This show is, at its most basic form, a show about a conflict between the Soviet Union and the United States. From there, we branch out into personal and emotional conflicts, into conflicts between parents and kids and conflicts between coworkers and conflicts within your own mind. Underneath all that conflict, though, lies the heart of the show: the mutual trust and respect that is needed in order for a relationship to function, in order for any kind of team to function. It’s exactly what we see tonight between Elizabeth and Philip Jennings, and how the show goes about conveying it is absolutely fantastic.
It’s already been established that there is a rift between these two characters about their daughter. We see that rift front and center early on when Elizabeth talks about what they should get for Paige for her birthday, and even when she switches to a seduction technique and a mention of Hans to try to get a rise out of Philip, she’s met with a bitter reaction. Philip’s fed up with this now, and the introduction of Gabriel is furthering the divide between the two because Frank Langella’s character has wedged himself into the situation. It seems as if the Jennings family is dangling over a cliff edge right now, and we can even see that both Paige and Henry are growing up, are maturing faster than usual. Paige is acting like the parent of the household, and she even says in this episode that she’s gotten used to her new role. It’s an extremely tough situation for her parents because just as a decision about Paige’s fate becomes even more essential, the emotional distance between parents and children is widening. “There is always a choice,” Gabriel tells Philip, but we’d be hard-pressed to say that Paige truly has the choice here.
As all of this conflict is occurring, however, it’s important to note that what’s special about the Philip-Elizabeth relationship is the fact that it’s more than just conflict. There’s still a mutual trust and respect that anchors the relationship, and it’s what we see shine through at various moments in “Open House”. After an incredibly tense, impeccably directed, and almost claustrophobic-feeling chase sequence, we get an absolutely gorgeous moment between Philip and Elizabeth. They embrace in front of a TV screen as “The Star Spangled Banner” plays, and it’s such a well-lit and directed shot that perfectly encapsulates what their dynamic is all about. It’s a lovely moment, and it’s even better once you know what happens next.
What happens next is the big emotional set piece of the episode, and it’s simultaneously one of the most uncomfortable and brilliant scenes this show has ever produced. Sure, Philip’s yanking out Elizabeth’s tooth with a pair of pliers, but at the same time, there’s an intimacy to this moment that is unmatched even by some of the sex scenes. The camera zeroes in on our characters’ eyes as the scene progresses, and we see the trust necessary on both sides for this to take place. Even though both want different things for their daughter, they also both want what’s best for their daughter. Unlike, for example, the Clark-Martha relationship–one that forces Philip to shoot down the idea of foster kids and fight as if he’s an actual husband to Martha–there’s an element of honesty between Philip and Elizabeth. They both cheat and live fake lives for their jobs and have different ways of raising a child, but at the end of the day, they return to each other. It’s not a perfect relationship, but because it hasn’t crumbled by now, something has to be working.
-This show’s sound effects folks…man. Last week, it was that suitcase scene. This week, it’s the tooth pulling scene.
-The icky relationship between Afghan Group member Ted Paaswell and the teenage girl–Kimberly–definitely brings up uncertainties in both Elizabeth’s and Philip’s minds about Paige, about their daughter possibly being manipulated.
– “Impossible not to buy your kids everything they want, right?” Nice “blink and you’ll miss it” kind of dialogue moment there, one that certainly ties in with the themes surrounding parents’ relationships with kids. It’s especially relevant here, given the earlier discussion about what to get Paige for her birthday.
-Thomas Schlamme, longtime The West Wing director, gets the directing credit for this one.
– “The production of too many useful things results in too many useless people.”
-We also have a Zinaida-Stan plot that consists of the former making the TV rounds to condemn the Afghanistan invasion by the Soviet Union. “People love hearing how right they are,” Stan says, and that’s exactly the type of mentality that fosters conflict and polarization and the like. Ingroup bias, perhaps, and it goes both ways: U.S. and Soviet Union.
-We get much more on Aderholt this week. It’s his big introduction, and it’ll be interesting to see how he fits in with the other characters over the course of the season.
-Henry has a bikini pic of Sandra.
Photo credit: FX, The Americans