It’s been a whole week but I haven’t been able to stop thinking about last week’s episode of The Americans. The scenes with Elizabeth and Philip were so haunting that I can’t get them out of my head and I was hoping that this week might be a little lighter, just to break the tension. “Arpanet” was lighter and a bit comical — it is tense at times and it’s not entirely frivolous, thankfully — but the focus on this early Internet contraption and some a small Henry plot were both welcome.
I haven’t talked too much about Stan and Nina in these recaps but that’s because I find them to be the least interesting duo on the show. I wouldn’t say that they are boring but they have been heading toward a certain doom from the beginning and I have no real interest in watching them steer themselves toward it. The Americans isn’t a show about a good people, and Stan and Nina are examples of that, but something about their plot especially rubs me the wrong way. That said, I did enjoy what was going on here.
In “Arpanet” Nina has to take a polygraph to prove her loyalty to Stan. She takes a practice polygraph at the KGB that makes her feel “like a criminal about to be put to death.” Nina is anxious and scared but has to work above that and learn how to pass the test or else she will be put to death. Nina doesn’t too well with the polygraph at first and is instructed “You have to believe what you say. Embrace it” but then gets the additional advice: “Clench your anus.” Which can’t possibly work, right? I thought polygraph technology was better than this.
Speaking of flawed technology, “Arpanet” also includes my favorite thing in the world: the Internet! Philip’s mission/assignment of the week involves an early version of the Internet. I love the scene of the Arpanet explanation, including phrases like the “interstate highway system through which all information flows” over shots of this big, early Internet — giant metal computer boxes that take up the size of the room. It’s science-fiction to the KGB agents but comical now. Philip enlists the help of Charles, a vaguely-alcoholic KGG agent we haven’t seen much of lately, with this mission but Charles isn’t much help.
Charles is a mess of shaky and sweaty anxiety and flips out during the mission, leaving Philip to take over and fix it (while wearing a great maintenance worker disguise, I should add). Philip has everything under control but only temporarily — someone returns prematurely and catches him in the act, forcing Philip to murder someone who was in the wrong place at the wrong time. It’s all a bit much for the Internet, huh? He meets up with Charles at a bar, where Charles claims that he isn’t drinking but Philip easily deduces that he is. If there’s one job that makes you drink excessively to forget what you’ve done, it’s being a KGB spy. If there’s one job where being a drunk endangers you at every turn, it’s being a KGB spy.
Both Kate and Lucia are back this episode, too. New handler Kate barely hangs around but her quick appearance is great if only for Philip’s “You look like a spy in an old movie” scolding. I’m still worried that Kate is too green and will get Philip and Elizabeth into trouble and clearly, they are worried about this too. I also can’t help but think the same about Lucia (and here, Elizabeth shares my concerns). Lucia is also young and eager, ready for anything — especially the murder of Larrick, who she says is responsible for death of hundreds in her country. Lucia “burns hot” and her self-righteous spontaneity driven by revenge and not logic may be the downfall of her, and it’s possible the Jennings’ could be brought down, too.
In “Arpanet” Elizabeth doesn’t have too many scenes that aren’t with Lucia (or Larrick, an intriguing character that I also wanted more of). The Americans isn’t eager to explicitly examine Elizabeth’s mind state after last week (which is fitting for her character) but I’m sure this is will definitely come up soon. Philip is the only Jennings with a big story this week — Paige is absent and Henry has a small, quiet runner that’s mostly planting the seeds for a bigger story. Henry has unknowingly taking up the family business by spying on his neighbors with his birthday telescope. Once he knows they are gone, he breaks into the house to eat apples and use the television. How long before his parents find out? And what will be the outcome here? We’ve seen Elizabeth flip out over Paige going to church, so what will be the punishment for actually breaking the law?
But back to Nina, who takes the real FBI polygraph test and aces it easily as Stan looks on, practically beaming as he proudly watches her. Maybe the clenching technique really does work or maybe Nina has something else up her sleeve — later she tells Oleg that she saw him in the room with her — but either way, the test is no problem. “We are together now. Forever, yes?” Nina says to Stan afterward, only to leave and head to a hotel to seduce Oleg. Tricky Nina may be the best spy on this show.