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TV Review: The Americans 4.1 “Glanders”
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The Americans Season 4 Premiere Review

The Americans
Season 4, Episode 1 – “Glanders”
Directed by Thomas Schlamme
Written by Joel Fields & Joe Weisberg
Starring: Keri Russell, Matthew Rhys, Lev Gorn, Annet Mahendru, Susan Misner, Costa Ronin, Keidrich Sellati, Holly Taylor, Richard Thomas, Dylan Baker, Alison Wright, Noah Emmerich, and Frank Langella
FX
Air date: Wednesday, March 16, 2015, 10pm

More confident than ever, The Americans returned for its fourth season last night on FX — which is more than what Philip Jennings (Matthew Rhys) can say for himself. The weight of his burdens are as oppressive as the country he fights for — he might share more in common with the Man of Steel than a reference to a secret identity, as he’s balancing the entire world on his shoulders. But it’s not going well. And he’s starting to crack.

“Glanders” spends a large portion of its running time delving into the mind of Philip as the show picks up the pieces from some stunning decisions made throughout the latter half of the third season. Chief among them is the fallout from the “suicide” of Gene. In a knockout of a scene, Philip returns to Martha’s to prepare her for the news that’s going to inevitably break at the office in the next few days. Alison Wright’s performance is astonishing — her reaction was about as fun to watch as it was for her to actually experience it and Wright sells every minute of it, fully comprehending the depth of her involvement (however indirect it was).

Yet as trapped as Martha rightfully feels, she’s nothing compared to Paige (Holly Taylor). I’ll admit I was expecting the show to pick up the pieces on last season’s bombshell in this episode, but it’s been repeatedly proven to me that my predictions are often far from correct — Paige is relegated to just a few scenes in “Glanders.” Her diminished capacity doesn’t make her limited screen time any less powerful, particularly in the moment where she and Pastor Tim turn over some ideas on how to proceed with their newfound knowledge. Tim’s idea to bring Philip and Elizabeth (Keri Russell) in to chat is about as ill-conceived as putting a deadly biological agent in bubble wrap.

The biological agent is shocking in the way that most things in The Americans are: it’s the small things that seem to do the most damage. A small vial has the power to infect and kill countless people. A harmless dinner date sends Stan Beeman (Noah Emmerich) into his best Hulk impression. Confessions begin to tear two women apart.

Before Clark tells Martha bout what he’s done to Gene, Martha turns on a lamp, as if to shine a light on the truth. As Philip looks at the vial to see if it’s been breached, the light flickers out and plunges us into darkness. Secrets and lies, exposed in the light are too much for these characters to handle. They’d all rather just live in the dark.

Welcome back to The Americans. Welcome back to the best show on television.

Quick Thoughts:

– Kudos to critic Matt Zoller Seitz for the Clark to Clark Kent connection, one so obvious, I’m frustrated it took me this long to notice.

– Throughout the episode, I couldn’t help but be reminded of last season’s premiere which primarily focused on Elizabeth. The two episodes are a nice contrast to one another.

– I really dug the shot where Philip and Elizabeth are getting changed after the failed meeting that places Philip behind the fence — he’s fenced off his emotions from her throughout the episode, finding only temporary relief with his session at EST and his confession about Gene’s apartment to Martha.

– I’d read reviews that mentioned the discussion Philip and Elizabeth have around Henry’s (Keidrich Sellati) cologne, but it was even better than I imagined it would be and provided some much-needed levity in a dark episode.

– Nina (Annet Mahendru) revealing (to the audience at least) that she has a husband is certainly one hell of a bombshell. I’m curious to see how that shakes out.

– I’ve always been a fan of Dylan Baker and had heard he was joining the cast this season, but forgotten between when I heard and now. So it was a pleasant surprise to see his name pop up in the opening credits.

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