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The Americans Recap Season 5, Episode 7, "The Committee on Human Rights"

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The Americans Recap: Season 5, Episode 7, “The Committee on Human Rights”

Eric Liebowitz/FX

The Americans Recap: Season 5, Episode 7, “The Committee on Human Rights”

Directed by Matthew Rhys, this week’s episode of The Americans, “The Committee on Human Rights,” begins exactly where “Crossbreed” left off. But let me begin at the end, specifically with that haunting image of Gabriel (Frank Langella) and Philip (Rhys) seated across from one another inside the former’s apartment. Throughout this evocatively staged sequence that serves as a tribute to Gabriel’s work throughout the years in trying to keep Philip and Elizabeth (Keri Russell) well informed and grounded, my eye kept gravitating to a patch of white unpainted wall near Gabriel’s head. And my mind went to Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s Pulse, a film in which people leave behind splotchy black stains—redolent of the blast shadows of Hiroshima victims—on walls when they die, or simply go missing. That blackness is a symbol of all that’s inexplicable about our lives, just as the swath of unpainted wall here represents the one thing that Gabriel doesn’t come clean about throughout a profound unloading of his conscience: that he kept Mischa away from Philip.

The Americans Recap Season 5, Episode 5, “Lotus 1-2-3”

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The Americans Recap: Season 5, Episode 5, “Lotus 1-2-3”

Eric Liebowitz/FX

The Americans Recap: Season 5, Episode 5, “Lotus 1-2-3”

In my “What’s the Matter with Kansas?” recap, I refrained from describing one important yuk that played out in the Jennings’ kitchen that receives a very pointed rejoinder in “Lotus 1-2-3,” tonight’s episode of The Americans. Last week, upon sensing that Henry (Keidrich Sellati) was getting sassy with her, Elizabeth (Keri Russell) admonished him: “Don’t be smart, Henry.” To which a frazzled Henry blurted out: “I’m not!” This week, in a meeting with Henry’s math teacher (Don Guillory), Elizabeth and Philip (Matthew Rhys) learn that their son is so good at math that his school is considering placing him in Algebra II. The parents’ joy is the son’s sadness in a subsequent scene, which very casually brings to the fore how Elizabeth and Philip’s grooming of Paige (Holly Taylor) into a next-generation spy has unconsciously done a number on Henry, a wallflower of his parents’ creation who deflects the praise heaped on him by retreating into the world of his video game.

The Americans Recap Season 5, Episode 3, "The Midges"

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The Americans Recap: Season 5, Episode 3, “The Midges”

Patrick Harbron/FX

The Americans Recap: Season 5, Episode 3, “The Midges”

Last week, I doubted the sincerity with which Philip (Matthew Rhys) reacted to Gabriel contemplating the possibility of the United States government tampering with the Soviet Union’s food supply. Though I still think the overall scene was doing much work for the audience’s benefit, Philip’s seeming incredulousness was instantly reoriented for me by the look he gives Alexei (Alexander Sokovikov) in the opening scene of this week’s episode of The Americans, “The Midges.” The Morozovs and the family of spies pretending to be their friends are bowling when Alexei, as is his wont, begins to rail against the oppressiveness of the life he lived in Russia. It is, of course, in Philip and Elizabeth’s (Keri Russell) best interests to feign sympathy for whatever Alexei tells them, but the expression on Philip’s face is unmistakably sincere, very much rooted in the horror of remembering that which he can’t forget.

The Americans Recap Season 5, Episode 2, "Pests"

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The Americans Recap: Season 5, Episode 2, “Pests”

Patrick Harbron/FX

The Americans Recap: Season 5, Episode 2, “Pests”

“Relax your shoulders, and follow through,” says Elizabeth Jennings (Keri Russell) to her daughter, Paige (Holly Taylor), in tonight’s episode of The Americans, as they start their latest self-defense training session. The scene begins and ends with the metronomic sound of Paige’s fists taking turns smacking—not too hard but also not too soft—a duct-taped throw pillow. That sound, like the girl’s movement, is a canny corollary to Elizabeth’s methods as a spy, the perfection with which she must thread needles, and how they’re inextricably bound to her methods as a mother. Yes, Paige is frustrated by her parents not wanting her to date Matthew (Danny Flaherty), but when she agrees to continue their training session, one grasps Paige’s respect for her mother, for the way she broaches the subject of sex so frankly—which is to say, by pretending that it’s something that can actually occur.

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 10, "Munchkins"

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The Americans Recap: Season 4, Episode 10, “Munchkins”

Craig Blankenhorn/FX

The Americans Recap: Season 4, Episode 10, “Munchkins”

“This isn’t normal!” Paige (Holly Taylor) cried in last season’s “Stingers,” urging Philip (Matthew Rhys) and Elizabeth (Keri Russell) to reveal the truth. “I’ve felt it for a long time now, and I thought it was me. I thought I was crazy. But it’s not me, it’s you!” With tonight’s episode, “Munchkins,” The Americans reopens the argument, and it appears that Paige’s sense of trust has been shaken loose by the knowledge of her parents’ double lives: In accepting the new “normal” of secrets and lies, the daughter of deep-cover agents has become as suspicious as they are, and Pastor Tim’s disappearance in Ethiopia forces her to examine her grim intuition once more. “Paige, this is crazy,” Elizabeth bridles, echoing the climactic moment of “Stingers,” but as we’ve come to learn in the season since, the sanest instinct in the world of The Americans is not faith, but doubt.

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.

BFI London Film Festival 2015 King Jack

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BFI London Film Festival 2015: King Jack

Whitewater Films

BFI London Film Festival 2015: King Jack

Confidently working a well-worn groove, Felix Thompson’s debut joins a growing cannon of derelict rite-of-passage films in which American adolescents ride their bikes around dilapidated areas of the U.S. (this time in New York’s Hudson Valley). Neither as meditative as Hide Your Smiling Faces nor as morose as Little Accidents, King Jack also can’t boast Mud’s wistful poeticisms of innocence lost, but its summer of embattled youth is shorn of sentimentality, with lead actor Charlie Plummer’s embittered eye lines casting a pall of diminished self-worth over his fresh features.