The Americans: Divestment
March 18, 2015 10:05 PM - Season 3, Episode 8 - Subscribe

Reuben, Joey Ramone, and Mary Stuart Masterson conduct interrogations at a black site, and make decisions regarding the future of those whom they interrogate. Paige begins an independent research project. Martha has a couple of counterproductive conversations. Arkady realizes he may never be able to take a train in Russia again. Elizabeth asks Gabriel for a favour. Nina receives a new assignment and meets her new boss, only to discover he's the same as the old boss. Mail Robot has a horrible day at work.
posted by orange swan (13 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Normally, the characters in this show play more-or-less believably. That is, no one is a strict caricature. But, that FBI investigator seemed like something from a high-school production of 1984 or Brazil.

Still no Kimmie-and-Phillip-do-the-nasty scene...thankfully. It will be interesting what duplicitous arrangement Gabriel concocts in response to Elizabeth's request. The guy has it out for Phil, so I can't see this going well.
posted by Thorzdad at 5:43 AM on March 19, 2015

Oh dear GOD that necklacing. How monstrous of Philip and Elizabeth to just stand there and let it happen.

Paige might be capable of figuring out what's going on with her parents without being told. How many Nancy Drew books did that girl read?

Nina has her work cut out for her when it comes to convincing the scientist to trust her. He's a highly intelligent and embittered man who has already been burned. Also, he expects his tea to have lemon in it. However, she has gotten to change out of tracksuit she's been wearing for months, and she has nylons.

Vasili seems to be one of the most decent people in The Americans.

Martha might have been slightly and temporarily soothed by Clark's bullshit, but ultimately she's not buying it.

Poor, poor Mail Robot! Will it file a complaint of workplace abuse now? Or will it just withhold even more files from Agent Gaad? Perhaps it gets its revenge in the next episode, which is entitled "Do Mail Robots Dream of Electric Sheep?".
posted by orange swan at 5:45 AM on March 19, 2015 [3 favorites]

Martha really played it cool during her questioning scene. Her face have nothing away. I'd be a mess!
posted by pearlybob at 7:10 AM on March 19, 2015 [2 favorites]

Oh, mailbot! First they take away your confidential files, and now you are subject to workplace violence!

Martha is just going to stretch and stretch all season until she's pulled so tight she snaps, probably in some unexpected ways. Watching her make the decision to stick with Clark over her instincts/fear/horror made (none of which is going away, and is only going to be stoked) made me so sad - it's going to get worse and worse for her. And Taffet's style of suggestion, inference, snideness, and disapproval isn't going to help.

The Elizabeth/Paige conversation in the kitchen was fascinating - Paige has been investigating her mom's friend and is hung up on his criminal acts, but Elizabeth sees it as an opening to start Paige thinking of "changing the world" in extralegal ways and doesn't notice Paige's misgivings are deeper and her curioisity isn't sated. At some point the focus is going to change to "What did my parents do?" which is a dangerous path to go down since I think Paige's principles includes idealism about tactics

Nina's tour of redemption continues. I do like the way they weave past characters back in, especially to illustrate how success and failure are variously rewarded.
posted by julen at 8:27 AM on March 19, 2015 [1 favorite]

Does anyone else think that Clark bought Martha's acquiescence with an unspoken promise of a baby? Cod that's how I read that scene.
posted by coriolisdave at 4:38 AM on March 20, 2015

Martha really played it cool during her questioning scene. Her face have nothing away.

If you had to pick one moment of this show from its entire run to demonstrate why it's one of the best things on TV, that interrogation scene would be it. We know she's lying and her world is crumbling, but the actress gives zero indication of it, where in a lesser show, she'd be pausing and um-ing and giving all sorts of clues that any competent investigator would pick up on in a heartbeat, but this one somehow misses. Instead of making it obvious, the writers and director let us figure it out. Just beautiful.
posted by Etrigan at 5:02 AM on March 20, 2015 [2 favorites]

Martha might have been slightly and temporarily soothed by Clark's bullshit, but ultimately she's not buying it.

I think that Martha is starting to realize that she doesn't really have any options here. I liked Alan Sepinwall's take on it:
[Martha's] not an agent herself, but she knows enough about the spy game to have some idea of what might happen to a woman in her position, depending on which side gets her. Turning herself in to Taffet and Gaad gives her a life in prison at best, and possibly a death sentence for treason. Telling Clark that the jig is up and that he's now at risk of exposure also probably leads her to the grave — and much sooner — but at this point, all she has left is the thinnest, saddest of hopes that some part of that relationship has been real. When Clark tells her that he really did fall for her, it's a lie that even she can see through, but she goes to bed with him anyway because pretending it's the truth is the best option she feels she has left.
Clark told Martha he would protect her, and I think that's ultimately all she can hope for now.
posted by gladly at 5:58 AM on March 20, 2015 [8 favorites]

I feel bad for Phillip. He goes from necklacing some South African thug to worrying about the son he's never met fighting in a war to dismantling the psyche of a basically decent, mousey FBI secretary. It's almost as if stealing the virginity of a 15 year old while hating himself would have been the highlight of his day.

Also, his wife is a monster.
posted by Nelson at 9:36 PM on March 20, 2015 [1 favorite]

Gaad will be first against the wall in the robot uprising.

I thought the 'marriage and war don't mix' line was too on-the-nose.
posted by Monochrome at 12:16 PM on March 22, 2015 [1 favorite]

Also, his wife is a monster.

More than Phillip?

I think the story of the show is that living as a spy basically makes monsters of us all -- Stan, right, living undercover with white supremacists and managing to keep himself from murdering all that time while he's with them, then turning around and shooting that poor helpless Russian kid in season 1? Nina and her slide from human frailty to spydom?

As a side note, I really enjoyed (if enjoyed is the right word for it) the way that the necklacing scene was played, where the show balances the viewer's presumed sympathies for Reuben and against racist defenders of apartheid who would kill innocent humans in order to damage the international image of freedom fighters against, y'know. The ugly. It was a complicated, subtle bit of emotional work, and it speaks to how confident and assured the show is. I particularly appreciated (again, not quite the word) the way the show had the dude shouting racist stuff all the way up to the point he started screaming.

In my mind, there is actually some sort of parallel between that and the Annelise suitcase scene. It isn't direct -- and the necklace scene is a lot more graphic -- but there's a mirroring, in a lot of ways. Burning flames and live body versus cooling corpse. Slow, calculated murder versus on-the-spot improv strangling. Male versus female. Dying versus post-dying. Onlookers versus no onlookers. Opposite sides of the how-much-do-you-hate-nonwhite-people scale, but man. It really emphasizes that the only way to win the spy game is not to play at all.

I wonder if we'll see that kid again who Elizabeth let go. Poor Paige. Poor Kimmie. Poor Martha. It's kinda like the Hunger Games, except all the players have a strong likelihood of ending up dead.
posted by joyceanmachine at 8:32 AM on March 24, 2015 [4 favorites]

However, she has gotten to change out of tracksuit she's been wearing for months, and she has nylons.

The way that Annet Mahendru played that scene, holy shit. When Nina walks in and sees that she will a room of her own, and clothes to change into, things that she would never have worn back when stylish Nina was an up-and-comer at the Soviet embassy in DC?

It was heartbreaking. A power ranking of most intense scenes that Nina has had in the show would have some top-quality stuff in it.
posted by joyceanmachine at 8:37 AM on March 24, 2015

Also, his wife is a monster. ... More than Phillip?

I'm glad you asked! :-) So yeah, by any normal standard they are both monsters. That's the weirdest part of the show to me. Not that the protagonists are the bad guys, I love anti-hero TV. But rather that they're seldom portrayed as monsters, the monstrous things they do, other than how terrible it is for them to be doing monstrous things. ... Phillip and Elizabeth break the bones of a young woman's corpse to stuff her in a suitcase. Cut to them looking mildly upset at having to do this nasty work. Phillip seduces a 15 year old girl with drugs and skeezy older-man tactics. Cut to him in bed with Elizabeth looking mildly upset about whether he's going too far. Phillip and Elizabeth arrange for a man to be burned alive with a tire around his neck. Cut to them looking mildly disgusted at the brutality of the murder.

The show spends way more time reminding us that they have this internally noble motivation for their sociopathic behavior, their love for Mother Russia, than it does focussing on the realistic brutality of what they do day by day, week by week. It's not just that their actions are evil, but they are presented entirely sympathetically to them, without acknowledging just how hideous (and improbable) the sum of it all is. I'm not mad about this, it's great TV, but it's awfully weird.

The real keystone for this is Elizabeth's slow attempt to recruit Paige. It's just insane to think some teenage girl growing up in America, with no clue about any of this, is going to just say "oh so mom and dad are child raping murderer terrorists? Radical, sign me up!". I'm fervently hoping the show writers handle this most important plot line well. If they don't, they will have spoiled everything.
posted by Nelson at 10:03 AM on March 24, 2015 [2 favorites]

Phillip seduces a 15 year old girl with drugs and skeezy older-man tactics. Cut to him in bed with Elizabeth looking mildly upset about whether he's going too far.

It's interesting, actually, that you're reading him as "looking mildly upset." I read that same scene as showing how incredibly incredibly incredibly fucked up Phillip is about it, and how it's seriously tearing him up inside. Like, it's fucking him up because of his unknown son, it's fucking him up because of his known daughter, eventually we learn it's fucking him up because of his history where he was deeply dehumanized and arguably sexually assaulted as part of his spy training,* and in short, he is just Fucked Up As Hell about it.

Is he yelling and throwing things across the room? No, because his trauma runs deep, and he is a professional. Is he going to obey orders? Not as long as Frankie L. is holding his son in Afghanistan against him as an implicit threat of, "behave, or your loyal son who is such a good boy will go the way of his traitor mother."

But yeah, that entire scene where we get hints of S1 spy shenanigans Phillip and it looks like he's gotten out of having to sleep with Kimmie? And there is that brutal scene afterwards with the handler where he finds out that he is going to be back every week? They hinge on Phillip feelling absolutely torn up. That cold cut on the scene right after Langella says "every week" doesn't have a point if this isn't supposed to be something that will FUCK PHILLIP UP.

The show spends way more time reminding us that they have this internally noble motivation for their sociopathic behavior, their love for Mother Russia, than it does focussing on the realistic brutality of what they do day by day, week by week.

I disagree with you on that. First, it's pretty clear that Phillip is much less about Mother Russian than Elizabeth is. We've known this from the very first episode, when he basically wants to sell out Mother Russia for a couple mill and new identities. In the end, Phillip closes that door, but not because of loyalty to an abstract cause, but because of his love for Elizabeth. That's what sets of the thaw in their relations, y'know?

Second, the show spends a lot of time showing us how brutal the KGB is. Granted, it sounds like you and I read the Phillip-and-Kimmie storyline this season very differently. For me, every storyline of Phillip's has been marinated in him wrestling with the awfulness of his profession. But I don't think it's a new thread. Remember the episode where the poor kid who gets abandoned to die on the hospital steps? Remember the episode that follows after, where his wife reaches out for help with the KGB, and they end up faking her death of a heroin overdose and shipping the baby back to Russia to be raised by his grandparents? Remember the cute congressional aid dying slow in the arms of the girl he wanted to introduce to his mother, and how she wept for him? People don't sit around and talk about it, but the show spent too much time making us look at Annalise's face while she was strangled, then opening the next episode with Annalise's bones get broken -- like, it's a regular thing. The show doesn't linger on every person that gets murdered, but it definitely takes its time and regularly, regularly makes you empathize with the people who are getting screwed. It's the origin of our affection as the audience for both Nina and Martha, after all.

This is part of why I enjoyed the necklace scene so much, in a way. You just watch and watch and watch that guy scream and scream and burn and burn and burn and you're just hoping like hell the camera will pull away, but nope, not the Americans. Not this show.

They're smarter and wiser and out to hurt the audience way, way more than that.

* The part where he has sex with a younger woman as part of the training, and the camera makes sure we see just how not-into it she is? And Phillip is going away at it, because that's his job, and just, UGH, chills went down my back.
posted by joyceanmachine at 1:11 PM on March 24, 2015 [4 favorites]

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