The Americans: Tchaikovsky
April 4, 2018 10:33 PM - Season 6, Episode 2 - Subscribe

Stan finds out an old friend of his is back in town, Philip loses a client, Erika and Glenn Haskard contemplate a difficult choice, Sofia and Gennadi experience marital difficulties, Elizabeth learns to draw on the right side of the brain, has lunch with one friend and a few nightly rendezvous with another, and Paige learns more about the scope of a spy's work.
posted by orange swan (31 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
And, a cameo appearance by MailBot!

The loss of a long-time client was an interesting plot point. It was right around this time that traditional travel agencies were beginning to have trouble competing against new cut-rate services. It would be interesting if something as mundane (and capitalistic) as a loss of customers threatens their cover.
posted by Thorzdad at 4:04 AM on April 5, 2018 [4 favorites]


That final scene. Wow.

I'm wondering now, how long Oleg's meant to stay in DC -- perhaps until the end of the summit, given what the guy in Mexico City said to Elizabeth? I somewhat naïvely assumed he was in town just to deliver Arkady's message, but further consideration makes it clear this wouldn't work -- if they have to remain outside channels, then it stands to reason there would have to be an outsider on the ground to communicate with Philip. Which is very worrying for Oleg.

Is Aderholt the new Gaad? Seeing him come out of that office when Counterintelligence was empty made me wonder.

Haven't rewatched yet, but I was a bit confused about the shooting at the end, and whether Elizabeth killed the General or if it was suicide. I could see that scenario going both ways. And while Elizabeth is as tough as they come, willfully splattering yourself with blood and brains is pretty extreme.

That conversation between Elizabeth and Paige re: honeypotting was very carefully constructed on Liz's part. Will be interesting to see how Paige reacts as she gets incrementally exposed to the less pleasant aspects of the spy game; she's already seen her mother take out two people in pretty brutal fashion, and may start to question how that college ID got back to her so easily.

Seems Gennady could stand to read the 'emotional labour' thread.
posted by myotahapea at 7:24 AM on April 5, 2018 [1 favorite]


And, for anyone keeping track, looks like Liz has nearly caught up to Phil in (onscreen) killings:
The Americans Kill Count
posted by myotahapea at 7:35 AM on April 5, 2018 [2 favorites]


and whether Elizabeth killed the General or if it was suicide

My impression was suicide, but I haven't re-watched yet. Maybe he was afraid he would be captured/tortured once Elizabeth disarmed him.

Faced with a crisis, Paige immediately abandoned her post/the plan and broke cover. Then froze when Elizabeth gave her orders. I don't think she's as close to ready as Elizabeth is letting herself believe.

Regarding the spy/sex discussion, did Paige not ever see any James Bond movies? Not that she would treat those as documentaries, but in the three/four years she's been aware of her parents' occupation I think it might have prompted a few questions. She probably asked if their car had ejector seats or could release a smokescreen. As someone in her third (?) year of college I think she'd be pretty aware that some people use sex to manipulate others outside the spy world, or at least have heard stories.
posted by mikepop at 11:56 AM on April 5, 2018 [3 favorites]


I didn't know there was a Kill Count tracker. The show does such a great job making sure that every death takes its due toll on the killer and the audience.
posted by chimpsonfilm at 1:11 PM on April 5, 2018


I'm loving this season so far. Very glad for the gratuitous glimpse of Mail Robot.

Any bets on who ends up taking the poison pill this season? I have a hunch it's not going to be Elizabeth... I have a feeling that she ends up giving it to Claudia in an act of mercy.
posted by Sublimity at 4:08 PM on April 5, 2018 [1 favorite]


When Mail Robot and Stan pass each other in the hallway, they give each other one of those knowing looks.

Maybe we'll get our Stan and Oleg buddy comedy yet.

I'm afraid if any hot Russian spy were to engineer a meet cute with me that I'd fall for it. They're very good at it.

As someone else said up thread.... Gennadi. Dude. It's call emotional labour. Read up on it. I'd tell Stan to do it too, but the thing is he can't be bothered to do it for someone he only works with, though he has seemingly clued in that he has to do it for Renee and Matthew.

I know a bunch of us were wondering if Sofia and Gennadi were up to something last season. I think I've come down on the side of them being merely being as dumb and naive as they seem. Strange but true.

Remember when Elizabeth told Paige that if she hadn't been a spy she might have been a doctor and we thought she'd have been a terrible doctor? Her withholding morphine from Erika kind of confirms that.

It's kind of getting lost among this show's generally bleak and emotionally gruelling series of events, but Erika and Glenn Haskard's story is heartbreaking. Erika's determination to keep producing as much art as quickly as possible despite her illness. Her pain. Her husband's grief. Their plan to end her pain.

I'd say Elizabeth's lying on Claudia's couch and talking to her is as close as she'll ever get to therapy, but she's probably just tired.

Oh great, Sofia has a new boyfriend. Whom she may have already told about her work with the FBI.

When the Gennadi and the FBI agent are sitting in those toilet stalls with their pants around their ankles waiting for the x-ray machine to do its work, do they question their life choices? Even a little bit?

Philip seemed a little too crushed over the loss of a client. After all the shit you've seen and done... really, Philip?

Also, he blames his employee for his client's defection rather than realizing it's simple economics. You picked two time-limited careers, Philip. Don't buy any more convertibles.

I'm not sure Reagan's encroaching Alzheimers was such a deep dark secret in 1987.

I enjoyed finding out that Claudia is a classical music lover.

Paige: "Do our people ever use sex to get information?" Note the "our people".

Elizabeth telling Paige not to see the world as black and white, but as complicated, was simply too rich.

Erika giving Elizabeth an art lesson was awesome. No one makes Elizabeth do anything, no one has ever gotten her to change her perspective on anything, and no one tells her to shut up... except this tough-minded artist who's dying of cancer and has no time for her shit.

I wasn't moved by Elizabeth's crocodile tears when she begged for her life, and I wasn't surprised that the General wasn't either.
posted by orange swan at 8:12 PM on April 5, 2018 [8 favorites]


There's probably a very prosaic reason for this rather than it being an art-film flourish, but at 33:13 (on Amazon, anyway--it's just before the cut to the sidewalk conversation about spies and sex) there's a two-shot of Paige and Elizabeth that plays in reverse.

I was trying to suss out what it could mean on the part of Matthew Rhys (who directed this episode), but it seems just as likely maybe they meant to get a shot like that and didn't for some reason. So they just reversed part of the take of the previous/same two-shot in that scene to fill in the space and hoped nobody would notice, heh. Makes me really curious to go back and re-watch other episodes he's directed, though, and see if there's anything similar.
posted by tomorrowromance at 9:36 PM on April 5, 2018


I would be very surprised if that scene was meant to be interpreted as Elizabeth shooting the general, especially intentionally shooting the general. She has a lot to lose and nothing to gain from his death. Really the only thing she has to gain from his death is her life, if she seriously feared for hers. It was either an accident (either his or hers) in the struggle over the gun or a (relatively!) conscious choice of his.

I think the message here is that the whole thing is wearing on her and she is getting sloppy. She pushed him hard and did not seem to anticipate or prepare in any way for his non-compliance. Her begging for her life was really unconvincing and not how she has played previous life-or-death situations. And although it was effective in getting him to pause long enough for her to physically turn the tables on him, she was not fully able to take advantage of that to get him under control. And the end result is that she revealed something of the brutality of their work to Paige.

The death of a General under suspicious circumstances has the potential to throw the whole summit off, which could be an acceptable outcome to the Soviet hardliners but is much more reckless than they would have chosen for a strategy. It will also probably increase security in DC substantially, which will make everything harder in the short-term and possibly longer.

Something that had been bothering me from the last episode was that the killing of the Navy MP seems like the kind of thing that would make the news and would be hard to shield Paige from, especially now that she is living alone, presumably reading the newspaper even more carefully, etc. And Paige noted his name, so if that got in the news, she would know for sure. I know it is a conceit of many TV shows that the heroes can go around killing people with minimal notice in the moment and not much in the way of long-term consequences, if it is convenient for the narrative. But I would think the violent murder of people in certain positions (law enforcement and other government officials) would be noticed. And I think a show about spies would take this into account. If something like this happened today, it would be national, not local, news. Maybe it will come back to haunt Elizabeth and Paige in future episodes. Elizabeth didn't even seem to have much of a debrief with Claudia.
posted by nequalsone at 10:30 AM on April 6, 2018 [5 favorites]


I've seen the episode twice, and I believe the general shot himself. Both of them were struggling for control over the gun. Yes, Elizabeth has combat skills, but the general would still be much stronger than her. I don't believe that Elizabeth could overpower him to the extent that she could force the gun under his chin and pull the trigger against his will. He either shot himself while she was trying to get possession of the gun, or it was an accident.

I agree with nequalsone that the murder of the Navy MP would have made the news and Paige would have put two and two together. And there will definitely be fall out over the suspicious death of a general.
posted by orange swan at 11:26 AM on April 6, 2018 [2 favorites]


Everything in the show is such a descent into sadness and terror, I just keep wondering when Elizabeth or Phillip or Paige is going to die. Or get caught and then die. I don’t believe for a second that there is a happy ending to this season. It’s nerve racking. Which is to say that i’m glued to the screen. And so many bad things happen during the last ten minutes of every episode that my heart rate goes up almost as a pavlovian response each time.
posted by about_time at 6:52 PM on April 6, 2018


When I watched this, I thought Elizabeth was able to maneuver the gun under his chin and kill him. I then assumed this would help make it look like a suicide, although I'm not sure that makes any sense.

However, here is a screen capture of the final pre-shot scene [imgur]. Elizabeth has one arm completely around his neck, with the hand against his shoulder. So there is no way she could position the gun accurately against resistance and pull the trigger, with one hand. Moreover, the General appears to be pulling the gun towards himself, not pushing it away, and his facial expressions suggest him being closer and closer to his "goal". So now I read it as the General choosing to off himself...
posted by sylvanshine at 7:07 PM on April 6, 2018 [1 favorite]


My favorite detail was Philip using his spy craft to just accidentally bump into the client who had abandoned him. At least I think that's what it was intended to be and not a real accidental meeting.

Elizabeth has to suffer for her sins. I hate it, because despite all her murdering and working for the enemy she seems to have some integrity and higher purpose. But as sympathetic as she is she's always been the bad guy. And now she has a suicide pill around her neck. I also think / fear the season is going to end with Philip getting away and living safely and quietly for the rest of his life, albeit haunted forever. It's Paige I worry about most. We've not seen any sort of struggle for her soul, have we? She's just playing Spy Young Adult and it's all fine. Maybe not anymore though.
posted by Nelson at 7:32 AM on April 7, 2018


Oh for anyone else looking for extra symbolism, the Tchaikovsky piece that Claudia plays is apparently None but the Lonely Heart. The lyrics are very sad but not sure if there's any specific symbolism. Maybe like the cancer patient's paintings, they're meant to show us what a wreck Elizabeth is.
posted by Nelson at 7:37 AM on April 7, 2018 [1 favorite]


Erika giving Elizabeth an art lesson was awesome. No one makes Elizabeth do anything, no one has ever gotten her to change her perspective on anything, and no one tells her to shut up... except this tough-minded artist who's dying of cancer and has no time for her shit.

I thought it apropos that she told Elizabeth to draw only the dark. Right now, she lives almost entirely in darkness. That's all she can see, metaphorically speaking.

I also found it interesting that, whenever we see Elizabeth "off duty" at home, she's depicted in a very harsh, almost ghostly, manner. The scene in the back yard with Philip, for instance. She looks emaciated, almost gaunt. Practically bloodlessly pale. Lifeless. And the dull gray sweater that she pulls around her adds to the walking-dead appearance.

Compare that to her looks when she's "on duty"...working marks, with Claudia, with Paige. She has better color, and life.
posted by Thorzdad at 10:18 AM on April 7, 2018 [2 favorites]


There's a lot just to the artist storyline. That character is so strong, yet poignant. Add another fictional person I feel sorry for. The writers are packing in some (not-so-subtle) subtext and symbolism: The light and dark of the images, Elizabeth's disdain for people who create art, and yet her underlying disturbance at the art.

In that relationship, we're seeing so many sides to our anti-hero: Her exhaustion, her by-the-book refusal to give pain meds until they're scheduled. (This is echoed in her mandate to her distraught daughter: Follow the plan.) And yet, she has a compassion for the dying woman. (Did E's mother die of cancer?)

We are being led to believe that Elizabeth, who has mercilessly murdered so many people, will be a compassionate angel of death for this patient, providing that suicide pill.

whenever we see Elizabeth "off duty" at home

Ah, that's right - two episodes, and in both she's been seen primarily standing outside their home. More SYMBOLISM!

Speaking of how estranged P & E are, ah, the appropriateness of None But the Lonely Heart,continuing under the scene in which Paige and Elizabeth discuss sexpionage. (And Ma tells more lies about the realities of their lives.)

Finally, re What Will Happen to the Main Characters: Since last season I've thought either Phil or Eliz will die and the other go to prison. Perhaps Paige will have to flee to Russia. It's seeming less likely the producers have some long-term game-plan, some surprise twist, for Henry. I think the actor could've handled more dramatic work, but for whatever reason, they've shuffled him off to the side.
posted by NorthernLite at 4:15 PM on April 7, 2018


Finally, re What Will Happen to the Main Characters: Since last season I've thought either Phil or Eliz will die and the other go to prison. Perhaps Paige will have to flee to Russia.

My guess? Paige is ordered by the Center to turn against Phil and Liz.
posted by Thorzdad at 6:53 AM on April 8, 2018 [1 favorite]


Something that had been bothering me from the last episode was that the killing of the Navy MP...

Yeah, I thought that was pretty odd, too. Especially given that he, if I recall correctly, is stationed at the Naval Observatory, residence for the vice-president of the US. A Navy MP having his throat slashed on the streets of DC is not something that would get pushed back to page ten. If does come up again, it'll probably be tied to the General's shooting.
posted by Thorzdad at 11:19 AM on April 8, 2018


There is so much happening in those interactions with Elizabeth and Erika. Aside from the already-mentioned drawing lessons scene, I was really struck by the later conversation between Elizabeth and Claudia, as Elizabeth demonstrates her utter lack of respect for anyone who 'spends their life doing that', and showing approval for Glenn's career in contrast. Claudia's reaction to her contempt for art seemed to reflect just how much this life has damaged Elizabeth. Art and music are a huge part of Russian culture, but thanks to her impoverished upbringing and thorough indoctrination by the KGB at sixteen, she isn't able to see the value in it or even appreciate it, and clearly Claudia playing Tchaikovsky at their next meet was as much, if not more, for Elizabeth than it was for Paige.

These are the things I think about whenever it's suggested that Elizabeth is a monster who deserves to be destroyed; she's been so thoroughly warped and brainwashed, first through her training and then by needing to hold on to her hardline beliefs in order to continue doing the work that defines the only world she's ever understood, she's never had a chance to be anything else. I would be interested to see her survive the series, as what would happen to her after the fall of Communism could likely be a series in itself.
posted by myotahapea at 12:37 PM on April 8, 2018 [7 favorites]


Maybe Elizabeth will give the cyanide to Erika after the summit?
posted by k8t at 10:48 PM on April 8, 2018


Elizabeth just seems so done this season, she's become self destructive. She's taking chances she knows she shouldn't take and pushing too hard. She's talking to Claudia about finishing up with Paige "if something were to happen to her." It feels like she wants out but can't quit, and death is the only end she can see. I think she has that in common with Erika - she doesn't want to die, she still has work to do, but she just can't see anything else.

So I'll be interested to see the fallout of the general's suicide on Elizabeth. I think that was clearly suicide, it looked very much like he was the one forcing the gun under his chin. And Elizabeth's face when she rolls free of him afterward looks shocked to me; she genuinely didn't expect that outcome. As self destructive as she is, I don't think she's consciously considering suicide, but the events around her keep bringing it up.

I can't see a happy ending for this series, but I hope Elizabeth can work through some of her self destructiveness before whatever the end game is.
posted by the primroses were over at 1:02 PM on April 9, 2018


And Elizabeth's face when she rolls free of him afterward looks shocked to me; she genuinely didn't expect that outcome.

I keep flashing on the look of Elizabeth’s blood-and-gore-covered face from Paige’s point of view. It was as if Paige was suddenly seeing the real Elizabeth. Or, seeing what the job turns you into. Some demon from the bowels of hell. It was a very affecting image.
posted by Thorzdad at 3:50 PM on April 9, 2018 [3 favorites]


Slate's matching podcast episode came out last week.
In Episode 2, “Tchaikovsky,” showrunners Joe Weisberg and Joel Fields, who wrote this episode, talk about the ways that Claudia and Elizabeth are like a superstar coach and a superstar player, what was going on with the portable X-ray machine, and what Elizabeth was thinking in the episode’s final scene. Then Thomas talks with artist Alyssa Monks, who created Erica Haskard’s paintings and drawings, about her experience on the show. And finally, set decorator Mila Khalevich and art director Tim Goodmanson talk about the special challenges of creating a set that looks like the home of an artist.
posted by kingless at 4:36 PM on April 9, 2018


Claudia's reaction to her contempt for art seemed to reflect just how much this life has damaged Elizabeth. Art and music are a huge part of Russian culture, but thanks to her impoverished upbringing and thorough indoctrination by the KGB at sixteen, she isn't able to see the value in it or even appreciate it, and clearly Claudia playing Tchaikovsky at their next meet was as much, if not more, for Elizabeth than it was for Paige.

I've been thinking this week about how limited Elizabeth's life has been. She's been entirely focused on two things: her espionage work, and her family (and in that order). That's it. Have we ever seen her do anything that wasn't necessary for her spy work or the care of her family? She never reads a book or watches a TV or engages with art or music or makes anything merely for the pleasure of it. She has no hobbies or interests. She has no real friends. Aside from Philip, the kids, her mother, and possibly Gabriel, the only person we've ever seen her show genuine feeling for is Young Hee. She never gave a damn about Lisa, and we don't see her keeping up a friendship with Sandra Beeman, who is no longer useful because she's no longer married to an FBI agent.

Philip is living the same life, of course, but we don't see quite the same narrow focus in him. Even when he was more actively taking part in espionage work, we saw him doing things for himself at least occasionally: reading a novel, taking EST courses, talking about how he wants to play hockey. And while he doesn't have friends either, he does have genuine feelings for the people he's working: Stan, Martha, Kimmy. As he tells Paige when she accuses him of using Stan, his friendship with Stan is real. Because he's always reserved the mental space to do things he enjoys and to have feelings about what he does, he's done well at living like a civilian. If her fate involves the end of her spy life, I'm not sure Elizabeth will able to cope with not being a spy anymore. She's a single-minded person who needs an important, all-consuming purpose in life, and what could possibly replace espionage as her purpose?
posted by orange swan at 1:50 PM on April 11, 2018 [4 favorites]


This is such a good and interesting thread as always. I think we do see tiny, subtle glimpses of Elizabeth taking tiny things for herself and telling us little things about herself in the middle of her spy work. Like the mention upthread of Elizabeth ‘s thinking she would have been a doctor. I actually think she would have made an amazing surgeon. And I’m also thinking about how she let that guy teach her tai chi which we then see her doing at home. Or way back when with her affair with that activist guy. I thought maybe the drawing lesson might be another moment like that where she can’t help but let other people effect her the way humans do. Or maybe she’s just that good that she’s manipulating ME.
posted by bleep at 11:46 PM on April 11, 2018 [2 favorites]


Also the only reason I think Elizabeth didn’t pull the trigger is that she was right in the line of fire. I know skulls are hard but I think I’ve heard of bullets going right through them.
posted by bleep at 12:00 AM on April 12, 2018


Yes, I had forgotten about the Tai Chi and Gregory. Still, though, in 20 years, that's not much me time.

I agree that Elizabeth would make a good surgeon. Surgeons are very, very driven, hyperfocussed people, and they are notorious for being terrible at interacting with their patients, but it doesn't matter because their patients are out cold. Elizabeth would see surgery as important, worthwhile work, and she is the right personality type for it.

I just don't think Elizabeth ever intended to kill the general if she could help it. She needed him alive for the purpose of her operation. She was trying to get control of the gun so that he couldn't kill her.
posted by orange swan at 8:38 AM on April 12, 2018 [3 favorites]


It’s an interesting question of who Elizabeth even is under the layers and layers of lies she’s maintaining. She’s such an interesting character. I have never been into fan fic but she’s the first character who I so want to read the continuing adventures of.
posted by bleep at 10:50 AM on April 12, 2018


She never reads a book or watches a TV or engages with art or music or makes anything merely for the pleasure of it. She has no hobbies or interests. She has no real friends. Aside from Philip, the kids, her mother, and possibly Gabriel, the only person we've ever seen her show genuine feeling for is Young Hee.

We've never seen Elizabeth pursue anything that wasn't work- or family-related. Probably the only people in her life who could plausibly be called friends would be Gregory and Young-Hee, and both those relationships came through work. We get the impression that she was able to be herself around Gregory, not needing to maintain cover and revealing some of her backstory, though it all happened offscreen; and her family's obvious surprise when she came home in a good mood after a night out with Young-Hee and told them she'd had fun with her friend made it seem like this was the first time such a thing had happened.

She had to send Gregory out to commit suicide by cop in order to preserve her cover. She had to destroy Young-Hee's marriage, and then listen to and ignore her distraught voicemail messages in the aftermath, in service of a mission. The simple fact that she asked Gabriel to find another way to get William the access codes shows how much it wrecked her to complete that operation.

And as for her life in Smolensk: we've learnt her father was a deserter from the army, which may have reflected badly on her and her mother. She's spoke about nursing her mother through an illness as a child. She's never mentioned family or friends other than her mother, who was uncompromising and tough as iron. And at sixteen she was recruited. I wonder sometimes if Elizabeth has ever had a real friend or was able to develop any personal interests even before joining the KGB.

If she seems badly off right now, just try to imagine her in a few years, when she has no work to focus on, no cover identities to maintain, the meagre support network of colleagues and assets evaporates, the system which shaped her identity has collapsed and the ideas she was indoctrinated to believe with as much fervour as a religious fundamentalist have no outlet. If she's lucky she'll still have Philip and the kids, but they'll be it. She would likely prefer to die for the cause than to be set so completely adrift.
posted by myotahapea at 4:32 PM on April 12, 2018 [1 favorite]


I just rewatched to double check, and the General definitely killed himself. Elizabeth was struggling to get the gun away from him, he brings it closer and closer, and you can see him clench his teeth right before he pulls the trigger.

I assume Elizabeth would have had to kill him either way, but he definitely ended up pulling the trigger on himself.

Here's what I was thinking during the drawing scene: Can Elizabeth actually draw? I can't imagine she does for fun, but I can easily imagine her having some basic drawing training so she can make a sketch of a suspect or a location she's surveilling. I'm not sure if we've seen her do either one during the show.

So she's possibly a person who knows how to draw playing a person who doesn't and being really awkward about it on purpose, which was interesting. Although she definitely does believe that art-for-art's-sake is a waste of time.

Over and over this show fools me with its little shows-within-shows -- I end up wanting to watch the story of the artist and her husband and the nurse who reluctantly offers to help her end her life. Even though I should be well aware that Elizabeth might just murder the artist at any point in order to get a needed response from the husband.
posted by mmoncur at 9:57 PM on April 15, 2018 [1 favorite]


On rewatch yea, it was pretty clear that Rennhull shot himself (and it was confirmed by the writers in the podcast). Things went pear-shaped so quickly that, during the first viewing, I was wondering if it was that or if Elizabeth knew it was either kill him or be exposed.

I don't think Erika is in any mortal danger from Elizabeth -- the opposite, in fact. Her op with the Haskards is to retrieve information about the summit negotiations from Glenn's briefcase, and if Erika dies, she no longer has access to their house. Hence her offer to help them in ending Erika's life; it was clear to her that she wouldn't be able to dissuade them from assisted suicide, so she's working to make herself part of that conversation. If she has input she can steer them in the direction that is best for her, which is keeping Erika alive until the summit is over and she no longer needs access to Glenn.
posted by myotahapea at 6:13 AM on April 16, 2018


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