It seems redundant to say that The Americans is really heating up now, tying together some loose ends while dangling newer threads that will play out as the remainder of the season goes on, because that’s something I could say for just about every episode. But in “New Car,” we’re past the halfway point of the season — thankfully, a third was announced yesterday — and there is an added level of guilt and tension behind everything that happens.
Philip has acclimated to this country much better than Elizabeth has and it’s been an often-unspoken issue between them. Philip loves his home country and he is good at his job but he also likes the pleasures of America, enjoying the music, lusting after certain posessions, and sometimes, as we see in this episode, succumbing to temptation by buying a Camaro. The car salesman informs Philip that buying a car is about feel. “How does it make you feel?” he asks Philip and it’s clear that it makes Philip feel pretty damn good. Good enough to do an adorably bad dance in the driveway — and there are few things more American than a dorky “cool dad” dance in public.
Elizabeth isn’t too happy with Philip’s purchase but Philip stands his ground. “Don’t you enjoy any of this?” he asks. “Don’t you ever like it?” Elizabeth is too loyal to her mother country to let herself allow any of the perks of America. The house, clothes, and “beautiful shoes” are just a part of their cover, not a payment bonus. They have to live that way but they don’t have to enjoy it. Elizabeth isn’t here for the goods; she’s here for the job, and that’s it. She agrees that it’s easier here, but she maintains that it’s not better.
It’s not necessarily easier here either, though, and both Philip and Elizabeth find themselves in a tough spot by the episode’s end. They are responsible for deaths they don’t want to be responsible for but unsure of how much of that responsibility to take up. They both feel guilty, and it’s hard not to remember that scene where they found Emmet, Leanne, and Amelia’s dead bodies and the way those deaths have been lurking in the background of the Jennings’ minds all season. Those deaths changed both Elizabeth and Philip and it’s becoming increasingly apparent with every week.
As for the deaths in “New Car,” Philip learns that the propeller plans he had stolen were fakes, resulting in a submarine sinking and the deaths of over 100 people. Philip is indirectly responsible for those deaths because he was duped by America, the same America that provided him with that sweet ride he’s driving around in, making him the envy of his neighbor Stan.
“New Car” doesn’t take it easy on Elizabeth, either. The eager Lucia, harboring some intense hatred and revenge fantasies about Larrick who trained the police that tortured her father, tries to tranquilize Larrick only to have it backfire. After a quick struggle, she ends up the one who is tranquilized. By the time Elizabeth shows up, Lucia is awake but tied up and Larrick is angry as hell. To her credit, Elizabeth tries to get Lucia out of there safely but stubborn Lucia won’t give up. As soon as she’s untied, she lunges at Larrick with a nearby corkscrew who quickly counters with a chokehold. Instinctively, Elizabeth whips out her gun but she doesn’t fire. She needs to use Larrick and she realizes that she needs him more than she needs Lucia alive. So instead she stands there, unwavering, watching Larrick slowly choke the life out of Lucia. The Americans has me used to death scenes by now but this one was still particularly rough to watch. There was no doubt that Lucia would make it out of this season alive but I wasn’t expecting it to happen in this way or this early.
The most surprising part was Elizabeth’s reaction. Elizabeth, who is usually cool and calm after everything breaks down to Philip about Lucia’s death. She let it happen, she confesses, and she’s distraught about it even though it was absolutely necessary to the mission — it was necessary for her country. But what Lucia was doing was, in her mind, necessary for the country, too.
They can’t dwell on Lucia — or the submarine deaths — because the Jennings now have to put on their parental hats. Remember when Henry broke into his neighbor’s house? He does it again but gets caught this time. The neighbors pretty much shrug it off but the Jennings are angry and prepared to give him a stern scolding. Yet they can’t be as hard on him as he is on himself.
Henry, contrary to his parents, is willing to take full responsibility for his actions. He knew that breaking into the neighbors’ house was wrong and he did it anyway. They weren’t home and his parents weren’t home (this is the big kicker; The Americans has yet to fully explore the toll that the Jennings’ constant absences have on their children). He admits his guilt, multiple times, as he breaks down and cries in front of his parents. He feels horrible and worries that everyone thinks he’s a criminal. Everything he’s saying is a little too on-the-nose — “Once I did it, it seemed so easy to keep doing it” and “I know the difference between right and wrong.” — about how it ties into the themes of “New Car” but there is still some heavy emotional weight as he repeats, “I’m a good person, I swear I’m good.”