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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56 Responses

  1. CK MacLeod says:

    Speaking of compositions, that’s impressively fast composition work from you. Congratulations.

    …then there’s that final deep focus composition, centered on Elizabeth, turning away from Philip’s abortive (and aborted) confession to the news report “we should watch.” Seemingly unable to confront the crises of conscience destroying her daughter and her husband, she turns to the TV out of a sense of duty, and is excoriated by Mr. American himself in terms that echo what the bookkeeper told her, ending the season on the word “Evil.”

    On II: The children don’t have to turn against P & E actively in order to continue to represent their greatest vulnerabilities.

    On III: As I may have noted, or was about to note, on the other thread, the prospect of defecting was something that P was initially presented as more willing to consider. E has always been more “true believer” than he has been. For the same reason, E is the one who must make or is more likely to make the final, irrevocable decision – in whatever form it takes. Prior to that point, P takes a huge risk even in bringing it up, since it would be E’s duty to report him and to take measures.

    On V: Can’t be sure, but it looked like Stan is going off script here after Oleg. Remember, Stan’s big assignment prior to this one, the assignment that destroyed his own family, was going undercover – making friends and betraying them.

    On VII: I’m not worried about a Philip/Sandy affair at all, but it’s interesting they’re getting more out of Sandy here.

    On IX: Well, in fact, Elizabeth WAS answering the question, and now Paige seems on the verge of sending herself or her parents “away forever.” So, she may initially reject or be appalled by her mother’s attitude, but cannot help “inheriting” it. (Part of “growing up”?)

    “Paige,” by the way, is said not to have been a common name back when, and there don’t seem to have been many famous Paiges. An on-line baby-name resource gives the following etymology:

    Paige \pa(i)-ge\ as a girl’s name (also used as boy’s name Paige), is pronounced page. It is of English origin, and the meaning of Paige is “young servant”. A page in medieval households was usually a young boy whose service was the first step in his training as a knight. Use may possibly indicate an ancestor who was a page.


    • Glyph in reply to CK MacLeod says:

      Thanks – I may not always write well, but I can sometimes write quickly!

      On IX, what I meant was that Elizabeth *was* answering Paige’s question, albeit unintentionally.

      Paige is asking, yet again, for some sign that Elizabeth’s family is more important or more real to her than the job is.

      Elizabeth is trying to reassure Paige, but in missing her real question (she thinks the question is about Paige, but the question is about Elizabeth – what Paige wants to hear is, “no, honey; I could NEVER let you go, your father and I love you more than anything” – but Elizabeth either doesn’t think that way, or is too emotionally-reserved to say it) Elizabeth inadvertently gives Paige her answer.Report

      • CK MacLeod in reply to Glyph says:

        In other words, Paige, the enemy of lies, wants to hear a lie. Elizabeth tells her the truth, in two ways: 1) Paige would never have to go away in the same sense Elizabeth had to go away (“Americans” don’t have to do that kind of thing); 2) In the real world or Elizabeth’s real world duty sometimes calls for supreme sacrifice, which must be rendered. That’s “growing up,” and it can’t be helped – since resistance to the utmost sooner or later (as we are shown) takes on the identical character of that which would be resisted.

        BTW, another interesting mirroring contradiction I just glommed onto, but have not yet integrated into a theory of the show, is the sharp contrast between the EST instruction to listen to the body, and the Jewish physicist’s insistence (reminiscent of Solzhenitsyn) to Nina that the first requirement for freedom (from the state at its most inhuman) is to deny what the body screams out for.Report

        • Glyph in reply to CK MacLeod says:

          Boilerplate to prevent front-page spoilers yadda yadda yadda don’t even read this part it means absolutely nothing.


          Philip, as shown in his convo with Yousef, is starting to listen to his gut (guilt); the head-rationalizations (“1 dead random busboy in America is better than 100 dead random Russian boys in Afghanistan”) aren’t cutting it for him anymore.

          I also thought it was interesting that Philip was, for reasons he couldn’t explain, at a sex-centric est seminar – as we’ve seen, from training onwards his job has frequently required him to sexually prostitute himself (something Nina alludes to as well in her convo with the physicist – that she is often trying to buy her freedom with her body and doesn’t know if she can anymore).Report

        • Michael Drew in reply to CK MacLeod says:


          Isn’t implicit in Paige’s question not just whether Elizabeth could “let her leave” physically (to me the fact that she adds the “physically” implies that she’s thinking of all the other ways a human being can be left), but more generally whether Elizabeth could “let her leave” (the embrace of their family) into the clutches of the Soviet state? Into its intelligence apparatus, into a life like Elizabeth’s? (The full horrors of which Paige could never imagine without seeing them up close, but which she nevertheless understands must be tremendous.) They could be able to be in the same room with each other every day for ever and still have left each other emotionally years in the past, with an ocean between them, if they allow the Soviet state to dictate the nature of their relationship (to it and consequently to each other) to them. Elizabeth is slowly coming to understand this, and Paige already knows it instinctually.

          Glyph is right that Elizabeth does not answer the literal question directly (great catch, Glyph) – she assures her, not in so many words, that the Center would never require the literal geographic separation she experienced, but doesn’t say she could never allow it. But she answers the larger question quite clearly: “The life into which I am seeking to lead you would never require that particular sacrifice (of you), but the sacrifices it would
          require, I would allow us to make.” One of those sacrifices, Paige is already aware, and being cut to pieces by, is the integrity of one’s word – one’s honesty. Different people have different natural relationships with honesty; it’s not like lying is a Soviet thing. But Paige clearly has a strong natural relationship with honesty that is of value to her, and it’s being violated right now in a big way. This is what she tells us at the end of the episode while on the phone with Pastor Tim.

          Paige got all the answer she wanted and more from Elizabeth, even though it was not the answer she wanted, nor the direct answer to her literal question. And she didn’t want a lie, @ck-macleod : she wanted the truth to be something rather than something else. She was hoping – hoping for some room to hope about the path that’s now before her in this family. But the truth was not what she wanted; it was something else because the world is the world and not something else.Report

          • The thing we don’t know, and the thing that the show will cheat about, and in effect has become a grand and intensive cheat about – but not exactly in a bad way – is how Paige and Henry absorbed the values they have, and that, at this point, esp for Paige, are developing in violent and diametrical opposition to Elizabeth’s values and Philip’s confusion.

            The show has no choice but to advance a theory of how children in general learn their values and at the same time to fill in retroactively how P & E intended Paige and Henry to be brought up. What kind of life did P & E ever expect their children to have? Or did they not care? The latter would be a great betrayal by a parent of a child. Or did they believe that the great conflict would be decided soon and in their favor? Surely the alternative possibilities – defeat or an indefinite struggle – must have presented themselves as something for a responsible parent to consider – or even for a cold-blooded developer of espionage assets…

            Is the theory that Paige was somehow born wanting honesty, or that P & E instilled lessons in honesty, or that P & E stood mutely by or passively reinforced lessons that their children absorbed in public school or from their friends or from American culture generally? I think we sort of default to the last. The kids represent “Americanism” absorbed osmotically or something. It seems that P & E may never have thought about it much. Maybe they were too busy spying and keeping their travel agency front going, but that doesn’t seem very Soviet of them. You’d think they’d have tried to work in some veiled Marxism-Leninism at some point. Or did they have a different idea about making the kids as normal as possible, merely part of the front? In that case they already gave up on the kids ahead of time, and are paying the price, and otherwise they and the Center are just winging it now…

            This is kind of what I meant about the show turning inward on itself and pointing to its own erasure or revelation of its own emptiness: The plot consists now almost entirely of filling in, as movingly, richly, and believably as acting and period detail and real history can make it, the abyss that sits there in place of realistic foundations. I somehow think that the widely observed critical success/popular failure is tied to this problem. It’s not that the concept is more outlandish or incredible than the concepts of more successful shows, but that the characters just don’t make sense to the average viewer. They’re not just anti-heroes: They’re voids. To the extent they’re “like us,” it’s in a way that we don’t like to contemplate: They’re as meaningless and empty and morally compromised as we are.

            That doesn’t mean that the show isn’t very interesting and worth watching, or doesn’t have a lot to say, only that it doesn’t bear the kind of scrutiny that people want to give it. Maybe it’s not in the final analysis any more believable than, say, THE WALKING DEAD or GAME OF THRONES.Report

            • Stillwater in reply to CK MacLeod says:

              CK MacLeod,

              The show has no choice but to advance a theory of how children in general learn their values and at the same time to fill in retroactively how P & E intended Paige and Henry to be brought up.

              I disagree, for a couple of reasons. The show isn’t about resolving a battle between opposing ideologies, and it’s not about how (or why) people adopt the ideological values they in fact hold. It takes it as a given that people in fact do hold certain views and presents various tensions arising out of that bare fact. It also takes it as a given – presented in the very first episode (I believe) – that people can change their values, as evidenced by Philip’s expressed desire to buy their way outa KGB servitude via the FBI.

              By the time the finale rolls around, we already know that P values his family more than “the cause” (or atleast includes them in his decision calculus) and that E is the opposite, still viewing her daughter primarily as a useful tool to further her ideological goals. Paige’s question to Elizabeth, which Elizabeth can only understand in terms of The Cause, revealed to Paige precisely what she suspected. And, to get back to the point (finally!), we don’t need an account of why Paige feels that way, or what values Paige identifies with, for her disappointment to make sense. It’s a purely human (ie., pre-ideological, non-intellectual) emotion she’s experiencing, one in which her deepest worries have (apparently!) been confirmed.

              Along those lines, tho, I did find Philip’s reaction when E and Paige returned from the airport interesting: he doesn’t interact with Paige in any meaningful way, just accepts that she’s tired and let’s her go to bed. This after she’s flown thousands of miles to not only a different culture, but a different world, really. He didn’t even kiss her goodbye when he dropped them off. Hmmmm…..

              No wonder she called Pastor Tim.Report

              • CK MacLeod in reply to Stillwater says:

                Stillwater: The show isn’t about resolving a battle between opposing ideologies, and it’s not about how (or why) people adopt the ideological values they in fact hold.

                You know this how? I read the show as being pervaded by both of those concerns, though I wouldn’t presume to say what the show or any show is absolutely about to the exclusion of other things it might reasonably be said also to be about.

                You then proceed to contradict yourself by demonstrating that, in fact, the show does not presume that people simply “do” hold their values (though even that would be a “theory,” if an unsatisfying one), but in fact presumes that people can under some circumstances change or abandon them, and other than randomly or by showrunner fiat. Philip has values in conflict, including values that he may have come to possess as a result of living in America passing as an American husband for 15 – 20 years. Whatever values he possessed as a freshly trained KGB operative are now contending with other values which are likely some combination of whatever he learned as a child (we know less about that with him than with Elizabeth), and whatever he has learned since.

                Even taking it on the simplistic level that you seem to find acceptable, and presuming that the show not only assumes people are simply built that way, but also assumes that that’s how everyone else thinks, then the KGB and our anti-heroes would still be incredibly stupid not to contemplate the possibility of radical and unsustainable conflict between intimate family ties and commitments to the Cause, no matter how well-trained and -indoctrinated the operatives.Report

              • Stillwater in reply to CK MacLeod says:

                CK MacLeod,

                Hmmm. I don’t even understand what you just wrote, actually. People do what they do, they reflect on what they’ve done, they make choices in light of new evidence and experiences…. That’s what the show is about. I mean, I take it as a rather mundane observation that the writer’s of the show realize that us viewers know how this whole ideological mess turned out, yes? So it’s not like a critique of capitalism v communism is really all that interesting from a dramatic perspective.

                Other than that, tho, what I’m disagreeing with you about is that the writers need to dig deeply (or at all, really) into various philosophical or psychological theories about how individuals come to their values. Human beings have em, they arise outa various experiences, and they can change over time. All they’re committed to (from a story telling pov) is providing enough context and backstory for each individual’s actions to be plausible. Then it’s off to the races.Report

            • Glyph in reply to CK MacLeod says:

              CK MacLeod: how Paige and Henry absorbed the values they have

              I loved this comment on the AVClub boards, from Grim Fandango. Not sure how well the comment-linking will work, so I will quote it also:

              The Americans isn’t just an ironic title, the Americans are Paige and Henry. Two Soviet agents did such a good job fitting in that they accidentally raised the most consummate, earnest, sunniest, full-blooded American girl in the world. They’d have to break her down into a million little pieces and systematically rebuild her, and even then she’d still bleed red, white and blue and pray her heart out for her parents’ salvation.


              • Stillwater in reply to Glyph says:


                Well, maybe, depending on how ideological a person wants to get in their analysis of the show. From my perspective, all they’ve done is raise a kid who’s so disconnected from them emotionally that she’s looking to religion to fill that void. From a more detached, story-driven, perspective, she’s doing just what Elizabeth has done: find meaning and purpose in the adoption of an ideology. From another perspective, I guess, finding Christianity is quintessentially American (??).Report

              • Glyph in reply to Stillwater says:

                Oh, I didn’t mean to imply that ‘Christian’ is synonymous with
                ‘American’; just that if you were trying, as the Soviets are here, to build the mythical ideal ‘1983 American’, one that would fit in perfectly and arouse no suspicion, she’d look a lot like Paige.Report

              • Glyph in reply to Glyph says:

                Which is, of course, the glaring flaw in their plan.Report

              • Stillwater in reply to Glyph says:

                Well, it’s all very interesting stuff, innit? It’s what you and I find so interesting about the show, and what motivated you to write the post, yes? We’re being presented with lots of pretty deep and compelling stuff.

                Personally, I don’t think that Paige being too American is the flaw in the Soviet’s plan to turn her. I mean, a few episodes ago, back when she was looking to religion for answers and Elizabeth was very actively courting her for a life of crime as a spy for the Glorious Revolution, and her sentiments were very much aligned (from Elizabeth’s pov anyway) with the goals of communism, I viewed her conversion as a very open question. That is, the context of the show left it entirely open as to whether Paige could be turned or not. There was nothing “true blue American” about her at that point in time upon which a viewer could decisively say she’d never turn.

                It only becomes clear at the end of the finale, in her “betrayal” of her parents, that she (apparently!) won’t be turned. And the only indication of her American-ness is that she tells Pastor Tim not only that her parents aren’t Americans living a lie, she tells him that they’re Russians, as if that makes matters even worse for her. So I don’t know, maybe part of the emerging Horror at the life she’s living is politically motivated?

                (Course, we’ll see next year whether Tim actually believes her about all that…)Report

              • Glyph in reply to Stillwater says:


                It may not be her “Americanness” which is the plan’s flaw per se, but the Centre is now two for two in US teen recruitment catastrophes. Jared was a different type of catastrophe, but one all the same.

                So what is the common thread here? P & E (and presumably, Jared’s parents) were recruited as teens, so it’s not their “teenness” that’s the confounding factor.Report

              • Stillwater in reply to Glyph says:

                Are you talking about the cultural aspects of all this?

                Yeah, I agree with that. That’s actually one of the themes I’m find myself thinking about quite a bit in this show, actually. EG., consider the way Elizabeth reacts to Reagan’s speech: when he says the words “Evil EMpire” she quickly looks at Philip almost accusingly, as if might actually agree with Reagan about this. But then her expression changes slightly, more towards bafflement or the glimmers of understanding, that there is a perspective from which Reagan’s words make perfect sense. The counterpoint to that scene, of course, is Paige spilling the family secrets to Pastor Tim (“they’re Russians”) and as we know, Paige has been driven to say those things precisely because Elizabeth and Philip hold “the Evil Empire” above her. In that moment (on my view of it!) Elizabeth is becoming (perhaps!) aware that the culture folks experience in their day to day lives contributes (negatively, in this case!) to the way they perceive the world. Philip’s evolution is a clear example of this, btw, the way I’m viewing things.

                All of which is to say that the cultural influences on folks is one thing the center isn’t concerned about, and sorta can’t be concerned about. (Being all goal oriented and whatnot.)Report

              • Stillwater in reply to Stillwater says:

                And adding to that, it’s not just cultural influences, but life experiences, and in particular, life experiences divorced from a governing ideology. That’s particularly true of Philip, I think, in the sense that raising his kids and having a functioning marriage (just life stuff) are real concerns of his, ones that are antithetical to the interests of the Center and the Cause. Same for Paige to some extent, as well.Report

              • CK MacLeod in reply to Glyph says:


                Certainly, that’s an irony. What I’m saying is that it may work superficially and amusingly, but that it doesn’t sustain much scrutiny on its own terms. It’s become either the central problem in the story or a major part of it, but the underlying problem would have been among the first and major questions from the moment that the idea of setting up an undercover couple would have occurred to anyone (and probably helps to explain why in fact there never was a couple really anything like P & E).

                So, there’s a huge flaw in the concept of P & E that is attributed implicitly to them and the Center, but the “real” Center consists of the show’s creator and its writers. The show is all about an insane incompetence deflected onto the former but originating with the latter.

                The un-realism is of a piece with the central un-realism, or set of un-realisms, about human psychology that Rhys and Russell and the others do a mostly great job of making seem just almost believable. Their characters and situation never made sense, and the show explicates the incoherence and unsustainability of its own character ideas and concept as psychological drama – emotional outpourings on the theme and variations of “there is no justification for this,” “this is impossible to bear,” “this is all lies,” “I don’t make any sense,” “no one could handle this,” and so on.

                It’s Pirandello or Beckett dressed up as le Carre – which is interesting in its own right, but not how most fans of the show are interested in reading it.Report

              • Glyph in reply to CK MacLeod says:

                @ck-macleod This isn’t meant to undercut your point, which I think is fascinating (and as an aside, I was needlessly worried when I posted this that no one seemed to be commenting – I should have realized that a show like this would take some time to garner discussion, because it deserves more cogitation, so thanks to you and @kolohe and @will-truman and @stillwater and everyone here) – but in RE: the idea that “no one would ever be so stupid as to attempt this IRL”:


                Andrey Bezrukov (?????? ????????, alias Donald Howard Heathfield) and Yelena Vavilova (????? ????????, alias Tracey Lee Ann Foley) admitted being both Russian citizens and Russian agents.[63] The agents have two sons, aged 16 and 20 at the time of their parents’ arrest….

                Bezrukov’s cover wife, Yelena Vavilova, worked for Redfin, a real estate firm in Somerville, Massachusetts;[70] she claimed to be from Canada but also traveled on British passport.[71]

                In July 2012, referring to “current and former U.S. officials”, The Wall Street Journal reported that the couple’s son, Tim Foley, was extensively groomed by his parents for a future spy career; he was 20 when his parents were arrested and had just finished his sophomore year at the George Washington University in Washington, D.C.; he was unable to return to the U.S.


              • CK MacLeod in reply to Glyph says:


                I’m pretty sure you get this, but, just to be clear, P & E have only a little more in common with the real illegals, even the two you isolate who “groomed” their son to carry on the family business, than James Bond has with real undercover agents or Rambo with real special operators. It doesn’t appear, for instance, that any of the real illegals ever hurt a fly or could, while P & E kill around one person a week – and are masters of disguise, hand-to-hand combat, use of a wide range of weapons and devices, and so on – all without any apparent time for training or study. They’re each an entire Mission Impossible team rolled into one person. The psychological un-realism is harder to describe – of people constantly engaged in acts of sexual depravity and murderous violence – yet maintaining concepts of themselves as borderline “normal,” all on the basis of indoctrination that occurred 20+ years earlier.

                Part of this is typical of action adventure stories – with heroes who constantly display martial and related athletic skills that in the real world maintaining at a high level (much less a superhero level) requires intensive and constant training as a way of life – but people want to treat shows like the Americans as somehow more serious [edit: or more serious on a different level] than an Avengers movie.Report

              • CK MacLeod in reply to CK MacLeod says:

                (I realize I may seem to be talking myself out of “fandom,” or “against” the show, but I think I’m just arguing for treating it differently than I observe most critics do – which is either to celebrate its greatness or ridicule it for being incredible in some secondary way – in S1 it was the wigs.)Report

              • Glyph in reply to CK MacLeod says:

                I’ll reply to both comments here – yes, I am aware that in certain aspects, the Americans is completely unrealistic – it has to be, since a truly 100% realistic show would probably be pretty boring. I still maintain it is more realistic than Bond or Avengers though.

                And I make wig jokes too, just because, well, some of them are hilarious to me – especially, for reasons I have not quite sussed out, on Philip- there’s something there that I can’t quite put my finger on, akin to seeing all the Mad Men male characters suddenly sporting 70s mustaches – like we have this subconscious (presumably cutural, though I’d be interested to know if there is any more than that) expectation that men are not supposed to change their appearances suddenly and radically, whereas for women to transform daily (hourly?) is unremarkable and expected.

                This would actually be an interesting topic for Veronica…Report

              • Kolohe in reply to CK MacLeod says:

                CK MacLeod: he psychological un-realism is harder to describe – of people constantly engaged in acts of sexual depravity and murderous violence – yet maintaining concepts of themselves as borderline “normal,” all on the basis of indoctrination that occurred 20+ years earlier.

                It is likely that their optempo has seen a dramatic increase over the last 2 and change years (in show time). The election of Reagan would have caused the Soviet intelligence machine to ‘surge’ – with the associated increased psychological stress (and degredation in job performance) that any such prolonged action with troops is prone to do.

                So, there’s one in-universe explanation why they’ve been able to keep their equilibrium up to now. Another is that compartmentalization of their work lives and their home lives was no doubt easier when the kids were younger and didn’t have the awareness to ask questions (like ‘where the hell are you guys all the time?’).

                (on the subject of double lives, we found out a couple of years ago that the husband of a family friend was carrying on a long term affair with a ‘fiancee’ in another city half-way across the country. So I do believe people can have a great deal of psychological compartmentalization over a long duration)

                (we also call those people “actors”)

                They’ve long made the case that Philip is just reallly really good at this spy stuff, and that is prime reason why he does it. Elizabeth has always been the true believer, and has never swayed from that path – even when the system, i.e. the training regime, became personally monstorous to her. Last season they showed a parallel development with the kids, with Henry being able to do a breaking and entering, and Paige joining the hippie church.Report

              • CK MacLeod in reply to Kolohe says:


                I think you bring them a little closer to le Carre or Gerald Seymour than to Bond, but still leave them – and the concept – somewhere well beyond believable.Report

  2. Will Truman says:

    Just finished episode twelve. How can they end it there? OMG OMG OMG OMG!!!!!

    So much for my other plans. I really, really hope that Lain cooperates.Report

  3. Will Truman says:

    —————— ———————————————— ——————————————- —————————————– ——————–

    V – Beeman totally screwed Oleg over. I can read it no other way.

    VII – Same, though I am wondering if this doesn’t touch on III… and whether VII is a form of recklessness on account of III. That’s where my mind was going.

    IX – Yeah. Ohhhhhh yeah.Report

  4. Will Truman says:

    —————— ———————————————— ——————————————- —————————————– ——————–

    My biggest disappointment with the last episode was Martha’s relative (complete?) absence. I really, really wanted to know what happened when Phil took the wig off. I assume that he killed Clark. But how completely? And what did he say?! I had visions of him basically threatening her not to leave because of how suspicious it would look. Or not. But what? That’s a conversation I really wanted to see, and not one that entirely spoke for itself.

    Also, I’m a bit surprised that the USSR was willing (or at least that the government thought they would be willing) to trade the plant for the scientist. While Nina would be a poor trade for the US and a fantastic one for the Russians, the scientist is a fantastic deal for the US and a terrible one for the Russians. I mean, I understand loyalty to your spies, but still…Report

    • Kolohe in reply to Will Truman says:

      Oh, I think I missed that when they were talking in the vault. (I was noticing they did have to turn on the red light). __________________ They are going to trade Fake Defector Milky Way Woman for Jewish Rocket Scientist? I thought John Boy just said “Not Nina, a man they arrested” or something like that.Report

  5. Kolohe says:

    LOAD “*”,8,1

    I’m a bit disappointed they didn’t do a location shot at Dulles – it stilll looks more or less the same as it did since it was built in the 60s, so all they would have needed are the same ‘classic’ cars. (last year, they did do at least one location shoot in DC)

    now that GoG spoiler filler is out of the way. V: I think Beeman sort did screw over Oleg*, but Beeman is still in a pickle, and may still be the worse off for that transaction. Now, Beeman’s being formally asked by the powers that be to leverage that Oleg relationship (and deliver results), but of course, that relationship has just been nuked because all their shenanigans have been for naught vis a vis Nina. Oleg still has something on Beeman, too, with that assasination in the first season, right? (and at the end of the day, Oleg seems to be a better ‘operative’ despite being younger and not coming up through the ranks in the usual way).

    I’m not entirely sure that Beeman’s “hey we now have something on Oleg that we can use to turn him” was sincere, or just a way to sell what, from one point of view, was already treasonous to begin with.

    III – Elizabeth seems to be onboard with extending the relationship with Martha at a strategic level, but had an issue with tactics. So there’s some method to the madness there. (Has the Centre weighed in either way on screen on Martha’s continued strategic value? I’m not sure if Gabriel has said anything about her specifically).

    I can’t help but feel the entire Afghan arc this season was a bit of a shaggy dog story. That was a hell of a lot of work for the short term gain of some Northern Alliance members not meeting Congress one time. Is it just because we know that eventually the mujadeen will get significant support from the CIA and Charlie Wilson that I find the whole mission particularly pointless?

    Looking back on the arc of the season, the whole South African thing seems to be filler, disconnected from the other plot lines. Last year, there was a web of connections between the corrupted defense contractor, the other family of agents, the closeted SEAL, the young sandinista protogee. Though, in fairness, the Jewish rocket scientist was a seperate thread last year too.

    No resolution on the Lisa and Maurice storylines either, who entered the story (looks it up), back in Episode 9 of Season 2. Again, a lot of work for a few pictures of an airplane.

    *I’m noticing a habit of refering to Americans by their last names, but Russians by their first names. This is not good news for Hillary.Report

    • ScarletNumber in reply to Kolohe says:

      LOAD “*”,8,1

      I hope you had an Epyx Fast Load cartridge.Report

    • Glyph in reply to Kolohe says:

      Boilerplate to prevent front-page spoilers yadda yadda yadda don’t even read this part it means absolutely nothing.


      RE: III – they haven’t made it a huge ongoing argument, but Elizabeth definitely strongly implied Martha needed to go, Philip said no, and Gabriel/the Centre cast the deciding vote in Philip’s favor for now (the three of them were walking together in a park for this convo).

      There’s an interview with the showrunners over at Sepinwall; Sepinwall is one of those who has commented on the series perhaps being slightly overstuffed, and they state that the fact that certain storylines disappear for weeks at a time or appear to hang unresolved is intentional, since IRL operations heat up and cool down, ebb and flow like that. I reserve judgement and trust them, this series plays long games.

      The Afghan storyline is there for dramatic purposes to pull Philip in yet another “family” direction, since he supposedly has a son there (though I still have a nagging fear his son is fake, a lie the KGB told him to motivate him and keep him in line); Philip is near-breaking because he can’t juggle his responsibilities to his American family, his fake Martha family, his real Russian family, and his creepy surrogate Kimmie fatherhood. If some of the stories feel disconnected from each other, so does Philip, even from himself. The center (Centre?) cannot hold.Report

      • CK MacLeod in reply to Glyph says:

        Everyone is of course free to entertain whatever aspect of the “entertainment product” they find entertaining to entertain. For me, however, statements of authorial or, for a show, showrunner intentions and considerations are more often trivializing and distracting. It invites everyone to play amateur writer (or director, etc.) rather than to treat the work of art, however compromised it may be by circumstances of industrial production, as art.

        I could call this “just my personal bias,” but it’s more my position: I think that instead of confronting and developing the meaning of the work, its statement to and about “us,” we too often end up talking about the industry, and that speculative discussions about character intentions, theoretical alternative storylines, and believability, often tend in the same direction, though they also have their place, since, for instance, violations in realism also often mark the precise points where statements are being revealed, almost in the manner of miracles in religious scripture.

        It’s kind of a miracle that P & E befriend an FBI agent who just happens to be their neighbor, though it’s also kind of a miracle that P & E even exist and somehow ended up with children, under some theory, apparently, that complications could be kept under control or that the children could be turned into assets. The various “family matters” that have taken center stage in the story are inherent in the narrative concept, and point to the central and ancient political-philosophical question of the relation of family and the state.

        I do not know of any example drawn from the real world of the KGB making the assumptions attributed to them, that agents could be set up as man and wife and eventually as parents without their emotional attachments to each other, and to their new “home,” overwhelming or at least threatening their commitments to the cause. If it is complete fantasy – or narrative miracle requiring suspension of disbelief – it still provides a vehicle for demonstrating and examining a very real problem for all theories of the state that fail to comprehend human nature adequately, and corresponds to the historically successful argument for “Americanism” and against “Communism.”

        In this sense, the show – like many and possibly all fictions – develops as an examination of the central flaw in its own concept, or as an elaboration of its own “contradictions,” as a Marxist might put it. The natural course of the show, or of the fiction, is self-erasure via the gradual exposure of its own falsehood.Report

        • Glyph in reply to CK MacLeod says:

          I don’t read a ton of the “behind the scenes” stuff either; I only mentioned the story “overstuffing” or “loose ends” criticisms (which I have seen crop up in other discussions) simply to say that, for me, both the putative “overstuffing” and “loose ends” work very well in the context of such a story; and the showrunners’ comments confirmed for me that the inclusion of both, and the effect produced by it, is fully intentional.Report

          • CK MacLeod in reply to Glyph says:

            Sure – I made my argument somewhat in reference to other discussion I’ve seen, and because, entirely without reference to intentions, your concluding observation stands on its own, and supports the thematic point on Philip’s multiple pseudo-families and a necessary breakdown or failure of his identity or sense of self. He doesn’t know who or what he is – how could he?

            The theory has been advanced, for instance in the discussion under that A/V club post, that Elizabeth’s reaction to Reagan’s declaration of war on the Evil Empire will be to harden her ideological stance and re-double her commitment. I saw her differently in that moment, but maybe that was wishful thinking on my part. Certainly it’s possible that she would be shaken and at some level recognize her own monstrosity, and in the same moment rebel against and suppress it because it’s perfectly unbearable. If she simply can’t accept and respond to what the bookkeeper told her and what Reagan is now telling her (by changing), her only possible response might be to re-double her dedication to the cause.

            If so, then she’ll be brought to unbearable and un-surmountable crisis by it, I think. I thought during Season 1 that defection was the end point, but I wonder if for her it isn’t death, possibly after, secretly to all but herself and us, she declines to sacrifice her family, so instead sacrifices herself – and is at least spared having to witness the end of the Cold War and destruction of the Soviet Union. Philip I could more easily see defecting and living on as some kind of puttering Cold War Henry Hill writing his memoirs while watching the Wall fall on a cheap TV in Godknowswhere, Middle America.Report

  6. Kolohe says:

    Other thoughts – I forgot the Evil Empire speech was to a gathering of the politically active Christian Evangelicals. And had as much to say about abortion and school prayer and the (allegedly*) Christian foundation of America as it did about arms control and the USSR.

    *I’m going to render onto Jon Rowe what is Jon Rowe’s and go no further with that.

    My first reaction when the DVR ended was “Did I miss something?” They had three minutes of commercials after the last scene, and went to the usual cut scene “See for more insider information” at the very end of the time the show was programed for.

    So, after futzing around with the DVR for a few minutes, and seeing that was indeed it, my reaction then was: “That’s it? That’s all they’re going to do this season? They’re going to leave Martha, *and* Linda& Maurice *and* Hans *and* New Woman in the Rezidentura *and* Mail Robot just hanging out there? And just a disgusted look from New FBI Black Guy sitting as his desk? and they’re going to introduce a *new* relationship between Philip and Mrs. Beeman?”

    But I really don’t want to negate an entire season, with several solid episodes and a few extraordinary scenes with what I feel was a weak denouement. (except of course, for Paige telling Pastor Tim). It reminds me a bit of how I learned to enjoy David Lynch – don’t worry about the overall plot making sense, just appreciate the filmmaking and the individual performances by the actors. (i.e. Mulholland Drive).

    Though even given that, I was underwhelmed by the meeting between Elizabeth and her mother (but did appreciate the cinematography during it and its aftermath). It just didn’t quite hit the crescendo the season had been building up to -and wasn’t as good as the solo scenes of Elizabeth listening to her mother’s tapes.

    And if Gabriel is tired of Philip’s s***, telling him to ‘grow-up’, why did they still indulge them by sending her Mom into West Berlin? (that’s what happened right? Elizabeth and Paige didn’t go across the border the other way, right?). They could have just contacted Elizabeth in Berlin, and told her ‘sorry, it’s not going to happen, go home’. Elizabeth’s not going to do anything crazy nuts with her daughter in tow.Report

    • Glyph in reply to Kolohe says:

      Next season is Mail Robot’s season to shine, I just know it.

      They COULD have told Elizabeth to go home, but once she’s already in West Germany the additional risk of bringing her mother to her was probably fairly low (since the border control was geared primarily to work one-way, that the Communists controlled) so it might have been better to do that, than risk further damaging the Centre’s shaky relationship with P & E. They could have stood up to the blackmail, but maybe it was “cheaper” at that point to just pay.

      Also, they went around Jared’s parents to recruit him, and look how that turned out. As far as they can tell, P & E are cooperating fully with Paige’s recruitment now, so maybe they were grudgingly amenable to a little quo for that quid.

      Edited to add: had she not had Paige with her, they might have told her to go home. Taking Paige (who they need to romance) WAS Elizabeth’s leverage.Report

      • Kolohe in reply to Glyph says:

        I’m just a bit surprised that a Stalinist organization has more concern for employee morale and work-life balance than a given Popeye’s franchise.


        at a certain point, doesn’t Gabriel have to put his foot down for, at the very least, self-preservation? What the higher-ups in any organization don’t like – whether they are Soviet spys, corporate honchos, Baltimore police, or Italian-American mobsters – is the inability for middle managers to ‘keep their people in line’.Report

        • Will Truman in reply to Kolohe says:

          I think the issue of morale involves a combination of (a) having invested a lot in these assets, and potentially damage-inducing in ways that Popeye employees are not. It’s true that they can push Elizabeth more than they do, but they want Paige and they want to keep Philip, both of which are more easily alienated and both of which were vested in the trip (Paige by being there and being told she would get to meet her grandmother, and Philip by arranging for it.

          I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if it didn’t work this way at all in the real USSR – I’d kind of expect that – but I think it does have a logic.Report

          • Glyph in reply to Will Truman says:

            Boilerplate to prevent front-page spoilers yadda yadda yadda don’t even read this part it means absolutely nothing.


            To me, I’d think that if The Centre is at all realistic about the difficulty of what they are attempting with Paige (the recruitment of a red-blooded, God-fearin’, REAL American girl) they would have no choice but to bend some for her.

            What, are they going to tell her “No, you can’t see your dying grandma that you just found out about, and oh by the way, it’s time to start your psychologically-decimating sex training, so you can get on with destroying the only country you’ve ever known?”Report

            • Kolohe in reply to Glyph says:

              I’m not sure the organization has that much insight on the person they are trying to hire.


              I mean, the Centre is more familiar with the Mail Robot’s inner life than with Paige’s at this point. It’s Elizabeth (and maybe even more Philip) that’s pushing for a trip to Russia than Paige is. Paige going was mostly her parent’s idea.

              Either way, the Centre is only aware that Paige was even overseas when she got there, and only have Gabriel’s reports that Philip and Elizabeth wanted to visit the dying grandma. Did Philip ever say to Gabriel, in addition to “Elizabeth should see her mom”, “and Paige should see her grandma, it would help want y’all want to do anyway?” Did Gabriel and Claudia discuss using a Paige visit to try to turn her to the dark side of the force? I don’t remember either of those things happening if they did.

              It’s always been somewhat unclear what exactly they expect the second generation illegals to do. The logical path is for something along the lines of Anna Chapman, but with a perfect history to pass a background investigation and get into the actual US intelligence agencies. (rather than just front for the trade associations like Chapman and her gang seemingly did). Doing full fledged ‘operative’ stuff, including sexy time, seems like a waste and too big of a risk of an invaluable and irreplaceable resource.

              At this point, the Russians were using Ames, Hansen, and the Walker ring to great effect. Another asset along the same lines, but who was motivated by ideology and not motivated by money/being pissed off (and who had a perfect conduit to pass information) would be to me far more useful than someone who could sleep their way into that same info.Report

              • Glyph in reply to Kolohe says:

                Boilerplate to prevent front-page spoilers yadda yadda yadda don’t even read this part it means absolutely nothing.


                Kolohe: Did Philip ever say to Gabriel, in addition to “Elizabeth should see her mom”, “and Paige should see her grandma, it would help want y’all want to do anyway?” Did Gabriel and Claudia discuss using a Paige visit to try to turn her to the dark side of the force?

                Not that we explicitly saw, but isn’t all that sort of implied with “Elizabeth is going no matter what you say AND she’s taking Paige, AND Paige knows all about us and what this trip is for”?

                KoloheDoing full fledged ‘operative’ stuff, including sexy time, seems like a waste and too big of a risk of an invaluable and irreplaceable resource.

                Undoubtedly true, but irrelevant to the fundamental point – no matter WHAT the Soviets plan to ask her to do, they will be asking for acts of treason from the most American of Americans; a young strongly-Christian person. They are going to need carrots, not sticks with her.Report

              • Will Truman in reply to Kolohe says:

                I agree they don’t, but it doesn’t take much insight to realize that it’s not going to make a good impression to block the visit by the time they’d made it to West Germany. Paige has only recently been introduced to their role in her life, and I think the message they want to send is “we care” or at least “our management of you won’t be dictatorial.”

                As for what they will have her do, I don’t think she will have to prostitute herself out like her parents. But she’ll still be in significant danger. Mostly of being arrested and tossed in a hole. They might require her to prostitute herself at some point, though it’s unlikely. No wigs, though.Report

  7. Kolohe says:

    I keep coming back in my mind to what Jaybird said about True Detective – ‘the shaggy dog story’. I used the same phrase above when talking about the Afghan arc, but I’m thinking now, “of course, the whole series is *necessarily* a shaggy dog story”.

    We obviously know how everything turns out in the big picture. There’s no more Soviet Union, no more West Germany, no more C-64s. The story is set at the beginning of the end, the third act of the 20th century history of Russia. So we in the audience are a bit like Philip in his existential dread, but even moreso, because we all *know* (not just think) that it’s all for nothing.

    Wanting Wesley or Indigo to kill Humperdink not only is wanting something that isn’t going to happen, it’s missing the point of the story.

    So I’ve made some peace with the loose ends they’ve left dangling with the season finale. (and the ones they’re probably going to leave with the series finale).Report

  8. Kolohe says:

    When one is assembling a steel container that holds pressurized steam, don’t use brass fasteners. This was a lesson learned in the catastrophic failure that killed 12 people on the USS Iwo Jima in 1990.

    Glyph: Not that we explicitly saw, but isn’t all that sort of implied with “Elizabeth is going no matter what you say AND she’s taking Paige, AND Paige knows all about us and what this trip is for”?

    Thanks, that answers my question, I didn’t remember it like that.Report

  9. Chris says:

    Should finish it this weekend, at which point I will tell you all what to think of it.Report