The FX series The Americans is set in early ’80s Washington, D.C., just after Ronald Reagan becomes President of the U.S. Centering around KGB spies Philip (Matthew Rhys) and Elizabeth Jennings (Keri Russell). Philip and Elizabeth have two children: 14-year-old Paige (Holly Taylor) and 11-year-old Henry (Keidrich Sellati), who know nothing about their parents’ true identity.
Although their marriage had been arranged to provide them with a cover, their relationship has grown more intense over the years. Escalation of the Cold War, the need for secrecy, and the consequences should the be found out all test their partnership and their family.
Their neighbor, Stan Beeman (Noah Emmerich), an FBI Agent, has already ventured too close to the truth.
In “Arpanet,” the seventh episode of season two, we see he beginnings of the digital age with the introduction of the earliest computers (Arpanet) and the role they will play in espionage. The real-life events interwoven with the story really involve us in the 1980s world The Americans inhabits.
Using his recruit Charles Diluth, Philip has to gain access to this early precursor to the Internet by the “handshake that first introduces computers” to each other. We watch as Philip and Charles bug the Arpanet in order for The Soviets to learn more about this revolutionary mode of communication. It will be interesting to watch the technology progress along with the series and see how it is used throughout.
As regular viewers of “The Americans” can attest, part of the weekly interest involves watching the different disguises Philip and Elizabeth use during their missions. This week, Philip poses as a writer planning an article on technology, which will grant him access to his target. It’s a dilly of a disguise, and of my most favorites for Philip so far.
The KGB, in its desire to bug the American Government Communications, wants Philip to find out how it all “works” and report back. Philip has to calm recruit Charles, who is shaky, unsteady, nervous; things do not go exactly as planned. They encounter difficulties accessing the system and Philip is forced to take matters into his own hands.
Nina plays an important role in this episode as she prepares to take the FBI’s polygraph test. Nina is in a most precarious position, thinking her cover with Stan is blown.
Oleg intervenes on Nina’s behalf and offers some unusual suggestions about the methods she can employ in order for her to “beat the machine.” Whether this can actually be accomplished is anyone’s guess. However, it’s a frequently used device on the show, whenever polygraphs come around.
I am not sympathetic to Nina’s plight, as she has been playing with fire for a long time now. Her life is on the line, and she is stuck between the FBI and The KGB–not a good place to be. We also start to question a bit about Nina’s true alliances, as we watch her try to fool the polygraph machine. Nina is an interesting character for many reasons, but in this episode we see she is a the morally ambiguous character, which keep us guessing, and on our toes.
While Nina and Oleg grow closer through the lie detector test, we can’t help but wonder about Oleg’s real motives here? Is he growing to care for Nina or is he using her and her relationship with Stan in order to get the FBI’s surveillance files on him. I’ll vote the latter.
“Arpanet” is interwoven with equal amount fiction and reality and I found this episode and the entire season so far very intelligent, revealing and entertaining.
The Americans airs 10 p.m. Wednesday nights on FX.
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