The Americans “Martial Eagle” Review (2×09)

24 Apr

The Americans - Episode 2.09 - Martial Eagle - Promotional Photos (2)_FULL

“There is grace and forgiveness for you.”

“Do you believe that?”

“I do.”

Hiding is an essential aspect of being a spy, but sometimes, we can only hide for so long. In “Martial Eagle”, arguably the best episode this series has ever produced, our spies continue to become undone, with Philip Jennings, in particular, affected the most.

The opening scene depicts the intense proceedings of Operation Martial Eagle, involving Philip having to kill several people; the rest of “Martial Eagle” is concerned with exposing the emotional toll this event takes on our characters, the way various actions add up over time and push them toward a precipice. In particular, Philip and Elizabeth not only have to deal with the operation’s fallout, but also with Paige’s donations to her church.

Matthew Rhys gives a brilliant, heart-wrenching performance here. Whether it’s just Philip standing in front of his mirror getting dressed, blowing up at Paige, playing the tape to Martha, or threatening Pastor Tim, we really get the sense of someone who’s losing himself. There’s a deadened, hollow look in his eyes throughout, as if he’s in a haze that he just can’t seem to snap out of; he seems to walk around as if he’s being controlled by an unseen force, one which is quickly chipping away at the exterior he so desperately needs to maintain in order to survive in this world.

The very end of the episode brings us an extremely well-written and acted scene between Philip and Pastor Tim, two people who could not be more polar opposites of each other. Going in, it’s easy to assume that Philip’s legitimately going to hurt the guy–and that’s most likely what he’s intending to do, anyway–but instead, he realizes that this isn’t the outlet through which he can take out his anger. This isn’t about God or saviors or religion in general; rather, it’s a seemingly unstoppable force coming into contact with a wall. He doesn’t hit with enough force to completely change his ways or his attitude, but the demeanor of Pastor Tim certainly surprises him, serving as a wake up call of sorts. His pain hasn’t been alleviated, but he’s dodged a huge bullet. 

Of course, that doesn’t mean he has a clear grasp on the situation; in fact, his last attempt to spare someone resulted in that person’s–the septic tank driver’s–death, and a slow and painful one at that. One of his major flaws has always been admitting to himself that there’s a problem, so he just digs himself deeper and deeper without even knowing it. That might just be the case with Stan, too: there’s quite a bit of irony in his storyline in “Martial Eagle”, as what he’s explaining is pretty much what’s being done to him. In addition, when Sandra informs him about her possible upcoming affair–it’s really satisfying to see her do so after taking a load of BS over the years–he seems genuinely surprised, and sadness takes control. It’s yet another person who’s leaving him behind, and like she says, he doesn’t even possess the courage to move one more step forward.

Oftentimes, shows will move one step forward by introducing an element of plot, like the raid at the beginning of this episode. However, it’s clear that The Americans understands its characters and wants to explore their complexities. There’s always been a prevalent idea of identity in the show, and it’s really brilliant how the writers weave in questions about true identity and characterization, even while our characters are just doing their jobs. For example, Elizabeth’s story during the meeting with the woman from AA shades in a different–perhaps more genuine–side of her, and Clark playing the doctored recording to Martha is one of many acts of cruelty Philip dishes out in this episode.

However, those mentioned scenes eventually result in selling, in manipulating, in lying, in benefiting them professionally. Who’s the real Elizabeth, anyway? Who’s the real Philip? Have the lines become so blurred that they can’t hold onto their identities? Philip thinks it’s easy for Elizabeth, but in reality, it’s difficult for everyone.

The wheels will still keep on turning, though. That’s for sure.



-So, yeah, this is Matthew Rhys’s Emmy submission episode, if the Emmys care about the show come voting time.

-On the “easier” comment: it’s understandable how Philip would have that opinion about Elizabeth–even if it’s not true–considering he gets caught up emotionally and she doesn’t. When we get down to it, it’s two different ways of coping with the stresses of the situation.

-The Gaad-Arkady confrontation is entertaining, and I look forward to seeing more of this.

-Anyone else think Philip was going to burn the church down?

-*Philip glares at church*

*Church is engulfed in flames*

Photo credit: FX, The Americans

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