Category Archives: Americans Recaps

Saturday Odds & Sods: Saturday Sun

Cafetiere et Carafe by Jean Dubuffet.

It feels like August outside as I write this with the ceiling fan whirring up above my head. It’s time to dispense with the weather report lest I sound whinier than I am. And I’m pretty damn whiny even though, unlike Della and Paul, I don’t have a fur coat to contend with. Paul Drake deals with his by shedding copiously. Della Street rages against the elements in her own way. She is one mouthy cat, y’all.

I may have cats on my mind but the rest of the city is obsessed with rats in a French Quarter eatery. There’s a viral video and everything. Oh wait, there’s always a viral video in 2018. As someone who worked in the Quarter for many years, the thought of rats near the Big Muddy is not shocking. I’m not planning to go to that restaurant but even good places with clean kitchens have the odd rat. Repeat after me: to live in this town you must be tough, tough, tough, tough. She-doo-be.

The new Mayor is “being intentional” by launching a PR campaign dubbing New Orleans the City of Yes. In the immortal words of movie mogul Sam Goldwyn, include me out, unless it involves the veteran prog rock band. I’m still trying to figure out what the hell “being intentional” means. So it goes.

When I started this regular feature in 2015, I used songs about Saturday as theme songs for the first few weeks. Saturday Sun is one I somehow missed but I’ve had Neil Finn on my mind and in my ear of late. We have two versions for your listening pleasure: the promo video and a live performance on the BBC.

Now that we’ve basked in the Saturday Sun, it’s time to put on some sun screen and jump to the break.

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The Americans Thread: Brothers In Arms

I expected a series finale curve ball from Americans honchos Joe Weisberg and Joel Fields and we got one. It was a curveball that Minnesota Twins super fan Glenn Haskard would have appreciated since his boy Bert Blyleven had the best hook in baseball history. I knew a curveball was coming but I wasn’t prepared for this particular break.

Even the finale title START was a curveball. It was named for the next generation disarmament pact that was finalized during Bush 42’s administration. But it sounds more like a series premiere. It’s The Americans way.

I “studied” for the finale by watching big chunks of seasons 3 and four in preparation. I’m not sure if I aced it, but I’m hoping to give Henry a run for his money grade-wise. Please grade me on a curve or is that curveball? You decide.

After several relatively silent episodes, music was prominent in the series finale. I’ll get to the use of U2’s With or Without You after the break. The dirge-like Brothers In Arms was brilliantly used in the episode and since it’s one of my favorite Dire Straits songs, I decided to make it the post title. It will also be burned on my mind as the theme song of Philip and Stan’s doomed friendship.

Let’s play it before the spoiler break:

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The Americans Thread: Topsy Turvy

We’ve reached the penultimate episode of the final season of The Americans: Jennings, Elizabeth. The title refers to a FBI data base search run by Stan, which comes up empty. I was not surprised: the many wigged spy has always excelled in staying off the radar screen. That time, however, has come to an end. It’s time for the end game of this great series. My withdrawal symptoms increased dramatically after re-watching the episode.

I try not to use anachronistic music in my Americans recaps.  But every rule was meant to be broken, especially when a title is so spot on. From 2001’s Houston Kid, Mr. Rodney Crowell:

It’s spoiler break time. See you on the other side.

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The Americans Thread: Only Human

There are only two episodes remaining in the final season of The Americans. The episodes keep getting more and more intense. The Summit was the best installment thus far. It contained a major plot development that surprised even me and I’m watching closely. We’ll get to that after the spoiler break.

It’s odd that the show runners haven’t used any Todd Rundgren, with or without Utopia, songs over the course of the series. (I googled it and couldn’t find any without going down an epic rabbit hole. Feel free to correct me if I’m wrong.) It’s time to rectify that with what amounts to a theme song for this recap.

I’ll explain Only Human‘s relevance after the spoiler break; even if the post is a day late, I know not everyone was watched The Summit yet. Here’s a hint: Gorbachev is the chap in the fedora, the better to hide the splotch on his head.

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The Americans Thread: Philip The Axeman

There are only three more episodes remaining in the final season of The Americans. Harvest may well have been the best episode of the season thus far. There was action, revelations, and Philip and Stan both staring off in to space at the conclusion of their scenes. In Philip’s case, it’s a spy stare; in Stan’s case it’s a cop stare. Enough staring.

I try to learn something new everyday. In Harvest I learned about food combining, which was apparently big with rich ladies in 1987. It sounds like something that the rich ladies on The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills aka Rich Ladies Doing Things should know about. They could combine food combining with shopping, lunching, and fighting.

The episode title gave me an earworm. I might as well post it before the spoiler break. I could combine it with something but I’d rather not.

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The Americans Thread: Rififi

There are only 4 episodes left in the final season of The Americans. I’m excited to see the finish but will mourn the series when it concludes. Life will be empty without Elizabeth’s spy glower, Philip’s spy frown, and Paige’s hideous baby spy wallpaper.

I nearly called this the DVR edition because it’s coming a day late as I was under the weather yesterday. I’m sticking with the episode title Rififi because there’s an Adrastos-Zelig story attached to it. Elizabeth meets a young cinephile at a showing of Jules Dassin’s caper classic. It’s a honey trap operation meet cute as he works for Senate Armed Services Committee chairman Sam Nunn.

Here’s my story: I met the blacklisted American director in Athens at a party at a family friend’s flat. Unfortunately, it was *before* I’d seen Dassin’s great late Forties film noirs: Brute Force, The Naked City, Thieves Highway, and Night and the City. All I knew at the time was that he was married to the Greek actress Melina Mercouri and had directed her in Never On A Sunday.  A lost opportunity for an even better Adrastos-Zelig story. So it goes.

Instead of posting a period appropriate rock song before the spoiler break, here’s the trailer for Brute Force, one of the best prison movies ever made. It features a brilliant performance by Hume Cronyn as a sadistic albeit diminutive prison guard:

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The Americans Thread: The Great Patriotic War

We’re at the midway point of the final season and shit keeps getting realer and realer. Paige gets a history lesson but seems to need anger management training much more. I’m not sure if that was around in 1987 but she needs it like Janis Soprano needed it. Not that it worked with Tony’s older sister.

The history lesson comes from Claudia who tells Paige about what we call World War II and the Russians call the Great Patriotic War. It also gives this episode of The Americans its name.  Her lesson is largely true: the battle of Stalingrad *was* the turning point in the war and the Soviets played the leading role in victory. Of course, one reason for the massive casualties was Stalin’s callous indifference to human life. Claudia, who is an unrepentant Stalinist, neglected to mention that. No shocker there.

One reason I’m so fascinated with Russian history is that I had a great teacher at LSU, Tom Owen. He’s a very funny man and fabulous lecturer. I’m pleased to say that he’s now associated with the Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies at Harvard. It must be good to no longer be subject to the whims and caprices of the Gret Stet lege.

There were no rock songs deployed in the episode but this one came to mind in relation to Elizabeth. Let’s give it a spin before the spoiler break:

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The Americans Thread: Nothing Is Everything

Nothing is going right for our characters in Mr. and Mrs. Teacup. We see everything from failed missions to projectile vomiting to looming financial failure. It’s not a pretty sight. The only good news is that arms control guy Glenn Haskard’s underdog Twins will win the 1987 World Series.

The Americans is a unique show in several ways. First, as Soviet spies, Philip and Elizabeth are the ultimate anti-heroes. They make Walter White and Tony Soprano look like small fry. Second, the Soviets lose the Cold War while winning the espionage battle, so the Jennings’ efforts are ultimately for naught. This built-in futility is one reason so many of us find the show so perversely fascinating.

Nothing Is Everything is the parenthetical part of the title of a Pete Townshend song: (Nothing Is Everything ) Let’s See Action. It’s an ode to Pete’s guru, Meher Baba, but it somehow captures the spirit of this episode for me. I’m weird that way. Let’s play it before the spoiler break:

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The Americans Thread: The Baby Spy Blues

There’s so much food chat in Urban Transport Planning that was I was tempted to call this recap Puckett and Pizza. Puckett after the Minnesota Twins great and pizza after, uh. the doughy delicacy. Glenn the arms control dude is a huge Kirby fan and his Twins were headed to a world’s championship in 1987. Other cuisines mentioned included Chinese and Russian but we’ll get to that after the spoiler break. Hint: the dishes involved are neither chow mein nor borscht. Here’s Puckett without pizza:

Glasnost era tensions continue to fill the Jennings ranch house. Philip is pro-Gorbachev whereas Elizabeth is the hard liner’s hard liner. They bicker about what people think back, back, back in the USSR until they realize the absurdity of the argument since neither has been home in 20 years. The key difference between them is that Philip likes being an American but Elizabeth hates it. It’s spy vs. spy, married couple edition.

A brief pre-spoiler break musical interlude. Macca live at Red Square in Moscow. Woo:

And yes, that *was* Putin in the crowd at the 15 second mark. Rock on, Vlad. Woo. Continue reading

The Americans Thread: Tell Tchaikovsky The News

A sense of doom and foreboding hangs over the second episode of Season-6, Tchaikovsky. Elizabeth seems to think her time on the planet is winding down. She even asks Claudia to look after Paige’s spy life after she’s gone. Remember when she hated Claudia? I do and it had nothing to do Margot Martindale turn as evil hillbilly matriarch Mags Bennett on Justified.

Division continues to be one of the main themes of Season-6. We meet an American hawk who is worried that Reagan is about to give away the nuclear store to Gorbachev. He mutters to Elizabeth about rumors that Reagan is showing signs of senility hence his arm control mania. Reagan *was* showing signs of dementia BUT underneath the bluster, Reagan had long wanted to ban nuclear weapons. He was influenced by his wife, Nancy, and by the sci-fi movies of the 1950’s. This was one time where Reagan’s movie mania put him on the side of the angels. Maybe he was afraid of turning into The Fly after seeing David Cronenberg’s 1986 remake:

Jeff Goldblum GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

Now that I’ve grossed you out, it’s spoiler break time. But first, here’s the lone rock song used during the episode. The producers have a thing for Talking Heads. Besides, what’s slipperier than a spy? Only Jeff Goldblum as The Fly. My, my, my.

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The Americans Thread: When Oleg Met Philip

I was on the fence about recapping the sixth and final season of The Americans. But the minute the episode commenced with Don’t Dream It’s Over, I was hooked, fished in, captured, and dragged off to a safe house.

There’s been a substantial time shift. The show has moved forward three years to 1987. Holy Quantum Leap, Batman. A lot happened during those three years, especially the seismic changes brought about by the last leader of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev. Everyone on both sides is divided as to how to deal with Gorby including our characters.

The 1987 divide remains resonant in 2018. America is badly divided and it’s partially due to Russia. The victory of the “Russian good guys” was ephemeral. We know where Putin stood at the time and he continues to promote irredentist policies to avenge the demise of the Soviet Union. Spies are back in vogue on the Volga.

Before our spoiler break, let’s squeeze into a Crowded House:

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The Americans Thread: The First Cut Is The Deepest

Season 5 of The Americans was about family as well as the innocents whose lives were affected by Philip and Elizabeth’s secret lives. The finale, The Soviet Division, was no exception. I do, however, take exception to some of the reactions to Season 5. It moved at a somewhat slower pace than past seasons BUT it has never been a Bond or Bourne-type spy extravaganza. Its closest kin is the work of John Le Carre; somber meditations on the lives of spies. The penultimate season was no different. Was it my favorite season? No, but it’s setting the stage for a wilder ride next season.

It’s time to dismount my soapbox and go to our spoiler break *after* playing a song that’s dedicated to Pascha and his soon to be divided family. It’s the first of five hit versions of a song written by Cat Stevens:

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The Americans Thread: The Penultimate Episode

I love the word penultimate as much as epistolary or eponymous and since I used those words earlier today, there was only one title for my recap of The World Council Of Churches.

The reason for that unwieldy, even bureaucratic, episode title is that the KGB secured Pastor Tim a sinecure in Argentina to get him out of the Jennings’ hair. I’m uncertain if it’s their real hair or one of their flotilla of wigs but, in any event, he’s out of it. And Paige is wigging out with glee.

Before taking our spoiler break, here’s a musical selection inspired by Phillip’s Brad the pilot persona. You know the guy who “adopted” Tuan. The pilot may be ready to drop the Vietnamese Kid if you catch my drift. More about that anon.

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The Americans Thread: We Gotta Get Out Of This Place

Dyatkovo is a Russian town where atrocities were committed during the Great Patriotic War by the Nazis against Soviet POWS. The story of a Russian collaborator is the centerpiece of episode 11, Dyatkovo. Philip and Elizabeth are sent by Claudia to learn if a woman living in Newton, Mass is that person. I’ll return to that at the end of the post. It’s also where We Gotta Get Out Of This Place comes into play and gets, uh, played.

Let’s take an early spoiler break. There’s much to spoil in this episode and I prefer not to cry over either spoiled or spilled milk.

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The Americans Thread: Welcome To The Machine

The Americans is gaining momentum as the season comes to a close. There are only 3 episodes left after Darkroom and I expect a helluva ride since it’s one of the best episodes thus far this season.

The post title comes from Philip’s EST seminar. The bullgoose EST-hole tells them that “we’re all machines” whose life consists of “stimulus and response.” Speak for yourself EST-hole. It does, however, seem to fit the latest development in the Paige saga as she inches closer to becoming a spy. Welcome to the machine, Paige.

More details on that after the spoiler break, but first some Pink Floyd:

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The Americans Thread: Tuan Gone

Family matters dominate the latest episode, IHOP. Philip is obliged to contemplate his real son as well as two fake sons. It’s hard being a spy sometimes. Even worse, Philip’s resolve continues to be shakier than a Jello salad at a Midwestern church supper.

Another main theme of the episode is how overextended the Jennings are between travel agenting, spying, and parenting. In the immortal words of Johnny Mercer: Something’s gotta give. Something’s gotta give. Something’s gotta give.

On that cheerful note, it’s time for our spoiler break. But first, one of the songs I’ve been substituting Tuan for gone in. It’s a weird hobby, but it’s mine all mine:

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The Americans Thread: Slow Kung Fu & The Big Sex Guy

The post title comes from two off-hand remarks that were my favorite lines in Immersion. Elizabeth is pumping Morozova for info and she describes one of her students as a Big Sex Guy. She means a lady’s man like, say, Gorp Guy. Slow Kung Fu came from a scene wherein Elizabeth is doing tai-chi and Philip calls it (you guessed it) Slow Kung Fu. Sounds like a band name to me, ya’ll. The entire post title sounds like an ’80’s teevee show along the lines of BJ and the Bandit.

The Americans punditocracy seem to be losing patience with season 5. They’re not entirely wrong that it’s moving slowly, but its pace has always been more of a simmer than a boil. The show is fundamentally a psychological character study with moments of high suspense. It’s like criticizing Mad Men for not having any gun play. I do, however, think that things will pick up next week.

It’s time for our spoiler break, but first some Kung Fu Fighting:

I guess that’s not the same Carl Douglas who was on the OJ Simpson defense team. It would be fun if it were. I can see the headline:  Novelty Artist Becomes Legal Eagle.

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The Americans Thread: Gabriel’s Parting Gift

The Committee on Human Rights was something of a letdown after the dizzying heights of last week’s episode, Crossbreed. I, for one, wanted to see more of Paige and Gabriel together. The end of the previous episode led us to believe that there would be more to it than a brief, pleasant, and somewhat cryptic scene. Of course, Gabriel specializes in cryptic pleasantries.

The smile on Frank Langella’s face when he answered Paige’s inquiry as to whether he was a spy made this disappointing scene worthwhile. I wish Gabriel and Paige had burst out in song at the end of it. This would have been my choice:

Hmm, Peggy Lee was very blonde. I wonder if she was KGB? We’ll get to the same questions about Walk Away Renee later in the post.

The Committee on Human Rights is smack dab in the middle of season 5 so we shouldn’t be surprised that it set the table for the rest of the season. Besides, even a fair-to-middling episode of The Americans is better than most dramas. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: patience is the watchword for longtime Americans viewers.

Time for our spoiler break. Try not to cry over spilt Soviet milk as you click below.

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The Americans Thread: He Was Nobody. We Were All Nobodies.

Thus spake Gabriel in a scene with Philip. Crossbreed is one of the best episodes in series history. It’s a perfect jumping off point for the rest of the season. The producers should immediately send a DVD of this episode to Emmy voters. It’s past time for Matthew Rhys, Keri Russell, and Frank Langella to win Emmys on the awards show I do not watch. The Oscars are bad enough even if this year’s ceremony had a boffo ending as did Crossbreed. OMFG as the kids say.

I wonder if I’m the only viewer whose favorite character is Gabriel. Crossbreed is very Gabriel-centric, which is why I enjoyed it so much. There’s even a major plot twist involving him but we’ll save that for after the break. Frankly, I don’t watch to spoil so much Langella deliciousness. See you on the other side.

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The Americans Thread: Lotus Positioning

Lotus 1-2-3 was an intense and emotionally fraught episode of The Americans. Philip starts the episode in bad shape and ends up in a exceptionally dark place after a revelation that we’ll deal with later.

There was, however, one humorous bit. Philip ends up playing Topeka-boo with the logistics expert chick. She uses computer talk as a sort of geeky foreplay by recommending the Lotus 1-2-3 program to Philip. After they do the deed, she offers to show him her print-out. Hence the post title. Hubba, hubba.

Philip and Elizabeth declined Stan and Renee’s invitation to see Romancing The Stone, which was a monster hit in 1984. In a futile effort to avoid spoilers, we’ll close this section with an Eddy Grant song that was written for the movie but ended up on the cutting room floor.

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