The Americans: The Magic of David Copperfield V
May 4, 2016 9:56 PM - Season 4, Episode 8 - Subscribe

Martha goes on a trip, Philip and Gabriel go out for a drink, Elizabeth goes to the movies, EST, and Lisa's house, Paige goes mini-golfing, and Gaad goes to the director's office.
posted by orange swan (48 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
My DVR cut off the ending. But it's on OnDemand! Watching it again, I have SO MUCH TO SAY.
posted by bleep at 11:11 PM on May 4, 2016

If this were a just universe, this would be Keri Russell's Emmy episode.
posted by The Gooch at 11:12 PM on May 4, 2016 [7 favorites]

Oh my god this episode was amazing. Every set up, every choice of words was so meaningful.
If you're reading this thread before having seen this episode, like I do sometimes, please don't for your own sake, don't cheat yourself.

My DVR cut it off but I'm watching it again on OnDemand from the beginning.

The title of the following essay is "WHO IS WORKING WHO HERE??"

I liked the way Martha quickly dropped her sardonic "Yeah sure" acknowledging the gravity of the situation. Maybe I'm a big softie but I believe they really love each other. The whole scene was meant to invoke that simple but painful feeling when you know one you love is physically going too far away from you and won't be with you anymore.

Elizabeth sitting there with a giant ELIZABETH name badge, looking all profound like she's starting to believe what they're saying. I was like "Yes! Elizabeth! Listen to the man! You're getting it!" and then it turns out she was working them and me too. She’s sitting there thinking “God damn right I love my fucking prison. It’s the best prison. Why don’t you shut up."

I was also thinking it would have been a funny tack for them to take if they showed Elizabeth completely without eye makeup when she was being "herself"; many women look radically different without it.

Elizabeth, scoffing: He needs strangers in some hotel room to listen to him. You know all about strangers in hotel rooms don't you Elizabeth She's not wrong though, she knows a con when she sees one. Philip probably does too but he believes he's working EST to get what he wants out of it regardless. Elizabeth is only seeing the surface of the business model, and can’t see how Philip is getting anything from it. She only sees the physical symptoms of him not eating, not sleeping, moping around.

The whole scene with Young-Hee; Young-Hee working Elizabeth, Elizabeth working Young-Hee, both of them working Mary Kay, both of them as partners in crime working the hapless ticket-taker, a slave to filthy Americans throwing popcorn everywhere. Sneaking in to watch "The Outsiders". Oh my god amazing. I love Young-Hee and I am so scared for her. Maybe she will get the better of Elizabeth, because she's just that cool. This whole sequence was so carefully done. TENDER MERCIES. Elizabeth says "Let me throw this away" and the next thing we see is a big red "NO".

I actually felt like kind of a monster when Young-Hee said she cried when they blew up the planet in Star Wars. That makes so much sense but it never occurred to me before. Maybe the idea of the tragedy of an entire planet of people being destroyed was too abstract for me to feel viscerally when I was 6. I could see how that would be different from the perspective of someone who saw the movie as an adult who had probably seen some shit.

It's funny how Elizabeth came back in a much better mood after laughing and relaxing with her. "I have enough emotional bandwidth to feed you now. And lookit me trying to say something nice about Martha and all." I could see her having her own Martha moment about Young-Hee.

"Hey you mind if I grab a beer? I'm running low". Haha - Matthew is working his Dad.

The way Elizabeth's eyes got real wide when Paige said she wasn't in the mood. I have seen that look, I'm sure we've all seen that look. It's such a classic "Mom"* look in such an incongruous circumstance. I liked how Keri Russel made her face look like that scene in Lord of the Rings when the Elf lady gets her hands on the Ring and is like "ALL SHALL LOVE ME AND DESPAIR” The look on Paige’s face was just brutal.

Oh Henry you ridiculous simpleton. I feel like Henry is like the show's representation of how the KGB officers/Elizabeth/The Centre (and whoever had this idea in the first place) see the simple-minded soft-hearted Americans around them who are so easily fooled and manipulated. The whole family gathered around the TV ooh-ing and ahh-ing for his benefit over a speech about immigrants and liberty.

Personally as someone who was a kid in the late 80s/early 90s I am recently getting a sense of just how old everything was by the time I started paying attention. Everything that was around when I started being aware of the world in say, 1st grade, 1990 had already been around for years. I thought David Blaine came out in the 90s.

I like how Stan assumes that Martha "must have been given a lot of help" just because she was extremely successful at something he personally finds difficult. Philip helped her but not that much. He basically just told her to look at his nose.

Apparently Kimmie is still a thing. Maybe Philip found a way not to sleep with her. She's so young and this is pre-Internet she could probably be told anything about how sex works.

Tatiana is definitely working Oleg. Her brother my foot.

It’s so funny how Gabriel sees Liz & Phil & their marriage as something he has ownership over. And in a way he does. Claudia not taking any of his shit.

“Do you think there’s someone waiting in the wings who does?” Next shot is Lisa coming out from behind the wings. She has the answers. She’s the clearest-headed person on this show. She may be off the wagon but she’s clear-eyed, determined to make things right and full of compassion for her friend. She turned her back to Liz because she was that full of trust. I love how Liz is all about “meetings” with Lisa. I wonder if she thinks AA is OK philosophically/not some kind of American con game. The subtext in “Do you really think they’re going to give YOU immunity?” “If we go in together.”

Gabriel is right to see that the stress they’re under is eating them alive. I have read that if there were KGB officers & agents like this they wouldn’t be working them like this, they’d be doing far less. It’s realistic to show how this would damage people, even stone-cold assassins like Elizabeth. It was both a relief and a devastation when he said “This is the closest you’ll ever get to a vacation. Take as long as you need.” You’ll get a rest, but just one. Enjoy it.

I wonder how Liz wound up with that gash on her neck - I thought it might be Lisa's blood but it seemed to hurt. Lisa must have fought. Oh Lisa. Plz haunt Young-Hee, plz warn her.

Then the scene with Stan and Gaad. I’m telling you something of unverifiable veracity because I want you to feel the way I want you to feel. Because that’s what this episode is all about! Even if this time it’s a kindness.

In that prologue scene at the mini golf I thought for a second it was Liz & Phil in disguise, it really looked like disguises they would wear from a distance. There is Paige with the new family she’s been exiled to, just like her parents did. Paige giving her report, reminiscent of Nina’s.

That whole epilogue was amazing. What did Gaad mean about “his brother”? Did I miss something? Did Stan have something to do with Oleg’s brother dying? I haven’t seen every episode.

“You can’t lose sight of who these people are.” You can’t let other people move your feelings around until you can’t see what they’re doing anymore.

*I know not everyone has a Mom, but hopefully having been raised by someone who cares about you enough to be royally pissed off by you is pretty common.
posted by bleep at 11:25 PM on May 4, 2016 [23 favorites]

The way she laid into both Phillip and Paige, it's not just that Elizabeth thinks EST is culty bullshit; it's that on some level, she took the instructions to be honest and live into her authentic self a little *too* seriously.
posted by duffell at 12:42 AM on May 5, 2016 [5 favorites]

Also, bleep, I cannot favorite your massive comment enough.
posted by duffell at 12:42 AM on May 5, 2016 [1 favorite]

So did anyone else yell "Epcot!!!" at the screen when Elizabeth said she knew what to do next?

Every set up, every choice of words was so meaningful.

Amen. The quiet explosiveness of this show continues to thrill me. So many rich, interesting moments this week - Gabriel finally getting to vent his annoyance, and then Claudia's "boo hoo my agents aren't listening to me" response (after getting her face smashed in by Elizabeth in season one). Then Gabriel seeing a moment of real tenderness and realizing just how fucked up his agents truly are....the entirety of that arc probably took like, what, three minutes of screen time? But it was so thoughtfully written and beautifully acted by everyone involved it was a deep and complex and fascinating story.

This was a great mid-season climax, with the Paige confrontation working especially well. Ironic that Elizabeth starts to really turn Paige by playing the Good Daughter card so aggressively.

She’s sitting there thinking “God damn right I love my fucking prison. It’s the best prison. Why don’t you shut up."

I don't think that's what Elizabeth's thinking; even before killing Lisa she was in almost as bad a place as Phillip with regard to their "prison." She clearly understands the value of the EST meetings for Phillip, but she also clearly sees the scam-like nature of the business side of it, a side Phillip overlooks or ignores. "It's very American," she says.

Honestly, this is the first time the EST stuff really started to work for me with regard to Phillip on the show. Maybe it's because I grew up hearing about people we knew going through it briefly to little lasting effect, but I've always thought of it as a kind of scam, so Phillip falling into it was something I had to get around. Elizabeth's reaction was great because it was so perfectly in character, something I never really felt with Phillip until now.

We're gonna have Schroedinger's Martha for a while, right? Neither dead nor alive, with hints for both outcomes?

I really want to go watch this episode a second time now.
posted by mediareport at 3:57 AM on May 5, 2016 [2 favorites]

Seppinwall calls this the best episode yet, and points out that Matthew Rhys directed it.
posted by mediareport at 4:56 AM on May 5, 2016 [1 favorite]

Man, Martha really loved him. Of all the things she might have said, what she did say was out of concern for his best interests. Devastating.

And can I just say: I totally called it about the EST!
posted by Sublimity at 5:08 AM on May 5, 2016 [3 favorites]

It's very telling that, after the "7 months later" jump, we see Elizabeth, Phillip, and Henry happy and acting like an all-American family, and then we see Paige as the isolated, stressed-out, unhappy, miserable agent working her targets and reporting to her handlers. Given the events in this episode, I'd say this was foreshadowing Paige's own explosion.

We saw what Elizabeth does (almost without thinking) when confronted with the possibility of being revealed by someone she's working. What will happen if/when Paige snaps and threatens to tell all to the authorities?

Did anyone else think Martha was going to be dumped from the airplane over the ocean?
posted by Thorzdad at 5:31 AM on May 5, 2016 [1 favorite]

- If anyone else was curious, I think the airplane in the opening was a V-tail Beechcraft Bonanza.

- I'm confused about Gadd's "his brother" line too. Was the guy Stan shot a while back another brother of Oleg's?

- I watched that David Copperfield special live on TV when I was about Henry's age. Nice flashback. (I didn't believe he made it disappear. Many arguments with family about that.)
posted by mmoncur at 5:47 AM on May 5, 2016 [1 favorite]

What a brilliant show. That David Copperfield speech - is there anything more Reagan 80s than that, especially when you take into account that the live audience was in on the fakery?! Young Hee (please please be careful, Young Hee). The snippy conversation in the kitchen about Martha being "simple" versus "complicated." The EST fight - That Feeling when someone you love is criticizing something important to you and you just get so defensive because you know they're right (EST is so American, such a scam, and is truly helping Philip at the same time).

I can't help but feel Elizabeth backed up a dump truck of her own stress and inner conflict onto Paige and just unloaded all that onto her. I forsee something really bad in the future for Paige.

I really wish Molly Lambert did recaps for this show. She was excellent with taking Mad Men every week and finding ways of writing about the show that just turned it around for me, using the cultural signifiers of the setting.

I will miss John Boy's beautiful voice, and magnificent Martha, who was complicated and deserved so much better...The perfect closing song.
Think I'll walk out in the rain
Called you time and time again
I've got no reply, you've gone

Reached the point of no return
The more I see the more I stand alone
I see the end of the line

Were you ever lonely?
Mystified and blue?
Realizing only your number's up
You're through

Done my share of winning
Now's my turn to lose
After a fair beginning
The game's up I'm through

Think I'll walk out in the storm
There's no love to keep me warm inside
And hope it's fine at the end of the line

Now is the time to take a dive
Try a magic carpet ride
Everything is wrong
You've gone

If you ever miss me
If I should cross your mind
You know where to find me
I'll be waiting at the end of the line
posted by sallybrown at 5:51 AM on May 5, 2016 [2 favorites]

I took Gaad's reference to Oleg's brother as a point of vulnerability. It's something Stan could use to manipulate Oleg, or conversely, if Stan lets his human compassion get in the way, could be one of the things that might lead Stan to get soft and forget "who those people are."

I thought that coda with Gaad and Beeman was brilliant for underscoring that the American side needed to be just as ruthless and disconnected from their humanity as the Russians are. We haven't seen that side of Stan in a while (or Aderholt, sp.? at all)--they've been analytical and cunning but not brutal. I suspect Gaad is giving a nod to more brutality, FBI leadership be damned.
posted by Sublimity at 6:22 AM on May 5, 2016 [1 favorite]

Thanks Sublimity, I think that makes sense.

Next week's episode title is "The Day After". I assume it's a reference to This silly TV Movie about a nuclear strike on Lawrence, Kansas. It was quite the event at the time, everyone saw it or talked about it.

They're really hitting all of the highlights of my life at age 14 or so here....
posted by mmoncur at 6:52 AM on May 5, 2016 [1 favorite]

Next week's episode title is "The Day After". I assume it's a reference to This silly TV Movie about a nuclear strike on Lawrence, Kansas.

I think you're right. The "7 months later" time jump would put the show squarely into November of 1983, which is when The Day After was broadcast.
posted by Thorzdad at 7:03 AM on May 5, 2016 [1 favorite]

Sublimity: I took Gaad's reference to Oleg's brother as a point of vulnerability. It's something Stan could use to manipulate Oleg

Yes, exactly. Too bad for Stan that Tatiana got there first. She's working him, I don't know why, but I suspect she's a career climber and maybe she wants to oust Arkady and become the new head of the Rezidentura, which could be bad for Philip and Elizabeth because she seems like she'll be ruthless whereas Arkady has often been sentimental.

Thorzdad: It's very telling that, after the "7 months later" jump, we see Elizabeth, Phillip, and Henry happy and acting like an all-American family, and then we see Paige as the isolated, stressed-out, unhappy, miserable agent working her targets and reporting to her handlers. Given the events in this episode, I'd say this was foreshadowing Paige's own explosion.

I'd go the other way and guess Paige is going to stop fighting it and become a junior agent, possibly after seeing the movie The Day After or hearing about the bioweapons being developed. She was anti-nuke when she was younger, now all it takes is Elizabeth and Philip showing her she can make a difference with more training. Maybe hand-to-hand from Elizabeth "just to protect yourself" and then when the Pastor ticking time bomb is about to explode she could panic and attack him to protect the family. All along it's been Philip and Elizabeth weighing whether to kill them or not, but in the end I think it will be Paige that gets the ball rolling.
posted by bluecore at 7:17 AM on May 5, 2016

So Martha heads off to Russia still not quite with the program, still not understanding that Philip was cold-bloodedly working her rather than being party to the grand passion she thought they had. Perhaps it's better for her, but it still hurt to see her expressing loving concern for Philip and setting him free (when he was never committed to her in the first place) rather than going after him with an axe as he deserved. I do disagree with Philip that Martha is complicated, though he's quite right that she isn't "simple" and that everyone underestimated her. Martha isn't a complex person, but she's more resilient and more able and quicker on her feet than anyone thought she was. Philip may not have loved her romantically, but he did recognize and appreciate her many good qualities -- her empathy, her emotional maturity, her competence, her loyalty and trustworthiness.

And yeah, I thought she was going to get thrown from the plane too. But it seems not. (If she were there would have needed to be at least one more person in the plane because the pilot can't do it.) There's still the possibility that she'll be executed by the Soviets at some later point, but she does seem to be genuinely en route to Russia.

Philip's putting flowers on Gene Craft's grave seemed like an odd thing to do, especially when he had to put them on another grave.

Alas for poor Lisa. Looks like she put up a good fight, though, half-conscious as she was. How would Elizabeth have covered up the fact that it was a murder, though? If there's a homicide investigation, they'll look at her husband, start wondering where all the money he has came from, and then the whole thing might come out.

As always it was lovely to see the irresistible Young Hee. I would buy Mary Kay products from that woman. Two minutes of her and I'd be all SHUT UP AND TAKE MY MONEY.

It seemed to me that Tatiana was actually worried about her brother, but I think there is something else going on there. Arkady doesn't trust her and I'd put money on Arkady's judgment. What is Oleg getting into?

Finally, a Kimmie mention. And Mail Robot beeped behind Gaad and Stan as they were talking about Gaad's trip to the director's office. The bug discovery did not happen on Gaad's watch, at least.

Gaad's out, as we thought, and he seems fine with it, though he still wants to keep a finger or two in the pie. I'm sure it helps that he was so close to retirement age anyway -- Richard Thomas turns 65 in June.

Yikes, that fight with Philip and Elizabeth! There's a lot of water under that bridge. I'm amazed the whole Gregory thing hasn't come up before.

Paige's enforced relationship with Pastor Tim and Alice has its darkly comic side. She got involved with that church against her parents' wishes and confided in Pastor Tim when she had been ordered not to, and now her parents are all "You wanted to be all chummy with Pastor Tim despite everything we said to us and now you're going to be best buddies with him for LIFE." It's like the most perversely inspired parental punishment ever. That poor girl, though. She's clearly so depressed and miserable.
posted by orange swan at 8:32 AM on May 5, 2016

I'd go the other way and guess Paige is going to stop fighting it and become a junior agent, possibly after seeing the movie The Day After or hearing about the bioweapons being developed.

I dunno. The show is about the USSR nuking the US, which might take a whole lot of explaining on the part of Liz and Phil. I'm holding out for Paige somehow falling onto Stan's radar, possibly via something Henry says while he's over at Stan's.
posted by Thorzdad at 12:30 PM on May 5, 2016 [1 favorite]

Wait, who is Gene Craft and when was the Kimmie mention?
posted by LizBoBiz at 2:17 PM on May 5, 2016

Gene Craft was the FBI computer guy whom Philip murdered and then framed for the bug in Gad's pen by planting the receiver in his apartment. Philip is shown visiting the graveyard where Gene is buried in disguise and with a bouquet, though he can't risk being seen at Gene's grave, so he leaves the flowers at a grave thirty feet away.

When Philip meets Gabriel at the bar, he discreetly passes a tape to Gabriel and says, "Kimmie." His mission with her is also mentioned as one of the things he and Elizabeth will continue to do during their "vacation".
posted by orange swan at 2:34 PM on May 5, 2016 [2 favorites]

I had to google Eugene Craft when they showed his grave marker as I only knew him as "Gene". Luckily there was already a recap up of this episode at that point! I don't think it's odd that Philip would visit his grave as he's been clearly unhappy about that whole affair, and now it was for nothing as Martha got compromised and pulled anyway.
posted by bleep at 2:46 PM on May 5, 2016

Thorzdad: I dunno. The show is about the USSR nuking the US, which might take a whole lot of explaining on the part of Liz and Phil. I'm holding out for Paige somehow falling onto Stan's radar, possibly via something Henry says while he's over at Stan's.

Maybe, although it seems to me good asset development is Akido-ing the subject's passion toward your intended goal. Paige was already pro-peace, anti-nuke, so all it would take would be her recognizing the movie is propaganda-esque, ignoring America's own warmongering and huge stockpiles of nuclear weapons, plus maybe a small nudge by Philip and Elizabeth by taking her to the safehouse and showing her the infected rat bioweapon - "You don't develop something like this unless you intend to use it..." If they make it seem like America is the aggressor and their actions are for peace, my guess is they could convert her from a reluctant participant to an enthusiastic one.
posted by bluecore at 4:18 PM on May 5, 2016

I think the rat is gone to Russia though. Tatiana said she had a pilot available because she was using him for "something else." I assumed that something was the rat. So there's a possibility that there will be Martha-trapped-on-a-plane-with-infected-rat drama, although I don't think so.
posted by mmoncur at 5:25 PM on May 5, 2016

Yeah I thought the rat was in the second bag in the trunk, the one other than Martha's green suitcase.
posted by bleep at 5:31 PM on May 5, 2016

Yes, the rat was in the satchel that the pilot took from the trunk to the plane.

Just occurred to me this evening: when Elizabeth yells at Paige that she can't control what she feels, but she can control how she acts: that is precisely the advice given in EST type seminars (including the modern day version, Landmark Forum, which I have not attended but I know many people who have and consider it valuable.)
posted by Sublimity at 5:50 PM on May 5, 2016 [4 favorites]

Oh, WOW. what an episode! I agree with so much written above.

That shot at the end of the opening scene where Phillip is watching the plane leave and he steps towards it and the entire upper half of his body disappears into the shadows, leaving on a pair of unmoving legs ... what a nice visual echo of where Phillip finds himself right now.

Elizabeth's relationship with Lisa was almost a dry run at her relationship with Young-Hee - as if she was setting down the template for a friendship - playing at the the intimacy of shared sobriety, the we're-in-it togetherness, the shared prosperity. She went through the motions with Lisa, while she seems genuinely attached to Young-Hee. It's going to hurt a lot more if she has to eliminate Young-Hee.

I couldn't tell if Tatiana was working Oleg for power-mongering reasons or because she liiiiiiiikes him, or both. She's clearly got more power than appears on the surface, and knows about things that Arkady - who is ostensibly in charge - does not. By not being beholden to the administrative side/being in charge, she can manouever a lot more and control her ops more directly.. Also, I suspect Oleg is a bit of a catch, and marrying into a rich family with access to the power structure could be appealing for someone ambitious.
posted by julen at 8:48 PM on May 5, 2016 [1 favorite]

Loved this episode too!

The veins in Keri Russell's eyelids when she was yelling at Paige about her moods. Good lord, that was amazing acting (and makeup). This is the Elizabeth I respect. She's 110% committed to The Job and doing it right, and dammit her daughter will be too. It's going to blow up of course, but I admire the moral clarity of it.

Sort of a weird anti-climax for Martha. I'm glad she got out because I <3 Martha, but weird to just send her off-stage like that. I assume they'll bring her back. In the last episode discussion I was calling for craven Philip to strangle Martha himself. I'm glad that didn't happen, but I'm doubly glad the show-runners reveal him for the useless jerk he is. Now that we're all on the same page about how broken he's become maybe he can redeem himself.

I've been thinking for awhile EST was the ticking time bomb for this season. I'm glad they spent so much time on it. I knew an ESTie back 15 years ago, it's a fucked up little group therapy cult. Absolutely the worst thing for a KGB agent.

Here's an explanation of how David Copperfield made the Statue of Liberty disappear. Should you want to spoil The 80s Magic. Nice bit to include in the show.
posted by Nelson at 10:04 PM on May 5, 2016 [2 favorites]

Okay, a couple things from the last couple episodes.
When Elizabeth punched Martha in the stomach, at first I thought she stabbed her.
When Tatiana instantly said "Oh, don't worry about it Oleg, I totally have another pilot" (after closing her extra-secret red file folder) I was thinking "...because Martha isn't going to be flown anywhere [killed]".
posted by blueberry at 6:12 AM on May 6, 2016

Thanks everyone for the great discussion. This episode was amazing.

blueberry-I also had both of those thoughts. Am very happy to be wrong! If they kill Martha it will completely undermine Philip, I think they have to follow through with her.
posted by palegirl at 6:33 AM on May 6, 2016

Not commenting on his jerkiness, but useless isn't exactly the word I'd use for Philip? Certainly conflicted, but he seems pretty capable.
posted by Carillon at 9:49 AM on May 6, 2016 [2 favorites]

It didn't even occur to me they were fast-forwarding to the eve of Able Archer. That's going to totally ratchet up the pressure on Phillip, Elizabeth, and Gabriel because no matter what they tell the Centre, the Centre already has the narrative they believe. I am rubbing my hands excitedly.

Gabriel is really worn out! I'm wondering if he is there to symbolize the old-school Russian Intelligence services while someone like Tatiana is there to represent the new-school Russian Intelligence service, or if I'm just reading into it.

Phillip's actions on Martha's behalf makes it harder for him to try to mitigate the whole Kimmy situation - I can't imagine the Centre would be willing to give him more slack.
posted by julen at 10:26 AM on May 6, 2016

I don't know how to feel about the time jump. On the one hand, apparently they weren't going to be doing much spy stuff. But on the other, this show is about their marriage, their work, and their family and how the Jennings deal with the demands of it all. And at the pace this show is going, that like 1-2 seasons worth of time.

I wanted to see how Phillip and Elizabeth dealt with Phillip's EST and getting over Martha. I want to see them work Paige and teach her to be a little agent. Did anything happen on the Clark Westerfeld front at the FBI?

This show is all about character building and they just skipped 7 months of it. Right in the middle of an episode in the middle of the season.
posted by LizBoBiz at 10:39 AM on May 6, 2016

On the plus side,, we now get to see Henry standing up instead of always hunched over on the couch. 7-month growth spurt!
posted by mediareport at 3:10 PM on May 6, 2016 [4 favorites]

More seriously, you raise a sharp point, but the idea of a mid-season climax isn't really that unusual, and I trust the show to keep richly exploring the marriage, Paige's evolution, and the effects on Phillip seven months later. In fact, I think it did a decent job of capturing Paige's current resigned acceptance of her role in just a few seconds - the look on her face at the golf course, the robotic report to her parents on the stairs...I'm sure we'll see more.
posted by mediareport at 3:28 PM on May 6, 2016

especially when you take into account that the live audience was in on the fakery?!

Wait, were they in on it? That Straight Dope article linked to above and the other couple of explanations of the trick I saw seemed to indicate they were fooled.
posted by Pryde at 4:38 PM on May 6, 2016 [1 favorite]

Yeah, I was anxious about the time-jump when it happened, but in the end was left feeling that it makes a lot of sense and sets up the rest of the season very well.

When Elizabeth just let loose on Paige, I was so conflicted. I felt like it wasn't the right way to handle Paige (except it was, apparently) and that all of this was terribly unfair to Paige (which it is) but, even so, the bottom line is that everything Elizabeth said is true. This is serious. Pastor Tim could blow everything up at any moment and the only thing stopping him is his relationship with Paige. Paige has to understand this and can't pretend that it's not the case and, yeah, it's because of a foolish choice she made. On the other hand, I don't blame her for anything she's done, including that. Especially that. I don't think there are any right choices for a kid in her shoes and I don't think there are any wrong choices, either. There are just least bad choices and it's really hard to know which those are.

I had just turned 21 when The Day After aired. I'd also recently read Warday and, perhaps unwisely, had given it to my 11-year-old sister to read. Which she still talks about how it gave her many nightmares and anxieties. But, you know, at that time we were all aware of the possibility of a nuclear war. The Day After was a cultural event not because it was anticommunist agitprop or whatever, but simply because it explored "realistically" the experience of a nuclear exchange. It was mostly irrelevant whose fault it was, which side initiated it. I'm sure that mattered to some people, but I think the general public responded to this movie just for the general idea. I still have a very strong memory of the kid seeing the cruise missile pass by just hundreds of feet above his farm (which they would do, that's how cruise missiles work, as opposed to a ballistic missile).

I've written about this on MeFI before , but my experience and, I think, that of many other people of that era was not the very immediate fear of nuclear war the way that people had in the 50s, but by the 80s (and with Reagan's saber-rattling) it was like a constant, low-level unexpressed fear, just something we'd sort of accepted as part of daily life and not anything we explicitly thought about. Mostly, no one actually expected that a nuclear war would happen but, by the same token, I don't think anyone would have been that surprised if it did. It was like, say, a major terrorist attack on a US city today, something approaching the scale of 9/11. I don't expect something of that magnitude to happen again, but I also think there's a moderate probability and, if it does, I won't be surprised that it happened. At some level, I live with a low-level unconscious expectation that something like that could happen any day. That's what nuclear war was like for me in 1983.

It came as a huge surprise to me and most people when the Soviet Union fell and also, eventually, a huge relief. It's still a huge relief. I think maybe younger people don't understand this at all. After all, there are still a huge number of nuclear weapons. But while I think that there's still a high probability that a nuke or two will be used again somewhere, someday, it's just not the same thing. The whole global political context is different and while the US, Russia, China, the UK, and France all have substantial strategic nuclear capability (and, to a lesser and more local degree, Israel, India, and Pakistan), there is almost no possibility of an all-out strategic thermonuclear exchange. China's capability of such an attack on the US is minimal and there are huge questions about just how capable Russia's remaining intercontinental nuclear arsenal really is. Outside the context of MAD and, more importantly, the global political context that created that stalemate, there's just no reason why these big nuclear powers would have a huge strategic nuclear exchange. Excepting between India and Pakistan. So now I don't fear death from a nuclear bomb like I did for almost half my life.

This really is a fundamental context for this whole show. I don't like an analysis that paints the Jennings as villains, even though the Soviet Union was a horribly oppressive totalitarian regime, because for both the US and the USSR, the context here was the possibility of utter and complete destruction of their entire nations, hundreds of millions of citizens dead on each side, and hundreds of millions more in the rest of the world. We can look back on this and see how insane all this was, but for each side the stakes were as high as they could possibly be. One of the things I really like about the show is that it's making central to its narrative some of the things that the US was doing that other shows would only have the "bad guys" doing. Like training death squads in Central America to oppose popular uprisings against a repressive government. Or research into biological weapons.

Paige is having to traverse some very difficult moral terrain. I think, given her past anti-nuke experience with the church, that this will be for her the guiding concern, one direction or the other. She could believe that she's working in opposition to nuclear war by choosing either side. Working with her parents and seeing this as the ultimate stakes involved, or betraying her parents because she see these as the ultimate stakes involved. Either way.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 5:18 PM on May 6, 2016 [5 favorites]

On the plus side, we now get to see Henry standing up instead of always hunched over on the couch. 7-month growth spurt!

This is the reason for the time acceleration, seriously. I have read that the show's creators wanted to have the show's timeline play out quite slowly but there was a limit to how long they could linger in the early eighties given Keidrich Sellati's physical growth. And they pushed that envelope as far as they could, because he was playing a 13-year-old at nearly 15 as it was.
posted by orange swan at 5:40 PM on May 6, 2016

I don't like an analysis that paints the Jennings as villains

This is how amazing this show is. How many people have they killed so far? Yet I, and everyone else here are still rooting for them!
posted by monotreme at 10:44 PM on May 6, 2016 [1 favorite]

I was glad to see EST finally called out. Elizabeth is exactly right about it (and it's successor Landmark). Both are cults that will play on your insecurities to get you to sign up for more classes. If there's anything good in it, you can get the same along with actual treatment from an actual therapist for less money.
posted by chrchr at 12:43 AM on May 7, 2016 [4 favorites]

I found the parallel between the recruitment of new clients into EST and the recruitment of new saleswomen in Mary Kay to be quite telling. Elizabeth is a hardcore Marxist, remember her leanings w/r/t Gregory, of course she was going to see through the capitalist angle of both MK and EST, no matter the trappings.

I also enjoyed how we all recognized that Phillip was slowly unraveling, and thought he was going to be one to snap, and yet it was Elizabeth who seemed to have reached her limit.

I think they sent Martha out in the most gentle way that they could. The rat was the best reason to have a special flight out of the country, but no way does mother russia do anything special for an american ex-pat with no further purpose. best her end just be off-screen.

If I had to bet, I'd say they are setting Paige up for some sort of a scene with PastorTimandAlice. they might not have her pull the trigger but she's gonna be the one to call the ball on that one.

I'm sorry but I don't like Gabriel. He's too cultured, too refined to be the child of the revolution that he claims to be. He comes across more as a disaffected intellectual, with his tea, caviar and scrabble than a hardened revolutionary. A man in his position would not have let Martha take her walkabout, and wouldn't put up with Phillip's shit.
posted by OHenryPacey at 1:17 AM on May 7, 2016

Just in case you don't read MeFi every day-there's an FPP (May 7) on this story, profile of one of the RL families that partly inspired the show. Quote from one of the Js near the end.
posted by NorthernLite at 7:44 AM on May 7, 2016 [3 favorites]

From today's FPP: One former “illegal” tells me his training in the late 1970s included two years in Moscow with daily English lessons, taught by an American woman who had defected.

I think they will find plenty of use for Martha.
posted by bleep at 1:15 PM on May 7, 2016 [3 favorites]

OHenryPacey, that was my thinking as well, however, I just listened to the most recent episode of Slates The Americans Spoiler Podcast, and one of the guests on there was talking about someone who was sent to Russia in a similar situation and was treated very well.

Although, yeah, I could definitely see he being employed there to teach English--something, that if her students were going to be spying on the US, that might be a depressing use of her time for a reluctant player such as Martha.
posted by blueberry at 2:29 PM on May 7, 2016

Pretty sure Martha is prepared for a lot of disappointment to come. Or maybe every day she wakes up will feel like a beautiful gift!
posted by bleep at 3:47 PM on May 7, 2016

The Russians have always been the best with human intelligence and part of that has been a consistent and very strong ethos of treating assets very well. What the show is doing with Martha is entirely credible.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 10:06 PM on May 7, 2016 [1 favorite]

It was weird to me that Stan was so puzzled as to how Martha was turned, and how she deceived them when it's right in front of them. If you know that she married an agent, then isn't the obvious answer that her motivation was love??

I really liked the story Stan told Gaad as he was on his way to face the music. Such a nice touch.

I also thought that the sound editing in the opening was great. In moments like that, when your whole life is changing and you can barely breathe, all the noise around you really stands out. It felt very true.

I think Young Hee is turning into Elizabeth's actual friend. I wonder if Gaad's story was foreshadowing about a moment she is going to face soon. Though, that would definitely be a shift for Elizabeth.
posted by dry white toast at 12:17 PM on May 9, 2016

I am interested in what happened to people like Martha and Anton Baklanov after the fall of the USSR. Would Martha be able to call her parents? Would Baklanov be able to return to the US? Anyone have links to real-life stories like these?
posted by aabbbiee at 12:25 PM on May 11, 2016

It was weird to me that Stan was so puzzled as to how Martha was turned, and how she deceived them when it's right in front of them. If you know that she married an agent, then isn't the obvious answer that her motivation was love??

I still have a big jumble of notes to go through from this episode, but one of the things I wrote down was:

Stan: All the time she lied to my face. What it takes to do that....

All it took was love, Stan. How telling, and sad, that he can't even imagine that scenario as a motive for someone else.
posted by Room 641-A at 4:40 PM on May 11, 2016 [3 favorites]

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