'The Americans' recap: Doomsday clock?

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"The Americans" -- "The Clock"
"The Clock" -- Tonye Patano as Viola, Matthew Rhys as Philip Jennings

Last week's series premiere of "The Americans" involved a lot of setup. So. Much. Setup. But it was worth it, because Episode 2 jumped right into the action, which began with Phillip jumping right into bed with a woman who is not Elizabeth.

Hey, that's the name of the spy game, people. Last week, it was Elizabeth who had to get busy with a dude who was not her husband so she could obtain some key intel, and Phillip listened to an audio recording of her extracurricular activities (and, yes, he was jealous).

This week, it was Phillip who had to make time with a woman who was warm for his form -- the wife of the deputy undersecretary of defense, it turned out, who thinks she's working with a Swedish operative named Scott. Phillip straps a contraption to the asset that allows her to hold a tiny camera in her bra, which, when she sneaks away at a party of the home of Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger, allows her to snap some photos of his private study.

And that's important because Elizabeth and Phillip have been saddled with a very important mission: to plant a bug inside Weinberger's home office.

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Phillip's asset, Annaliese -- who, Elizabeth is bemused to learn, is rather attractive -- gets some shots that lead P&E to decide that a clock in Weinberger's office is the perfect place for the plant. But how will they get the clock out of the office, plant the bug, and then get the clock back into the office?

The housekeeper did it -- er, will do it

Her name is Viola, and she and her son are about to have their world rocked. Viola is Weinberger's housekeeper, and P&E decide she's the key to the very dangerous assignment they've been given.

So a disguised Elizabeth "accidentally" bangs into Viola's son, which we later learn is how she cut him with a pointed tip that injected some poison into his skin. When she and Phillip show up at Viola's home later -- where her son is mysteriously fever-stricken and very sick -- Phillip calmly tells her that her son has been poisoned, he has the only antidote, and if she does this one little thing for him (steal the clock from her boss, give it to Phillip, return the clock to Caspar's study), he will make sure her son gets the injection that will save his life.

Viola freaks out -- duh -- but manages to take the clock. Her brother barges in and tries to scare Phillip off, but Phillip is a superspy (or a supertrained spy, anyway) and manages to fend him off and take the clock home to plant the bug. But, even though their KGB boss had warned Elizabeth last week that their lives and their missions were about to take a turn for the more dangerous, Phillip is frustrated that he and his wife have to risk their lives, and their undercover positions by quickly carrying out a plan that should have taken months to set up.

Elizabeth, meanwhile, who last week angrily rejected Phillip's suggestion that they consider taking a huge payday to defect and run off to live an assumed life (well, a new assumed life) with their children, senses that they are in real jeopardy this time. And she frets that, though their son, who has Phillip's resilience, would be fine if something happened to her or Phillip, their teenage daughter, Paige, is too fragile to handle the fallout of losing her parents.

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Though Viola initially refuses to return the bugged clock to the Weinberger home, Phillip persuades her by threatening to smother her son. He puts the pillow over the guy's face, in fact, until a pleading Viola swears she'll plant the bug.

The next day, Phillip confirms the clock is in place and calls Elizabeth at Viola's home, and the antidote is delivered to Viola's son.

We like them … we really like them?

Phew! But we've now seen the many things that make up P&E's lives as undercover KGB agents. They are married and have children together, and now, finally, after the cathartic killing of Elizabeth's rapist in the premiere, they've started to forge some genuine intimacy. We like them, despite the fact that they're working for the other team. And despite the fact that they're having sex with other people, and that we've seen them threaten and be willing to go through with killing an innocent young man in front of his mother.

Will they continue to be sympathetic, likable characters? How could they nearly go through with something so terrible, with so little remorse? Well, there was remorse. Neither of them wanted Viola's son to die, and pleaded with her to carry out the clock caper. And while Phillip plans a little celebration of their successful mission (over a tin of caviar, something neither he nor Elizabeth's family could afford while they were growing up back in Russia), Elizabeth admits that she is starting to have her doubts about their employers.

"They shouldn't ask us to do impossible things," she tells Phillip.

"No, but we did it. And tonight we're in the house of the secretary of defense. They must be after something very, very big. Something that changes things," Phillip says, trying to allay Elizabeth's doubts, not because he's even half as committed to their homeland as she is, but because he loves her and knows that it's causing her great pain to have to consider betraying her country.

And about that something the KGB honchos were trying to uncover? The episode ends with P&E's superiors listening to a conversation via the planted bug, and learning that the United States is planning a ballistic weapons shield. "Think what a different world we'll live in as soon as we don't have to worry about their nuclear missiles," the KGB bosses hear the American government officials say.

More food for thought (as long as it isn't nasty ol' fish eggs, that is):

  • That Annaliese … don't think we've seen the last of her, but do think she's gonna spell trouble for "Scott"/Phillip, especially since she told him she wants to quit being an asset and marry "Scott" and have his babies.
  • Stan, the FBI agent across the street? Yeah, he may have been thrown off the Jennings' trail in the premiere when he saw that the trunk of their car, where they'd been holding the kidnapped KGB dude, was clean, but we also got a glimpse this week at just how good Stan is at his job. We hope we get more backstory on exactly what went down while he was undercover to thwart a white-supremacist organization. But suffice it to say that after he followed his instincts and figured out that a Russian embassy worker is using her position to illegally send goods and money back home to her family -- allowing the U.S. government to swoop in and blackmail her into spying on her employers -- Stan is a badass.
  • Though, wait … maybe we're not sure Stan has been thrown off the Jennings trail. He could just be playing with them. The Phillip/Stan scenes have been among the most fun of the first two episodes though, as Stan appears to be super laidback, and Phillip is trying desperately to seem nonchalant, too. And it was a nice touch to have Stan be the guy who introduced Phillip to caviar. Phillip's review: "So salty."
  • Elizabeth's thawing towards Phillip extended to her kids, particularly Paige, who she tried to bond with in light of worrying how Paige would react if something happens to her parents. After failing to get Paige to accept her invitation to go bra shopping at the mall, Elizabeth woke her daughter up and offered to not only let her get her ears pierced a few years sooner than she'd been told she could, but offered to actually pierce Paige's ears, just like her own mother had done for her. Very sweet, very nice, though we don't think the close-up on the drop of Paige's blood that fell meant nothing. Chekhov's gun.
  • The previews for next week's episode, "Gregory," reveal that it's the one in which Margo Martindale -- who won an Emmy for her scene-stealing performance as Mags Bennett on "Justified" -- will be introduced as Claudia, a liaison between the KGB and Phillip and Elizabeth. It will be great to see her back on FX.

"The Americans" airs Wednesdays at 10 PM on FX.