About halfway through this one, I really thought The Americans might have turned a corner. And in a way, I still think it might’ve. A lot took place in this episode, and part of me thinks my slightly more positive reaction stems mostly from the manipulative use of sad music during important scenes, instead of being a consequence of masterful storytelling.

Nevertheless, a few more things went well in this episode than I’m used to. It was also the rare TV episode in which relationships were the defining centerpiece and I wasn’t even bored. It helped that they added some mild twists, such as Stan being left at the bar and then, instead of hitting on the girl at the other end, meeting up with Nina. (By the way, that relationship is increasingly looking like it’s going in the direction I’d guessed earlier: he’s worried about her, and the FBI doesn’t give a damn.)

Phil’s backstory just got a hell of a lot more interesting as well, although I really wasn’t a fan of the actress who played his former love interest. First of all, why does she still look like she’s 16, even though she has a son that’s older than that? Secondly, I just didn’t find her a very convincing actress. Nevertheless, the execution of that part of the story was decent. It didn’t occur to me now — and here comes the obligatory Homeland reference — that Phil’s lie to Elizabeth at the very end (that nothing happened between him and Irina) is very reminiscent of Brody’s lies to Jess about Carrie. Anyway…

Once again, the events feel as if they’re taking place in a vacuum, though. Political events come into focus at the beginning of an episode, intensify during the middle, and are resolved by the end. It’s like Family Guy, only less funny. (That’s a bit harsh.) But I am trying to remain hopeful that the show can continue to nicely balance the relationship and career aspects of the show. Speaking of which, Elizabeth and Granny’s conversation on the park bench looked pretty ominous. If this were a higher-quality show, I’d venture to guess that it will have ripple effects in later episodes. On The Americans, I have no idea.

What’d you think? Continue reading “Duty and Honor” and infidelity: Sam Lim and I discuss Episode 7 of The Americans

Sam Lim and I chat about The Americans, Episode 6: “Trust Me?” Not so much.

Stan and Nina talk it out in Episode 6 of The Americans, "Trust Me."
Stan and Nina talk it out in Episode 6 of The Americans, “Trust Me.”

Jay: I just don’t know anymore. This show is all over the place, and I don’t really mean that in a good way. We’re about halfway through the season (6 out of 13 episodes), but I’m still unable to get excited about anyone or anything in the show. That’s a problem, right?

There wasn’t anything glaringly wrong with this episode, necessarily. The plot moved along at a decently fast pace, and I couldn’t help but smile at the scene between Elizabeth and Gregory on the steps of Columbia’s School of International and Public Affairs. (I practically live in that building these days.)

But the story with the kids was just…weird. What are the chances that the first person to pick them up would be such a psycho? The reviews I’ve read point to that narrative as a way for The Americans to show how the kids now have secrets of their own, just like their parents. But every kid keeps secrets from his parents. (Am I misremembering my entire childhood?) Even taking into account the danger presented by that freak at the duck pond, hiding something like this from one’s parents is perfectly in line with normal kid behavior. All of that makes me wonder why it’s included in the episode at all.

As for Elizabeth and Phil, it’s gotten to the point where, even if I have trouble identifying specific problem parts, I’m not particularly into the episode anyway. Maybe it’s that their on-again-off-again marital problems are already boring me.

The Stan/Nina dynamic was more interesting. As noted elsewhere, the scene with the projected images flashing on their faces was very well-done, even if Stan seems unable or unwilling to acknowledge just how much danger he’s put Nina in. Side note: I love that he managed to protect her and get rid of her sexual partner, all in one fell swoop.

Did this episode mark an improvement? Or is it still stuck in “meh” territory? Continue reading Sam Lim and I chat about The Americans, Episode 6: “Trust Me?” Not so much.