The Americans Season 2, Episode 7 “Arpanet”
Written by Joshua Brand
Directed by Kevin Dowling
Airs Wednesdays at 10pm ET on FX
Lies, lies, lies…. can’t any of these people just be honest with each other?!! I’m kidding, of course – but “Arpanet” seems to go out of its way to throw shade over every character, from the increasingly creepy Laric, to quietly conspicuous Kate and the ever-facetious Oleg. There isn’t a lot of coherent evidence as to what these people are up to (or more importantly, where their alliances lie) – and because of that, “Arpanet” is a tough egg to crack, especially with six hours left for these motivations and grand plans to come to light.
This ambiguity works as as aesthetic tool: even the most banal conversations in “Arpanet” become fascinating affairs, especially with characters whose plans are growing more complex as the season continues (I’m looking at you, Nina). In terms of plot and characters, however, this inconclusiveness feels more like lack of conviction, for the sake of drama. Of course, we can’t get all the answers to anything right now (or else why have the rest of the season?) – but outside of some unspoken importance of the titular technology Philip and his drunk colleague are chasing after in the episode (which brings Philip full circle back to season one, where he questioned the cost of his “mission” on his soul), there isn’t a lot of weight attached to the present of “Arpanet”, only what is to come.
Thank goodness it’s a fascinating collection of stories: along with the internal conflicts of most major characters, there are plenty of interesting stories that “Arpanet” (and the amazing few episodes preceding it) sets up for later episodes to deliver on: everything at the Rezidentura (like Arkady’s shrinking influence, or Nina’s triple/quadruple agent status, whatever it may be now), the domestic issues with Stan (on two fronts now) and “Clark”, Claudia’s vengeance-seeking mission… and three of those four I just mentioned don’t even appear in this episode! The Americans is balancing a lot right now – and all that balancing leaves few pockets for “Arpanet” to slow down and examine its characters, though it does pause to contemplate Philip’s mental state, as well as Nina’s emotional one (proving she’s a cool, collected badass once again, with a smile and a clenched anus, courtesy of Oleg’s advice), the few moments where it feels “Arpanet” is breathing and enjoying the company of its characters for a minute.
Although it’s one of the more visually engaging episodes of the season (highlighted by the lie detector sequences), “Arpanet” is an hour of television gathering itself before pushing into the third act of the season. There’s nothing wrong with that, of course: as the manipulations, bodies, and empty containers of wig glue pile up, The Americans continues to establish itself as one of television’s premier dramas in its sophomore season – and “Arpanet” proves that even when the show’s catching its breath, it is one of the most tense, engaging shows around.
- Philip trying to comprehend metaphors about pre-Internet technology: hilarious.
- Laric is heading to Nicaragua, to mine harbors and study butterflies. It’s so outrageous, it’s impossible to tell whether he’s bluffing or telling the truth.
- Henry breaks into someone’s house to play video games…. and nobody cares, especially with Paige nowhere to be seen.
- Will Elizabeth have to eliminate Lucia, her new protege? Her idealistic views and blind loyalty to revenge could prove to be a major problem – though as Philip points out, it sounds like Elizabeth (who once kind of dated a Black Panther, don’t forget).
- “Arpanet” was written by Joshua Brand, co-creator of St. Elsewhere and Northern Exposure (he’s also an EP on The Americans, but it’s still a fun fact).