‘The Americans’ Season 2 Episode 4 Recap: “A Little Night Music”

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Philip and Elizabeth are keeping busy in “A Little Night Music,” an episode that focuses on the Jennings’ delicate balance between work and home and the blurry lines between their real selves and the fake personalities that they often embody (though there’s a case to be made that they no longer have any real selves). We get the early, much welcome return of Claudia (Margo Martindale is back! If Philip and Elizabeth were actually great at their jobs, they’d find a way to liberate Martindale from The Millers once and for all so she could stay on a show with writing actually on par with her talent). The icy acceptance between Claudia and Elizabeth is a highlight of the show. Claudia asks the Jennings for help finding Emmet and Leanne’s murderer. Between this, another case, parental demands, and faux marriages, “A Little Night Music” is a packed episode.

Elizabeth is definitely the standout character this time and there’s some gloriously chilling acting from Keri Russell as she throws herself back into work at a time when she might not be fully ready, still healing herself from the shooting and the death of her colleagues. But she’s Elizabeth and she’s smart, capable, and determined and she won’t let Philip do the job for her — though there’s a nice, quick, marital moment where she thanks him for the offer. Her target this week is Brad, an overly sweet Naval officer, whom she has to seduce and convince to get files of a different officer, Andrew Larek. The deceased couple were blackmailing Larek so Philip and Elizabeth need more information.

At first, this seems very straightforward — Elizabeth is ace at seducing information out of guys, a talent that I am very jealous of, but she seems hesitant to fully commit with Brad. It’s speculation for the viewers: is she still scarred? Is she too committed to her fake-turned-real marriage with Philip? Is she not ready to be back in the field? Is she having regrets, or doubting Claudia’s knowledge, or going soft? No, Elizabeth is just smart and knows how to play to Brad’s slightly wimpy but eager-to-protect Elizabeth personality. She backs away, informing Brad that she wants to take things slow but later, when she meets him again, her plan is revealed.

Elizabeth tells Brad why she’s been so distant and hesitant. She tells him that she was raped by a Navy officer and it’s not entirely a lie; the story clearly mirrors the rape that occurred back in the pilot. Keri Russell is sad, dark, and brilliant in this scene, able to convey a wealth of emotions and layers by telling just one story. Elizabeth easily manipulates Brad into agreeing to stealing the files for her. He tries, and gets close, but later chickens out. Elizabeth hides her frustration and tries to convince him, one again, with a good ol’ fashioned car handjob but the plot is left hanging for now.

Philip is having “relationship” problems of his own. Philip — ahem, Clark — has promised Martha that they will have a “lazy romantic morning” (and oh, it must be noted that Elizabeth’s visual reaction to this when Philip told her was perfect and hilarious and mirrored my own). But he doesn’t want to be there and has to quickly find a way out so he picks a fight with Martha. He is “angry” with her for talking to her mother when they were supposed to be lazing about and angry at her for washing her hair in the sink again and not cleaning out the drain. It’s such a typical marital argument and Philip is great at playing this annoyed husband. It’s comical in a way, since he’s playing it up so much, but also sad once you remember that poor Martha is not going to have a happy ending. But it’s possible Philip won’t have a happy ending either: there’s a cliffhanger with them, as Martha puts Clark’s name on her employment application.

Then there’s the matter of Paige. The Jennings are furious at their teen daughter for secretly getting deep into something dark and terrible, worse than experimenting with alcohol or drugs or boys. No, Paige has found religion. She is going to youth group with her new friend, sneaking in pamphlets, and praying at the dining room table while Elizabeth spirals into a fury. She, at one point, actually uses the phrase “opiate of the masses.” It makes sense why Elizabeth is so angry about this disruption to the life she’s created (and takes serious offense that Paige thinks they have a “messed up family” although yeah, she’s right) but it’s still pretty funny to see the parental concern/angry usually reserved for when you find a teen daughter drunk off schnapps underneath the bleachers directed at a teen who just wants to sing at a youth group.

That argument is put on hold though because it’s time for Elizabeth and Philip to work another mission. Elizabeth goes a little overboard and loses control with her anger. It’s one of those great action sequences that The Americans likes to include in its episodes and it has a huge cliffhanger ending as the Jennings watch car speed away.