'The Americans' Recap: Season 2 'The Cardinal'

By Chris Baggiano,

Somehow The Americans continues to keep, and even raise, the stakes every week despite how high that would normally be in such a situation. The Americans continues to create an immersive atmosphere of tension and possibility – making suspension of disbelief so easy – and “Cardinals” is no different. “Cardinals” is another example of how well-crafted The Americans really is as it not only keeps tensions high but also introduces new characters and possible relationships.

It has become clear that Elizabeth is not the agent she was last season. In season one Elizabeth maintained a gung-ho attitude, always taking on and completing assignments regardless of her reservations. Mother Russia was always right. However, after being shot in the line of duty and finding fellow agents and their family member slain in “Comrades” has put strong doubts in her mind. “Cardinals” plays on Elizabeth’s worry perfectly when a random truck pulls up across the street form her house to do some unidentified roadwork.

Throughout the episode Elizabeth is on edge, even beginning with her walking away from an encrypted transmission when she hears her kids wake up for breakfast. She goes to pick up the newspaper and the camera surveys the scene for any possible suspicious behavior, unknowing if Philip was seen after he accepted an information handoff in the amusement park last week. When the truck full of workers and cones parks she becomes immediately leery. Later in the episode, when she is tasked to go meet someone after receiving an encrypted message, she is very cautious when she a distraught agent doesn’t give her the exact password phrase. Even after the truck pulls out at the end of the episode she opens up to Philip about her newfound fears – especially asking exactly how the KGB will end up taking care of the fallen agent’s son.

Elizabeth’s character development is smart and plays with last season’s dynamic where Philip was always questioning orders and Elizabeth was the one always solid in her resolve. Now she is passing off missions to Philip in order to stay at home and ensure their kids’ safety. While she hasn’t reached the point where Philip was last year, contemplating defecting to the USA or just stop doing the missions, it’s evident that she is not the Soviet rock she once was.

Philip being thrust into the action role could also be interesting but has yet to be fully explored. It seems as though he has backed off some of the doubt he showed all last season and that isn’t explained. Perhaps it is because he is now back home with Elizabeth and doesn’t want to rehash old battles or because he just wants to be strong in her presence. Whatever the case may be his troubled mission in “Cardinals” may have him start questioning the orders again.

Philip is tasked to find out if the asset who passed him the information last week, revealed to be Fred, was either a double agent or had been followed. Philip follows Fred to work and then goes into his home looking for any damning information. When he finds a lockbox under the floorboards Philip is electrocuted by it, just as Fred pulls up.

This creates a very good scene where Philip is tied up and must try to convince Fred that he is in fact a KGB agent and not an FBI agent. Philip also must break the news to Fred that his handler – who he had become friends with over time – was involved in the murder at the Alexandria hotel that had been all over the news. Once Philip convinces Fred he is not there to kill or arrest him the two seem to bond a little bit over their fallen friend. Before Philip leaves, however, Fred tells him just how urgent the information he passed to him was. It seems there is only a small window for Philip to access the measurements, look for this mission to continue in the coming episodes.

Things are hectic at the Soviet Embassy. While they are trying to figure out what exactly happened to the agents who died last week they get a “walk-in” who works for the World Bank and wants to give them some information. We don’t get to see whether or not he becomes an asset or not but Nina tells Stan about him, thus forcing the FBI to figure out who he is and have Stan tail him. And even though Nina seemed to enjoy playing Stan last week, while she was writing up her report about their meeting she seemed to have some mixed emotions. At the very least she isn’t completely detached..

“Cardinals” also marked the return of Martha, Philip’s “wife” who works as the secretary for Frank. Not much happened with her this episode except that Philip lied to her about his flight being canceled so that he could spend the night with Elizabeth instead. Keep an eye out to see if Philip continually cancels on her or if Martha begins suspecting something if he does. Also, Paige continues to snoop around as she finds a letter lying around the house of someone she doesn’t recognize. As she calls the operator to get a number and address for the name on the letter Philip comes home and she must hang up before getting too much information.

“Cardinals” was another excellent episode of The Americans. The show is always better when focusing on the familial drama of the Jenningses and season two has done a very good job of maintaining focus on that while augmenting that storyline with the espionage aspects of the show. Being on the inside as things heat up at the Soviet Embassy brings some excitement that wasn’t there last season where Nina was just constantly scared of being found out.

image courtesy of FX

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