Sunday, June 23, 2024

Manipulative Sex Sinks Characters to New Lows on The Americans

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Sex has always been a vital tool of the trade for Philip and Elizabeth. They use it to form connections and exploit the emotions of targets. It’s a highly effective way to trap a target or keep a source close. The use of sex has made for some of the most uncomfortable scenes on the show. “The Great Patriotic War” took it to another level, though. Sex and its use sunk characters to some new lows here, and made for one of the best episodes The Americans has ever aired.

Is it too late to retract my worries last week about The Americans pulling the trigger? They not only pulled the trigger, they shot almost every bullet.

Ultimately, it all led back to sex and the way sex can be used for emotional manipulation. It starts off with Elizabeth initiating sex with Philip after her denial last week. This feels like both an apology and an attempt to bridge the distance between them. After all, Elizabeth and Philip do love each other. Despite everything they’ve been through, they do care and tend to try and make their many mistakes towards each other right.

Then morning arrives and Elizabeth approaches Philip with an idea to jail Kimmy in a foreign jail as a blackmail scheme aimed at her father. Immediately you realize she used sex to manipulate Philip.

Now this is nothing new in their relationship. Elizabeth has done this multiple times, but less so as the seasons have gone on. She also usually reserved such manipulation for those moments when Philip’s loyalty towards “the war” waned. Sex was very much about their marriage and faithfulness to each other, with espionage as the metaphor. This was different. This was Elizabeth using sex to persuade Philip into helping one of her missions.

Season 6 has been a hard one for Elizabeth Jennings, one where she very much risks losing her soul. We haven’t seen her adopt such a fervent, hardcore attitude toward her family and work since season 1. I think she may even be beyond that level. She barely cares about her son and treats Paige like an asset rather than a daughter. Her relationship with Philip feels almost nonexistent. Every mission turns bloody now.

I think her work has taken on a level of desperation representing the coming downfall of the Soviet Union. She’s frantically trying to keep it together when she simply can’t. There’s a sense of fighting the inevitable to her character this season that is making her harder and crueler than she’s been in a long time.

Philip most certainly recognizes it. He definitely recognized the manipulation in their intimacy when Elizabeth suggested the blackmail scheme the next morning. Then he turned around and used sex in his own manipulative way.

Many fans wondered last week whether Philip would take a romantic step forward with Kimmy in the hopes of securing more frequent visits with her. Expecting it did not help at all. Sleeping with her now feels even worse than it would have had Philip done this back in the beginning. He has spent years as a friend of hers, knowing she is attracted to “Jim.” He has spent years getting to know her as more than an asset in his work. Kimmy became something of a daughter figure to him.

Sleeping with her now basically makes the whole thing look like a grown man using a teen girl’s attraction to sexually groom her as she matured into an adult. I know that was not Philip’s intention. He fought hard to find some way of connecting to her without sex. However, you know he was prepared for this day. He knew he always had this option in his back pocket, and he could pull it out when he was ready.

Watching Philip seduce her after all this time was one of the most uncomfortable scenes The Americans has ever done. It was all the worse for him fully understanding the evil in his actions but doing it anyway. He somewhat redeemed himself by breaking contact with Kimmy at the end of the episode and warning her about the blackmail plot, but the damage is done. He has manipulated and deeply hurt this poor young woman.

Both these sexual manipulations, first by Elizabeth to him then him with Kimmy, led him to take his frustrations out on Paige. Again, it links back to sex and how it can be used to manipulate someone.

Paige has also taken huge strides since last season, but not necessarily in a positive direction. She began working on missions for her mother, but it appears Elizabeth and Claudia may have groomed her too well. Paige has butted heads with her mother a few times recently, and did so again last week in regards to using sex for information. Despite Elizabeth’s objections, she ends the episode doing exactly that with a Congressional aide.

This episode saw some of the fallout of her decision. Clearly, Paige thought she had a good idea of what her parents do and what they are capable of. Elizabeth tried to explain the emotional risk to her back when she dated Matthew. She tried again with this Congressional aide, but this time Paige didn’t listen. Because Paige is too confident in her abilities. She’s beating up sexists in bars and using a relationship to get classified documents. She thinks she’s hot shit.

When Philip asks Paige to try and hit him, he’s trying to prove a point, sure. He wants to take Paige down a notch and prove she is not the least bit prepared for the life Philip and Elizabeth have lived. In a lot of ways their “fight” scene reminded me of Elizabeth’s training officer raping her during the season 1 flashback. In both cases, a grown man uses his years of training and experience to physically dominate a young girl just to “prove a point” about their readiness.

Whether this will actually chill Paige out or not remains to be seen. And I get it, because Paige does need to calm down. However, the problem is not how she’s performing in her new role, but that she’s doing it at all. Even if he succeeds, Philip was not right to handle things this way.

At this point it is probably too late for Paige to just walk away. Sure, she could just stop, but Elizabeth and Claudia have succeeded in brainwashing her into Soviet sympathies and the idea of the evil American empire trying to subjugate their motherland. Paige cannot go back to the person she used to be. She also can’t become what her parents are. She was born and raised an American girl. Her experiences will never allow her to truly feel the loyalty and determination toward the Soviet Union that made her parents into the spies they are.

She’s just not the kind of person who can internally justify the awful consequences of this life. I expect she’ll panic the first time she realizes the death and emotional destruction left in her parents’ wake. It will be a rude wakeup call.

Right now she has no idea. She has no idea how close her mother came to murdering not only Gennady and Sofia, but Sofia’s very young son. Paige has no idea what it feels like in Stan’s shoes, walking into an apartment to find the dead bodies of two assets he promised to protect and spent years getting to know.

The emotional consequences of the espionage game don’t solely relate to sex. While Stan may not have truly liked Sofia and Gennady, and may have felt intense frustration at times with them, they were good people who did not deserve their fate. Good people he knew well. Life in the spy world constantly creates and cuts these emotional connections. We’ve seen everyone on this show create and cut. Philip and Elizabeth have. Stan has. We even saw it with Oleg and Tatiana in this episode.

The Americans did a masterful job showing off the low points involved in this kind of emotional manipulation in a remarkably excellent episode.

“The Great Patriotic War” was everything you want out of the midpoint of a drama’s final season. All the building tension in multiple plotlines across multiple seasons finally stretched too thin and snapped back violently. Philip slept with Kimmy and turned against his wife by warning Kimmy and may be planning an exit strategy. He and Elizabeth have never been further apart as their ideological differences overwhelm their marriage. Paige’s spy training has converted her and placed her at odds with her parents. Elizabeth’s murder of Gennady and Sofia will inevitably place her squarely in Stan’s investigative path.

This was a bomb of an episode at exactly the right time. One bringing together multiple plot threads together into a brilliantly written breaking point. Like every great episode of The Americans, it also managed to take these multiple plot threads and tie them together both plotwise and thematically with deft, natural skill.

The Americans has always focused on the emotional toll its characters suffer. Philip and Elizabeth have emotionally manipulated dozens, if not hundreds of people, including each other. Sometimes they use sex, sometimes violence, sometimes the toll is exacted simply through omitting the truth. The toll on them has always been the focus, though, and now we’re seeing the end result of a lifetime of emotional manipulation.

The result was The Americans at its best. I can’t wait to see how things fall apart from here.  We could be in for one hell of a soul-destroying ride.

Other Thoughts:

  • Did American schools not teach the Russian side of World War 2 at all? I learned it. My teacher made sure to stress the importance of the eastern front in winning the war.
  • It shows how good Claudia is that I don’t know if she made up the story about losing so much of her family during World War 2.
  • For those who don’t remember, the betrayal Tatiana referred to was Oleg ratting about the B.O.W. program from season 4. Oleg told Stan about William, which led to him getting caught in the finale.
  • Elizabeth killing Sofia and Gennady hit so much harder than I thought. What a skillfully shot scene.
  • For real, though, I pumped my fist when Paige beat the hell out of that guy in the bar. He deserved it.
  • Elizabeth’s kill-streak stands at five episodes after the murders of Gennady and Sofia. This is one of the darkest and most intriguing parts of the season. Can she extend the streak through the whole season?

Images Courtesy of FX

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