TV Review: The Americans: 4.8 ”The Magic of David Copperfield V: The Statue of Liberty Disappears”

The Americans
Season 4, Episode 8 – “The Magic of David Copperfield V: The Statue of Liberty Disappears”
Directed by Matthew Rhys
Written by Stephen Schiff
Starring: Keri Russell, Matthew Rhys, Lev Gorn, Susan Misner, Costa Ronin, Keidrich Sellati, Holly Taylor, Richard Thomas, Dylan Baker, Alison Wright, Noah Emmerich, and Frank Langella
Air date: Wednesday, May 4th, 2016, 10pm

It can sometimes be counterproductive to look at the title of an episode and distill the events solely though that title, but it’s apt that the “The Magic of David Copperfield V: The Statue of Liberty Disappears“ centers around the disappearance of people, emotions, and (ultimately) time. I’m starting to sound like a broken record, but the eighth installment of The Americans‘ fascinatingly confident fourth season is a series highlight in a string of episodes that have been consistently some of the best the show has ever produced.

It’s Martha’s (Alison Wright) silent and windy departure in the cold open that establishes a Rosetta Stone for the rest of the installment, with three moments from that opener serving as the keys to unlock what transpires throughout the episode. Let’s break them down:

A ticking watch. What is presumably Philip’s (Matthew Rhys) watch on the nightstand might as well double as a bomb counter, as Elizabeth (Keri Russell) detonates on Philip, Paige, and Lisa – each with increasingly frightful consequences. Elizabeth’s anger is spurned on by a variety of factors (general tension with Philip, combined with a trip to est that was probably more illuminating that she’d like to admit), but what’s so emotionally powerful about that scene is how it’s a culmination of so much relationship strife between the two, including but not limited to mentions of past lovers Gregory and Irina. In a season that’s revolved around resolving long simmering plots, this too is a conclusion – but to feelings and emotions that have been lingering beneath the surface for far too long. And all this comes before Elizabeth’s understandable fight with Paige (more on that in a bit) and the killing of Lisa (a scene that’s brilliantly left to the audience’s imagination). Separated, any of these events could be a watershed moment in a given episode, but the compounding reaction from stringing each together was much more effective.

Gabriel at the dinner table. The way this moment is framed by Matthew Rhys – who makes his Americans directorial debut with this episode – posits Martha and Philip as children at the dinner table, with Gabriel as the father. I’ve not spoken much about Frank Langella’s performance as the veteran handler this season, but the actor makes Gabriel somehow even more grizzled and as downtrodden than Elizabeth and Philip. Gabriel has been in the compromising position of trying to push the larger Russian agenda, while taking the Jennings’ own needs into consideration, but we’ve never seen him more paternal than he is through this installment. It happens twice over: having to take a hard stance on the very childish behavior Elizabeth and Philip have on display immediately after their fight and then having to take a lighter touch once he comprehends just how broken the pair are after Elizabeth comes in from the nastiness with Lisa. Langella hands the scene brilliantly, conveying the break in such a way that’s almost as much of a relief for the audience as it is for Philip and Elizabeth.

The disappearance. All sorts of things disappear on this episode: the Statue of Liberty, Lisa, Martha, the rat, Gaad’s career at the FBI, etc – but the most exciting departure is time. Having brought Philip and Elizabeth to (arguably) their lowest points, I was curious to see how the show would continue to move forward if they stayed in their given place. The time jump is brilliant for several reasons: The events of the first half of this season have all taken place over what can’t be more than a few weeks and the narrative heft it would take to pull the two out of darkness in the span of a few episodes would have been an arduous task – although not impossible. Combined with the fact that we’ve seen so many plots come to their conclusions, the time jump is a natural soft reset before we dive into the final stretch of the season. And while the jump seemingly provides a reprieve for Philip and Elizabeth, it certainly didn’t do the same for Paige. While the ending montage, set to Roxy Music’s “End of the Line,” portrays all members of the Jennings family in happy places, Paige’s almost robotic recounting of her activities with Pastor Tim (Kelly AuCoin) underscore just how much things have changed for her in the last seven months and just how good she’s gotten at working an asset – though it’s come at a considerable emotional cost for her.

The Americans is a show that’s often mirrors its own characters’ efficiency and “The Magic of David Copperfield V: The Statue of Liberty Disappears” shows the program at its peak. It’s a thrilling episode that left me gob smacked and incredibly eager to see what happens next.

Quick Thoughts:

– We get what is (presumably) our last episode with Gaad (“Well, I don’t collect stamps” is another alltime one liner from Gaad in a season that’s been full of them), as he reminds Stan that he “can’t lose sight of who these people are,” which will probably operate as the mission statement for the remainder of the season.

– I’d like to think it was a nice bit of random happenstance that the show mentioned Star Wars on May 4th. I find the whole “May the Fourth” business to be a little silly, but I enjoyed the confluence – intentional or not.

– I was thoroughly entertained by the whole scene with Philip reading on the couch with Elizabeth in the kitchen – particularly in the way that Philip holds his arm out to show Elizabeth what book he’s reading and her response to the news he’s going to take up playing hockey again.

– That shot of the broken bottle in Elizabeth’s hand as she marches towards Lisa? Chilling.

– I’m always happy to see Margo Martindale on the show.

– Here’s a great article from Gothamist on just how Copperfield made the Statue of Liberty disappear.

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