Season 4, Episode 4 – “Chloramphenicol”
Directed by Stefan Schwartz
Written by Tracey Scott Wilson
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
Air date: Wednesday, April 6, 2016, 10pm
The Americans hasn’t been hiding the fact that a major character on the show was bound for a meeting with their makers and that it was just simply a matter of time. Those events came to pass last week’s fantastic episode and we’ve got your spoiler-filled review of “Chloramphenicol” here below.
Poor, poor Nina (Annet Mahendru).
While those adjectives are typically associated with another one of the show’s female protagonists, Nina Sergeevna Krilova has found herself in a compromised position from the beginning of the series, but as the show progress, her complex duality only got richer and more rewarding. She (like so many of our leads) was full of duality: a double agent who doubled down on that job description, a woman of two worlds, and a woman of two men. Nina’s arc in these early installments had provided us just enough hope that she’d made it out of her situation alive, or at least see her execution delayed.
Much of “Chloramphenicol” is structured so that it spares candidates from the chopping block: Philip (Matthew Rhys), Elizabeth (Keri Russell), William (Dylan Baker), Pastor Tim (Kelly AuCoin), and Martha (Alison Wright) are all put in various harrowing situations only to be spared at the last minute (and in the case of Philip and Elizabeth, get to go bowling like a normal American family). With Nina, it’s the opposite – we’re treated to scene of her escape and given the fates of the other characters, it almost seems real – until it’s not – making this inversion all that more effective when it comes to the actual, brutal death. It’s a legitimately shocking death, but one that the series absolutely and completely earned.
Nina’s death comes as the crescendo to an already tense episode, as we see Elizabeth and Philip struggle with the fact they might die – leading to some wonderful conversations between the two. The richness of their relationship has always been a series strong point, but examining that through the lens of impending death gives a brand new context to how much they need one another – a point William is quick to address. Our characters have a level of self-awareness and honesty in “Chloramphenicol” that we’ve not typically seen. Martha knows what her relationship is and is okay with that. Philip knows what Elizabeth means to him. William wishes for more. Gabriel is frank about what the center wants from the Jennings. Stan (Noah Emmerich) fondly remembers the good times with Sandra (Susan Miner). As all of our characters knowingly and unknowingly stare death in its face, they’re able to be honest with themselves.
The same can’t be said for Nina, whose country takes her life after she’s given them so much. She’s exterminated like a virus, wiped clean from existence with an antibiotic chloramphenicol … in the form of a bullet to the head.
– Sometimes I wish I was a bit less of an avid consumer of pop culture: I’d seen from television critics that episode four ended in a major way. Combined with the overflow of post-mortem (no pun intended) pieces after the episode aired (and a working knowledge that showrunners typically only give mid-season interviews if something major has occurred), I’d put together the pieces that something major was going to happen. However, no amount of prior knowledge could have prepared me with just how quickly the deed was done, as I mentioned above.
– I like that the fact that Elizabeth’s younger self basically tells her older self that she’s not going to die.
– The plots this week felt more thematically connected than normal, adding a richness to the proceedings that already felt exceedingly extravagant.
– Gabriel is quick to remind us that the Jennings are “living in a burning house,” something that Philip (and by proxy the audience) is very much aware of – just because Nina died doesn’t mean that the rest of our characters are out of the woods. In fact, that’s far from the truth.