April 8, 2015, 10:00 p.m. (EST), FX
After the huge emotional climax of “Stingers,” it was inevitable that “One Day in the Life of Anton Baklanov” would be a breather of an episode, a chance for the show to step back and contemplate things before charging forward into the finale. After last week’s revelations, this week is more about what those things might mean. The episode focuses on what it means to trust someone, how trust is often tied up in control, and the role the two play in the dangerous game of getting other people to do what you want. Martha trusts Clark, the hotel manager and Lisa trust Elizabeth, Baklanov trusts (or might trust) Nina, and Paige is not sure who to trust. Those that trust are easier to manipulate. Those that don’t are harder to predict.
Because Martha trusts Clark, she believes him when he tells her she can fool Taffet, and so she does exactly what he wants, lying to the investigator to deflect suspicion. Clark teaches her how to appear trustworthy while lying to someone’s face, and the irony of this doesn’t seem to sink in for her. She’s learning the art of deception from a man who has been deceiving her for years, who is, even then, lying to her even as he appears to look her in the eyes. But the truth isn’t what matters in terms of getting Martha to do what he needs. Trust is what matters.
Similarly, Elizabeth gives up control of herself with Neal, the hotel manager, doing something she has tried to avoid for a while now, letting herself go for a while and disappearing into a performance for his benefit. When she returns home, she regains her control by bedding a sleeping Philip, as if to remind herself that she had the power, even when it felt like Neal was in control. What she did in the hotel room rattled Elizabeth, but what she does at home feels right, both because she trusts Philip, and because she is once again in control.
“One Day in the Life of Anton Baklanov” is a table-setting episode, of the sort a show usually needs late in the season to ramp up for the final push, but because this is The Americans, it is also stylish, smart, and thematically rich. It’s an episode that revisits some plotlines we haven’t seen in weeks (Yousaf! Lisa!), but also takes time to let the moments of those smaller beats land. Yousaf’s discussion with Philip is tinged with mutual regret over Annelise’s demise, and Maurice’s conversation with Elizabeth is full of not-so-subtle menace. But it also has complexity, as Nina’s relationship with Anton deepens, and both come to understand more about the other’s motivations. Nina knows how to use the truth to gain someone’s trust so the lies slip in like a knife into butter. Meanwhile, Philip and Elizabeth are learning how hard it is to use the truth to patch over a lifetime of lying to Paige.
The struggle of Paige to adjust to a world in which everything she knows has been a lie, but also, all of her questions about her life and her family’s past are now laid bare, are being perfectly handled by Holly Taylor, who plays Paige as by turns fascinated, terrified, and infuriated. Paige isn’t sure whether to trust her parents, but the implication hangs over the episode: they still control her life in many ways, some of which she cannot wrest from them, some of which she cannot even imagine yet. Paige’s story is just beginning. What she will do with what she knows, who she will trust, and whether she will learn the power she now holds over her parents remains to be seen. Truth doesn’t matter in this game nearly as much as trust. But even trust pales in comparison to the importance of absolute control. When you have control, you can predict the outcome. Without it, things spin off their axis, chaos enters the equation, systems degrade and are reduced to dust and madness. Control is starting to slip tonight, and who has it next may define the future, not just for these characters, but for the world in which they live.
- “I don’t want to keep hearing ‘no’ from you. One of these times, I’m gonna need a ‘yes.’”
- “I won’t let them do that to me. I won’t let them decide who I am.”
“One Day in the Life of Anton Baklanov” is a table-setting episode, but it is also stylish, smart, and thematically rich.