The Americans – ‘It Must Be Done’

Everything’s fine, 

In the sunshine.

But it must be done. 

Last night’s The Americans was as symbolic an episode as a top-tier drama would ever dare to produce. Everything from Elizabeth and Phillip carrying out polar opposite missions at the same time, to Nina playing both sides of the coin once again with Oleg and Stan, to Paige spelling out just how differently her parents were treating her from her brother, there was a very clear mirroring between every single plot and subplot. The pairing of the Annelise and Elizabeth plots were definitely the most obvious deployment of this particular tactic, but I was more of a fan of how Paige reacted to her parents’ refusal to allow her to go to camp.

She made some great points as to how they aren’t reacting the same way as when Henry broke into someone’s home for goodness sake, and they’re the observations any pre-teen would make thinking they are in the absolutely right. Of course in this case Paige pretty much is calling out her mother appropriately, but there isn’t anything that Elizabeth can reasonably respond with that wouldn’t blow everything to pieces. Just think: “Oh, sorry honey, I forgot to mention the reason your father and I don’t like you going to church is that we were actually raised in a strict and secular Russian society before we were sent to infiltrate America.” Yes, I think that would go over quite well. Instead, Paige is stuck being miserable in her own home (welcome to your teenage years, sweetheart) and Elizabeth and Phillip are playing the bad guys under their own roof, one more reluctant to do so than the other.

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Elsewhere, Nina continues to play Stan for information and future opportunities at subterfuge just as the rest of his life is falling apart. Basically everything having to do with Stan’s stories right now has to do with cheating, I’m sure not coincidentally. What’s more, the people around him are accomplishing everything that he could never do when fooling around behind someone’s back. His wife, always the more upfront and honest one in the marriage (again, a mirror image of the gender roles Elizabeth and Phillip inhabit) actually had the courage to tell him that she was having an affair. Nina has no guilt that she is sleeping with Oleg and Stan at the same time, yet we see his two-timing eating away at Agent Beeman to the point where he can’t see the forest for the trees.

The montage near the close of the episode was by far one of the best the show has done through its first two seasons, especially with the added benefit of an original Pete Townshend/Nathan Barr composition. “It Must Be Done”, recorded exclusively for this episode, fit in so well to the show’s 80’s tableau and on point song choices that I almost didn’t realize it was an original song. Striking just the right balance between cheesy and subdued, it was easy to overlook the fact that the lyrics could have doubled as a piece of the script, yet they weren’t so obvious as to feel heavy-handed in their purpose. Off the top of my head, there’s no one I would trust more than Townshend to write a song in 2014 that was being used on a show set in 1982 and have it sound like it was originally released in 1980 without a second thought. From the drums – low and consistent in the background – to the female vocal escalations dipping in during the chorus, the song matched up well with the spy games cutting in and out on screen.

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The entire sequence, with Annelise and Elizabeth doing similarly regretful things in pursuit of the same goal but in entirely separate manners, seemed like it was also lifted directly out of an 80’s flick too though. More than most missions the Jennings take part in this one was dark, dangerous, and filled with second thoughts both during and after. Stellar acting by both Keri Russell and Gillian Alexy both. The emotions in their eyes alone were enough to spell out exactly what was going through their minds, even before Annelise freaked out on Phillip back in their hotel room. I was almost surprised that those scenes didn’t close out the episode, leaving the immediate fallout to occur next week, mostly due to how much “It Must Be Done” seemed like a song that would accompany dramatic denouement. Instead, we got an extra-stuffed episode that wrapped things up elsewhere. I would have like to see them use Pete’s music as an episode ender similar to how the show has been using much of Peter Gabriel’s catalog, but I guess that just means that Gabriel will have to match his output and contribute some original music of his own. Can’t wait.

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