In “Arpanet,” The Americans really highlighted its time period, more overtly than perhaps ever before. “Arpanet” itself references what’s considered “the first internet,” a Department of Defense project that used TCP/IP to create an information network for use by scientists, academics, and the military. In The Americans, Philip uses “a bug the size of a rat” (also known as, essentially, a USB the size of a Mac LC) so that the KGB can monitor American communications, another clever way the show marries its fictional world with the real one. Hit the jump for why you should always squeeze your anus before you answer a question.
Though The Americans has done an excellent job of connecting the spy work to the overall story this season, Philip’s solo internet mission was a detour that served several purposes. It included him using his agent, Charles Duluth, who made an appearance in the first season as a former socalist, who became friendly with the Reagan administration as a journalist, and who was successfully turned into a KGB mole (don’t feel bad if you didn’t remember him at all — I had to look him up). Successful is a relative word with Charles. He does help get Philip into the rooms where he needs to be, but he’s a drunk and a liar, and all in all a poor spy (pro tip: never write important information on a sweaty palm).
The associates Philip and Elizabeth are using are starting to cause them problems. Charles is a muppet, and Lucia’s personal agenda of revenge on Larrick could have jeopardized the Jennings’ mission — and their lives. Lucia can’t understand Elizabeth’s anger at the revelation of her secret plans, and nor does Charles pick up on (or acknowledge, at least), Philip’s derision at his thinking of the whole mission as a jolly good time. Philip seethes as he tells him about the innocent student he had to kill, and muses about all those he’s watched died. “It’s what you do,” Charles replied flippantly, downing his cranberry and soda (i.e. a vodka cranberry), and essentially patting Philip on the back with a “call me!” Philip seemed genuinely riled up about his displeasure regarding the mission, but it’s difficult to know the truth.
That theme of truth, and the practice of hiding it, played out in Nina’s story in “Arpanet” as well, where she unexpectedly bonded with Oleg over training for the polygraph. Interestingly, her passing — which has now fully secured Stan’s trust and devotion — changed her completely. Continuing with the show’s exploration of duality, Nina is now not only a go-between for the FBI and the Rezidentura, but also between Stan and Oleg. The complications with Stan seem to matter less now, and her loyalties seem firmly placed back with the Soviets. Then again, though she claims Stan means nothing to her now, Oleg knows he’s trained a liar.
Amid all of this was a strange little sequence where Henry, acting as a spy with his telescope, later puts his knowledge to use by breaking into the house across the street while the family is away, so that he can eat apples and play video games. He too is trying on a different life, yet also of course mirroring the secret life of his parents, just like Paige’s secrecy and lies mirrored Elizabeth and Philip. These little vignettes haven’t led to much so far, but they are interesting notes on the universality of lying, spying, and wanting to be someone else for a day.
The most inscrutable figure so far in the story though is Larrick (spelling confirmed!), who claims he will be in Nicaragua when the infiltration of the base takes place. But will he? Everyone mentions how unspeakably dangerous he is, and Lucia specifically asked where he would be on the day she is supposed to disarm the electrified fence for the Jennings. Him saying he would be out of the country seems exactly like a way to allow him to be wherever he needs to be to stop the mission from happening. It’s uncertain how Elizabeth takes the whole of this information, but Larrick casually glancing up to where Philip was stationed as a sniper was chilling. He knows, even if he doesn’t know.
Larrick has been set up as the villain of the season, and the way that has wrapped its way around become the core of the episodes has been The Americans‘ greatest play. Creating a central mystery was smart, especially because it’s one that’s not so overt that it overwhelms the story, or changes what the show is about. Usually, we’re privy to who is lying, how and why. Larrick is so dangerous in part because no one knows where he stands.
Episode Rating: B+
Musings and Miscellanea:
— I lost it when Oleg told Nina to squeeze her anus before answering a question. But(t) apparently it works!
— “You look like a spy. From an old movie” – Philip to Kate, who seems soft as a marshmallow. Then again, so did “Granny” Claudia at first.
— There were so many metaphors and analogies in this episode, from explaining about Arpanet, to Oleg explaining the polygraph to Nina. A lot of emphasis on technology, too.
— Philip’s wigs in this episode were some of the worst and most unflattering yet.
— “Arpanet” had some great tense moments, like Nina’s polygraph and Elizabeth’s meeting with Larrick. Even though the stakes are actually pretty low, the series does a great job of making it seem otherwise (as if main characters could really die in the moment, or that consequences are about to come raining down).
— Philip’s love of the Camaro felt like Season One Philip, who seemed to love America a little too much (but Oleg loves America too … at least, Gospel and R&B).
— “Keep a tiger as a pet, still a tiger” – Elizabeth.