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The Americans “New Car” Review (2×08)

17 Apr

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“It’s nicer. It’s easier. It’s not better.”

Last season, one of the major character questions was whether Philip Jennings was coming around to the American way of life, seduced by the glamor and the peaceful life and the culture. That question arises again in “New Car”, which is an excellent installment in an increasingly excellent sophomore season.

The very concept behind a Camaro Z28 is one of American influence and American advancements in technology, and it’s the perfect embodiment of everything Elizabeth is afraid of, especially in regards to her family (much like Ronald Reagan, later, is the perfect embodiment of everything she loathes about the American people). When she sees Philip and Henry rocking out to “Rock This Town” in the driveway, she sees the Americans forcing their way into her territory. When Philip asks her if she enjoys her life in the United States, she hears an attempt to manipulate, to lure her into the trap that her husband might have fallen into.

Elizabeth feels like she’s fighting a one-woman battle, much like Stan feels like he’s fighting a one-man battle. All around them, people are manipulating and scheming and deceiving, and while they themselves would like to believe they’re in control–summed up nicely by Stan’s insistence that he and Oleg have not “fallen into something together”–they’re slowly losing their holds on their previous ways of life. In particular, I really like the scene in which Stan pulls into his garage, only to have trouble getting out and closing the door; it has a contrast to the idea of the brand-new Camaro, and it effectively conveys his frustration and lack of control.

Of course, the greatest thing about this show is that it understands the ambiguity of all these situations. The Camaro, for example, isn’t all glamor and money; once news gets out of the sunk Soviet submarine, notice how Philip looks at his car differently. The Americans has always been sublime when it comes to smoothly handling tonal shifts, and it’s no different here.

That ambiguity and those conflicting emotions seep into other decisions, as well, whether it be Philip sparing Martha from hearing the altered recording and sparing the life of the septic truck driver, or the character of Andrew Larrick, or the idea that both the Americans–through the fake plans–and the Soviets are to blame for the sinking of the submarine: if the Soviet Navy had handled the situation differently, they might have been able to prevent this from escalating into 160 deaths, after all. This is what I love about this show: the situations are complex and interesting without becoming too muddled.

The most interesting–and heartbreaking–scenes in “New Car” are the one in which Lucia is killed and the one in which Henry breaks down in front of Philip and Elizabeth. Russell, Ferrero, and Tergeren play the former perfectly, with Carrero in particular conveying the hurt and betrayal in her eyes as the life is choked out of her. Lucia represents the personal side of things, the person who’s influenced more by personal feelings than by duty to her country, and Elizabeth uses this as a justification for choosing Larrick over her. It’s a bit hypocritical, but alas, it makes sense that she feels the need to really assert her duty to her country.

As for the latter scene, it’s also a very nicely acted moment (what moment on this show isn’t, right?). Philip and Elizabeth, note, only get around to talking to Henry after they deal with other, more pressing, matters. It’s a great encapsulation of the show’s take on family dynamics in relation to the spy life: the parents have such a big influence, but because they’re never around, the child not only takes on their traits, but also doesn’t have anyone to correct wrong behavior. Yes, Henry’s a good person, but as Philip and Elizabeth sit there silently and have time to think, the realization dawns on them that they themselves are not good people. The question on their minds, therefore, about their son being a good person, is:

For how long will he be one?

GRADE: A-

OTHER THOUGHTS:

-We get a scene between Anton and Vasili; it looks like this storyline is going to start playing a bigger role, so I’m intrigued.

-Poor Sandra.

-Paige is somewhere.

-Philip and Henry with the air guitars. Priceless.

Photo credit: FX, The Americans

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2 Responses to “The Americans “New Car” Review (2×08)”

  1. Tara April 17, 2014 at 9:24 am #

    Her name is “Carrero” not “Ferrero”

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