The Americans ‘Duty and Honor’ Review: Feelings are complicated

The most important line of tonight’s episode belongs to Nina: “For us, everything is gray.” She’s referring to Russians, as opposed to their American counterparts who only see the world in black and white, but taken as an overall theme of the episode, it applies to all of the characters, Americans and Russians both. In short, everyone’s got issues, and they’re not easy to deal with.

Philip, in New York for a travel agents’ convention, makes contact with the woman he loved 20 years ago (Irina/Anne), now a spy herself and living in Canada. Their objective is Andrzej Bielawski, who is in America to address the U.N. General Assembly; he is vehemently opposed to communism and plans to go to Paris and start an exile Polish government “in direct opposition to Moscow.” To be honest, I completely missed the explanation of why he can’t be killed, but watching Anne and Philip’s takedown of him made me not even care, because it unfolded at a perfect pace, waiting until the very end to reveal the KGB’s objective: to make it look like Bielawski beat and raped Anne while drunk, and therefore completely destroy his life.

Bielawski may be the most human target “The Americans” has presented thus far – he’s a good man, and although his existence may help undermine Soviet rule in Poland, he appears to have nothing to do with missile defense, so he doesn’t really qualify as a direct threat to Russian safety. This makes Philip and Anne’s operation seem less justified than the others we’ve seen, because at least those had to do with keeping nuclear missiles away from Russian soil; now they’re just completely ruining someone because their bosses don’t want Poland to be free. The impact of what she has just done makes Anne decide to quit spying for good so she can live like a normal person, and she wants Phil to go with her – yet another decision that doesn’t have an easy answer. This is, after all, the woman that Philip loved before they were separated by their duty to their country. However, he’s been married to another woman for 20 years, which, as Stan’s wife points out to Elizabeth in a later scene, is a lifetime. He has a different life than the one he and Irina expected, and whether they like that or not, it’s apparent in every moment of their time together (Anne was married as well, and has a son). They can’t be the people that they were, even if it turns out that Anne’s son is also Philip’s son.

Back in D.C., Elizabeth has her own problems; she has to deal with her newly fraught relationship with Claudia, as well as the fact that she and Philip no longer trust each other, and also obtain a new contact who has Department of Defense information. She has no problem with her new mole, but Claudia is not quite as helpfully unambiguous. I’ve been waiting for Margo Martindale to be utterly terrifying (if you’d like to see more of this, I recommend season 2 of FX’s “Justified”), and she didn’t disappoint tonight; her unveiled threats to Elizabeth were some of the most chilling stuff I’ve seen on this show so far, and the best part is that the tension is only increasing. There’s no forgiveness, no sense of tenuous peace – Elizabeth is not sorry about what she did, she’s not ready to forgive Claudia, and Claudia clearly doesn’t give a shit. There’s also no clear villain here, since Claudia was just following orders. Seen from her perspective, nothing’s more important than flushing out the mole. For Elizabeth, however, questions of loyalty abound.

She also has to deal with some fairly dickish behavior from Philip, who hangs up on her after she calls him in the middle of the night to say she misses him and wants him to come home (although to be fair, he probably needs more than a week to get over his feelings of betrayal). However, he ultimately does come home, choosing not to go with Anne, and Elizabeth apologizes for blaming him for the torture, saying that she wants their relationship to be real. They agree that they’ll both try, which is quite an affecting bit of emotional honesty – perhaps the most honest moment in the whole episode, since almost everything between Philip and Anne has to occur within the stilted framework of their public faces at the convention – which is immediately undercut by Philip lying to Elizabeth about sleeping with Anne. Shades of gray! Anne is going into hiding, so he likely assumes he’ll never see her again, and perhaps sleeping with her gave him the closure he needed, but at the same time, this doesn’t seem like a promising foundation to build a new phase of marriage on.

Stan also has some heavy thinking to do about his marriage. He still has something with his wife, I think; they care about each other, as evidenced by last week’s episode, and certainly are trying to keep the marriage together, but it’s only natural that Stan will be drawn to Nina, the only woman he can really talk to. It’s sad to see Stan’s wife, Sandra, tell Elizabeth about how Stan works hard and how she’s jealous of Elizabeth and Phil. She describes them as a team, saying she wishes she and Stan could be that way together – which is sad for Elizabeth, too, as she realizes that while she and Phil are partners because they were assigned to be, she wants to be partners in marriage as well.

Random thoughts:

  • We finally find out Phil’s real name! It’s interesting that his flashbacks occur with Anne, whereas what we’ve seen of Elizabeth’s past life was mostly stuff that she told Phil
  • After Stan’s partner forces him to go to a bar, I’m starting to wish he hadn’t gotten more screentime, since most of his dialogue is along the lines of things like “Unleash your python on that lovely lady”
  • Stan’s son looks a lot like Michael Cera
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About the author: Sarah
Writer, copy editor, and TV watcher who sadly has no Twitter account. My favorite shows right now are Justified, Breaking Bad, Parks & Rec, the Vampire Diaries, and Archer.

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