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Review: ‘The Americans’ Season 4 Episode 10 ‘Munchkins’ Tests Your Faith

"I just can't believe it. After we bent over backwards not to do it?"

Briefing

The above quote from Phillip was so perfectly timed, so the thing a teenage kid’s father finds himself saying, and so straight-up funny it would’ve made this week’s “The Americans” a regular hoot if it weren’t for one tragic mishap: Agent Gaad, I really didn’t see that coming. Even when three Russian hooligans showed up in your vacation home, I didn’t expect an ending so finite to come so soon. A misguided attempt to flee and an overenthusiastic tackle brought on an early death no one wanted; not us, not the goons and certainly not Gaad.

Still, the effects of his demise will come to fruition next week, while “Munchkins” was primarily focused on Pastor Tim, his wife Alice and the Jennings’ dangerous relationship with them. After the pastor went missing in Ethiopia, Alice made a tape that would expose the Russian spies if anything happened to her or her husband. This put Paige in a moral dilemma and her parents in a tricky spot, but ultimately seemed to help the family, as it turned out Tim simply ran out of gas and got lost. Now Paige might just trust her parents a bit more, and Alice, at least, owes them all a favor. (No, her apology doesn’t cut it.)

Finally, Elizabeth’s relationship with Young Hee seems ready to burst, as the Mary Kay salesman’s guilt-ridden husband is so upset over what he thinks he did with Elizabeth it’s affecting his marriage. Elizabeth can’t stand it, and she eventually relented to Gabriel’s suggestion that they ask the Centre for other options; ones that don’t require the destruction or threatened destruction of a family Elizabeth truly likes. Does this mean Elizabeth’s gone soft? Hardly, but she does seem one step closer to Phillip’s EST-affected mentality, and that could lead to big changes during these final three episodes.

Phillip’s Loyalty: U.S.A.

“My dad worked very hard and when he came home, he was tired. My mom, she was very tough.” Pardoning the past tense, those words could very well have been spoken by Paige rather than Phillip during the second scene of “Munchkins.” When asked if he liked it in Russia, Phillip first said, “We didn’t think that way,” before explaining how the way he was raised differed from Paige’s upbringing — or so he thought. Granted, the question of whether he “liked” where he lived wasn’t a consideration back then, but how he described the family dynamic — especially with his mother taking care of business (literally) — hit pretty close to home.

Elizabeth’s Loyalty: U.S.A.

Elizabeth took quite a while considering whether or not she should ask to spare Young Hee’s way of life, and while that may sound cruel, the not-so-stone-cold-killer deserves all our respect for saying, “Yes.” Mere seconds earlier, she’d argued feelings don’t matter or, at least, “They shouldn’t.’ Gabriel’s new strategy for keeping his agents mentally healthy and loyal is certainly paying off, as her eventual answer showed the level of trust she has in her handler. She knows following through with Young Hee may be unavoidable, and she’s been preparing herself for that eventuality for some time now. But her decision to talk back to her bosses — to speak truth to power — is arguably the most American thing she’s ever done — especially when remembering Phillip’s description of Russia from the episode’s intro. This is about liking someone, and Russia is where liking things doesn’t matter.

Stan: Savant or Square?

Was it square of Stan not to promise anything to Martha’s dad, or was it the right thing to do? After all, the case has gone largely cold, and giving a father hope may only make one of them feel better — and not for the right reasons. Still, it was disappointing to see Stan take such a passive attitude toward that and, later, Gaad’s death. For the latter, I’m betting he’ll become much more active in the immediate future, and he’s certainly allowed time to get himself together after such unsettling news. Still, the pairing of these two events will hopefully spark a recommitment from the special agent. After all, Gaad’s last words to him were, “Whatever comes up […] you can’t lose sight of who these people are.” And a focused Stan is an effective Stan. He’s going to find “these people.” Of that, I’m sure.

Best Asset: Paige

Paige trying to sputter out an explanation of what she’s thinking when she’s clearly got too much in her head to process anything in specificity is a season highlight for both Holly Taylor and the Jennings’ three oldest members. Not only could you tell what she didn’t want to say — that her parents probably killed her Pastor — but that she couldn’t even think of an alternate example to calm her demanding mother. Phillip, Elizabeth and Paige have shared some dynamite scenes since (and including) that time the oldest child learned what her parents really did, and the dynamic remains compelling to this day. Paige may have reacted poorly under duress, but she later made a truly savvy call any operative would be proud of. By not asking Alice for the tape damning her parents immediately after learning of Pastor Tim’s good health, Paige kept suspicion off of the Jennings. There are better times to ask, and other ways to ensure that tape never sees the light of day. As much as she doesn’t like it, Paige seems to be developing pretty great field instincts — which I’m sure she’ll need for what’s ahead.

Wig Count: 2

The return of Kimmy meant the return of Phillip’s long perv-hair, and we couldn’t be happier about it. Elizabeth sported her now-weekly wig — the blonde, saleswoman ‘do she wears around Young-Hee — but it was Phillip’s all-out effort that brought back all of last year’s unnerving feelings. So good to see Kimmy has a boyfriend. So bad to hear her complain he’s too “young.” Maybe Phillip can use that wig to sink into and hide, you know — when the time comes.

Quote of the Night

Gabriel: “Your feelings matter.”
Elizabeth: “No, they don’t. They shouldn’t.”

“Munchkins” seemed intent on providing a clear picture of Elizabeth and Phillip’s established mentality in order to illustrate how much it’s changed. By starting the episode with an explanation of Phillip and Elizabeth’s Russian heritage and ending it with Elizabeth giving into her emotional impulses, “The Americans” bookended this chapter with well-placed perspective. After nine episodes dealing with intense, fluctuating, often conflicting desires, showrunners Joe Weisberg and Joel Fields are setting us up for the end. What’s coming? I don’t know, nor would I want to know. But hearing Phillip speak of his childhood and seeing Elizabeth come to terms with how she’s no longer purely Russian certainly opens up the door for a wild ending.

As does the mystery behind Gaad’s death. It seems clear Arkady was in charge of the operation that led to the former FBI agent’s death, but what motivated their desire to speak with him remains unclear. What was their proposal? Did it have anything to do with Martha? Does it have anything to do with Tatiana’s request that Oleg find her a female computer programmer in her 50s or 60s who can speak fluent English? “The Americans” has spent a great deal of time hinting at Tatiana’s hidden mission(s), and making Gaad the end result of one brings us closer to them — and her — than ever before. In the end, though, I hope the revelation provides more meaning to Gaad’s death. The episode certainly didn’t take it lightly — watching him bleed out for as long as we did was some tough television — but it still didn’t have the same impact as Nina’s death or Martha’s departure. Not that it should, considering Gaad’s smaller overall role, but that scene sure came by surprise.

Moreover, it solidified Season 4 as one for goodbyes. Three main characters — or at least recurring characters — have all left, two dead and one unlikely to be seen again. With both Elizabeth and Phillip mentioning their own desire to flee, we’re fascinated to see where they end up at year’s end.

Grade: A-

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