Granted, we’re not sure yet, are we, that Philip and Elizabeth Jennings (Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell) are good people. They do have their morals and their patriotism — both good qualities. Unfortunately, as KGB agents, they also have to do things that damage everything good inside of them.
What Philip and Elizabeth have to do in “The Clock” has the potential to not only damage but destroy everything. The couple is given an impossible, evil task. They succeed. But is that enough to keep them safe?
“They shouldn’t ask us to do impossible things. But we did it.”
This time, it’s Philip engaging in extramarital sex for the good of the Motherland. His conquest is Annalise, one of those blonde bimbo types who is secretly super-intelligent and eager to use those brains for a purpose. And if that purpose is gathering intel for “Scott,” a “Swedish” spy, then so be it.
After all, her husband, Deputy Undersecretary of Defense, is an old and dull man.
Surprisingly, Elizabeth is totally cool with her husband’s philandering. She is only a wee bit jealous that the mark is a blonde bombshell. The KGB wife might want to consider a little jealousy — Annalise is falling for “Scott” and may not be so easy to get rid of.
The British Prime Minister and Defense Secretary are about to arrive in Washington for talks with Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger. Naturally, the KGB wants to know what’s going on in those meetings, and they decide to use the Jenningses for the mission.
With only three days to plan and execute the whole thing, Philip and Elizabeth must improvise and be ruthless. The plot begins when Elizabeth injects poison into an innocent college student, whose mother just happens to be Viola, the Weinbergers’ maid (Tonye Patano). Our secret KGB agents inform this maid that she must plant a bugged clock in her boss’ study if she wants her boy to survive.
Problems arise. Viola turns out to be a highly religious and moral person who (initially) refuses to follow instructions. She also has a brother who comes to try and beat the antidote out of Philip. None of this works — violence and God are no match for Philip’s awesome fake mustache.
Viola’s hesitance puts Philip and Elizabeth in a tough position. If the maid tells anyone, their lives are over. If she refuses to help, the Jenningses have to let the boy die while the mission fails.
Basically, failure is not an option. Neither, it would seem, is God. As good Communists, Philip and Elizabeth aren’t exactly religious, but they sure do have consciences. It must be tough to attempt to murder a kid (twice) to get the job done.
Whatever the case, it works! Viola plants the bugged clock, the kid gets better, and the Soviets have a line on the British-American arms talks. Everybody wins! Even if their consciences lose at the same time.
Note: This umbrella-tip poisoning is based on an actual case in which the KGB killed a Bulgarian dissident, Georgi Markov, by with an umbrella gun that shot a ricin pellet. Markov died three days later.
The FBI may be unable to find the Jenningses living next door, but they sure can sniff out an illegal caviar operation. Stan Beeman (Noah Emmerich) and his partner use their find to blackmail a member of the Soviet embassy into passing on intelligence to the FBI.
Will this be the thing that finally exposes Philip and Elizabeth? Probably not, but it is a good look at how the spy game is played. Also, everyone gets to eat the “delicacy” that is fish eggs.
Philip and Elizabeth don’t worry much about the mission outcomes that affect Russia and the world order. Their worries are a lot closer to home.
One slip or phone call from Viola, and everything would have ended. For Elizabeth, this means a bullet to the head rather than facing torture and betrayal. Things seem more complicated for Philip. He wouldn’t end it all, but we never learn his alternatives. He avoids those thoughts with yard hockey and caviar.
Since Elizabeth can’t face the dangers of her future, she focuses on loving the present. This is tough with a teenage girl like Paige. Maybe impossible. But Elizabeth knows what to do with an impossible task. Once again, she succeeds in her mission, this time by having a beautiful moment as Elizabeth pierces Paige’s ears at home.
At least one mission has a happy ending.