The Americans: The Midges
March 21, 2017 11:49 PM - Season 5, Episode 3 - Subscribe

Stan and Aderholt can't seem to make any new friends, Alexei bowls and complains about Russia, Mischa's travel plans hit a snag, Paige practices rubbing her fingers together, Oleg investigates suspect tangerines, and Philip and Elizabeth get into cowboy cosplay. Also: MARTHA.

For some good reviews of this episode, check out Vox, Vulture, and The AV Club.
posted by orange swan (27 comments total)
 
You can really tell Phillip has a lot of empathy for Alexei and the Russia he describes. When he expresses his doubts to Elizabeth in that motel room, I got the feeling that Elizabeth wasn't trying to comfort her husband as much as she was working a target, using sex to bring him over to her side.

Great to catch a glimpse of Martha again. She must have picked-up the language pretty damned fast, given that she's out in public like that. I can only hope it wasn't just a one-off to show us that she's ok.

The look of crushing disappointment on Holly Taylor's eyes when Paige is told by Elizabeth that, even in close relationships, "You hold back what you need to. Everybody does" was so sad. Like having your dreams snuffed-out by your mother.

The level of paranoia in the show is really amped-up this season. It's become really easy to get lost in a sea of "or maybe" or "what if." It's become pretty easy to imagine everyone working everyone else.
posted by Thorzdad at 5:33 AM on March 22, 2017 [1 favorite]


At this point, should we simply consider Henry written out of the show? Or, does anyone think the character's being held in reserve to play a crucial role in things?
posted by Thorzdad at 6:43 AM on March 22, 2017 [3 favorites]


P&E: Is Henry here?
Paige: No
[no follow-up to ask where he is]

I don't think even P&E really care at this point.

I got the feeling that Elizabeth wasn't trying to comfort her husband as much as she was working a target, using sex to bring him over to her side.


Darn, and I was thinking how much I really like the way the show portrays their relationship and how much love they have for each other.

MARTHA!!!!!!! She's looking pretty good!
posted by LizBoBiz at 6:56 AM on March 22, 2017


Slate's s5e3 podcast episode includes conversations with "The Midges" writer and the show's costume designer.
posted by kingless at 7:38 AM on March 22, 2017


I wanted to mention last episode that I thought that the buggy greenhouse/farm they go to really looks like it's off Route 15 in northern Virginia. The office park this episode again looked more closer to DC than Oklahoma. And even the scenes with Oleg walking around in Russia looked like they were shot in DC somewhere. I don't fault the show for it's economy, but I'm starting to notice it this season.

They are laying it on pretty thick with the foreshadowing with Tuan though.
posted by Catblack at 5:50 PM on March 22, 2017 [1 favorite]


I wanted to mention last episode that I thought that the buggy greenhouse/farm they go to really looks like it's off Route 15 in northern Virginia. The office park this episode again looked more closer to DC than Oklahoma. And even the scenes with Oleg walking around in Russia looked like they were shot in DC somewhere. I don't fault the show for it's economy, but I'm starting to notice it this season.

The odd thing is they film in Brooklyn, and use Upper Manhattan, Long Island, Staten Island, and upstate New York to double for DC and Virginia, so it's more likely they filmed it around there. I'm curious if they made a special trip for this episode, though.
posted by bluecore at 6:42 PM on March 22, 2017 [2 favorites]


I'm curious if they made a special trip for this episode, though.

Well, they shot the "Illinois" road scenes somewhere with mountains in the distance.
posted by Thorzdad at 6:56 PM on March 22, 2017


Yeah, so I've had "More than This" stuck in my head for 24 hours now...
posted by gaspode at 7:05 PM on March 22, 2017 [1 favorite]


Alexei can't even bowl without seguing into a bowling-themed homily on How Much Russia Sucks.

Tuan makes Elizabeth look moderate. Also, he wants a dog. Ah, teenage spy life.

Paige is not too conflicted to appreciate the merits of M*A*S*H.

Any thoughts on where Henry is? Has he a) given himself up for adoption, b) begun filming a spin-off, or c) become an international spy who'll work for anyone for the right price because that's where the real fun and money is?

Philip's family seems to have been even poorer than Elizabeth and her mother were. Also, what happened to Philip's father? Philip says he died when he was six. That puts his death at 1949 or thereabouts.

If that store is a remarkably good store by Russian standards, the country is in deep shit.

Oleg doesn't do penny ante corruption. It takes more than a bag of tangerines to get him to betray his country. I hope he can figure out a way to keep out of the CIA's clutches. He's intelligent and has a cool hand so he'll manage it if anyone can.

Martha misdirect. I thought the woman sitting on the park bench reading when Oleg is walking to the grocery store was Martha, which is a clever bait and switch on the show's part, because when we actually see Martha in the store it's all the more of a surprise. It was so nice to see her and get some idea of how she is. She looks like she's coping. I was afraid she'd sink into depression and addiction, but she's well-dressed and well-groomed and alert at least, and able to manage doing her shopping. Her donning of a babushka (that matches her dress, even) suggests she's trying to assimilate. Also, she knows the best place to shop.

Beeman and Aderholt's attempts to approach and turn strategic Russians amused me. They're like high school misfits the cool kids don't even deign to acknowledge.

I hope I never took any relationship advice from an undercover KGB agent when I was a teenager. I agree with Thorzdad that Elizabeth's behaviour towards Philip was at least partly strategic and a way to keep him on task. Everything about their lives is tainted. Ugh.

How creepily atmospheric was that insect laboratory?

In The Americans universe, it is never a good idea to go into one's workplace alone at night.

When Philip and Elizabeth exchange That Look, you know someone's about to die.
posted by orange swan at 7:30 PM on March 22, 2017 [4 favorites]


So are we convinced that the midges are being bred to destroy soviet crops? It seems highly unlikely to me.

For starters, if they're getting much of their grain from the US, there are easier non-insect ways to sabotage it. And they can't grow their own very well at all, so why bother sending pests to Russia?

I'm guessing that if anything Soviet-related is going on, it's the US trying to develop pest-resistant crops because they believe the Russians might try to attack US crops. Maybe Alexai defected because he knew about the Russians' plan to do just that.
posted by mmoncur at 1:33 AM on March 23, 2017 [2 favorites]


I'm curious if they made a special trip for this episode, though.

Well, they shot the "Illinois" road scenes somewhere with mountains in the distance.


And in the opening scene that said oklahoma city, you can see the photo shopped skyline of okc in the distance from a two lane highway with nothing but feilds around. They would have to photo shop the skyline because it is drastically different now than in 1984 but even then anywhere with a view of the city skyline would be way more populated than that. OKC's land mass is huge.

That office building was a dead ringer for one there though, and Liz really looked the part. Phillip not so much. You can always tell when someone doesn't normally wear a cowboy hat. Just ain't right.
posted by domino at 6:20 AM on March 23, 2017 [1 favorite]


I've been binging the early episodes and until Martha was extricated I was totally anticipating her truly intense demise. I bet she gets involved with some interesting plot points.
posted by sammyo at 8:08 AM on March 23, 2017


Eh, there are still today plenty of country roads within OKC's city limits where the OKC skyline is visible in the distance. At one point, and maybe still, it was the largest city in the nation by land area, yet large swaths have never been developed, so are still a square mile of field surrounded by the section line roads. Tulsa would be the same way, but for the hills blocking the view and the fact that the outlying areas aren't actually in Tulsa itself.

It wasn't right, but it was pretty close in that sense.
posted by wierdo at 9:34 AM on March 23, 2017 [1 favorite]


 Martha! I screamed. (Btw when Oleg walks into the store I'm sure Alison Wright was farther down an aisle.)

they shot the "Illinois" road scenes somewhere with mountains in the distance.

Northern Exposure did an epi in which Maggie and Joel visited her hometown. I eyerolled seeing Washington state mountains in Grosse Pointe, MI.

 Paige is not too conflicted to appreciate the merits of M*A*S*H.

We're well into 1984, and the original run ended in winter '83. (I wrote an article on that show which Alan Alda reprinted in a book./brag-also-ImOld)

Speaking of which, I keep waiting to hear the big pop music of the time that I recall. I've already been robbed of Thriller (82), She Works Hard for the Money and Let's Dance (83). And, holy moly, 84 was a year.
posted by NorthernLite at 4:13 PM on March 23, 2017


So we can add "More Than This" to "Tainted Love" as 80s songs that now make me picture Philip murdering someone with his bare hands.

Elizabeth was definitely using sex to keep Philip on track. The look on her face and tone of her voice before she slipped into sweet/flirty was the same as when she's managing Paige.

The show is setting up a nice parallel/contrast between Tuan and Paige. Tuan has no innocence/optimism left, and Paige has having hers quickly chipped away. Watching her parents continually refuse to try to insulate her despite what it's doing to her makes me want to scream.
posted by dry white toast at 2:16 PM on March 25, 2017


It was a good episode. That said...

Nitpicks!

I kind of rankled at the use of "More Than This" for the lab scene. They'd already used it in the bowling alley, and the tone was a weird mismatch (as opposed to an ironic juxtaposition) for an action scene. It was like they wanted something else, couldn't afford the rights, and just threw that on a second time.

Also, I couldn't help noticing those metal shelves in the lab were the newfangled shiny chrome kind on wheels you can get at Costco for super cheap and see in every slapped-together set of a restaurant kitchen or laboratory these days. Back in the day they would be that stationary kind you had to screw together like an erector set. Probably dull grey or avocado green. Maybe harvest gold.

Also, that steering wheel in that pickup truck was just all kinds of wrong.
posted by Sys Rq at 3:03 PM on March 25, 2017 [2 favorites]


Re Henry, based on the young actor's physical development over the lifetime of the show, I wonder if he is just no longer credible as the the same person within the show's own timeline.
posted by hwestiii at 3:35 PM on March 25, 2017 [1 favorite]


Regarding Henry: This show is control of every line of dialogue, and they know exactly how many shows they have left. They wouldn't just forget about him or write him off like Chuck Cunningham.

When they told Paige about the operation, and then Gabriel ok'ed it... it was so quick... they are making us feel comfortable with Paige betraying them to the FBI in the end. Everything is normal... nothing to see here.
posted by about_time at 8:15 AM on March 26, 2017


Funniest line in the show: "should we tell Paige about this?" Philip and Elizabeth have murdered so many people now it's just a sort of ongoing joke. I mean Philip doesn't even seem particularly perturbed anymore, the non-chalant way he wanders over to the Oklahoma watcher-lady's car and says "you OK? OK". It's all so perfunctory. Combined with the ridiculousness of sending the Super Spies to Oklahoma in the first place and I'm worried this show is a bit off the rails this season, writing from a formula. I looked back at some discussions last season and they are so full of passion and excitement, it was great TV writing. This season, eh, it's OK? But they're just working up to the story.

(To about_time's comment, the show has an end. There will be 13 episodes this year and 10 next year. I'm glad they have an end in mind.)

I stand by Tuan being the best thing about this season. His speech in the car about growing up eating garbage, if he ate at all. Philip's lame reply "oh yeah we were hungry too". They can relate, of a sort, but Tuan is a deeply damaged young man and has no visible mentor to help him out. He needs a father, or at least a Gabriel, not just a pilot fake-dad who doesn't have any interest in having an emotional relationship with Tuan.

The ongoing food security riff is a nice background rhythm. I loved the bit where Aderholt casually steals a french fry from the Russian guy's abandoned plate at the diner. Fucking Americans. Is there any historical precedent for the insects-in-the-grain thing with the Soviet Union?

The Martha cameo was fun but offers more questions than answers. Is she going to be a character? The actress Alison Wright did a string of interviews this week after the episode worked on the theme of "why is Martha so popular": here's one of the better ones. No hints about whether she has a future role though.
posted by Nelson at 8:40 AM on March 26, 2017 [1 favorite]


Combined with the ridiculousness of sending the Super Spies to Oklahoma in the first place and I'm worried this show is a bit off the rails this season...

Yeah, the idea that they'd risk the well-established cover (and ongoing missions) of a DC-based team by sending them around the country seems far-fetched. They can't be the only agents in the US capable of breaking into locked rooms and gathering information. It's probably the only aspect of the show I have a hard time getting on-board with.
posted by Thorzdad at 9:44 AM on March 26, 2017 [1 favorite]


Episode 2 really messed me up emotionally. Don't really know why; maybe the very idea of messing with the food supply of an ideological opponent just plucked some kind of nerve in me. So I didn't know if I was ready for Episode 3.

Well, I was, and I admit that the altercation in the lab was oddly satisfying. Not in a way I'm particularly proud of, but still, it was there.

Oleg though. Christ, the poor guy. Does a great deed, comes back home to try and make his home country better, and along comes the CIA to destroy his life. "No good deed goes unpunished" is like the lifeblood of this show.
posted by Aya Hirano on the Astral Plane at 1:48 PM on March 26, 2017 [2 favorites]


I think it'll turn out the midges were to help develop bug-resistant crops. As the guy said, it was only 20,000 or 30,000 eggs, which isn't that much. They'd need millions and millions for the amount of grain going to Russia. I think this might be one of those things that help them realize they're in too deep and seeing danger where there is none, although possibly not until after they kill the Russian grain expert and destroy his family, with whom Philip already identifies.
posted by bluecore at 4:30 PM on March 26, 2017


I think it'll turn out the midges were to help develop bug-resistant crops. As the guy said, it was only 20,000 or 30,000 eggs, which isn't that much.

But then why the need to genetically modify them into some kind of abhorrence? We went from Stinger missiles to the Lassa virus to agro-warfare - US forces acting, the Soviets reacting. That's been one of the persistent dynamics of this entire series. It turning out that the Americans were just innocently working on pest-resistant crops the whole time would be a neat twist; I just don't think it's likely, in light of everything else.
posted by Aya Hirano on the Astral Plane at 3:12 AM on March 27, 2017


I've been googling and trying to find out if the Americans ever sabotaged any kind of food supplies sent to the Soviets. I've found nothing that indicates that they did so far -- messing with another country's food or water supplies is a war crime, for God's sake -- but I did find an account of how the Americans discovered that the Russians were trying to steal software used to regulate natural gas supply and booby-trapped the software and let the Russians steal it. The result was a 1982 natural gas explosion in Siberia that was "the most monumental non-nuclear explosion and fire ever seen from space", although, very fortunately, there were no fatalities.

I'm thinking this story might be the inspiration for an earlier Americans plot about purposely flawed submarine plans that Philip and Elizabeth stole and that led to the death of the submarine's crew.
posted by orange swan at 9:20 AM on March 27, 2017 [1 favorite]


I literally pointed at the television and laughed with glee when I saw Martha. I had no idea I liked her character that much until she was gone and came back.
posted by komara at 7:04 PM on August 2, 2017


I'm such a pushover. I LOVED seeing Martha shopping in the barren store. I was like, "Hi, Martha! I'm sorry your life sucks. It's not your fault."
posted by Short Attention Sp at 5:35 PM on October 13, 2017


Turns out there is a historical connection to the grain plot. Googled it and found some articles from 1984 and 1985 about the Soviets claiming they were sent contaminated and infested grain. They didn't publicly accuse the US of doing it deliberately but I'm sure the accusations were plentiful behind closed doors. Considering the paranoia of the Andropov / Chernenko era, it seems realistic they would assume the worst and send spies to investigate.

Plus, it does seem like something the Reagan Administration would do. Contaminate just enough to cause problems but not so blatantly as to be an act of war.

Here's a 1984 Washington Post article on what happened. I'm kinda impressed the show referenced such an obscure event.
posted by Teegeeack AV Club Secretary at 10:06 PM on February 1 [1 favorite]


« Older The Flash: Duet...   |  Legends of Tomorrow: Fellowshi... Newer »

You are not logged in, either login or create an account to post comments

poster