The Americans – “Trust Me”

The Americans - "Trust Me" [S01E06]

From left: Matthew Rhys, Keri Russell

Rating: A-

The idea that a television show could have us sympathizing with Soviet spies would have been unheard of in the 1980s, and possibly met with charges of treason. Which makes what The Americans has been able to accomplish all that more special. The television landscape is now filled with big name anti-heroes – Dexter Morgan, Walter White, and Don Draper, to name a few – but no one has tried to put the spotlight on a once feared and despised American enemy. Many reviewers have commented that what the The Americans is doing is akin to making a show about terrorist sleeper cell agents living in the United States, and maybe 20 years down the line we’ll get that show. And although I do not have the experience to argue the quality of that comparison, a brief history lesson will show that the analogy is probably more than apt.

There’s something beautiful about the way The Americans approaches its material – it is at times brutal and unyielding, yet it is also delicate and hesitant. It finds a great balance between action-packed, tense espionage and the internal struggles the characters battle every day, all the while capturing the ever-present sense of impending danger that permeated the Cold War era. And it is that constant atmosphere of fear that fuels the storyline for “Trust Me.”

After discovering last week that there was a mole within the KGB, everyone is on edge and hesitant to trust one another. And that mistrust leads the KGB to question the loyalty of two of their Directive S agents, Philip (Matthew Rhys) and Elizabeth (Keri Russell). Philip is nabbed, by what initially appears to be FBI agents who have discovered their secret, right from a phone-booth and Elizabeth is taken from the safety of her own home, but not after she puts up a hell of a fight – this was a very well shot scene and even though we know she is more than capable of handling herself we can’t help but imagine she is going through the same fear that we experienced watching it.

It becomes quickly apparent to us that this can’t possibly be the work of the FBI and is the KGB trying to find their mole – the show takes risks, but there was no way it would entertain this storyline only 6 episodes into the first season. And maybe we’re not supposed to be tricked here, because this also isn’t the focus of the episode. It’s seeing how Philip and Elizabeth react when they find out this was all a test that really makes for great television. But having already spent 5 weeks with the two we have seen the sacrifices they would make (and have made) for their country, so we could understand their anger for having learned their loyalty was being questioned. So it’s no surprise that I found watching Elizabeth beat Claudia to a bloody pulp intensely satisfying, as Elizabeth unleashed all of her unrelenting anger and frustration. Russell is absolutely frightening here and no matter how many times I watch that scene it still gives me chills.

Philip and Elizabeth’s reaction to this betrayal is the highlight of the episode – the only people they could trust don’t even seem to trust them, so what are they to believe now? But if the day wasn’t bad enough, there’s one more reveal left and that’s Philip finding out the Elizabeth telling their superiors about Philip’s changing attitude towards the country that he has so quickly adopted. The idea that Philip could easily feel at home in the U.S. while Elizabeth could never see a life for her here has been a prevailing theme since the Pilot, and each week we see how it’s beginning to jeopardize their mission here, and now they cannot even fully trust one another. Philip’s explosive outburst at Elizabeth is intense, and Rhys’s reaction is heartbreaking as he conveys the agony of being betrayed by the one person he thought he could trust. They are two very different people put into an impossible situation and this newly added tension will be very interesting to see going forward.

The situation Philip and Elizabeth find themselves in also gives way to the secondary plot with their children, Paige and Henry, who find themselves stranded at the mall with no way home. Taking it upon herself to find a solution, she decides that they’ll hitchhike back home with the creepiest guy on Earth (the show really overdid it with that). Although this subplot does plays along with the episode’s theme of trust and also gives Paige and Henry a little more screentime, and a secret of their own, it  just feels a little out-of-place. The “don’t trust strangers” angle edges dangerously close to “moral of the week” territory, but it does provide us with one of the most uneasy and tense moments of television this year when the extremely unsettling Nick is talking to the kids at park. What I did enjoy about their plot was how much like actual siblings Paige and Henry were; sure they bicker as brothers and sisters on any show do, but really sells their characters is that when they are threatened, their first and only instinct is to protect one another.

Lastly, there’s the issue of how the FBI will protect their mole, Nina. Setting up the Rezident, Vasili, to take the fall seems to happen a little too quickly and easily, but it does allow Nina, and more importantly Stan, to have a few more important moments in future episodes. Maybe my dislike for how this all played out is because I actually felt sorry for Vasili – the few episodes where we’ve seen him he has been portrayed as a lonely old man who is only doing his job.

It’s crazy to think that I would feel sympathy for a man who is clearly the “bad guy,” but The Americans has done such a splendid job of fleshing out its characters that only 6 episodes in I find myself rooting against the “good guys.”

Additional Thoughts

  • It’s interesting to see how access to technology can affect the direction of this show. The kids’ storyline was so dependent on the fact that they couldn’t contact their parents, or anyone family friends, to take them home. Today a simple cell phone call would have easily spared Paige and Henry from their traumatic experience
  • Holly Taylor (who plays Paige) and Keidrich Sellati (Henry) are two great child actors and I hope they get a more worthwhile storyline later on.
  • I wonder what repercussions Elizabeth’s actions are going to have.
  • Feeding ducks has forever been ruined for me.
  • “Tell whoever approved this that your face is a present from me to them. Show them your face! Show it to them”
  • “I fit in! I fit in like I was supposed to. And yes, I liked it. So what?”

Posted on March 7, 2013, in Recaps/Reviews and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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