Crossing the Stream: Part 17 - "The Americans" Sn 1, Eps 8-9

Today, I turn 30. So begins the day of questionable health decisions in the name of "rare and appropriate." Step 1: free birthday coffee at Dutch Bros. Those of you not in the Western part of the States, Dutch Bros is a coffee hut chain with a very young aesthetic and lots of sugar and flavor variety in their expensive lattes, and I've basically sworn off such dairy and sugary indulgence...but today, I went with a macadamia mocha dubbed The Annihilator, because...eff it. It's my birthday, and I had cabbage soup for dinner last night anyway.

I mean, "eff it, it's my birthday" isn't a great excuse for the amount of chocolate that I ate before noon, but the good part is that it's not an excuse I can trot out more than once. And you wouldn't believe the sheer amount of Reese's peanut butter cups that were piled on my desk by well-wishers. I'm going to have to lock them in a file cabinet. I'm also trying really hard not to use the birthday as an excuse for skipping the gym. After all, this is less of a milestone and more of a caution sign for me; I started Crossing the Stream specifically because I was about to turn 30 and weigh 300 pounds in the same year, and that scared the everloving crap out of me. A birthday from here on out should be a marker for my progress, but also an encouragement to keep moving. I'm 30, that's young. I should be doing young stuff. I should have the capacity to do young stuff, like hiking. Like biking the very famous and popular trail that's less than 10 miles from my house. Like running on the beach.

Well, no running. My doctor has advised me not to run, and I take his notes very seriously.

But today, I'm 30 and I am in a position to absolutely kill it on the stationary bike, so that's what I did. Full stop. Best 20 minutes I've had on a stationary bike in 4 weeks. That might just be birthday bravado, but I'll take it. It's kind of crazy to admit, but I look forward to my gym time. Well, that's a lie. I look forward to the slight buzz and energy boost I get right after the gym. The actual time spent in there would be a private hell were it not for good television. But right after feels pretty good. I don't have that 2:00 pm sluggishness that troubled me most days. The flip-side is that I'm ready to pass out around 9:00 pm every night, which doesn't help getting these posts out. I'm sure my wild birthday night will include hitting the pillow and regretting not tweeting out the link to these very words.

Could be worse.

"The Americans" Season 1, Episode 8 "Mutually Assured Destruction"

"Trouble in paradise." What a phrase to start the episode. Though Philip is referring to the Beeman household, after noticing Stan's slightly off-kilter demeanor, it's a primer for what is about to happen in the Jennings world as well. Elizabeth is making corny jokes, Philip is complaining that he lost at racquetball because he was thinking about her. How adorable...I'm sure this new domestic bliss won't be a casualty of some secrets that both spouses collect like baseball cards. Meanwhile, there's a mission to accomplish: The KGB has ordered a professional hit on some 14 American scientists, and then decided to rescind the order. The only problem is that the unaffiliated, independent contract killer is out of contact and ready to pounce.

Philip's whining about The Center's assassination issues sounds so amusingly like any office worker complaining about a process above their heads that make their job more difficult. But I mean, he is totally right. The KGB's sloppy, sorry waffling of decisions and lack of intel or support is what buffaloes this mission. Philip and Elizabeth were given the task of cleaning up a mess that never should have been made, and now they will have to reap most of the fallout from the FBI.

I expected Philip's secret fling with Irina to come back and bite him, but I figured it would be later and less deliberately revealed. Claudia's decision to instantly wreck the "real" marriage paradigm is pretty transparent. She's middle management, her usefulness is measured in how much control she has over her operatives. If Philip and Elizabeth claim a higher loyalty or trust with each other than with the KGB, that's the seed of dissent. Claudia also sees what we the audience see: Elizabeth is a true believer, Philip not so much. So, this serves a nice double purpose of nipping that marital bond in the bud and also building up a system of trust with Elizabeth and control over Philip.

Speaking of management making shrewd decisions, Stan has been given the keys to a safe house to meet with Nina. Agent In Charge Gaad is no one's fool, that safe house is an inexpensive way to alleviate Beeman's fears for Nina's safety without surrendering the information source, and it's also a way to enable his employee's dalliances. Why not? For now, it keeps both Nina and Beeman content, and later Gaad can use it as leverage against his star subordinate if necessary. Stan is playing house with Nina from the first moment they enter the little apartment, speaking sweet Russian nothings into her ear. I'm still convinced that Nina is being underestimated, and sees Stan's puppy-dog eyes as her way out. Her sudden promotion to the Rezident's direct secretary means access to a lot more information, and not only did she not have to tell Stan about the promotion, she doesn't really have to give him much of anything, but she is. I just can't believe that it's all because she's smitten with his unconvincing squeaky clean act. I'm predicting trouble in paradise for this couple is imminent.

Speaking of couples, "Clark's" courtship of Martha the FBI clerk has reached critical mass, and sharp-eyed viewers will remember that her last boyfriend whose condom she fishes out of the nightstand might very well be none other than Agent Amador. Martha is so satiated by Philip's cover character that she's full-on volunteering to funnel him information out of AIC Gaad's office. But Amador's unwelcome advances might end up hanging her. I'm not at all on board with the suggestion (via one lingering shot) that Amador instantly suspects Martha of something clandestine. He's just being kind of a creep about the whole thing. I just hope he's not the trouble in paradise for Martha's happy little fantasy of interdepartmental banging.

Meanwhile, Team Jennings has handily found their assassin, and the resulting unexpected shootout in his hotel room is absolutely bonkers. Despite their professionalism, their coordination, and their impressively intuitive team work in the field, Philip and Elizabeth can't keep the situation from exploding, literally. The deft hot-potato with the hitman's focused explosive that sees him smeared across the bathroom walls demonstrates just how united the Jenningses are with a common purpose, and it's just a kickass action beat. But it was all too little too late.

Elizabeth's resolve in ending the just-started "real" marriage is based not on Philip's having slept with Irina. It's based, as it often is when this kind of thing happens, on the lying that came with his "terrible mistake." I can't say I blame her at all. If Grannie Claudia had to tell me the truth instead of my trusted partner of fifteen years, I'd have a hard time trusting him in the field, let alone in the marriage. Philip suggests a marriage separation, both real and public. Somehow the idea of fracturing their fake marriage seems to wound Elizabeth more, because that realm of their relationship has always run smoothly.

Random Notes:

-Imagine Keri Russell's wild mane of curls back during her "Felicity" days, then take a look at her in that Dorothy Hamill length wig while bracing the explosives dealer. How does hair get hidden so well on this show?

-Quality Tradecraft: The assassin's C-4 surprise in the FBI agent's radio, coupled with the prostitute he hired to distract the poor schnook, is pretty nifty work even if it is patently evil.

-A strategically placed car bomb, meant to be discovered, is a method for the KGB to enlist the US government's help in preventing the assassinations, without the US even being aware. It also points the FBI toward new players, such as their mystery assassin. Philip and Elizabeth have a higher understanding of their craft than their superiors, clearly.

-I bet the writers think I've forgotten about Gregory's network of eyes that are keeping tabs on the Jennings family. At some point, Elizabeth is going to have to eat shit for that decision as much as Philip eats for his decision involving an ex.

Rating: A-

Season 1, Episode 9 "Safe House"

Well, I think one thing is certain: when Team Jennings splits up, things get really messy. The kids take the news of the separation the way most kids would, and it really becomes clear how cruel the KGB is to require these operatives to have children. Sure, it's a terrific smokescreen, but those kids are almost destined to become emotionally fractured by however things end for their parents when the Iron Curtain falls. And both operatives aren't exactly working at peak efficiency; Philip spends the night at Martha's, unencumbered by the need to go home, and that leads to some massive snafu moments. Elizabeth is doing her best to parent alone, and it's not going great. There's a trail of cause and effect running through this episode about a mile and a half long, and most of it depends on the volatility of the moment.

The fallout from the FBI after the explosion that killed three agents and the scientist is promising to be swift. Too swift. The "unauthorized" hit on Arkady, as retribution, is such preening cowboy shit, it must have come from the Gipper himself. Stan doesn't approve. Of course not. He's mister cucumber, he's so damn cool-headed. At least, he is until Amador disappears. Stan's immediate conclusion about Amador's whereabouts are totally founded. That detective instinct hasn't shown its face for a while. But since there's something just slightly off in Beeman's head, his sudden acid behavior with Nina comes a little too easily and aggressively. It is only going to cause headaches. That's to say nothing of his improvised snatch of Arkady's running buddy Vlad, which might be the dumbest thing ever. That is...until he calls Arkady directly. THAT is the dumbest thing I've ever seen.

This is the point where Stan Beeman becomes the closest thing to a villain "The Americans" will allow itself. His execution of Vlad is a decision of passion and rage, and those may be justifiable feelings, but this is against the rules of engagement in this secret war. And to think, all of this is because Amador was slightly obsessed with the girl that got away, and because the last episode's rogue assassin was too damn good at his job to be thwarted. Though, some of it falls on Philip for lying to his wife, oddly. After all, no lying means no separation means likely no confrontation outside Martha's apartment. Cause and effect is a strange beast sometimes.

Amador's knife to the gut is one hundred percent his own doing, and I don't feel particularly sorry for him. He's a good man, and a patriot, but his obsession with Martha is the reason he checks out in this episode. Why couldn't "El Lobo" have just accepted a "No" from the Pam Beesley of FBI Counter-Intelligence? Better question: how many people are going to be killed because Amador had a flash of jealousy and had to confront the meek guy exiting Martha's apartment?

Random Notes:

-Distraught young Henry's glib thesis on the Revolutionary War: "America won." True, but America won partially because the Colonials embraced espionage and guerrilla tactics. Which side of the FBI-KGB war is more competent in that regard?

-Sandra expresses a lot of support to Elizabeth regarding the separation, the same way you might revel in your coworker's epic "I quit" story. Sandra sees in Elizabeth, possibly, a path she could take if living with Captain America hits rock bottom, which I imagine is imminent.

-Elizabeth's necklace, bouncing directly in Philip's face while he beds Martha, is a palpable illustration of their relationship problem...the job always comes first, and if you get distracted on the job because you hold someone or something too dear, it can be a fatal weak spot.

Rating: A


  1. We could only imagine why Netflix is keeping it all on the hush. We wouldn’t want any spoilers at this point. Besides, summer’s almost here, and we’re sure that we’re this close to seeing Robinson family in Lost in Space Season 2 Jacket on upcoming trailer soon. Hopefully.


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