Glyph is worse than some and better than others. He believes that life is just one damned thing after another, that only pop music can save us now, and that mercy is the mark of a great man (but he's just all right). Nothing he writes here should be taken as an indication that he knows anything about anything.

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45 Responses

  1. Kolohe says:

    The nitpickiest of the nitpicks (but one that allows to safely fill of GoG) is that the MASH finale would have been on Channel 9, not Channel 5 (which was then independent, and later (and now) a FOX affiliate when that network launched). One of the real hidden gems in the show are the local commercials they periodically air in the background of a scene that would be familiar to people who grew up in that area at that time. “NOBODY BOTHERS ME, CALL USA-1000” (I’d be somewhere between Paige’s and Henry’s age in that era, in the next suburb over).

    Another petty nitpick is that I think they are too invested in Afghanistan because of “wow, that’s what in the news today!” Kinda like how one of Watson’s most notable attributes now is that of a veteran of the Anglo-Afghan Wars, when before 2001 that would have been the most trivial of the trivial. it’s my impression that the Soviet government was *not* heavily invested in the intricacies of the Afghan campaign. That’s what made it a bloodbath, and later, a political liability for the prevailing power structure. It was and unthinking and uncaring bureaucracy that threw meat into the grinder, because of historical inevitability, and because they had bigger fish to fry. So, I easily see the Center using Directorate S full bore targeting the FBI for counter-intelligence espionage, and targeting the Beltway Bandits for technical espionage, but I’ve always had a hard time seeing them using that asset to leverage their Afghanistan campaign, because the Soviets never fought that battle with any kind of finesse. Nor felt they needed to.

    They have redeemed the ‘poor Martha’ extended plotline, which just about everyone (including me) had thought gone on way too long when this season opened. So real kudos to them.

    What’s also kinda nice is that now, at the end of the third season, nobody but Elizabeth and Philip has plot armor, so both Martha and Beeman could be toast. (for that matter, so could Paige and/or Henry). Though Beeman is unlikely to be gone, as he has been shown ‘right’ by the fake defector, and Aderholt is looking more redshirty every episode. On the other hand, thinking it through, it’s probably John-boy that’s going to say good night in the finale. (but that doesn’t preclude anyone else in the FBI from figuratively or literally biting a bullet between the pen bug, the mail robot bug, the fake defector, and the Nina/Oleg loose ends).

    I an still sore over the Jared storyline. They went to Jared? I think I’ve said this here before, I still don’t like the fact that he got the drop on his parents *and* was able to perfect a crime scene so that suspicion was never on him. A tourist family – a white tourist family – murdered at an (ostensibly) Old Town Alexandria hotel would have been a media sensation in 198x. (heck, it would be sensational now). There’s no way the Virginia police in the era of drug and D&D moral panic among white bread teenagers don’t look closely at Jared. And there’s no way he has the skill set yet to survive the police interrogation onslaught. What training he had was only from whatsherface, who wasn’t that much of a field operative, and was teaching him on the down low anyway. At the least, they were very weak on dropping clues that it was Jared the whole time.

    This season, though, everything seems to be coming together, and they don’t have a single unifying mystery, which aids their plot resolution considerably. or rather, all the mysteries are solved – the defector is fake, the pen bug is found, Martha knows just about everything about Clark, Paige knows *everything* about Philip and Elizabeth, and the audience knows everything about everything, except how all these Gambit pile-ups will turn out.Report

    • Glyph in reply to Kolohe says:

      This post will be full of spoilers up to and including the most recent episode of FX’s excellent Cold War spy thriller / family drama / wig-extravaganza, The Americans. Click at your own peril, Comrade.

      Kolohe: And there’s no way he has the skill set yet to survive the police interrogation onslaught

      I maintain that Jared was already a budding sociopath/pathological liar, which is why the KGB thought he was a good recruit to begin with. Maybe it’s handwavey to assume the KGB helped cover things up once they went sideways, but I’m going with it.

      I also still think Henry could turn out to be the surprise reveal – left alone in the house for long periods of time; knows how to make his own hidey-holes there; knows how to break into other houses; master of disguise, or at least a passable “Mr. Robinson” imitation; into older women, like Jared was – Henry may be “hiding” in plain sight, and already know more than anyone realizes.

      I agree things don’t look good for Aderholt. Beeman wants him gone, and Martha needs a fall guy.Report

    • Glyph in reply to Kolohe says:

      This post will be full of spoilers up to and including the most recent episode of FX’s excellent Cold War spy thriller / family drama / wig-extravaganza, The Americans. Click at your own peril, Comrade.

      @kolohe – what is your take on the meaning/timeline of the Aderholt/Beeman/Mail Robot hallway convo, vis a vis Arkady’s attempt to shut down Zephyr?Report

      • Kolohe in reply to Glyph says:

        Another pointless nitpick to fill up gifts of gab. They did some location shots in DC at the end of last season, but since I knew where one of those was filmed (near the Kennedy Center), I know that particular location didn’t look like that in the early 80s. There was another overhead vista shot of the Wilson Bridge & the Beltway that was clearly as it looks today, after extensive rebuild from 2007-2011, and not how it looked on a typical evening rush hour in Reagan administration. (for one, the traffic was actually moving).

        As for the convo, I definitely think this is setting up the ultimate showdown (not of ultimate destiny) for all the parties involved, but I don’t put much credence in any character knowing what the audience knows. That is, since Arkady dismissed the attack on the fake defector as a bureaucratic snafu (and didn’t even think of it being an inside job), I don’t think he’s canceling the Zephyr project as some sort of maskirovka. As I said earlier, one of the distinguishing features of this season versus last is that the audience is more omniscient and there aren’t any big reveals left. So if Arkady is playing a deeper game with either the fake defector or Zephyr that will come as a complete surprise to me, and something I don’t think they set up really well.

        So in other words, the conversation was important, but the Rezidentura is going to luck into their knowledge of that conversation, and that in turn is going to set off a chain of events that closes the book on either the Martha and/or the Beeman chapters. (I just can’t see both of the them lasting with them finally meeting outside of the office).

        We’ve seen random luck already this season plenty of times – The widow bookkeeper being the wrong place. The amateur mechanic taking too long with his precious and having a certain parking pass. That bug falling out of the pen because they jiggled it because it didn’t write Martha finally getting a clue about Clark because the real ‘Clark’ showed up at her office. The woman in the suitcase winding up there because of spontaneous actions on her part and her lovers’ part. A tooth that gets impacted because of the trunk of a car that was right there – and luck that things didn’t turn out worse than future amateur dentistry.Report

        • Michael Drew in reply to Kolohe says:


          Wow, I hadn’t thought of Beeman maybe biting it. I’m glad you raised the possibility, just so that I’ll survive the finale if it were to happen.

          That said, nah. Don’t think so. Not yet. Whom does it serve to create a dead Stan Beeman body right now? I’m not seeing it. Martha is pretty clearly a goner.

          I do get the sense that there’s something more to the move to end Zephyr than just thinking the product is worthless. That’s too valuable an asset. It seems like Arkady must be looking to control the aperture that the Center has on the FBI for some actual reason of his own. But maybe not.Report

          • Kolohe in reply to Michael Drew says:

            One thing i have tried to assiduously avoid is trade publication talk of show renewal and actor contract talks and signings. So i have no idea from that point of view what may happen. The show is, however, mature and ripe enough at three full seasons for almost anything to happen to anybody. But i do agree that Beeman is way down on the death pool odds. Martha is #1 (w/ a bullet?), then Maurice, Lisa, edit: Hans goes here, Adeholt, the fake defector, and then John Boy. And then Henry.Report

  2. Chris says:

    We’re only up to episode 7, so I can’t read this, but man am I enjoying this season.Report

    • Glyph in reply to Chris says:

      I’m not sure, but it might be the best yet. Feel free to talk about the stuff you HAVE seen already, unless you are worried about actually seeing the OP or spoilers in other comments.Report

      • Chris in reply to Glyph says:

        I’ll just say that R. and I have decided that we can make a lot of money reviving est.

        Also, the different takes on (or different directions of) faith, and the contrast of faith vs. necessity, are elements I wouldn’t have let myself hope for in a television show just a few years ago.

        Also, someone is going to write a dissertation on authenticity in The Americans.Report

        • Glyph in reply to Chris says:

          @chris – This post will be full of spoilers up to and including the most recent episode of FX’s excellent Cold War spy thriller / family drama / wig-extravaganza, The Americans. Click at your own peril, Comrade.

          RE: The est, I really liked the fact that they showed it (well, radical honesty anyway) actually improving Beeman’s and Philip’s lives/relationships (and the flashback to P & E’s KGB sex training was heartbreaking, and drove home yet again how much the Jennings, for all the murder and manipulation they themselves get up to, have also been used and molded by powers greater than them from a very young age).

          “Do you ever have to make it real with me?”
          “Sometimes….not now.”

          And this is always a grim show, and this season has been no exception; but I want a few more scenes of P & E smoking a doob, blowing the smoke out the window, and giggling about church.Report

          • Chris in reply to Glyph says:

            This comment just has spoilers through Episode 7. If you’re past that, it won’t be a problem.

            There was a moment at the end of the last episode I saw in which Phillip tries to convince Martha that, whoever and whatever he is, his love for her is real, and I found myself wondering whether he was telling the truth. I mean, if he had said that in the previous season, I’d have assumed he was lying, but he seems to be relying on Martha as a sort of escape from his family life more and more over the course of this season. And when he says that there is nothing he wouldn’t do to keep her safe, I really do believe him.

            This is where the show really becomes one of the best I’ve ever seen: these people lead dual lives, lives that are by their very nature lies, but when does the lie become as real as the truth? When does the pose become the actual stance? What is an actual stance? What is an authentic life? Love? Relationship? Partnership? Loyalty? Faith?

            I’m genuinely blown away by the ways in which they deal with such questions.Report

            • Glyph in reply to Chris says:

              @chris This comment just has spoilers through Episode 7. If you’re past that, it won’t be a problem.

              Chris: he seems to be relying on Martha as a sort of escape from his family life more and more

              I know you had to skip the OP, but I made that same observation in it – that somewhat like a “real” affair, Clark and Martha’s sham “marriage” ironically perhaps feels simple and safe to Philip when compared to his “real” life.

              He shows up, they have dinner and talk about Martha’s day (albeit for his ulterior motives) then they retire to the bedroom with the Kama Sutra manual. Whether he cares about her or not (and I think he does, to some degree) or just cares about her value as an asset, their miniature life together maybe feels more “stable” to him than anything else he has, and he doesn’t want to lose that.Report

              • Chris in reply to Glyph says:

                Episode 6 or 7 spoiler (I can’t remember, even though I just watched them yesterday), so beware…

                When he says to Elizabeth, of Martha’s foster kid shopping, “I don’t want another kid,” he says it exactly as anyone who’s done having kids would say it, not as someone who would only have that kid for the length of the usefulness of the relationship.

                Also, I’m loving his friendship with Stan, which also seems to be becoming a real friendship in addition to an information-gathering one. In the scene where he and Stan are eating pizza (the story of how the pizza got there is itself a perfect element) and drinking beer, and Stan asks him how his life is going, and Phillip answers honestly felt authentic. I mean, if that’s not a real connection, what makes a connection real?Report

              • Glyph in reply to Chris says:

                @chris – “I mean, if that’s not a real connection, what makes a connection real?”

                Elizabeth and the Northrup employee is a mirrored, messed-up situation too.

                Elizabeth has befriended someone who needs a friend, and is generally giving that friend support and good advice – except, you know, with the ultimate purpose of using her and causing her to commit treason.Report

              • Chris in reply to Glyph says:

                More spoilers, up to 7.

                Yeah, though Elizabeth, who’s a True Believer, seems to have the goal in sight at all times, whereas Phillip has moments of… the best word I can think for it is authenticity. Elizabeth’s very clothes were designed to get her to notice, comment on, and covet what Elizabeth was getting from her “man” who gives her money for answering questions about her industry.

                This is another reason the show is so brilliant: the difference between Phillip’s use of assets and Elizabeth’s reflects the difference in their commitment, or at least the reasons for their commitment, to the cause. When Elizabeth chose Phillip over her lover (who is playing a role in this season, even in death), he became her only real personal connection other than her kids (and even those are instrumental for her!), and that is still based at least part on their shared purpose.Report

              • Kolohe in reply to Chris says:

                Isn’t the difference between E’s and P’s interactions with their assets also partly & perhaps primarily due to the expected and manifested societal norms when it comes to men vs women? ie a honeypot trap is set and sprung differently when it was that Pakistani dude (either the old one or new one), or for that matter Hans (E often has acted to pump *clap* him up), than when it was Martha, woman in a suitcase, or underage cia daughter.Report

              • Glyph in reply to Kolohe says:

                The showrunners missed a song opportunity for the “Baggage” episode:


              • Glyph in reply to Glyph says:

                This comment just has spoilers through Episode 7. If you’re past that, it won’t be a problem.

                I was thinking some more about Clark and Martha’s sham marriage, and it occurs to me in some weird way that it is almost like it could be the marriage/life Philip would have had, had he stayed in Russia/never become an Illegal.

                Small apartment, no kids, hearty/sturdy wife with some soup on the stove, (real) job as a minor government functionary (perhaps his job involves him spying on his own people, as “Clark” supposedly does).

                I can see why, on some subconscious level, this might be a scenario that Philip is unwilling to lose for reasons completely-unrelated to his work.Report

              • Kolohe in reply to Glyph says:

                I have still yet to see the second half of Season 1, so I don’t quite have the full scope of the storyline. it’s obvious that it started with it being ‘just a job’ for Philip. A job, like all the rest of his work, with no boundaries.

                Near the conclusion of last season, though , we see for the first time Philip Leon Trosky setting the boundaries (to Arkady) on his and Elizabeth’s line of work. Specifically, setting those boundaries around his family, a Berlin Wall between the job and his (true) loved ones.

                So we get to this season, which is *all* about the boundaries. What’s difficult to ascertain is how much Clark is continually interacting with Martha post-Walter Taffet because of either

                a) a rational enough risk/reward calculation (though with more than a hint of a looming sunk cost fallacy),

                b) Philip has personal boundaries for the first time in his professional life, molded first and foremost by the Centre’s ongoing potential recruitment of his daughter, but also significantly shaped by the affair with underage cia daughter, the demise of his other long time asset paramour, and the graphic violence of the necklaced South African agent. (I can’t remember now off the top of my head if Jewish Rocket Scientist Now in Siberia got into Philip’s head during his transit to the docks. Or if JRSNiS tries and visibly failed. Rhys has the facial range to let the audience know for certain, but I can’t remember how he played it).Report

              • Glyph in reply to Kolohe says:

                He got in Philip’s head for sure.Report

            • CK MacLeod in reply to Chris says:

              Chris: when does the lie become as real as the truth? When does the pose become the actual stance? What is an actual stance? What is an authentic life? Love? Relationship? Partnership? Loyalty? Faith?

              And, perhaps most problematic of all, what is an “American”?Report

              • Chris in reply to CK MacLeod says:

                Right, I think that question of authenticity pervades all of the others. I mean, they are, in a very real sense, a prototypical American family: married, business owners, two kids, home owners, etc. They are as American as American gets, and as they become their cover more and more, to what extent are they not American even as they plot against “America”?Report

  3. aaron david says:

    @glyph @chris @kolohe
    I haven’t seen but one episode of the show, and not being a TV watcher in general I probably won’t, but two things.

    1. There are a couple of books you guys might want to look into, non-fiction, to round some of this out. The Haunted Wood by Allen Weinstein and Alexander Vassiliev. They somehow got access to the KGB archives for the Stalin period, and looked at Soviet espionage in the US for that period. Absolutely fascinating. Also Spy, 20 years in the Soviet Secret Service by Gordon Lonsdale. This is just one of many memoirs by former soviet spies. All are poorly written, but enthralling.

    2. Your first few paragraphs reminded me of nothing so much at this seen:

  4. Glyph says:

    This comment for reals will have spoilers from the most recent episode, so truly do not click on this if you are not caught up –

    How hilarious is it that Maurice – a man who clearly has some sort of criminal past, above and beyond his implied abuse or intimidation of Lisa – thinks he can “whatever” Elizabeth, a stone-cold killer who dropped a car on a random dude to secure a job opening for Lisa, and forced a sweet harmless old lady to commit suicide?

    Normally Elizabeth either deals with people who have no idea who she really is, and don’t try her; or people who know exactly who she is, and don’t try her.

    This guy clearly thinks she’s some sort of low-level corporate espionage flunky that he can intimidate.

    He has NO IDEA what he is dealing with, and I LOVE IT.Report

    • Kolohe in reply to Glyph says:

      Game of Thrones did something similar this week, but everyone wound up running away before maximum badassery needed to be revealed.

      Is there a trope name for this sort of thing? When a high level character with known badassery meets a lower level character whose sense of their own badassery is much higher than warranted? I was thinking it might be named for the Bill Paxton/Arnold Schwarzenneger dynamic in True Lies but nobody’s called it out specifically there. (and there’s a difference between the normal light comic aspect of this, like in True Lies, and the much more sinister implications it has in the Americans). (maybe ‘shipped out in a suitcase’ or ‘had the car drop’ *is* the trope namer now?)Report

  5. Will Truman says:

    I watched the first episode! Yay!Report

  6. CK MacLeod says:

    Excellent discussion, further bearing out just how packed the show is – and yet it never, to me, seems rushed.

    On the other hand… I’d be interested to if anyone can explain the article about the show I’m linking below – what point the writer is trying to make to whom… I think he’s trying to use the show to attack someone… I think he ends up hitting Mother Jones for publishing it… and himself for writing it.. but am I missing the point?

    • Michael Drew in reply to CK MacLeod says:

      I don’t wish they were Americans, because that would mean that it was just a marriage drama, and I, uh, watch the show because it’s a spy show. (Btw, it’s a show about espionage and the Cold War, not a show about marriage, although it is in fact also a great show about a fascinating marriage).

      Not sure what you want explained about the article. The author apparently would like it better if it weren’t a spy show at all, and were just a family drama instead. So, fair enough I guess.

      I do agree with him that I don’t like watching them kill (many innocent, some not innocent) Americans, and I find their ideological devotion to communism disturbing (largely because Russian communism was a doomed and inhumane atrocity). I often wish for the day to arrive when we see their dreams crushed and watch them have to crawl into the FBI and beg for mercy or back to a broken Russia six steps behind the entrepreneurial future oligopolists taking what they want. Or just for them to die by messing up their tradecraft or somehow other angering Mother Russia. But all good things come in time. For now, I enjoy just desiring to see that. If you don’t share that desire, I don’t know that I can explain it to you.

      If it’s just an explanation of the bad writing in the article, well, what can we say? It’s bad writing. You don’t need to illustrate every paragraph with a tweet. It’s bad writing.Report

      • In S1 they raised from early on and as a live option the idea of P & E defecting. I hate to attribute a change on the level of the show concept to the vagaries of TV cancellation policy – but there’ve been several imaginative shows in recent years that went a little nuts when their ability to finish their stories was put in doubt, and the reverse also occurs. When the show’s life expectancy went from 1 to 5 or so, that potential Twist of All Twists had to be suppressed. I think that’s still the most likely larger arc, tho: Sooner or later the truth is going to come out, probably with Stan at the center of it, and it’ll be a question of how P & E and everyone else approach the impending moment and what form it takes. Can’t hardly wait but would not be surprised if it’s already sketched out in some (revisable) detail.Report

    • Kolohe in reply to CK MacLeod says:

      That MoJo writer woke up on the Buzzfeed side of the bed before penning that piece.Report

    • Glyph in reply to CK MacLeod says:

      The author’s title is “Engagement Editor” – what the heck is that?

      I *think* the article is a joke – that is, I think it is trying to parody the kind of gushing fan encomium, that I may have written up at the top of this page.

      Which leads me into a sidebar, about how this show gets lots of critical love, and the people who love it LOVE it, but it struggles in the ratings.

      I can’t help but think the show’s unwillingness to hold viewers’ hands* as it leads them through the byzantine schemes probably hurts it a little. I wouldn’t want the show to change, but there it is.

      *Two examples from this season – when Elizabeth without comment plugs what appears to be an innocent “bread truck delivery woman” in the forehead, after the woman’s accent leads her/us to believe the woman is probably South African.

      And, after Aderholt and Beeman talk in the hallway, they don’t bother to show us Mail Robot; we just hear it beeping.

      I pay full attention to this show when it’s on, and I think I am a reasonably intelligent guy, but occasionally I find myself becoming a little confused as to plot points. I don’t think that’s bad work on the show’s part, it’s just that dense. And as I say above, I think a spy show (especially one that aspires to “reality” – this ain’t Bond, or Alias) should have the luxury to have convoluted plotting, with lots of dangling incomplete unresolved threads and possibly-extraneous characters to serve as question marks and red herrings. I even think it should have the luxury (within reason) to pull stunts like the late Jared reveal (though Kolohe has made an eloquent case that maybe that specific instance didn’t quite work for many).Report

      • CK MacLeod in reply to Glyph says:

        Glyph: I think it is trying to parody the kind of gushing fan encomium, that I may have written up at the top of this page.

        Don’t worry – not even close. If they published something more like your piece, I might suddenly find myself with a reason to pay attention to MOTHER JONES. Since I don’t, I wonder if the magazine as a whole isn’t moving in a more Buzzfeed direction.

        I think you’re right also that Henry is a big plot shoe bound to drop sooner or later – maybe next season. I’d like P & E to be having one of their laundry room strategy sessions when suddenly this comes booming through the floorboards:

  7. Will Truman says:

    Episode 3 gave me a hit of Air Supply!Report

  8. Will Truman says:

    On episode five. So good to see Frank Langella.Report

    • Seven down, six to go.

      Accepting suggestions on how to explain the sudden drop of productivity to my wife.Report

      • Glyph in reply to Will Truman says:

        I don’t know how well I would be able to binge this show. Seems like it could be a little too stressful.Report

        • Chris in reply to Glyph says:

          I can’t do it. Part of the reason we’re not caught up is because we can’t watch more than two episodes at a time, and even that’s difficult. It is, in some ways, the anti-Breaking Bad, which is famously bingeable.Report

          • Glyph in reply to Chris says:

            Nothing against BB, but I think this is far chewier than that too. I always want to savor and mull this for a day or so after it’s done.

            When you guys get done, I put up a separate post for the finale, since comments will close on this one in another couple days.Report

            • Chris in reply to Glyph says:

              Right, I find myself thinking about The Americans pretty often. Breaking Bad was excellent story telling and spectacular acting, very much like the ancient tragedies it consciously emulated. This is like a novel, with a richer, deeper, more complex world.Report

      • —————————————————–+———–++++++++—–++-++++++_——+-++++—-1–1111—–+————————————— Lain waited until the scene where Martha confronts Clark to request that I read her five straight books. Long ones.

        After I declined the sixth she started crying, creating longer wait to see the scene.Report