The Americans: Season 2 Episode 10 - Yousaf
April 30, 2014, 10:00 pm (EST), FX
“Yousaf” begins with a late night coupling in the Jennings kitchen and ends, as if post-coitally, in a shared cigarette. Between those two moments, pretty much everything within the episode deals with sex, the ways it is used to bring people closer together, the ways it can push them apart, the ways it defines virtually every relationship on this show in one way or another. Both Elizabeth and Philip use sex as one tool in their espionage toolkits, a way to get marks to talk or keep assets on their side. But the question always arises, for them and for their spouse: just how real is this theoretically manufactured intimacy? When Philip has sex with Martha, Elizabeth learned earlier this season, he is different than he is with her. Elizabeth got jealous then, and her efforts to ameliorate that jealousy were devastating. Tonight, Philip admits that he does not take the idea of the woman he loves sleeping with someone else lightly. Of course, he admits it to a woman he is only pretending to love, but Philip sends Annelise in to sleep with Yousaf to keep Elizabeth from doing it. Philip lies even as he tells the truth; he is honest only through deception. This is the game the Jennings play every day. And it takes a toll.
We haven’t seen Annelise since season one’s “The Clock,” and the way she was dropped back into the plotting felt a little sudden, as if a reintroduction in the last few weeks was somehow left on the cutting room floor. Bringing her in to seduce the second-in-command at Pakistan’s ISI is a terrible decision—she is inexperienced, easily manipulated, and not entirely committed to being a spy, not even for Sweden, the country she thinks she is working for. But Philip doesn’t bring her in because it’s the best call (even if that’s what he tells Elizabeth): he brings her in because, on some level, he just can’t handle the idea of sending Elizabeth in to seduce Yousaf. Of course, sparing Elizabeth from seducing Yousaf leads her to have to kill Javid, his boss, but he tries his best to avoid that as well. We’ve seen the way Philip and Elizabeth falling in real love has threatened to compromise their work before, but here, Philip is basically trying to take Elizabeth out of the game entirely. He thinks he is protecting his wife, and if it is at the cost of Annelise, that is a price he is willing to pay. He is trying to keep Elizabeth from getting dirty (for his own purposes as much as for hers), but in the process, he simply compromises one additional person. No one is spared in “Yousaf.”
The sequence where Annelise seduces Yousaf is intercut with Elizabeth’s murder of Javid. These are the positions Philip has put these two women in, and all because he tried to protect Elizabeth. Each of them is broken, a little bit, by what they do. Elizabeth handles the killing far better than Annelise takes the seduction, but the look on her face as she smokes that cigarette (regardless of the fact that her kids will be able to smell it in the morning) says she isn’t as unflappable as Philip gives her credit for being. The things these two do leave marks on them, even if only Philip is fully admitting to the scars. And the more they care about each other, the harder it will get for them to let each other do their jobs. They can be lovers, and they can be spies, but being both is only going to make their lives increasingly difficult.
Though “Yousaf” centers on two blondes (Elizabeth’s wig choice is paired to Yousaf’s preference, but also makes her a visual match for Annelise) who take in a cigarette after their mission with the Pakistanis is complete, it also features two male American counter-intelligence agents making house calls. Stan interviews Jared, Emmet and Leanne’s son, while Larrick finds his way into the basement where our pal the Soviet switchboard operator sends his messages to the Center’s agents, killing the guy and attempting to patch up the switchboard. Stan shows Jared the sketches of Philip and Elizabeth, both people we know Jared has seen before. Larrick gets a wrong number his first time out, but he’ll figure that switchboard out. For the first time in a long time, Philip and Elizabeth are in danger of having their covers blown from two angles. And this time, they have no idea. As we’ve long feared, they are too caught up in each other to even see the danger closing in around them.
But it also all comes back to Paige and Henry. As much as this season is about the consequences of Philip and Elizabeth falling in love for real, it is about their struggles to parent children who are increasingly turning into real people who are harder to predict, harder to manipulate, and more resistant to control than ever before. Paige doesn’t understand why she is treated so much more harshly for her newfound Christianity than Henry was for engaging in a little B&E, but we do. What Henry did was wrong, but it wasn’t too far removed from what his parents do regularly, and beyond that, not far removed from things kids did back in Russia. What Paige is doing, though, threatens her parents’ whole worldview. Paige converting to Christianity is a fundamental betrayal of much of what Philip and Elizabeth believe, and a sure sign that they are losing their daughter to the enemy.
Season two of The Americans is all about the ties that Philip and Elizabeth have developed—to their adopted country, to their children, to each other—and the dangers those pose to their work. So it is appropriate that the greatest threat to their safety right now is a man with no ties at all. Larrick flies back into the U.S. because he has surmised what went down at the camp last week. He cites personal business, and declines his friend’s offer of help. He goes it alone, stalking through that house like a ghost, a premonition of darkness yet to come. Larrick has nothing to lose at this point. All he has is his mission. He’s hard to trace; no one knows where he is or what he is doing. His full plan, the whole scope of his agenda, is known only to him. He keeps his cards close to the chest, but he’s got a smile on his face. Every character on this show finds themselves increasingly tangled in a web of mixed allegiances, playing others in their life so long they start to lose track of what’s real. Larrick doesn’t have to play anyone (but that phone company lady, who doesn’t believe him, but also doesn’t give a shit), and he doesn’t have any connections to speak of. He’s a lone wolf, closing in on his prey. And they’re too busy trying to protect themselves by protecting each other to even see him coming.
- -“He wanted to be a doctor.” “He should’ve been a doctor.”
- -“I have…nothing but respect for the great institution of marriage. For those who can do it.”
- -“Three months?” “That’s the summer. It’s a summer camp.”
- -“Nina, I think you’re one of those people who can do anything.” “I know. That’s what I’m afraid of.”
- -“If you mess up, my head will roll, not yours.” “No, if we mess up, we’re dead.”