After the first two action-packed episodes of The Americans, last night’s episode took things down a few notches even as it ramped up the emotional tension. I have some mixed feelings about this, because although “Gregory” hit some great high notes, it also got bogged down in a lot of unnecessary exposition.
Sad, I know, considering the episode opened with Phil and Stan playing racquetball and Stan describing his strategy for taking his enemies down (make your opponent move too fast, tire him out, and he’ll make a mistake). It’s still great to see the ambiguity that exists between the neighbors; at this point, Stan could be totally onto Philip and Elizabeth, or he could actually have no idea what they are. Neither they nor we know if he’s messing with them, and I hope the show preserves this dynamic for a while yet.
For the most part, however, there’s hardly any interaction between Stan and the Jenningses in this episode – they’re all too busy tracking down a woman named Joyce, who left a coded message for Elizabeth and Philip in the newspaper. Why? Well, she just so happens to be the wife of Rob, their dead colleague from the series premiere. Not only was Rob secretly living in Philadelphia, he was also secretly married and had a secret baby. Thanks to Stan’s new mole at the Soviet Embassy, the FBI knows that “Directorate S” lost an operative the same night Elizabeth and Phil kidnapped KGB defector Captain Timoshev. With some slightly too convenient help from the trusty Department of Motor Vehicles, the FBI establishes that Rob is the dead operative, so the only real questions remaining are how much does Joyce know, and who will get to her first?
To get to Joyce without the FBI finding them, Elizabeth and Phil need some help from one of Elizabeth’s old friends, Gregory. From the first moment we see them together, it’s no surprise that they used to be lovers; what is surprising is that Gregory knows Elizabeth is a KGB agent. She recruited him during her first years in the U.S., and he knows all about her and Phil’s secret identities. This was where the episode started to get a little implausible for me. While I absolutely buy that Elizabeth would need intimacy during her early days here – someone she could really talk to, as she says, and could really connect to when she was alone and scared and pregnant with a stranger’s child – it seems like a too-convenient plot device to have Gregory know that she and Philip are spies, and therefore be in a position to tell Phil about the affair so he can get hurt and angry and start pushing Elizabeth away.
After all the talk about completing missions, being loyal to the motherland, and not getting caught, letting Gregory in on her top-secret life felt like an oddly sloppy thing for Elizabeth to do, and his whole introduction seemed a bit rushed. He is undoubtedly an awesome character; this is an actual American, born and raised, who is willing to betray his own country for a cause he fervently believes in, as well as someone who’s been in love with Elizabeth for years. On top of this, he’s a highly effective operative whose team succeeds in part thanks to the Caucasian-centric society of the early ‘80s – no one in the FBI team surveilling Joyce notices Gregory or his team, because it doesn’t even occur to them that black men could be spies. He’s a compelling new character, but I wouldn’t be surprised if we never see him again, as he seems to exist only to drive a wedge in between Philip and Elizabeth by revealing the affair, even though Elizabeth officially broke things off with him at the beginning of the episode.
The strange and fluctuating relationship between Elizabeth and Philip is something wonderfully complex, and while I appreciate any time the show takes to explore that relationship, I’d hate to see it devolve into a constant will they/won’t they/are they/aren’t they kind of thing. However, after taking some time to digest the episode, I think my initial doubts may have been misplaced, since Elizabeth directly acknowledges at the end of the episode that she and Philip never really had a moment of connection like she did with Gregory; they never clicked like a legitimate couple should, but they’re starting to now. That’s what important – the fact that although these two have been married for twenty years, they’re really only just starting out.
But let’s talk about more of that unnecessary exposition. In addition to the moments where Gregory tells Philip all about how Elizabeth had no one to talk to, then just flat-out asks him if he loves her, which is something that I don’t know needs to be thrust into the viewer’s face quite so explicitly, there is also the problem of Joyce. She isn’t really a fully fleshed-out character so much as she is a means of introducing inter-Jennings tension and a way of getting Phil in touch with the man Rob was going to meet with before he died – a rogue FBI agent who was going to sell him nuclear secrets. This is admittedly pretty exciting, and the scene where Phil finally does meet this man is as tense and badass as anything the show has ever done, but it’s brief. A lot of the episode consists of Joyce clutching her baby and slowly figuring out that Rob was a spy.
There’s also the problem of Phil and Elizabeth’s new boss, played by Margo Martindale (known to “Justified” fans as the terrifying Mags Bennett). She fits into the double-crossing spy world of our heroes immediately, promising Joyce and her son a fabulous new life in Cuba (where, according to her, the beaches are beautiful and everybody speaks Spanish. Also, Castro is in charge. Sounds great!), after which we see the baby boy being brought to his grandparents in the USSR, with Joyce nowhere in sight. The episode could have ended here, on a strong note, but nope – we have to explicitly be shown Joyce sitting in a car, dead. I’d have liked to see a little more faith on the part of the writers that the show’s viewers could put two and two together without needing to be bashed over the head with explanations; it might have even bumped the episode up half a letter grade if there had been just a little more subtlety. However, as much as it sounds like I’m complaining about this episode, I did like the events that it sets up for the future: a new, possibly untrustworthy boss and the legacy of Rob, an agent who started living a life he wasn’t supposed to. Will Phil and Elizabeth find themselves in a similar situation someday? And how the hell is Phil going to play racquetball with a knife wound in his side? It seems like a throwaway detail, but I’m pretty sure it’s something Stan’s going to notice.