1.06- "Trust Me"
How's that for some sneaky spy action? Since day one, I've been enamored of the potential for The Americans to become more than just a spy show, but I foolishly lost sight of the fact that a well-executed spy show can be an achievement in its own right. This week's episode, "Trust Me," featured some of the tastiest espionage sequences that the show has served up so far while simultaneously continuing to tighten the show's writing, direction, and performances.
More than anything else, I had to admire this entry's pacing. Five minutes into the episode, Phillip is in captivity (probably after being recognized in his go-to wig). They grill him a bit. Five minutes later, Elizabeth has been compromised. Five minutes later, Nina and Stan start to hatch a plan. And so on. I can't remember the last time an episode of television deployed this many sudden plot reversals so methodically, but it worked brilliantly here. It probably has to do with the fact that the episode gave you just enough time to buy into each new set of conditions — okay, they're looking for a mole, no, wait, they've been found out, no, wait, it's all a test by the folks at Moscow — before pulling out the rug again. I didn't really have the time or the motivation to guess at what was coming next, so I wasn't able to spoil it for myself. It was nice to just be taken for a ride.
Then there's the writing. While the show is still capable of extremely clunky dialogue, it continues to rein itself in a bit more every week. Elizabeth's blowup on Claudia is very intense without being overdone — "Show them your face!" being a remarkably badass line — as is Phillip's slow burn over the realization that Elizabeth tattled on him for considering defection earlier in the season (a callback that indicates a promising degree of plot intricacy for this young show). The real gem, though, and a confident move on the writers' part, is the closing exchange between Phillip and Elizabeth. Elizabeth launches a tirade about how she had as rough a day as he did, having been abducted from her home and betrayed by the people that she trusted most her whole life. Phillip simply ends the debate (and the episode) with a simple, "Yeah, I think that says it all." Walk out of the room. Roll credits. Finally, a little restraint around here! I was bummed when it looked like we were going to get a long Keri Russell monologue, and I was so pleased when the "less is more" approach won out.
How about that Stan and Nina plot, though? Honestly, once the folks at the Russian embassy learned there was a mole among them, I thought I had the rest of the episode charted. Clearly Nina was going to request extraction, Stan was going to push her too far, and Nina was going to find herself on a plane to Moscow, destined for a traitor's icy grave. But in an episode with a crazy Jennings A-plot going on in the foreground, Stan and Nina manage to plan and execute a total frame-up job — involving stolen jewels, a tiny camera, and sexy sex seduction — on the Rezident of the Russian embassy without it feeling rushed or unbelievable. As a result, we get to keep Nina around for now, and, though it's embarrassing to admit this, I'm just now beginning to pick up on the romantic tension between Stan and Nina. I'm pretty tone-deaf when it comes to onscreen chemistry, but the scene between these two in the projection room had a palpable sense of intimacy, almost as if the two are more turned on than stressed out by their top-secret conspiring. This point was driven home in Stan's bedtime confession to Sandra that he'd had a tense day of worrying about someone he was responsible for. I don't know that their marriage necessarily needed a push in the wrong direction for it to become a serious problem for Stan, but here we go, I guess.
The one weakness in this episode was the plot with Paige and Henry, which was only partially effective. It obviously held up a nice little mirror to their parents' trust issues, but, man, were the '80s really this rife with sexual predators? The pilot episode had that really strange plotline with the pedophile to whom Phillip dispensed the show's first Bewigged Justice, and now Paige and Henry find themselves hitchhiking with a super weird local kid who is ambiguously lonely, religious, and rapey. He clearly doesn't have a job, he's got some sort of barely concealed knife holster thing, he looks 26 but acts 16, he carries bread around to feed to ducks, and he kind-of-doesn't-but-totally-does hit on thirteen-year-old Paige. This subplot nearly veered into A Very Special Episode territory, and unless this guy comes back, I think it was probably overkill in terms of putting Henry and Paige in danger. Still, I guess the premise isn't totally beyond the realm of possibility — hitchhiking is dangerous, after all — and the kids are proving to be pretty solid kid actors, which is a blessing straight from the highest heaven of your preferred religion.
I'm still calibrating my scale for grading The Americans. I loved last week's episode, but I thought this week's was even better. Because neither episode was a perfect 5/5, both received 4.5s. But given the fact that this week raised the bar for the series, I feel like I might retroactively bump last week down to a 4.0, which is a good thing. This show is proving that it can deliver on the promise of its pilot, so I don't have to keep hedging by grading it on a curve. At this rate, it won't be long before a 4.0 episode of The Americans can hold its own against a 4.0 episode of, say, Breaking Bad, which is an exciting proposition indeed.
WIG COUNT FOR THIS EPISODE: 1
John Bender is a Twitter anarchist with questionable opinions about celebrity lifestyles and the Lost finale. He edits erotic novels by day and works tirelessly by night to improve upon his personal record of 41.06 in the Mecha Marathon minigame in Mario Party 2. He also plays in Fitness.