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is dedicated to the enjoyment of audio and visual stimuli. Please visit our archives where we have uncovered the true importance of nearly everything. Should you want to reach us, e-mail alex dot carnevale at gmail dot com, but don't tell the spam robots. Consider contacting us if you wish to use This Recording in your classroom or club setting. We have given several talks at local Rotarys that we feel went really well.

Pretty used to being with Gwyneth

Regrets that her mother did not smoke

Frank in all directions

Jean Cocteau and Jean Marais

Simply cannot go back to them

Roll your eyes at Samuel Beckett

John Gregory Dunne and Joan Didion

Metaphors with eyes

Life of Mary MacLane

Circle what it is you want

Not really talking about women, just Diane

Felicity's disguise

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Entries in keri russell (7)

Thursday
Mar092017

In Which We Dig Up All Our Colleagues

The Way to Slovenia

by HEATHER MCROBIE

The Americans
creator Joe Weisberg
FX

Digging a hole and getting stuck in it isn’t a subtle metaphor. The last season of The Americans saw our favourite spies contemplating their escape – being offered the chance to return to Russia – but here we meet them, stuck in repetition compulsion, still in America and still trying to dig up. Between the end of the show's fourth season and this week's premiere, increasing evidence has piled up of Russian involvement in the presidential election, and allegations of wiretapping fill our 2017 headlines, so our fictional Soviet spies are not the only ones trying to dig themselves out of a mess.

Elizabeth and Philip, aka Nadezhda and Mischa, are excavating the body of a colleague who was caught, infected with the disease he’d been tasked with taking back to the USSR, and died in the hands of the CIA. So there is unfinished work here, and when their colleague cuts himself as they try to retrieve a tissue sample from the corpse’s body, Elizabeth tells him in reassuring tones that it’s okay, don’t worry – and then shoots him.

There is new work too, as Elizabeth and Philip play at happy families under new identities with their new Vietnamese ‘adopted son’, Tuan. Elizabeth and Philip work for an airline under this identity, presumably because the show refused to finish without having a character wear a quasi-nautical Duran Duran-style double-breasted suit.

Tuan makes awkward conversation at school with the new kid who has just arrived from the Soviet Union. The details of the school cafeteria makes us think for a moment that we are watching another 80s coming-of-age drama. Then we are back in Moscow, where Oleg, just returned from his posting in America, has given the new assignment of sniffing out corruption amongst the nomenklatura, the Soviet elite in which he was raised. It might make for awkward conversations with his family, but his boss tells good jokes.

In a hint, finally, to all the therapy that teenage daughter Paige will one day require, she tells her mother she has been having nightmares since she saw her mother kill a mugger at the end of the last season. Her mother takes her down to the garage and starts pushing her around to teach her self-defence. Meanwhile, the blossoming romance between Paige and Matthew, the teenage son of the friendly neighbourhood FBI agent, is concerning her parents. But who knows, maybe they would be concerned anyway – it’s always hard to map over what would be problems in some parallel universe in which they are a normal family.

Playing at being another normal family, with their son Tuan and under their new guise as airline employees, Elizabeth/Nadezhda and Philip/ Mischa have dinner with the family of Russians who have defected to the west. The father of Tuan’s awkward new Soviet classmate speaks like a stock character out of the Robin Williams’ 1994 film Moscow on the Hudson, of how full the supermarkets are in America. He isn’t wrong, of course, but his wife looks embarrassed, and he doesn’t seem to notice or care that his wife looks embarrassed.

In the kitchen, where the knives are kept, Elizabeth/ Nadezhda and the wife of the family of defectors make small talk about learning English and recipes, and Nadezhda, as Elizabeth, gives advice to the other woman about how to make a home here. But we hate to meet those who have come to a place for the opposite reasons to the reasons that brought us there, and in the car home afterwards Elizabeth/ Nadezhda expresses her frustration at their new ‘friends’ and their seduction by the west.

The sexiest new cast member of The Americans this season is 80s Yugoslavia, the kind of edgy new high-school kid of twentieth century ideology shown here as Mischa’s son – released from a psychiatric institution at the end of last season – makes his way to Slovenia. Yugoslavia, having split from the Soviets some thirty years earlier, is reminder of the ambiguities and alternatives that exist to the show’s usual Washington DC versus Moscow binary.

A decade later and the hills you can see in the Yugoslav bus ride would be covered in soldiers, as Tito’s state ripped to pieces. For now, Mischa’s son is in this liminal place, slowly making his way west, away from home but towards his father.

Heather McRobie is the senior contributor to This Recording. She last wrote in these pages about the Mecca Mall.


Thursday
May052016

In Which Water Remains The Sweet Elixir Of American Life

The White Clouds

by ALEX CARNEVALE

The Americans
creator Joe Weisberg

"Every one of you here has the opportunity to live an authentic life," explains a guy wearing a really nice sweater. At Est, the concept of being trapped by other people's impressions and feelings about you is the real danger. "There is something so American about it," Elizabeth explains, since needing help with self-realization is a Western concept stolen from the East. They just didn't realize it.

Gary Snyder translated poems by a ninth century Chinese recluse named Han Shan that I was reading the other day. It is astonishing how modern they are, although Snyder's grasp of the timelessness of human expression in his translation is a major factor. Many Americans know and understand very little about life in other places, even within their own nation, and there has rarely been a good way of explaining it authentically.

This week Obama made an attempt at it, so he found himself drinking water in Flint, Michigan. It was an impressive feat; something I would never do. A famous moment in the 1992 campaign took place when Bill Clinton told an enraged protestor that he felt the man's pain; it also marked the permanent departure of the Clintons from the left-wing of that party. Why Obama drank the water I don't really know. It probably didn't taste very good, since afterwards he announced that "kids are very resilient" indicating that they could rebound from whatever illness the water imparted. Then he distributed filters for everyone.

One poem of Han Shan goes like this:

Spring water in the green creek is clear
Moonlight on Cold Mountain is white
Silent knowledge — the spirit is enlightened of itself
Contemplate the void: this world exceeds stillness.

This sentimentality is ancient. Even Elizabeth, after murdering an African-American woman with several kids, was momentarily absorbed into it. There is a literal nature to both politics and violence that Elizabeth grasps instinctively, in this episode directed by Matthew Rhys. What is common in both disciplines is a 1:1 relationship between the meaning of an act and the act itself.

Keri Russell's character embodies this completely. When Elizabeth says that Martha was simple, and straightforward, she was really describing her own outlook. To the extent that she has emotions, altering them isn't her forte, or her husband's.

Don't get me wrong: they can do what every good politician can do. It is only a matter of creating another feeling, and layering it over that initial anger. Bill Clinton did not "feel the pain" of the AIDS activist – in that moment he was merely a mirror. (The irony is that one of the campaign songs for Clinton-Gore was Michael Jackson's "Man in the Mirror.")

Martha was more complicated than a lot of people gave her credit for. She was more adaptable than she believed, although that was likely indicated by the fact she married her clandestine lover and suggested he take her from behind. For Martha, the world was not a literal place, full of sound and fury, signifying various somethings. No, the world is full of illusions of various values. Weighing one more heavily is only possible at the expense of another.

In light of that, Han Shan becomes a recluse. He writes,

There's no through trail.
In summer, ice doesn't melt
The rising sun blurs in swirling fog.
How did I make it?
My heart's not the same as yours.
If your heart was like mine
You'd get it and be right here.

It will take over two years to fix the pipes in Flint, Michigan. In the meantime, Kevin Drum put up a post explaining that very few children would be harmed by this, on average. He calculated half an IQ point, which was apparently not the biggest deal. I suppose it depends on how much of the water you drank.

In the neighborhood I grew up in, lots of people contracted cancer and many died. Looking at it statistically it must have been well above the average, for so many families to have parents taken away. Lots of theories went around as to why this was happening — many worked near a nuclear power plant, and there was other heavy industry in the area.

Most of those companies have moved their jobs overseas due to America's corporate tax rate. I don't think there are any travel agents around, and jobs in the region are hard to come by. Then and now, it was wise to make a point of not sampling the tap water. Some people were angry about the impact of cancer, but most tolerated it with good grace. We could not really know what had happened to us.

The Americans becomes a little too much like a fairy tale when Clark sobs for hours on end about how Martha is off to Prague. She made a choice, and knew what could happen. She's probably alive, and she should feel lucky that she had a chance to choose. I don't want to say that the people who make The Americans are spoiled, or that the people who walk into a town, sip the water and leave are inauthentic. I don't have any idea what motivates such an act.

The moss is slippery, though there's been no rain
The pine sings, but there's no wind.
Who can leap the world's ties
And sit with me among the white clouds?

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording.

Friday
Apr152016

In Which All Our Inner Thoughts Resemble Pamphlets Of Questionable Origin

It's Enough Paige

by ALEX CARNEVALE

The Americans
creator Joe Weisberg

We no longer have to suffer through Nina's reincarnation as Mother Teresa as a stranger in a strange land. It nearly drove me crazy to watch people talk about how moving it was. If they ever have Martha chewed up by a wood chipper on The Americans, then I will cry genuine tears. Until then they will be of the crocodile variety.

Then again, it probably affected me on some level, since I have spent the last day and a half placidly responding, "Paige, it's too much," to every single question I am asked, including "What kind of toast do you want with that?" and "Who will you be voting for in New York's Democratic primary?"

It was a little mean when Elizabeth (Keri Russell) started ragging on Ronald Reagan's rosy cheeks, especially since she has not had color in her face since the days of Felicity. Watching her and Philip having real life sex turned The Americans into a stag film. I kept waiting for a dramatic pan to Paige watching her mother humping her father, but it never came. Philip would probably just have made eye contact with her and said, "Good," while Paige's mother informed her daughter that it was too much.

Paige sure knew how to work over Pastor Tim. He stared at her like she was a piece of candy, and after having to spend mere minutes with Pastor Tim's gossipy malingering wife Alice we all understood why. She talked to him with all the dignity of a guest on Howard Stern. The ringer they brought in to vouch for their heroic actions in El Salvador probably would not have been wasted on Paige either.

Even less believable was our Moscow friend whining about how he lost his brother in a war that he is not permitted to name. I mean, one woman gets executed and it's enough to throw the entire idea of the Soviet Union in question?

Stan Beeman should have informed him that traitors in America share much the same fate. Well I guess some do, others are honored as respected neighbors and FBI agents have best friend type relationships with their son. When it comes to getting weird amounts of praise about your Trivial Pursuit acumen, nothing – I repeat nothing – beats your neighbor's ignored teenager.

Stan's desultory son Matthew scares the shit out of all thinking people. Just looking at his face is enough to make you insecure about the future of America. This is the kind of child Martha probably would have emitted from her secretarial loins, so it is probably a damn good thing that her childbearing years were spent in a hot cuddle with Clarke's wig. Matthew is probably in solitary confinement somewhere in Indiana as we speak.

The Americans would be a lot more entertaining if Philip's affection for Martha were a little more believable. I can buy that he is concerned about her welfare, but even the idea that he ignored calls from her for two days while she was having a romantic dinner with a colleague seems to prove that he sees her as just another Paige, albeit a Paige whose body he explores in the many arcane ways the wizened men of the Asian continent prescribed that people could pleasure one another.

It is time to bring the Martha storyline to its inexorable conclusion, since watching Clarke violently take her from behind cannot possibly approach the intimacy we witness between a real couple. Love ideally would ravish the world of The Americans — how does Frank Langella get his rocks off, for example? What about Agent Gad, or the head of the Rezidentura?

One of the great things about The Americans is the depth it gives to these smaller characters, like the Mary Kay saleswoman Elizabeth seems intent on romancing for some reason. The people Russia preys upon seem completely innocent, although we must know in our hearts that they are not. In the end, Philip and Elizabeth are more loyal and virtuous than Pastor Tim, whose criticisms of U.S. foreign policy resemble a deranged Noam Chomsky pamphlet.

But Paige just won't understand her destiny to become the Jason Bourne of the George Herbert Walker Bush era, which basically seems like the good old days. Also, WTF was that t-shirt she was wearing? Her mother does not understand that all Paige requires is one carrot enticing her to a more appealing life than her status as an absent daughter in the D.C. suburbs.  Has she thought about maybe being executed abroad?

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording.

"Be Anything" - Brass Bed (mp3)