We don’t actually see the Teacups in question during this episode, but they serve a dual role as plot points and metaphor. As plot, look no further than the fact that the FBI is preparing to portray the forced-defection of Gennadi and Sofia as an epic coup. The FBI had to pull their assets from the field because Sofia is a liar and Gennadi is a flake. But their best strategy is to pump up the value of Mr. and Mrs. Teacup to cover for the fact that they’ve been assets all along. This in turn will set off a chain reaction, since the Soviets can only assume that the contents of all of those diplomatic pouches have been revealed, leading to more urgent mayhem as they try to play catch up.
As metaphor, a teacup implies fragility, and we’re seeing some fragile marriages this season. The Jennings have endured many a chipped cup in the past, but this time if feels like the entire operation feels like it’s about to shatter.
Capitalist City v. Commie Town
Just one week after Elizabeth reminisced about the romantic side of post-WWII poverty, Philip has a flashback to his own desperate times as a boy. In this scene, Little Philip and other starving Russian children line up behind a restaurant, begging for a few licks from an empty pot. This vignette serves to remind us how much Philip fears extreme poverty, how much he wants to provide for his children, and how complicated capitalism is for him. Recall that Philip experienced life in a world where kids killed each other with rocks, and it’s easy to see why he doesn’t have the nostalgia that Elizabeth does about the homeland.
Philip is flummoxed by the roller coaster of American business. He’s followed a pro-growth policy at the travel agency, but it isn’t working. Now he’s faced with telling Henry that he can’t afford to pay for that fancy boarding school anymore. Keeping up with the Joneses is hard work. So hard that for a minute I thought he was going to ask Elizabeth to find out if he could get money from the Centre. But instead we got some thoroughly depressing bedroom talk. Elizabeth is sympathetic and troubled by the Agency’s failings, but also content with letting Philip deal with Henry in Capitalist City while she works with Paige in Commie Town.
Last week’s mirror was Philip/Stan. This week, it’s Elizabeth/Erika. Elizabeth is intrigued and terrified of Erika’s art. Erika is teaching Elizabeth about process, and the value of spending more time with loved ones.
Of course, then Elizabeth pushes Erika to go to the baseball party, all so she can bug Glenn’s jacket and get information about the summit. That fails spectacularly, with Erika vomiting bile all over the floor. Elizabeth sort of senses this is the end of the road for her, much as Erika knows her time is almost up. At the same time, she is loathe to reflect on anything Erika is saying, because then she may have to admit that the crimes she committed were not worth it in the end, because the cause was never just. Erika does see her art as something that may outlive her; Paige is Elizabeth’s work of art.
Elizabeth’s other mission, invading Altheon for the lithium-based radiation sensor, also ends in bitter failure.
Question Your Assumptions
Let’s question some assumptions.
- The show is setting up a Philip-Spies-On-Elizabeth storyline, but I wonder if we’re too convinced that Philip will throw his wife under the bus than we should be. Although Philip’s loyalties to Mother Russia have often been strained, they’ve also been elastic. We have seen a seemingly-ambivalent Philip turn on a dime an return to the fold, defending his wife and siding against the Americans. Let’s not assume we know exactly how his alliance with Oleg will play out when the rubber really meets the road.
- Has it occurred to anyone that maybe Claudia is not actually anti-Gorbachev? We assume she has the same line of thinking as the General and Elizabethy, but what if she in fact aligns with Arkady? Would love to see the Directorate-S org chart. There has to be a reason that General Rocket Dude reached out to Elizabeth directly.
Speaking of Games…
- Who is “our guy inside”?
- I knew the KGB wasn’t about to let Philip walk away from Operation Kimmy, nor did I think that the showrunners would leave that open-ended. Kimmy’s dad became the guru of the CIA’s Russia division, which was the biggest reason the Jennings opted not to leave the U.S.
- Things are tough for Oleg’s family back home. The senior Burov is meeting with Arkady and doing all he can to help. Are the Burovs the stealth heroes of the series?
- Depressingly, I think Oleg believes he is now on a suicide mission.
- Elizabeth tells Paige not to sleep with a Congressional intern just to get information. Paige doesn’t listen, and the episode leaves us with Paige’s very intense face. Elizabeth has carefully calibrated Paige’s training up until now, but she has reached a point where it is impossible for her to hide the true nature of spy work.