The Americans Review: “Dimebag” (Season 3, Episode 4)

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Matthew Rhys in The Americans

The final key component to the success of this particular, and every “Previously on” from The Americans? The score of composer Nathan Barr. How can you not get excited about all the espionage, tension, and surprise that Barr’s rapid string work and staccato bass promise at the start of every hour? The “Previously on” track makes for a great mood-setter, one capitalized on immediately in “Dimebag”’s opening scene: we know Elizabeth is in mission res from the first frame thanks to the continued presence of a sly bassline. It’s often the most dangerous moments on The Americans that benefit from some added orchestral backing, but Barr’s work covers the entire emotional spectrum of the show. The score’s use during many of the series’ quieter moments helps to surface the undercurrents of pain, yearning, and loss that might otherwise be stifled by silence.

When things need to get a little more upbeat, though, The Americans has strategically deployed era-appropriate jam with the best of them. Royalty restraint is usually the order of the day, with the pilot marking one of the few times the show has ever trotted out two big numbers in one evening. “Tusk,” “In the Air Tonight,” “Games Without Frontiers,” and “Twilight Zone” set a pattern of licensed music mostly being saved for premieres and finales, but “Dimebag” gleefully bucks the trend, delivering an episode that makes for a major key musical in dramatic minor.

The catchy strains of synthpop British duo Yazoo (Yaz, to those of us across the pond) would seem an odd choice to string together an hour as heavy as “Dimebag,” but the band’s cultural, and thematic contextualization is perfect. “Don’t Go” turns Stan’s one-man woman’s room investigation into a lively, comic mid-episode music video, but its lyrics speak directly to what Philip is facing tonight. Specific sections describe a kind of desperate love that can only be requited sexually (“Fix me with your lovin’/Shut the door and turn the lock”), but it’s the repetition of the chorus that matters just as much. “Can’t stop now, don’t you know?/I ain’t never gonna let you go/Don’t go.” “Don’t Go” describes a complicated definition of “love,” blurring sexual desire and emotional need into a messy fog that Philip loses himself in during “Dimebag.”

We get to see a lot of “previous” Philip tonight, the jokey, ham dad who ate ice cream with his kids and toe-tapped in departments store way back in the pilot. But much of this season has seen him in fatherly protector mode, the version of Philip we first saw moments later in that same cowboy boot scene. When a creep leered at Paige during the pilot, Philip chose to prioritize his cover identity over his daughter’s “honor,” only later beating the tar out of the asshole when in disguise, and out of sight. Philip’s revenge against the pervert was satisfying to witness, but was, in part, expressive of the kind of controlling paternal attitudes toward young female sexuality that gave us three Taken films. No matter what he does, Philip won’t be able to stop Paige from growing up in a world where a woman can be sexualized, regardless of age, and this understandably frightens him.

What he can stop is Paige being recruited to a program that would see her sexuality wielded as a weapon the way his and Elizabeth’s are. The Jennings adults have reconciled with the fact that extra-marital sex is a major part of their job, but Philip has always been the one to make that acceptance seem grudging (it’s no doubt a part of why he didn’t want Elizabeth working Yousaf). When it comes to Paige, Elizabeth either willfully disbelieves, or accepts the fact that Paige, if she were to become an Illegal, would eventually have to exploit herself for the Cause. Philip’s equally understandable, and more frightening fear is of when that “eventually” would come to pass for a girl who has just turned 15. By forcing Philip to adopt the persona of someone who would prey on someone so young, “Dimebag” brings all the ugliness of the Paige situation to an unpleasant head.

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