The Americans Review: “One Day In The Life Of Anton Baklanov” (Season 3, Episode 11)

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Holly Taylor in The Americans

Philip’s sexual brainwashing as a teenager might be the only part of his training Elizabeth never had to go through: it’s just assumed that she’ll be able to deal with unfulfilling or wanted sex, because most women who aren’t even in espionage have to deal with that already. That Elizabeth is surprised at how much she enjoys sleeping with Neal reflects her own acceptance that sex is just another tool of the trade. She tried to use it to induce Philip into getting on board with operation “Red Daughter,” and other than some jealousy over not getting the “Clarke Special” Martha had access to, understands Philip is doing what’s being asked of him.

Driven by the guilt of her night with Neal, Elizabeth tries to atone in a manner that further reflects her assumptions about what Philip wants from their relationship. She climbs on top of the sleeping Philip, and proceeds to give him oral sex as a kind of apology. The result is a scene I can only describe as the saddest blowjob in TV history, as an act intended as an olive branch accomplishes pretty much the opposite. Philip not only remembers his own dip into temptation with Annelise, receiving more personal satisfaction out of a professional relationship than required, but also has to deal with how he and Elizabeth still aren’t approaching their marriage on the same terms.

Most of this is information we’re meant to pickup on our own, which is why I could be completely and hysterically wrong about such a read on tonight’s events. TV shows, like relationships, would be a lot simpler if everything were transparent and clearly stated. If the Jennings could honestly tell one another what they want, they might have a better chance of moving forward in the same direction. But “One Day in the Life of Anton Baklanov” makes the truth more of a transaction than a matter of fact. The opening scene, in which Paige grills her parents with question after question about their identities, is a freaking hoot. The shock of a big secret being revealed on a show is great, but the new dynamics that come with characters being open with one another can be intensely rewarding…most of the time.

The Americans wisely knows that if Paige is smart enough to get her parents to spill the beans to her, then she’d also be smart enough to know that the last people you can trust are chronic liars. “How can I believe anything you say?,” she asks after Elizabeth tells a more personal childhood anecdote than we, and maybe even Philip has ever heard. We believe Elizabeth because nothing about the scene tells us she’s being deceitful; the Jennings parents give honest answers to every question Paige has all hour. But relearning everything you thought you knew about your life isn’t an easy process. Before the opening credits, there’s a matching eyeline cut when Paige looks to Elizabeth, her questioning halted by the appearance of Henry. Nothing’s said, but Elizabeth’s stare back tells it all: you’re in our world now, and it is one of silence.

The moments that made me hold my breath tonight were in those small silences. “Paige, honey,” Elizabeth says when trying to calm Paige down. “Don’t call me that,” Paige replies, an eternity passing before she clarifies whether she meant her name or the nickname. And then there’s when Gabriel passes another recording from Elizabeth’s mother across the table, touching Elizabeth’s hand before saying “I’m sorry…they told me there may not be many more.” The fright his delay causes Elizabeth and us is the sort of manipulation Gabriel specializes in, which is why it seems like so much hangs in the balance in the second between Gabriel asking Philip to lower his voice during a later argument, and hearing a reply. (Philip doesn’t. This relationship seems almost out of runway).

“One Day in the Life of Anton Baklanov” isn’t a nail-biter or a heart-pounder the way the last few episodes of The Americans have been, but it’s an incredible example of how carefully the show can weave two of its dominant themes into one hour. The last time Paige walked in on her parents in the bedroom was in early Season 2, unaware of their fake lives, and awkwardly introduced to their sexual ones. At the end of tonight’s episode, she knocks before entering to find her parents side-by-side in bed. Without a moment’s hesitation, they tell her they were just talking about trying to get Elizabeth back into Moscow to see her mother one last time. It’s the complete, unvarnished truth, but it’s still not something Paige is ready to hear. For now, closed doors and silence are the only link back to her old life she has left.

  • Stray Thoughts

-Add “look at the person’s nose” to the list of tips this show has given us about lying your way through an interrogation (butt clenches being the other biggie). Martha easily throws Taffett off her scent, almost too easily. Still, Eugene looks like he’s got “patsy” written all over him.

-“Do Mail Robots Dream of Electric Sheep?” made concerns over Elizabeth’s empathy known, but it’s Taffett who’s the most robotic person we’ve yet encountered. Oleg and Tatiana struggling through mail robot intel makes for a great counterpoint, as even dedicated operatives can be prone to fits of exhausted silliness. Beeeeeeeeep.

-Another strong moment of silence: Maurice wants to use Lisa’s Northup access to get some money from “Jack.” “You’re the real head of this operation,” he says to the disguised Elizabeth. She doesn’t have to respond. Both know how to manipulate Lisa, and the question is if either of them cares enough about her to stop the other.

-The title is a reference to “One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich,” a Russian novel from 1962 about life in a prison camp. It’s a clever reference that maybe overhypes expectations for how important Baklanov is to the hour.

-Really like that shot of Philip and Elizabeth waiting for Gregory the way Paige was waiting for her parents last week. I wouldn’t be surprised if Gregory survives longer than any previous Jennings handler, as his fatherly presence adds greatly to the work/family tension of the season.

-Henry’s Eddie Murphy Routine Update: Still terrible.

-It’s a beautiful moment when Philip and Elizabeth tell Paige their real names, but boy if it isn’t also hilarious to see Paige struggle to pronounce Nadezhda.

-“I pushed F3. The machine was messed up. It gave me a Payday. I wanted a hundred thousand dollar bar.” If Oleg’s rezidentura gig doesn’t work out, he would go far on the “Junk Food Beat Poetry” circuit.

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