06th Mar2014

The Americans 2×02 – “Cardinal” Review

by Nathan Smith

Stars: Keri Russell, Matthew Rhys, Annet Mahendru, Holly Taylor | Created by Joseph Weisberg


‘Cardinal’ serves as a part two to last week’s premiere and answers a whole lot that was left over from last week, but leaves just a little bit to savor in the coming weeks, like the little teensy slip of the word cardinal at the meeting Arkady attends in the beginning of the episode. Firstly, it was clear from the get-go that Emmett and Leanne’s death wasn’t something that was going to be left in the dust to be forgotten like some subplot that just disappears or gets left hanging like so many plots do. No, this one was going to send shockwaves through the members of the Rezidentura and Directorate S operatives everywhere. We briefly caught glimpses of what could be in closing moments of last week’s episode, just how deep this paranoia is cutting the two of them up, and all this circling around the issue made it clear that this week it was going to come full circle, and it did because all of the tension spilled out in the open. And what have we learned from Philip and Elizabeth exactly?

They’re both terrified. And we are too.

Anybody who has watched any show with criminal elements (the list is endless), knows that seeing a parked car or someone doing construction spells one thing and one thing alone. Someone’s spying on the spies. And like the great thriller the show is, we aren’t told expressly that the Jennings are being spied on, the construction truck comes and goes by episode’s end, but the tension is palpable and thick, and great realized by Keri Russell’s peering eyes and Matthew Rhys’ watchful face as he listens to the silence of his wife (truly showing that even if they aren’t aligned as husband and wife, as partners they’re perfect), and comes to the understanding that things are not normal, and that he needs to be home instead of being with a sickly Martha (underused in a small plot about finding a different job that just kind of ends without telling us why it’s so important).

The realization in all its bloody glory, that they really didn’t realize what the stakes were – that they were putting their children in danger for their spy games, putting targets on their backs – is a well-written moment because it adds a beautiful emotional shade to the spy thriller. And all this leads straight to the theme of the season, right out in the open, in only the second episode. Family may be a comfort to you, but they add to a body count in the line of duty, dying for a cause they had no clue they were involved in. It’s pretty weighty stuff. Especially when your daughter is slowly starting to not trust you, and I love the suspense these proceedings bring, because you are put in the Hitchcock bad guy mentality where you root for the bad guy (in this case Philip and Elizabeth), but hope the good guy (in this case Paige or Stan) catches them all the same, kind of like “Breaking Bad,” and Hank and Walter’s storyline.

In Philip and Elizabeth’s stories, there are great and interesting throughlines that present themselves. You have Elizabeth going off and assisting a friend in cleaning up an accidental overdose and seeing her do some good, has me imagine a alternate world where Elizabeth is some different person doing good things and cleaning up messes. Then, Philip’s plot closes up some hanging threads involving John Carroll Lynch’s character, a Lockheed employee named Fred who worked with Emmett aka Paul. It shows that Emmett got so close to his contact and that it may have led to his demise is done well (to mention, I love the scenes of Philip sneaking around the house, the viewer wondering if at any second he’s about to get caught, which for what it’s worth I jumped a mile out of my seat when he was zapped while reaching into the cubby hole, because this show does thick tension so well).

I love how mechanical the relationship between Stan and Nina has become. He thinks that she’s there enjoying his company, spilling secrets to him about the Rezidentura, slipping in between the sheets; when in reality it’s just she’s just writing about it in another document in an endless list of documents that she’s got to file about her indiscretions with the man she hates. It is suspect that she shares her information about the walk-in with Stan, and is a little confusing about where her intentions lie in telling him that. For one, it sends the Stan and his men scrambling like ants, while the Rezidentura has an insider to get whatever secrets they truly need, and allowing for all this to get under Stan’s skin sending him to watch the walk-in endlessly wash his laundry.

It’s his curse. It’s the curse of everyone involved.


Comments are closed.