Recent episodes of The Americans have had titles that have been bad attempts at literary allusions: Episode 3.09 was titled “Do Mail Robots Dream of Electric Sheep” as an allusion to a Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep; the allusion made no sense at all within that episode of The Americans. Episode 3.11 was titled “One Day in the Life of Anton Baklanov” as an allusion to Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich; it made more sense than the allusion to Dick’s novel made, but it still didn’t work as well as it should have. If this episode, “I Am Abassin Zadran,” has an allusive title rather than just an elusive title, I’m not certain which literary work the writers might be attempting to allude to. Tom Wolfe—author of The Right Stuff and The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test—has a 2004 novel titled I Am Charlotte Simmons, so I’m guessing Wolfe’s book might be the intended allusion. Wolfe’s novel is about a young woman (Charlotte Simmons, obviously) who is an incoming freshman student at a university where an unnamed republican governor of California was caught receiving oral sex from a female student during a visit the governor made to the campus. Charlotte becomes friends with the students who caught the governor receiving the oral sex, and who were then able to capitalize on the governor’s indiscretion. Ultimately, it’s a novel is about college students caring more about acquiring social status and the hedonistic pleasures associated with material wealth than they do about academics. It may sound like the novel is a scathing condemnation of contemporary young people who, unlike their parents or grandparents, are uninterested in anything outside the circle of their immediate experience and their own hedonistic lives. However, with only a few minor changes having to do with the technology and music that young people are interested in, the novel also sounds like it could have been written by F. Scott Fitzgerald about college students in the 1920s. The idea of people not thinking critically and not being interested in anything “outside the circle of their immediate experience” is an old theme in both literature and politics. For instance, in Brave New World Revisited, Aldous Huxley notes that Hitler was able to use that aspect of humanity to his advantage as he manipulated the behaviors of eighty million people through carefully constructed propaganda that worked because people were not interested in abstract concepts and uninterested in anything outside their own mundane lives. Applying those ideas to “I Am Abassin Zadran” would not be difficult, but if the episode’s title is meant to be an allusion to Tom Wolfe’s novel, then it is not a very effective way to evoke those themes within the episode. Instead, a better allusion might have been to the song “Le Freak (Freak Out)” by Chic. It would still be an insipid allusion, but at least it would have a more obvious connection to what’s going on in this episode, as there are several characters who are “freaking out” about various things. The freaking out motif begins with Paige, but I’m going to save her for last. Instead, I’ll start with this episode’s titular character, Abassin Zadran, who is part of the Mujahedeen delegation from Afghanistan who have come to the United States for meetings with the CIA regarding their battle with the Soviet Union. Posing as CIA agents, Philip and Elizabeth gain access to Zadran so they can talk to him before his official meeting with the CIA. During their conversation, they listen as he discusses how much he enjoys killing Russian soldiers: Zadran: I am Abassin Zadran. I am the one who cuts the throats of the communists. I have killed many people with my knife. I have cut them open and watched them die; some of them boys . . . no older than my nephew. I found them swimming; their guns on the river bank. Laughing. Singing. After dropping bombs on our villages. Desecrating our women. Killing our babies. They are cowards. If there were two hundred infidels standing on the road, I would gut every one of them . . . like a goat. While playing their roles as CIA agents who are pretending to support Zadran in his conflict with the Soviet Union, Philip and Elizabeth’s micro-expressions indicate how much they would like to immediately gut Zadran like a goat for what he has done to Russian soldiers—particularly since Philip’s illegitimate son is a Russian soldier currently stationed in Afghanistan. Matthew Rhys (as Philip) and Keri Russell (as Elizabeth) do amazing work in the scene as they mostly just listen to Zadran’s rant (after provoking him into it). Both actors are able to convey a great deal of information through their micro-expressions—the squint of the eyes, the slight tightness around the lip, et cetera—while they mostly hold a stoic macro-expression. They achieved their goal of planting suspicion in Zadran’s mind regarding the other members of his delegation—causing him to “freak out” once he returns to his hotel room and visits with his fellow Mujahedeen delegates. Meanwhile, back at the FBI office, Stan is also freaking out . . . well, no, actually he isn’t freaking out. He’s just irritated. Stan has suppressed his emotions to the point where he’s probably incapable of feeling strong emotions other than lust—and that was really only lust for Nina, and probably because she was “forbidden fruit” due to her being a beautiful Russian woman employed at the Soviet embassy. So, yeah, Stan is probably incapable of freaking out about anything other than his love life. Still, Agent Aderholt was able to at least evoke irritation in Stan, which in itself is an impressive accomplishment. As they walk through headquarters together, Aderholt sort of does a Peter Falk as Columbo impersonation as he tells Stan he’d like to ask him a few more questions about Nina. He’s been going through the files the FBI has on Nina, and he is now nearly certain that Stan was having a sexual relationship with Nina rather than merely an agent-asset relationship. Stan stops and turns to Aderholt—towering above him (as Stan is about seven inches taller), he looks as if he is about to punch Aderholt in the face as he asks, “What are you accusing me of?” Aderholt: Did you plant the bug? Stan: No . . . and you are not as smart as you look. You read all those files. Let’s say the woman I shot didn’t actually die. Maybe she’s the one who beat the shit out of you and Gaad. Maybe she even killed my partner, Chris Amador. Our office is a target of the Illegals. The best, most dangerous officers the KGB has. Now they got to somebody inside, and it wasn’t me. Work on that. Of course, Stan is absolutely correct, and we know more than he does about it all. The woman Stan shot was Elizabeth, and she is the one who beat the shit out of Aderholt and Gaad. However, it was Philip who killed Chris Amador, as Amador was Martha’s boyfriend at the time and he needed to clear the path so he could marry Martha (also because Aderholt was getting suspicious about Martha being played). What’s more, Stan now suspects Martha is the asset the Illegals have in FBI headquarters (Philip and Elizabeth are “the Illegals”—the best and most dangerous KGB agents in the world). Stan became suspicious of Martha two episodes earlier because of little things he noticed about her at work. Thus, he suddenly decided to drop by her apartment to “chat” and see how she’s doing. Unfortunately, he did it on the night that Philip was supposed to be there as “Clark,” so Martha is focused on trying to get Stan to leave before “Clark” arrives. And Philip would have shown up as Clark, but he discovered a government agent was in Martha’s building so he didn’t go in. Thus, Martha is now “freaking out” about Stan’s visit, Clark’s absence, and her inability to reach Clark on the phone. When Philip finally does arrange for the two of them to meet the next day, he learns that it was Stan (his across-the-street neighbor) who was in Martha’s apartment, so he tells Martha that he and she might have to leave and go into hiding. This idea surprised me, and it is yet another piece that seems to indicate that Philip actually has fallen in love with Martha and would leave Elizabeth to be with Martha. Of course, in the series, Martha is a frumpy woman who can’t compare to the attractive and athletic Elizabeth. The actress who plays Martha, Alison Wright, is not at all frumpy and unattractive; she just plays that role on TV. Still, as Martha, her physical appearance is hardly filling men with lustful urges—especially in contrast to Elizabeth. However, Martha is genuinely a kind and loving woman—again in contrast to Elizabeth who has difficulty being kind and loving. She’s capable of it, but being kind and loving doesn’t come easily to Elizabeth. Thus, as “Clark,” it might be that Philip is being honest with Martha when he tells her how much he loves her. He might honestly plan on running away with her if the FBI starts zeroing in on them. He might be willing to not only abandon Elizabeth but his children as well. However, I keep expecting Philip to realize that Martha can’t avoid being caught and that he needs to kill her now rather than risk being caught himself. Thus, when Martha later announces that she is leaving to stay with her parents for a while—that she is essentially separating from “Clark”—it’s clear that her sudden vacation will cause Stan to focus on her even more. By deciding to leave Washington for a few weeks (she has 21 vacation days saved up), she is ensuring that she will become the focus of the investigation. At that point I became sure Philip was going to shoot her in the head. Instead, he began to peel off his “Clark” disguise to reveal himself as Philip while Martha watches in a kind of horror at the transformation she’s seeing—as if she’s watching Dr. Jekyll transform into Mr. Hyde. And I’m thinking, Okay, as soon as the disguise is off and he is fully revealed as Philip, he’s going to shoot her in the head. He wants to kill her as an elite KGB agent rather than as her husband. It’s his last act of kindness . . . to not have “Clark” pull the trigger. However, if I’m correct (and I’m probably not), we shall have to wait for the next episode to find out Okay, so that’s the cliffhanger ending, but I haven’t discussed Paige’s “freak out” even though she was the first to do so in this episode. I wanted to save her for the end because her freak-out moment has the most symbolism attached to it. Near the beginning of the episode, Paige entered her parents’ bedroom with a family photo album that has many “false photos” of fictitious family members in it. These false family photos are all part of Philip and Elizabeth’s fabricated history as American citizens. As she realizes that so many of her childhood memories of family friends and supposed relatives are all part of the elaborate lie of her parents’ lives, Paige freaks out. She begins to question whether Henry is actually her brother; she wonders if she and Henry are all part of the lie. Through it all she continues to raise her voice nearly to a scream, and nearly to a degree approaching hysterics. Thus, worried that Paige is going to arouse the curiosity of Henry in his bedroom down the hall, Elizabeth attempts to place her hand over Paige’s mouth—which nearly makes the situation worse. It’s fascinating to look at life through Paige’s suddenly new perspective; it’s similar to the perception of reality that Winston Smith has in George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four. In that novel, Winston is one of the workers in the Ministry of Truth; his job is to constantly revise public records to correspond to whatever “truth” the government of Oceania (“Big Brother”) currently wants the public to hold. Winston realizes he is only one of many people who have been revising history for several decades, which causes him to then question whether anything in the public records and history books is actually accurate. He wonders if everything is all part of the elaborate and pervasive lie the government has constructed through workers like him—an elaborate historical lie that has taken decades to develop and that is constantly undergoing revision. At this point in The Americans, Paige has become a teenage female version of Winston Smith. Her parents have told her that she cannot tell anyone the truth, so now she must also take part in the deception. Even if she only has a passive role in developing the lie of the Jennings as an All-American family, she is still helping to create it now that she has been told the truth that she so vehemently demanded be told to her. Later, to attempt to reconcile with her, Philip enters her bedroom with some actual and honest family photographs to show Paige that not everything about their lives is a lie. He first shows her a photo of her sitting next to Elizabeth on a hospital delivery room bed after Henry had been born. It’s Philip’s attempt to show Paige that she and Henry were actually born into the family—the he and Elizabeth are their actual biological parents. Today, such a photograph could easily be PhotoShopped to look authentic (as the photographic prop for the TV show likely was to some extent). However, in 1983, such photographic evidence would have been more convincing as an authentic artifact of the family history. The other photo Philip shows Paige is when she was seven years old and Henry was about four. They were on a camping trip in the Blue Ridge Mountains, and she and Henry shared a tent. As she looks at the picture, Paige tells her dad that Henry was afraid he was going to be eaten by a bear—a detail of the trip Philip did not previously know. This seemingly insignificant piece of family history is symbolically significant in two ways. First, Philip and Elizabeth are Russian, and the totem animal of Russia (and of the Soviet Union at the time) is a bear—just as the bald eagle is the totem animal of the United States. Thus, Henry’s fear of being “eaten by a bear” carries a connotative meaning—a possible foreshadowing that he (and possibly Paige as well) are being symbolically consumed by their hidden Russian heritage (or by the nation where their parents were born). The second symbolic aspect of Paige’s confession that Henry was afraid he was going to be eaten by a bear comes through the conversation Philip and Paige have about the photograph: Philip: And this is when we went camping in the Blue Ridge Mountains. You were seven; shared a tent with Henry. Paige: He was afraid a bear was going to eat him. Philip: I didn’t know that. Paige: He made me promise not to tell. Paige is clearly not thinking about what she just confessed, but Philip clearly is thinking about it—as revealed by the look on his face as Paige turned her gaze away from her father and back to the photo. Philip’s expression showed a sudden realization. Just as Henry made Paige promise not to tell his secret, Philip realizes he and Elizabeth have made Paige promise not to tell anyone about their lives as KGB agents. Philip is undoubtedly worried about what effect the pressure of such a secret will have on Paige—but now he is also likely to be worried about whether Paige can be trusted not to tell their secret to anyone. After all, she only kept Henry’s secret for seven or eight years. She promised she wouldn’t tell their parents that Henry was afraid of being eaten by a bear, but she just told that secret. She just broke the promise she made to her brother. Can she truly be trusted not to tell someone—such as her pastor or the FBI agent who lives across the street—that her parents are KGB agents? Just as Philip has to make a decision about killing Martha to protect himself, might he also be forced to make a decision about killing his own daughter? What’s great about The Americans is that it is constantly calling attention to the lies each of us may be living in our daily lives—the people we pretend to be around others when we dare not allow our true selves to show because it might cause us to . . . Not get hired for a job, Not get promoted at work in the job we currently hold, Not maintain a “friendship” that is actually just a rung on our social ladder rather than an actual emotional bond with another human being, Et cetera. We create “cover identities” in order to survive in a world that can easily turn on us if we are too honest about our individuality and beliefs. Conformity to cultural norms is expected, and those who don’t conform are ostracized in some way—not hired, passed over for promotion, lose the “friend” that could have been socially significant, et cetera. Additionally, there are times when we don’t allow our true selves to show because such a revelation could cause emotional pain—either to ourselves or to others whom we sincerely care about. In fact, Philip seems to experiencing that dilemma with Martha. However, he is peeling off the Clark disguise—causing Martha considerable emotional pain during the process. In her own way, Elizabeth is peeling off part of her “disguise” as well when she enters Paige’s room while Paige is lying in bed—looking clinically depressed rather than contemplative. Elizabeth turns on the radio, and the song “Vienna” by Ultravox comes forth from the small speaker. At this point, I’m wondering if Elizabeth believes Paige’s room might be bugged and she needs the noise from the radio to mask their conversation. But no . . . Elizabeth turned on the radio so Ultravox could act as the Greek chorus—act as commentary about the conversation she is going to have with Paige. Elizabeth tells Paige she is going to go to Russia to see her mother before she dies—and she offers to take Paige along. It will be the only chance Paige will have to see her grandmother. It’s her decision to make. As Paige stares at her mother and doesn’t say anything, Ultravox becomes the Greek Chorus and seems to answer for Paige with the chorus from “Vienna”: This means nothing to me. This means nothing to me. Share this:TweetShare on TumblrLike this:Like Loading... Related Leave a Reply Cancel ReplyYou must be logged in to post a comment.