The Americans “The Day After” Review (Season 4 Episode 9)

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On the latest episode of “The Americans,” it was time for the Jennings’ family to stop messing around and get their head back in the game; while everyone concerned got a taste of what might be to come, if the world didn’t pay its cards right, figuratively and literally, in “The Day After.”

The title referred to a TV-movie that was apparently the most-watched of its kind in history- over 100 million people watched it at the time, making it truly appointment television before there really was such a thing. (If only “The Americans” itself could boast such numbers!)

I haven’t seen it myself, but it’s available on YouTube in its entirety, so I might check it out over the weekend. Anyway, I gather it has to do with the after-effects of a nuclear war between the US and the Soviet Union, which don’t look to be good, as one might expect.

'The Americans' revisits peak of Cold War fears in 'The Day After' episode

The TV-movie apparently put the fear of God into a lot of people, and perhaps might have even played a part in ending the Cold War and certainly did play one in lessening the threat of nuclear attack.

Further, the thwarted nuclear attack that Oleg refers to actually did happen, in September of 1983, making it current on the show, which takes place on and around November 20th, 1983, when the movie aired.

As he notes, there was a malfunction in the equipment that made it seem like the US had launched several missiles at the Soviet Union, but which later turned out to be sunlight reflecting off the clouds in such a way as to seem like it could be projectiles.

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Thankfully, the man involved, Stanislav Petrov, the duty officer in charge at the time at the Oko Command Center, recognized it as the mistake it was and single-handedly helped the Soviets avoid what would have been a dreadful mistake: staging a counter-attack against the US for an assault it never made in the first place.

So, in short, all of this happened, and it really was a big deal at the time, though the latter information didn’t come out publically until the 90’s. As such, the latter didn’t have near as much impact as the former, at least to the public, but to be sure, there was a ripple effect as a direct result of the TV-movie and the would-be attack.

It’s within this sort of thing that “The Americans” thrives, as we see both the positives and negatives such things can have on the characters at hand, as Liz reacts one way, doubling down on her personal stance and need to act ASAP; and Phil reacts another, wondering whether or not they should actually back off from their work and keep some things to themselves, accordingly.

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Indeed, these seismic events were bookended by the most mundane of occurrences: a father teaching his daughter to drive. We began with the initial test run, as Phil let Paige take out the family’s more expendable vehicle for a test run, before he finally relented and let her take his beloved Camaro out for one at the end.

The latter event was much more loaded with meaning, however, as Phil’s real reason for doing so had more to do with placating Paige’s ongoing misery with having to keep up appearances with Pastor Tim, who himself wasn’t buying it, noting at a send-off for his latest relief mission to Ethiopia that Paige seemed sad and troubled.

By alleviating her unfortunate circumstances with a moment of undiluted joy, Phil was able to give his daughter an undeniably happy moment in a sea of intensity, though, as we saw, that emotion was short-lived, as she almost immediately saw the toll what they were doing took on her mother, who came in miserable as a direct result of a mission that actually could have been avoided.

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Alas, as with most things in the lives of our protagonists, the good times were coupled with the bad, as Liz opted to take action on their latest mission by ramping up things with Young Hee and her husband, Don (Rob Yang, “Twisted”), in order to secure some needed clearance to his workplace.

As I predicted, Don does indeed work at the same lab as Will, only he has the much-alluded to and elusive Level 4 clearance that Will does not. After having successfully insinuated herself into the lives of Young and Don to the point that she was able to look after their kids while they went on a short weekend vacation- all the better for Liz to go through their stuff and look for something incriminating, though all she ended up finding was a hidden porno- it was time to take things to the next level.

Sadly, this meant doing something that would inevitably cause irreparable damage to her relationship with Young, as Liz calculatedly called Don up when she knew Young would be otherwise occupied and had him pick her up, ostensibly from a date-gone-bad, and then come up to “her” apartment, where she proceeded to drug Don, strip him naked and get him into bed, even going so far as to rub lotion on his private parts so he’d think something had happened.

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After that, Liz herself stripped naked and simply waited, as a horrified Don woke up and saw what he’d supposedly done in his “drunken” stupor. Apologizing profusely, he took off and that was that, as he left a shattered and lonely Liz alone with her thoughts of the horrible thing she’d just done and the sure-to-be-worse consequences of it.

I guess the idea is to blackmail Don into cooperating, but it seems like a faulty plan, as it could well go the other way if Don opts to tell his wife outright. If that happens, it seems to me Liz would have done all this for nothing, as it wouldn’t get her any closer to her goal of getting clearance in the aforementioned lab, but I guess we’ll find out soon enough.

What’s more, the sadder thing is that it’s obvious that Liz genuinely liked Young, and why wouldn’t she? Young sort of brought out the best in Liz, in terms of showing her how to loosen up and have fun and relax for a change. Unfortunately, it also ended up bringing out the worst in Liz as well, as her commitment to the cause, as ever, trumped everything else in her life.

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This was perhaps the first time we’ve ever seen Liz quite so vulnerable and so hesitant to do what was required of her- and be so upset and devastated by the consequences. After an episode in which we saw Liz at arguably her harshest, as she laid mercilessly into poor Paige for her own actions, it was quite a turnaround to see her be both so calculated and so exposed, emotion-wise, in a decidedly different way than in the last episode.

Clearly, this was all meant to be contrasted with Phil’s recent scenario with Martha, who according to this episode, at least, is safe, if not necessarily living happily ever after, in Moscow. Whereas Phil has always been one to wear his heart on his sleeve more, especially in regards to his work, Liz has always played things much closer to the vest, so to see her so rattled in the last few episodes has been somewhat unnerving.

These things Liz and Phil do, they clearly take a toll, and that results in some decidedly unpleasant repercussions, which are likely to get worse before they get better- if they ever do get better. (On the plus side, at least they didn’t have to deal with something like Stanislav Petrov, I guess.)

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“I will miss her,” laments Liz, already referring to her relationship with Young Hee in the past tense even before things go completely south. So will we, I think, as it also means the premature death of “fun” Liz in the process.

Likewise, it also means that it’s almost time for another potentially nerve-racking mission, this one involving breaking into a high-security lab and trying to take a sample of a weaponized Lassa virus, which, according to Will, has the power to “liquefy your organs and make your blood come through your skin.” Eep!

I also liked that near-everyone had a big choice to make in this episode, save maybe Henry, as per usual. In this case. Will’s choice was the decision to come to Phil first with this information, in hopes of his talking him out of it and not telling their superiors about it in the first place, as well as to drop his typically deadpan barbs at Phil: “This might be your best look yet,” he quipped, as Phil looked like a walking “Wanted” poster for the local pedo. (God, I love Dylan Baker!)

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Ultimately, though, it came down to Liz, who was more determined than ever to get the job done, pointing out that the US was much more likely to use this sort of thing against the Soviets than the other way around, to say nothing of launching a nuclear missile at them, as we saw in “The Day After.” After all, as Liz points out, we already dropped an atomic bomb- twice.

Beyond that, we got a few juicy tidbits of information: as I suspected, love was in the air for Oleg and Tatiana- or was it? It remains to be seen what exactly Tatiana is up to in general, but at least part of it seems to involve seducing Oleg, who did indeed spill the beans on some information as I mentioned earlier.

I thought it was also interesting how each approached having sex, with Oleg holding little, if anything, back; while Tatiana, as ever, played things close to the vest, keeping almost deathly silent, so as to not potentially disturb the neighbors, which was a past cause for concern in a previous relationship, when she and her man had to wait for the families in the area to leave before they could indulge in anything “untoward.”

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I remain convinced she has a hidden agenda, though, unlike the business with Young Hee, which I accurately predicted long ago, I have no idea what it could be. After all, I was dead wrong about Tatiana working against Martha in a previous episode- I think.

I mean, as far as we know, Martha’s fine, but is she really? Hard to say for sure, until we actually lay eyes on her. But if something did happen, you best believe Tatiana played a part in it.

We also got an update on Stan and his new boss, Director Webster, who is apparently a “company man,” as it were, given to being a stickler for playing by the rules, and who has surrounded himself with a bunch of butt-kissing sycophants, who Stan has dubbed the “Munchkins,” which just so happens to be the name of next week’s episode, so look for that to play a part in the action there.

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Stan also went his separate ways with Tori and is still pining away for Sandra, which is sad. On the plus side, he seems to be spending much more time with his son, so there’s that.

But he’s still an unhappy Stan overall, and an unhappy Stan is a restless Stan, and that can lead to big breakthroughs when he sets his mind to something. Phil better watch his back- and not just on the racquetball court.

Likewise, the situation with Pastor Tim may not be as much a thing of the past as the Jennings hoped, as he asked Phil for a sit down with the entire family when he returned from Ethiopia, noting that something still seemed off with Paige as of late. I couldn’t help but wonder if maybe Pastor Tim never coming back from said trip might not be such a bad thing, for all concerned.

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On the musical front, we got the rare double dose of 80’s nostalgia, as we were treated to the reappearance of past favorite Yaz and their melancholic “Winter Kills” as well as the more propulsive Peter Schilling track, “Major Tom (Coming Home),” which could be seen as another semi-tribute to the late David Bowie, as it obviously functions as a sort of “sequel” to Bowie’s “Space Oddity.”

All in all, another solid episode of the series, if not as tense by default as the last few, which is not necessarily a bad thing. As with the Jennings, we could all use a vacation from time to time, and I have a feeling that this was, at best, the relative calm before the major storm to come on the immediate horizon. We shall see soon enough, I think. Until then, only time will tell what “The Day After” really brings.

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What did you think of the latest episode of “The Americans”? Will Liz’s nefarious plan actually work? Or will it heavily backfire? Did she make the right choice? How about Will, in opting not to tell his superiors first and going to the Jennings first? What is Tatiana up to? Will Pastor Tim make it back alright, or will his story be cut short by the situation he’s about to find himself in? Sound off on this and more down below and see you next week!