TV Review: The Americans: 4.9 ”The Day After”

Fleetwood Mac has forged an inescapable bond with The Americans. Before the series premiered, critics were already praising the show’s now infamous use of “Tusk,” for good reason: it took something familiar (Fleetwood Mac needle-drops often find themselves frequently used in popular culture) and put a new spin on it (“Tusk” is, for someone like me, not something I’d ever remembered hearing on the radio and was therefore a new and fresh dimension of a band I was already familiar with). The inclusion of “Tusk” defined the show early on in the same way: we might know the tropes and typical beats of a spy story, but this show was going to bring something bold and new to the genre.

I bring this up because Fleetwood Mac — more than any other band played on the show — has always seemed like the Greek chorus of The Americans (last season’s incredible use of “The Chain” is still one of my favorite moments of the show), and while none of their songs were featured on “The Day After,” I couldn’t get another Fleetwood Mac song out of my head while I watched the episode: “Don’t Stop.”

After launching the show seven months into a seemingly brighter future for the Jennings — well, significantly brighter than where they’d been previously — “The Day After” focused on the immediate aftermath of that time jump, as Philip and Elizabeth are forced to reckon with their future.

The power of “The Day After” lies in how it lures the audience into thinking that the worst is behind us. Sure, regular operations have continued, but nothing to the extent that the pair are used to executing upon. Even then, we’re privy to small vignettes that show just how (relatively) happy Philip, Paige, and Elizabeth are: Philip and Paige practice driving while Young-Hee and ‘Patty’ continue to forge a true friendship. Things are going well.

And then William signals with horrid news. Pastor Tim starts to get suspicious again. And then we see everyone watch The Day After. The made for TV movie is a sobering one-two punch that brings home the importance of Philip and Elizabeth’s mission, but immediately places Elizabeth in between a rock and a hard place as she realizes she’ll have to sever her connection with Young-Hee by sleeping with Don to get something to leverage on him: a feeling that’s only compounded when Don tells her that she’s “a good person, a kind person.” Don’s feelings of guilt when he wakes up are palatable, sure, but nothing compared to the pain that Elizabeth experiences.

As Elizabeth returns home, she can’t muster the courage to put on a brave face for Paige and Henry, immediately retreating upstairs under the guise of a headache. “I’m gonna miss her,” Elizabeth says of Young-Hee, with burden in her voice.
 As the camera frames the two through the window, more than ever the crossbar of window pane resembles a target in a scope of a gun, centered on the two characters. This is where my mind immediately turned to “Don’t Stop” — Philip and Elizabeth can’t stop thinking about tomorrow. After all, the Day After movie promises there’s an increasing chance tomorrow might not come at all.

Quick Thoughts:

– Even before The Day After, Paige and Philip are thinking about tomorrow: driving lessons are very much a crossing of the Rubicon from childhood to adulthood.

– Another development that doesn’t seem entirely out of the blue given the time jump: a now blossomed romance between Oleg and Tatiana.

– These last few episodes have been very Philip heavy, so it’s nice to see the plot pivot back towards Elizabeth.

– Philip briefly mentions Martha, who’s now in Moscow and as Philip frankly puts it: “She’s safe. She’s free.” Your mileage may vary on that last part.

Originally published at on May 17, 2016.

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