The Americans, Season 3, Episode 3, “Open House”
February 11, 2015, 10:00 p.m. (EST), FC
The relationship between Philip and Elizabeth is hard won. It didn’t come from natural chemistry, and it didn’t really come from them being forced on each other. They didn’t fall in love because they spent decades together; they fell in love because they started to communicate, started to understand each other and to want to understand each other. Their current feud, over their daughter’s future, feels deeply rooted in both of their perspectives, but it also forces them into old habits. These two are used to coexisting, fuming beneath the surface or ignoring the other’s needs and desires. They just aren’t used to it stinging like it does this time.
Two sequences of extreme tension in “Open House” underline the distance between the two and the connection that will help them overcome it. First, there is the agonizing episode in which Philip and Elizabeth realize they are caught in a CIA dragnet, being followed and likely surrounded by an unknown number of cars. The choice they make there, in which Philip rolls out of the car to call for reinforcements, is the only choice to make. Yet in the face of his cold denial of Elizabeth’s joke moments earlier, him leaving her side still feels like a sort of rejection, like him choosing the old ways instead of their new connection. They solve their problems apart now. They separate, get the job done, and meet back at home.
Except they don’t. Philip has always trusted Elizabeth’s competence, but here, his fear and eventual relief are palpable. He left her when he had to, but not because he wanted to. In that second sequence, where the two wordlessly retreat to the basement for Philip to remove Elizabeth’s broken teeth, their connection is reaffirmed. They hurt each other. They disagree. They shut down their feelings and retreat to their corners. But they need each other. They understand each other. And when push comes to shove, they would to anything for each other. As Paige said earlier this season, they look out for each other. Despite the fact that Elizabeth’s dental woes have felt a bit contrived to me (the Soviets have a doctor on hand for gun shots, but can’t provide her a dentist? A trip to Canada to get her teeth fixed is so out of the question?), the sequence when Philip clinically, but kindly, takes care of the problem spoke volumes about the seething anger that underlies the Jennings marriage at the moment, but also about the tenderness and love that still beats at its heart.
Early in this third season, there is an interesting trend developing: paranoia pays off. Elizabeth refused to go to the dentist because “they’ll be looking,” and tonight, we learn Aderholt is indeed closely monitoring dental patients for someone who matches Elizabeth’s description. When she thinks she’s being tailed, she admits to not being sure, but she’s right. It isn’t clear how many cars are on them, and it turns out they are being followed by eleven. We don’t know which car, exactly, is tailing them until we absolutely must. The mood of paranoia pervades, but again, “they” are actually out to get Elizabeth.
It almost feels too appropriate that Philip and Elizabeth’s in to the Afghan group turns out to be the group leader’s daughter. In the midst of their fight about Paige, they are about to come up against the question of whether they will be willing to pull an innocent teenager into a complex and dangerous counter-intelligence operation. Philip explodes at Gabriel tonight over the idea of his fourteen-year-old being able to make a decision about entering into espionage, but when push comes to shove, he may well find he is more willing than he expects to plunge a teenager into the stygian situation he constantly inhabits, a mid-point between life, death, and a double-word score.
“Open House” is, at bottom, about the truths we tell and the lies we use to shield our dirty laundry. The Jennings aren’t getting along at the moment, but they are honest with one another, no matter the consequences. When we see Clark and Martha together, the entire exchange is based on a lie. Philip-as-Clark never communicates his true needs, not even the invented ones. Clark shrouds everything. He is a man of mystery, far more than he would need to be, and he lashes out at Martha whenever she tries to pierce his veil of secrecy. Paaswell admits he worked in his home office too much, and that’s why his marriage fell apart. A closed house, one where secrets are kept and wants and needs repressed, is one more likely to crumble under the weight of the world. An open house has, if nothing else, a better chance at understanding its ailments. Sunlight is the best disinfectant, and whatever might trouble the Jennings marriage at the moment, their willingness to be open might just be what saves them down the road.
- “The production of too many useful things results in too many useless people.”
- “People love hearing how right they are.”
- “Not everything is worth the risk, Philip.” “No. Not everything is.”
- “Paige will have a choice.” “She is fourteen years old.” “There is always a choice.”
“Open House” is, at bottom, about the truths we tell and the lies we use to shield our dirty laundry.