The Americans: Pests
March 14, 2017 9:58 PM - Season 5, Episode 2 - Subscribe

Stan makes some progress with "gym lady" Renée and expresses his concerns about both Oleg and Paige, Alexei keeps complaining about Russia, Elizabeth goes on a field trip, new Food Police Agent Oleg gets an unwelcome message, Paige punches her mother, Elizabeth and Philip are concerned about where and with whom Paige is sleeping, and Henry sleeps.

For some good reviews of this episode, you can check out Vox, Vulture, and The AV Club.
posted by orange swan (27 comments total)
 
I'm still pretty confused by the greenhouse scene in Illinois. Has the CIA invented Roundup™?
posted by whir at 10:11 PM on March 14


I'm still pretty confused by the greenhouse scene in Illinois. Has the CIA invented Roundup™?

I think the implication is that the US government is researching how to destroy Russia's crops through induced plague, or at least that's how Elizabeth and Philip see it. But it could just as likely be a government research program on how to make crops more drought/blight/insect resistant, and they're projecting that on the program because they're so programmed to look for the danger in situations.
posted by bluecore at 5:09 AM on March 15 [1 favorite]


Slate's s5e2 podcast episode discusses parenting highs and lows, filming the greenhouse scene, and where the wheat was grown.
posted by kingless at 6:01 AM on March 15


Anyone else think where are there hills like that in Illinois?
posted by Carillon at 6:36 PM on March 15 [1 favorite]


Anyone else think where are there hills like that in Illinois?

They wanted to do the Lincoln/Reagan line.
posted by bluecore at 7:23 PM on March 15 [1 favorite]


The Soviets have such a backassward approach to everything. If they don't trust the Americans to send them safe grain and don't have advanced weaponry, their response is to send in their spies to investigate and steal technology instead of, say, growing their own damn grain and developing their own weaponry. Reminds me of what I've read Soviet troops did when they were in Germany just after WWII: they dismantled whatever was left of the German infrastructure (i.e., power stations and the like) and shipped it back home to Russia.

Oleg's food police gig is very much in the same vein. Rather than address the systemic problems that are causing food shortages in a country that could be the bread basket of Europe, let's focus on making sure that no one has anything even slightly better than everyone else has!

Stan's game with Renée was actually fine in the end... he took it slow and tried talking to her a few times first before he asked her out. He comes across as such a decent man in this episode, showing concern for both Oleg and Paige and sticking his neck out to try and help them. Although that moment when gloats about Renée being a guy's girl and tells Philip that Renee is a female version of him... sigh. Oh Beeman. Your good instincts and high-level perception will never be able to fully compensate for your tendency to trip over your own dick.

The CIA, by contrast, comes across as evil. They have no business forcing anyone to work for them, and that's a horrible game plan anyway. Committed, voluntary agents are always the best bet.

Henry's at the library... allegedly. Elizabeth for one does not buy it. Come to think of it, we've never seen him read anything.

Paige's expression when she's slamming that ruffled sofa pillow with the electrical tape on it -- you just know she wants to throw one good punch at her mother. Just one.

That trip to Illinois and the greenhouse... it'll be interesting to find out what's going on there. As others have said upthread, it could totally be some legitimate agricultural research. Or it might not. The way those four men were driving there in ominous silence seemed odd. You'd think if it was just some ordinary work assignment they would have been chatting. However, a much better indication that it's just agricultural research is the fact that the greenhouse isn't all that secure. It has nothing but a simple padlock on the door.

There were obvious X-Files parallels with the whole greenhouse scene. The scene was less far showy than the corresponding scene from the first X-Files movie, but had much more dramatic interest. And unlike Dr. Scully, Elizabeth was smart and took a shower afterwards instead of waiting for a genetically engineered bee to interrupt a romantic moment by infecting her with a bio-weapon-level virus.

On a related note, it amused me that the episode with the X-Files-esque scene also introduces one Laurie Holden as Renée. Laurie Holden played the mysterious and icily reserved Marita Covarrubias on The X-Files. Could Renée be equally mysterious, if less frosty?

That's by far the most freaked out we've ever see Oleg, and he's seen some shit.

Even I'm getting tired of listening to Alexei bitch about Russia. You'd also think a man so used to living in a police state would find something a little off about the too friendly "Eckerts".

Agent Aderholt, who takes dates to a pizza place with a see-through grand piano, really knows how to impress a girl. Call me, Agent Aderholt!

I was terrified as to what technique Philip and Elizabeth were going to show Paige, and relieved that it was something relatively innocuous. Though there was something darkly hilarious about the fact that they basically told Paige to picture mom and dad while having sex with the boy next door. Could there be a better mood kill? More seriously, Philip and Elizabeth, are you *really* not going to talk to Paige about contraception and give her some emotional guidance? God, sometimes you are such shitty parents, focusing solely on your KGB agenda and on training Paige to serve it, forgetting that your daughter is also teenage girl who needs her parents to help her navigate the passage to adulthood.

I've also thought of a possible plot hole. Wouldn't Martha's parents have had photos of their daughter's wedding? There *were* wedding photos in existence, as Martha and Clark both had a framed wedding photo in their apartments. Surely the Hansons would have asked for and/or been given copies of their adored only child's wedding, and very probably also have taken some photos of the wedding and other get togethers themselves. And then given that they'd want Clark caught and the authorities already knew full well what Martha looked like, they'd have been happy to turn those photos over to the FBI, where Stan would have looked at them. Why didn't this eventuality either happen or get explained away?
posted by orange swan at 8:06 PM on March 15 [4 favorites]


I think the implication is that the US government is researching how to destroy Russia's crops through induced plague, or at least that's how Elizabeth and Philip see it.

It's pretty much only that last bit, I think. What Elizabeth was looking at was clearly a test of insecticide or something, and what Gabriel was shoveling was a big load of second-hand hooey. (I initially read Liz & Phil's horrified reaction to Gabriel's grain story as them being horrified by how blatant a lie it was and deciding to never again believe a word he says, but it turns out they were horrified because they believed it.)

What the Russian spies really need to find is the American know-how to prevent crop failure, which is right there in front of them, but they don't see it. Instead, they're looking for the exact opposite, because the official line is that the crops are failing because of American sabotage.

God, sometimes you are such shitty parents, focusing solely on your KGB agenda and on training Paige to serve it, forgetting that your daughter is also teenage girl who needs her parents to help her navigate the passage to adulthood.

Right? And you've gotta love that Phil's response to Stan's concern about Paige is immediate dismissal and deflection, rather than, you know, concern? That's super-duper suspicious! If Stan were anything but a bumbling obliviot, he'd suspect Phil of abusing her and be all up in his business looking for proof.
posted by Sys Rq at 11:27 AM on March 16


God, sometimes you are such shitty parents, focusing solely on your KGB agenda and on training Paige to serve it, forgetting that your daughter is also teenage girl who needs her parents to help her navigate the passage to adulthood.

Given that the two of them were raised by the state to be tools, it's not surprising that they are failing at the more interpersonal aspects of raising teenagers. If you really look at it, they take most of their cues on acting like parents straight from American pop media. It's all pizza and cars and trips to Disney and all the other superficial bs, but no serious childrearing beyond "be home by 11" or "let us know where you are." They need to watch an After-School Special or two, fer cryin' out loud.
posted by Thorzdad at 11:55 AM on March 16 [3 favorites]


Also, their kids were conceived to provide them more cover for their jobs as spies. They're managing them as part of their cover, not raising them.
posted by cardboard at 5:31 AM on March 17


Incidentally, I have some thoughts on Elizabeth's hair. I was thinking back to all the middle-aged women I knew in the early eighties, and whether any of them had long flowing straight hair. I finally came up with one: there was a woman who attended my family's church who had long hair. However, it was not like Elizabeth's blown-out, expertly cut mermaid hair. It was straight, combed flatly back, waist-length, and cut square across the bottom. It did not look glamorous, but eccentric and rather dowdy, and in comparison to all to the other women at that church, that woman stuck out like a sore thumb. The stylish, attractive late thirties/early forties women I knew had hair no longer than shoulder-length, and it was usually quite "done". They'd get perms or curl their hair with curlers or curling irons, blow dry their hair and use hairspray, and their cuts were very layered.

I did a little googling to get a more objective sense of what hairstyles were like in 1984, and my google searches for "1984 hairstyles", "1984 fashion", "1984 Redbook", "1984 Good Housekeeping" confirmed my memories. Middle-aged women did not have longer than shoulder-length hair in 1984, and even when younger women had long hair, it didn't look like Elizabeth's: it was feathered, layered, permed or otherwise curled. Here's what then 41-year-old Catherine Deneuve, Lynn Redgrave, and Lauren Hutton looked like in 1984. Elizabeth's hair may look classic to us, but it's actually very anachronistic and Keri Russell really should have cut her hair for the role.

Annet Mahendru's and Alison Wright's long and unlayered hair wasn't exactly period accurate either, but it's less anachronistic as they are younger than Elizabeth, Martha's hair was usually elaborately set and done up in reasonable accordance with the look of hairstyles of the time, and even Nina's hair was usually curled and pinned up with vintage barrettes to make it look more in line with the hairstyles of the day.

And man, am I glad I'm a middle-aged woman in 2017 instead of 1984. There are no perms, no curling irons, no blow dryers, no nasty Final Net (like I remember my mother using) involved in my hair care -- just a handful of mousse (which hit the market in 1985) and my natural wave are quite sufficient, and I get to wear my hair long enough that it can be put up without looking like mutton dressed as ewe.
posted by orange swan at 1:55 PM on March 17


The hair in this show has always bothered me--especially Elizabeth's and Paige's (who both happen to do that one-sided thing). It has always been one of those elements that reminds me that this is a recreation of the time period and not a product of the time period itself. In a lot of ways the show almost feels like a pastiche of eras and not like something set dead smack in the middle of the 1980s.

Don't get me wrong, I appreciate the smart writing and acting and characterizations, but visually, a lot of the show seems really off.
posted by sardonyx at 2:54 PM on March 17


Yeah, for those of us who came of age in the 80s, the show is a weird combination of getting some things right and a bunch of things wrong. I mostly don't mind it because what really matters to me is the narrative and characterization and, also, if they were, for example, to give everyone authentic 1984 hairstyles, it would look awful, just as it does whenever I see something from that era (either media or my own family photos).

One of the things that I find very interesting is that back in the middle-to-late 80s, the cultural joke was just how silly and just ugly the 70s fashion was. And yet I've come to feel that while the 70s stuff still kind of looks a big ugly to me, it has a sort of charm while, in contrast, the 80s look basically embodies everything I loathed about the eighties and is actively repugnant. Also, more substantive, it's that the 80s style was so carefully cultivated and yet so lacking in any real panache.

Another nitpick I have -- and it's not just this show -- is that media portrayals of this period (say, '75 to '85) all emphasize to the point of exclusion the big, boxy American cars when, in fact, there were quite a few inexpensive Japanese cars on the roads then.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 6:04 PM on March 17 [1 favorite]


On Mad Men, which must be the gold standard of period costuming and detail, all the characters often wore things that looked quite ugly by modern standards, and it gave the show a pitch perfect realism. The costumers for The Americans avoid doing that, and it's a big mistake because it makes the show so inauthentic. Martha, despite her long, unlayered hair, looks very much like a woman from the early eighties because her hairdos and clothes are often fussy, frumpy, and unflattering -- which is true to how many early 1980s clothes look to us now -- while Elizabeth's clothes are always classic and attractive by contemporary standards and her hair is completely wrong. The only times she looks period accurate is when she's in disguise for an operation. I don't know whether it's vanity on Russell's part or a misguided refusal on the part of the show's producers to allow the show's lead to look unattractive, but either way it hurts the show's visual look and realism considerably.
posted by orange swan at 6:34 PM on March 17 [2 favorites]


I agree with Keri Russell's hair being anachronistic, but were she styled with hair like Stan's new love interest, Rene, I would find it very distracting. That kind of hair looked dated to me as a 90s teen and if I come across it nowawdays it stands out as much as a 1920s water buffalo look would.
posted by fozzie_bear at 6:50 PM on March 17 [1 favorite]


Another nitpick I have -- and it's not just this show -- is that media portrayals of this period (say, '75 to '85) all emphasize to the point of exclusion the big, boxy American cars when, in fact, there were quite a few inexpensive Japanese cars on the roads then.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 6:04 PM on March 17


Not to mention small American cars. There were tons of GM J-bodies and Chrysler K-cars around, not to mention Ford Fiestas. Actually you see more older cars (1960s and 1970s) in a lot of the shots than you'd typically see on the roads during that time period.
posted by sardonyx at 7:31 PM on March 17 [1 favorite]


I definitely remember a lot more Chevettes than Civics. And literally every second car was a K-car.

Mind you, I grew up in a town with a GM plant and a Chrysler plant, so...
posted by Sys Rq at 9:00 PM on March 17


Practically speaking, fewer car buffs would want to restore a K-Car or a Citation, so the more desirable land boats would be much more available to the production crew.
posted by cardboard at 3:19 PM on March 18 [3 favorites]


Rather than address the systemic problems that are causing food shortages in a country that could be the bread basket of Europe, let's focus on making sure that no one has anything even slightly better than everyone else has!

To be fair, I don't think that Russian's problems with its food supply are entirely man-made. For the most part, its land is just not that fertile or hospitable, at least not in comparison with the US.

I cut Philip and Elizabeth some slack for buying Gabriel's fear-mongering about the US sabotaging Russian crops, since they both grew up worried about food. The idea of the Soviets getting starved out has got to push some buttons for them.

Given that the two of them were raised by the state to be tools, it's not surprising that they are failing at the more interpersonal aspects of raising teenagers. If you really look at it, they take most of their cues on acting like parents straight from American pop media. It's all pizza and cars and trips to Disney and all the other superficial bs, but no serious childrearing beyond "be home by 11" or "let us know where you are." They need to watch an After-School Special or two, fer cryin' out loud.

That's interesting.

The thing is that I think that Philip and Elizabeth's idea of "serious child rearing" is the Russian style of child-rearing from *their* youth, rather than the American After School Special kind. I think in their minds, helping Paige be tougher and more disciplined is them finally stepping up to the plate as parents, and trying to make up for the failures of the "American" parenting style that they've been forced to use with her so far.

Philip and Elizabeth have complained before about their kids being too soft and vulnerable, and Elizabeth especially has seemed frustrated that she couldn't raise them more harshly and toughen them up more.

I think that at this point, they're seeing Paige crumbling under their secret as the chickens coming home to roost: they kept their cover by raising their kids in the American style, and now they've got spoiled, gentle, naive American kids who are liable to blow their cover. I think they're *angry* at Paige for being so undisciplined and putting them in so much danger, and because they see it as the outcome of her being raised in the touchy-feely American style, that anger is making them more anti-American than before, too.

But IMO the boy that they're "raising" as part of their mission against the Russian family is also disturbing to them in his coldness, harshness, and fanaticism. He's the perfect image of what a child spy should be, but IMO Philip especially seems to find him pretty unsettling, and feels strange not being able to relate to him in the warmer, more "fatherly" way he's used to relating to kids by now. I don't think that they wish that Paige or Henry were like that boy, either.
posted by rue72 at 9:59 AM on March 19 [4 favorites]


"The thing is that I think that Philip and Elizabeth's idea of 'serious child rearing' is the Russian style of child-rearing from *their* youth, rather than the American After School Special kind."

Yeah, I don't see this as a Soviet vs American thing, but something specific to the time and place. Americans don't have a comparison, but maybe post-war Britain does (except not nearly to the extent of the USSR).

This seems to me to be a gap in American history education, but the scale of the toll that WWII took on the Soviet Union is beyond imagination. Within the military, there was about eight million dead (not just casualties, but death) in WWII. But then there's the civilian population. That's probably something on the order of another twelve million people. Cities like Stalingrad (now Volgograd) were famously utterly destroyed by extended battles: the USSR won one of the most significant battles during the war, delivering a decisive defeat to Germany, but at the cost of over a million casualties, military and civilian. The Axis took somewhat less than a million in military casualties.

It's long been my opinion that the US has been very arrogant in believing itself to be the deciding factor for the winning of WWII. I think that honor easily, by a large margin, belongs to the USSR. We delivered a vast amount of industrial support during the war, not to mention military, but the totalitarian nature of the USSR and Stalin's bloody-mindedness meant that one nation was willing to sacrifice a large percentage of its population to the war, a large portion of its industrial and agricultural capacity -- a war that was fought on two fronts (though mostly in the west). Without the sacrifice of the people of the USSR, the US and the Allies would have faced a Germany that, at the least, controlled all of western Europe, and would have not had the resources to combat the Japanese imperialism in the East.

In the aftermath of WWII in the USSR, there was incredible privation. Think about the stories that Brits tell about their post-war period and then multiply that as worse by a tenfold. These are the conditions in which both Philip and Elizabeth were raised. The show has made many, many efforts to inform the audience of this personal history.

It's hard to even begin to understand all the cognitive dissonance that they must feel in the US. I think there must be tremendous ambivalence. They recognize the abundance they have and they are, without a doubt, grateful for the utterly different conditions of their childrens' youth. And yet, at the same time, it is so very far from what they know and how they were raised.

You used to see some of this sort of thing in the US for those who were raised and displaced during the Depression versus the post-war generation. Their worlds were totally different. And the parents and grandparents were always grateful for the better conditions for the children, but also worried that they might have misplaced priorities and such. I find that I feel a lot of sympathy for Philip and Elizabeth and although I tend to generally judge bad parenting very harshly, in this particular context I find it hard to criticize.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 7:07 PM on March 19 [3 favorites]


I thought it interesting/funny that Gabriel is tooling-around town in a big, fat Lincoln.
posted by Thorzdad at 10:35 AM on March 20


The hair in this show has always bothered me--especially Elizabeth's and Paige's

Also, no way is a kid like Matthew going to sport what is essentially proto-indie, REM-fan-in-1986 hair in 1983-84 without being way, way cooler than what he is. His hair should be much shorter and layered, if not actually feathered. (And speaking of music, I call shenanigans on the fact that we don't seem to have ever seen any of the kids watching MTV, and that there's not a single Duran Duran poster in Paige's room.)

I will, however, spare everyone my disseration about incorrect soda cans and candy bar wrappers.
posted by the return of the thin white sock at 12:58 PM on March 20


...we don't seem to have ever seen any of the kids watching MTV...

Do they have cable? Given the tiny tv in the Jennings home, I think they're still OTA.
posted by Thorzdad at 6:40 PM on March 20 [1 favorite]


When Oleg's new boss said they were the only office that hasn't been corrupted I was reminded of that old proverb: If you think everyone else in the room is an asshole, then you're the asshole.

The only way the things Elizabeth and Phillip are doing with Paige end is in tragedy and trauma.

And yeah, particularly in the first season, the anachronistic hair styles kept slapping me out of the historical setting. I've mostly just gotten used to it as the show has gone on.
posted by dry white toast at 8:31 PM on March 20


My favorite part of this season is Tuan. His competence and fierce devotion.. How old do we think the character is? I'm guessing 19 but pretending to be 16. He seems a bit too well organized and competent to be actually 16, but then he acts like an angry teenager when he's not undercover and sharing his Communist Youth Fervor. Also struck that he spent 5 years being raised by another family; how was he recruited?

I was convinced when Philip met Rene that he was going to recognize her. She comes on so strong to Stan she seemed like an obvious honeypot agent. (For a brief moment I hoped the show would drop all pretense and Philip would greet her in Russian, in a Welsh accent.) But I'm probably wrong about that; this show can only handle so many spies at once.
posted by Nelson at 9:32 AM on March 21


It's interesting, this relationship between Stan and Rene. I would have thought that FBI counter-intel officers would have invented doxxing, and Stan doesn't even know where she works??? They must be going some where with this...
posted by OHenryPacey at 12:10 PM on March 21


Would Phillip necessarily know if Rene was a Soviet agent? I can't imagine they all know each other, simply for security's sake.
posted by Thorzdad at 2:55 PM on March 21


Thorzdad: Would Phillip necessarily know if Rene was a Soviet agent? I can't imagine they all know each other, simply for security's sake.

It would be interesting if Gabriel put her in as a stop-gap in case Philip and Elizabeth are either burned by Stan or decide to defect. The whole time Stan is worried about Oleg getting unjustifiably destroyed by the CIA, while he's getting played by the KGB from multiple angles...
posted by bluecore at 4:34 PM on March 21


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