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The Americans Recap Season 4, Episode 13, "Persona Non Grata"

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The Americans Recap: Season 4, Episode 13, “Persona Non Grata”

Ali Paige Goldstein/Lionsgate Television/AMC

The Americans Recap: Season 4, Episode 13, “Persona Non Grata”

On Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, the sinner’s fate is sealed. To be blotted out of the Book of Life, in scripture’s cruel parlance, is to be culled from the ranks of the righteous, and it’s this eternal exile to which Leonard Cohen turns in his 1974 track “Who by Fire.” The spare, tragic ballad, inspired by Jewish tradition, but attuned to fears of a more modern sort, forms the hardened heart of The Americans’s plaintive season finale, rising on the soundtrack as Philip (Matthew Rhys) and Elizabeth Jennings (Keri Russell) face an expulsion of their own. “Persona Non Grata,” in which Gabriel (Frank Langella) urges his agents to flee the country, forces these unwelcome guests in Cold War America to confront the question that defines the immigrant experience: At what point is the place from whence we came no longer the place we call “home”?

The Americans Recap Season 4, Episode 12, "A Roy Rogers in Franconia"

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The Americans Recap: Season 4, Episode 12, “A Roy Rogers in Franconia”

Patrick Harbron/FX

The Americans Recap: Season 4, Episode 12, “A Roy Rogers in Franconia”

Our response to fear is instinctive, automatic, a secretion of hormones that sets in motion the cascade we call “fight or flight.” “It’s not logical, it’s emotional,” as Paige (Holly Taylor) says of soap operas, bypassing thought to work on the strings of the heart and the sinews of the stomach. In tonight’s episode of The Americans, “A Roy Rogers in Franconia,” the sources of fear are specific and conditional, ranging from an immediate threat (an attempted mugging) to a speculative one (a Lhasa outbreak on the Eastern seaboard), but fear itself is the common thread, the experience each character shares.

The Americans Recap Season 4, Episode 9, "The Day After"

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The Americans Recap: Season 4, Episode 9, “The Day After”

FX

The Americans Recap: Season 4, Episode 9, “The Day After”

It seems nigh impossible now, but when ABC aired The Day After on November 20, 1983, it attracted more than 100 million viewers—including, in tonight’s episode of The Americans, the Jennings family. Imagining the apocalyptic consequences of a nuclear conflict between NATO and the Warsaw Pact countries, director Nicholas Meyer’s TV movie premiered at a moment of near-crisis in the late Cold War, yet FX’s sterling drama isn’t content simply to suggest the heightened geopolitical stakes. For a series in which the “evil empire,” the Strategic Defense Initiative, The Today Show, and David Copperfield come to the characters via vacuum tubes and radio waves, “The Day After” is also, fittingly enough, a tribute to the power of television: the foremost medium through which we enjoy, or endure, the experience of being alone together.

The Americans Recap Season 4, Episode 6, "The Rat"

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The Americans Recap: Season 4, Episode 6, “The Rat”

FX

The Americans Recap: Season 4, Episode 6, “The Rat”

Midway through tonight’s episode of The Americans, after sweeping Martha (Alison Wright) off to a KGB safe house on a leafy suburban lane, Philip (Matthew Rhys) removes his disguise in a fit of pique. Abandoning Clark’s thick coif for his own thinning black Brillo-like do, dispensing with Clark’s specs only to accentuate the hollowness in his eyes, he suddenly seems naked, exposed—so much so that Elizabeth (Keri Russell), still posing as Clark’s dowdy sister, Jennifer, stops short at the kitchen’s precipice. “Did you want her to? To see you?” she asks, and though Philip can only stutter a non-answer, his shamefaced expression and her frosty mien suggest all too clearly that a line has been crossed. In “The Rat,” seeing is indeed believing, and removing the veil lays bare the risk that inheres in the concept of trust.

The Americans Recap Season 4, Episode 4, "Chloramphenicol"

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The Americans Recap: Season 4, Episode 4, “Chloramphenicol”

Nicole Rivelli/FX

The Americans Recap: Season 4, Episode 4, “Chloramphenicol”

The Americans reserves the death of Nina Seergevna Krilova (Annet Mahendru) for the final moments of “Chloramphenicol,” but in retrospect her precipitous passage from cell to sentence to execution is central to the episode, and to the still-unfurling fourth season. Interrupting her dream of freedom with Anton Baklanov (Michael Aronov), cast in angelic white light, Nina’s abrupt “transfer” to a fluorescent corridor is a reminder of the show’s condensed, even claustrophobic timeline of late, made explicit by the recitation of the charges against her. The Soviet authorities put a bullet in Nina’s head on March 18, 1983, a mere 10 days after President Reagan declared her homeland an “evil empire.”

The Americans Recap Season 4, Episode 3, "Experimental Prototype City of Tomorrow"

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The Americans Recap: Season 4, Episode 3, “Experimental Prototype City of Tomorrow”

Jeff Neumann/FX

The Americans Recap: Season 4, Episode 3, “Experimental Prototype City of Tomorrow”

Before his death in 1966, Walt Disney, inspired by the Garden City movement and the futuristic utopianism of the World’s Fair, drew up plans for an Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow (EPCOT) in the swamplands of north-central Florida. That his desire to reshape the urban landscape should founder is, in some sense, the subtext of the latest installment of The Americans: The Epcot Center that opened in 1982 was not the working city of Disney’s dreams, but another “attraction” for the Magic Kingdom’s visitors to tour, a strange amalgam of blind faith in technological progress and bland internationalism.

The Americans Recap Season 4, Episode 2, "Pastor Tim"

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The Americans Recap: Season 4, Episode 2, “Pastor Tim”

Eric Liebowitz/FX

The Americans Recap: Season 4, Episode 2, “Pastor Tim”

Soft Cell’s electronic thrum may muffle the sound of a struggle, but for Philip Jennings (Matthew Rhys), no amount of noise can drown out a nagging conscience. His murder of an airport worker midway through “Pastor Tim,” framed in part from the victim’s point of view, sees Philip red-faced and sweaty, struggling to catch his breath, which seems an appropriate analog to the mounting chaos of his life as a husband, father, and Soviet spy: If the haggard, desolate expression he wears throughout the rest of the hour is any indication, he appears to have exhausted his capacity for compartmentalization. After all, the song that accompanies the killing is “Tainted Love,” and tonight’s episode of The Americans depicts the blighted affections—for self, for family, for country—that accrue to those who’ve lost control of their destinies.

The Americans Recap Season 4, Episode 1, "Glanders"

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The Americans Recap: Season 4, Episode 1, “Glanders”

Eric Liebowitz/FX

The Americans Recap: Season 4, Episode 1, “Glanders”

It’s morning again on The Americans, but day breaks over the show’s fourth season without the optimism of President Ronald Reagan’s famed reelection spot. For Philip Jennings (Matthew Rhys), in fact, the work resumes in darkness, as the memory of a monstrous act compels him to reveal yet another shred of truth to Martha (Alison Wright) in the wee small hours—and to confront, through her, the question of culpability. Wright, crying and clutching her chest, remains the unheralded cornerstone of the ensemble, and it’s her stricken reaction to the news of F.B.I. technology specialist Gene Craft’s untimely death that throws Philip’s guilt into sharpest relief. Martha understands, as Philip is now discovering for himself, that collaboration is its own crime. “What have you done?” she pleads. “What have I done?”

Interview: Joe Weisberg & Joel Fields Talk Season Four of The Americans

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Interview: Joe Weisberg & Joel Fields Talk Season Four of The Americans

FX

Interview: Joe Weisberg & Joel Fields Talk Season Four of The Americans

FX’s The Americans, whose fourth season premieres on March 16, is a spy drama tinged with romance and black comedy. In its narrative construction, it exudes the precision of a seismograph, and the latest season promises to spring countless surprises on audiences. It picks up where last season left off, with D.C.-based KGB agents Philip (Matthew Rhys) and Elizabeth Jennings (Keri Russell) struggling to balance the unconventional and sometimes grisly requirements of their job and the burgeoning independent-mindedness of their daughter, Paige (Holly Taylor). In one particularly juicy storyline, featuring Dylan Baker as a laconic KGB scientist, the secret development of chemical weapons by the Russians places even more life-and-death pressure on Philip and Elizabeth, now tasked with a branch of spycraft that, if mishandled, could result in thousands of deaths. I chatted with creator Joe Weisberg and executive producer Joel Fields about approaching The Americans as one continuous story, designing episodes for digital-savvy TV audiences, and crafting an accidental tribute to the late David Bowie for an upcoming episode.

One Year Revisited: God of Carnage on Broadway

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One Year Revisited: <em>God of Carnage</em> on Broadway
One Year Revisited: <em>God of Carnage</em> on Broadway

In Woody Allen’s great film Crimes and Misdemeanors, Alan Alda has a whole bit about the secret of comedy (“It’s…tragedy…plus time”), but does such a rule apply to the theater as well? In the case of Yasmina Reza’s Tony-winning God of Carnage, the playwright would agree that her play is a tragedy (reportedly, she is often puzzled by how American audiences find it so funny). But the third cast to inhabit this play’s ensemble has finally nailed the tricky challenge of playing the drama of the piece which, in effect, unearths Reza’s work as a bit more than a Brooklyn elite gab-a-thon. I’ll freely admit: I wasn’t much of a fan of Carnage at this time last year. Despite the stellar cast and Matthew Warchus’s expert direction, it seemed to me a Möbius strip of a concoction with too much contrivance at its center. (Why do the Raleighs keep heading to the door only to constantly wind up back on the Novacks’ couch?) People laughed their heads off, sometimes at just the right intervals, but I had hoped for a deeper, more resonant experience that sadly never came.

Well, tonight I’m going to dine on some crow, because not only was I one of the people chuckling heartily this time, but Reza’s play had sharper focus than it had ever revealed previously. Sometimes all it takes is just the right cast to modify something into fully operational machinery. And while the play still has those pesky contrivances that gnaw at you, the new quartet (Dylan Baker, Jeff Daniels, Lucy Liu, Janet McTeer) fully realize the power of words, and instead of going straight for the gut laughs, bring a more organic fluidity to the (literal) table. The tone is more contemplative this time, less manic, though startlingly, the play seems to move at an even steadier clip.