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TV Review: ‘The Americans’ – ‘New Car’

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Earlier today, FX announced that The Americans had been renewed for a third season. Fans of the show breathed a sigh of relief, knowing that the show’s live ratings do not reflect either the quality of the series or the fact that most viewers don’t watch when it’s aired, instead catching the episodes via DVR or streaming service.

This episode is a lesson in the lies we tell ourselves–and others. It is full of lies, deceptions, despair and frustrations, leaving us wondering whether he Americans and Russians are working the same side without knowing it.The Americans FX

The episode begins with Philip buying a new car. It’s a scene to which we can all relate: buying the lies of a sharp car salesman as he pushes the biggest flashiest car–one of the most obvious “symbols” of American success. In the end, the salesman tells Philip that the only important consideration is how you “feel” driving the car. And Philip likes how he feels: the new car feel and smell, and everything it says. So he buys it.

This comes as a total surprise to Elizabeth whose asks “Don’t you enjoy any of this? The house? The clothes? Those hundreds of pairs of beautiful shoes you have?” Elizabeth answers by saying that things are “simpler” and “easier” in the US but not necessarily “better.” Elizabeth has always been the more ideological of the pair, and sees the loud, expensive symbol of American success as one more thing she despises about the U.S.

After the lovely “new car” scenes- everything goes downhill really fast, just like Philip’s new Camaro Z-28. Preparing to meet his handler and exiting the new car, Philip rubs of a speck of dirt with his finger (a typical American male act!), then turning to admire his new toy.

The handler tells him that the propeller plans he stole were planted by the U.S., and they were purposefully full of inaccuracies. As a result, a Russian sub carrying over 100 young Soviet men went down. Philip is gutted , and we can see that he no longer “feels” the same about his car. The car that was made by Americans who did this to his people.

We learn near the end of the episode that Oleg’s father has the real story on this submarine disaster. The Russians may well have had the right plans, but used a propeller two times smaller than needed for the large submarine. They’d tested it only for three weeks instead of the necessary five-months, and the captain ran it too hard. Now, the Soviets are placing the blame on agents on the ground, and Philip and Elizabeth will likely never know the truth of this.

Oleg has developed into an interesting character: fun, smart and very dangerous. His family connections high up within in the Soviet government, can either help or hurt Nina. Time will tell.

Poor Stan. His garage scene was at once hilarious and incredibly revealing. He is a man on the brink of emotional disaster, playing both ends against the middle. Revealing his hand to the Deputy Attorney General by telling him about the scientist working on the stealth plans who’d been expatriated by the Russians, Stan is playing with fire.

The episode reveals that Elizabeth and Philip have become more sensitized to not hurting others. Elizabeth seems sad that Philip would play that awful tape for Martha, and in the end he doesn’t play it for her. Instead, he offers to help her around the house. Philip also stops Elizabeth from killing the trucker, as if the assassination would render them too hard, too evil.

Elizabeth has to let Lucia die in order to get the needed information from Larrick. Lucia is a wild card, and Elizabeth is right; Lucia didn’t understand their whole objective. But if we’ve learned anything in this episode, it is that nobody really understands their own objectives. It’s only a matter of time before it comes back to bite them all.

The most significant part of this episode comes near the end, when Philip and Elizabeth confront their son, Henry, who has broken into a neighbor’s house to play their video game system. Henry uses same rationalizations that Philip and Elizabeth try to tell themselves each day: “We’re good people.” “Nobody will know.” Nobody will get hurt. Right.

Always amusing are the quintessential ’80s references: Martha and Clark catching the tail end of a local ad for Jhoon Ree martial arts schools; driving home with the new Camaro; Philip and Henry going crazy to “Rock This Town” by the Stray Cats.

The Americans airs Wednesdays at 10:00 p.m. on FX.

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About Pamela Chapin