Amerika (1987)–Marathon Entry #100

One hundred miniseries have been jotted down here for everyone’s amusement or education (or notes for my proposed book).  I can’t believe it.  And there are sooooooo many more to do.  I will keep at it.  I rather idiotically said I would give myself a year for this.

It will be two years in December.

In celebration of this big event, I thought I would do a big event miniseries (or maxiseries as some called them).  “Amerika,” from 1987, takes Cold War paranoia to utterly insane heights, though not without many predictable lows.  What would become of the United States if the Soviet Union took over?

The short answer?  It would be really boring.  It seems that gloomy drear that hovered over Eastern Europe and parts of Asia (and the odd place elsewhere) for the better part of the 20th Century really was colorless and lifeless like capitalist propaganda taught.  Either the makers of “Amerika” got really lucky or used the best in lighting techniques because there is not a ray of sun to be found in its 12 hours, literally.  I’m color blind, so Nolan Miller never made much sense to me, but even I got bored of grey after not too long here.

You have two options during the 12 hours of “Amerika,” either try desperately to name every Soviet leader between Lenin and Gorbachev (good luck with the early 80s) or try and find at least a few redeeming and interesting items in “Amerika” because they do actually exist.

What I will say is that many of our beloved miniseries rules are ignored by “Amerika.”  There is no actual love plot.  There is no slumming vet (slummer almost-weres by the busload).  There is no cuteness, there is nothing exotic and there is no glamour.  What it does have is, for its time, a very quizzical set of theories and two outstanding performances by the two actors you know from the credits will be spectacular: Christine Lahti as a confused and bitter woman who is not cowed like those around her, but also not doing anything about it, obviously no more or less fulfilled by Communism than she was by the opposite, and the much-loved and much-missed Robert Urich, whose very presence is automatically comforting and watchable, very important given the character he’s playing.

Obviously, “Amerika” is very much of its time (and we’ve seen a few of those so far).  It can’t hide behind the Civil War or World War II as a way to tell us that no matter what, the American spirit always prevails, though at times it does draw parallels that are shamelessly overt.  Though the Cold War would end  two years after “Amerika,” making it immediately obsolete (probably why it’s not on DVD), it is an interesting look at the fears and motivations of the period.  I remember it very clearly and the “what if” situation was one constantly mentioned and debated, though I don’t know that by the mid-80s anyone actually believed it was still possible.  Well, except for the Reagan Administration.

I joke with my former Iron Curtain friends that we were told everyone behind it ate rock soup because there was no food and that everyone looked so grouchy because toilet paper was a luxury most never received.  That’s how deep worries over Communism were in the West (despite the fact that Gorbachev had been in power since the middle the decade), and it’s pretty shallow.  No one really talked about the politics of it or how bastardized it was by Soviet leadership, an admittedly stuffy and pompous bunch with extremely expensive tastes.  This movie shows an extreme version of the fears, but even in 1987, it’s hard to imagine anyone truly worried that Soviet (or Chinese) Communism had any chance of expansion, and frankly, it doesn’t even seem that frightening (until a rather shocking scene near the end).

Not that “Amerika” hastened the end of Communism.  Hastened the end of the Great American Miniseries?  You be the judge.

1997.

A group of thugs jump out of a car with the intention of destroying a production of “The Fantasticks” set in a church, but they stop when important-looking Sam Neil shows up.  The objections are not clear immediately.  Is it musical theater the Communists hate?  Churches?  Mariel Hemingway’s singing?

Sam attacks Mariel as she enters her home, pinning her against the way and in his fury, kisses her.  “You did this to defy me!”  “Yes,” she answers, taking a breath during the make-out session.  All she wants to know is if it made him cry, but he sticks to the image that he is not allowed to have been moved by it.

The above happened in Chicago, one of the districts in the Soviet-carved US.  In another, which contains Nebraska, Christine Lahti has a teenage son, husband Richard Bradford and a grumpy father who won’t even speak to her.  They were once wealthy farmers, but now have very little left.

Robert Urich’s teenage daughter, Lara Flynn Boyle, is studying Western Civilization.  “Ours or theirs?” Robert asks disdainfully.  “I don’t understand how you can be the County Administrator and still be so boring,” she wonders.  Lara is in a dance program and invites her father to watch the audition, but he won’t because he doesn’t want it to look like favoritism.  Robert’s town is a dilapidated farm haven that has gone to ruin.  A cold snap has killed their spring crops, so the farmers gather to play cards.  “You can’t blame the Russians for everything,” Robert tells them.  “Why not?” he asks as he walks away.

Richard works for Robert, giving him reports of all evening escapades, though Robert doesn’t necessarily agree with the rules, like not letting a drunk in the ER for stomach pumping.  At the same time, Robert’s wife, Cindy Pickett, notices a destitute family on her lawn.  They have obviously been without food for a while and when Cindy offers, they run away.  Robert dashes off to what seems to be a school/hospital, and we see the worst of the worst.  The extras are done up to look like a Westerner’s version of the rank and file.  Dr. Ivan Dixon is castigated by Robert for listening to the new rule and letting the man die the night before, but Ivan reminds him that he has spies on his staff and he has to listen to what the leaders want.  “I gave up a nice practice in Philadelphia and my home in Vail,” he reminds Robert and because he once defied a law, he was shipped out to this literally godforsaken place.

On his way to Nebraska, Sam is briefed in the car about some potential candidates for an impressive job.  He thinks Robert would be ideal, but he’s been dropped from the list because despite the fact that his sector is “the most trouble-free,” he’s not a member of the party and he once refused to go along with a new school curriculum, despite being in charge of the schools at that time.  “You really don’t understand what we’re doing here,” Sam says snidely to his aide.

Being paroled from prison is Kris Kristofferson, Richard’s brother and Robert’s friend that he had “almost forgotten about.”  Prison takes away a person’s name in favor of a number, we get to see the new flag and hear the new Pledge of Allegiance, which is an even worst mouthful than the one actually in use.  When Robert tells Richard Kris is coming back, neither is happy, since he’s a troublemaker.  “We’ll get used to him being not gone, just like we did God,” Robert says, partially happy, partially worried.

Most people are very unhappy with Kris being released, but the world into which he’s going isn’t so great either.  The gulag outdoor area is a mass of tired and broken people, while others wait outside the gates clutching pictures of disappeared loved ones.  Wendy Hughes is furious about Kris’ freedom, being his ex-wife, mother of her children and thorn in her side because she’s a “big shot”with the government, as her older son calls her.  Extra security measures are being given to them, but worst about the scene is the dissemination of information.  We learn about America’s history from a whole new vantage point and actually, not even Wendy knows what state Kris may be in.

During the equivalent of a town council meeting, all of them men hate the government.  Most have been dropped in town with no choice, they can’t farm the land, they are hungry, and yet Robert tells them to do what they are supposed to do.  They all groan at the thought of another parade, as there is never a crowd.  No one supports any of the tough measures forced on them.  Worst of all, there seem to be no phones.  The only way to contact someone is a red phone to some sort of headquarters, and Robert hates using it, has only done so twice in his tenure and both because of “outsiders.”  He rattles off a very patriotic speech, though it’s more about spewing the party line.  In fact, Robert kind of admits the only reason he does it is “because it’s a better alternative than throwing your head against a stone wall.”  “I guess I suffer a condition that comes from having lived so close to the Liberty Bell,” Ivan cracks.  “Well, I guess you wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for your wit,” Robert snaps back.

The heads of all divisions are summoned to meet with General Armin Mueller-Stahl, where he fills us in on why the Soviets are so unhappy.  Essentially, in the 10 years since they took over, nothing has changed for the better…and they STILL have not been able to conquer Alaska (I can’t imagine anyone wants it THAT badly).  “The Central Committee is demanding that America be neutralized,” he informs the gang.  Sam argues that without an army and without communication between the zones, there is no way an uprising can happen.  “There are still ghosts,” Armin warns, citing the main fear from back home.  So, the answer is to split up the US, into his current seven portions and make each one a separate country, the “North American Community.”  “How?” Sam asks.  “That’s what you’re here for,” Armin says crisply.

An hour in, “Amerika” dishes out hilarity for the first time.  I dare you not to laugh as you watch Lara “audition” to very bland rock sounds.  The dancing is howlingy bad.  Whoever her dance double was is equally atrocious.  Plus, anyone who has ever seen a Russian dancer would know the standards are hight, but wait!  One of the women in charge praises Lara for her return to “a traditional” type of dance.  Did she not just watch?  Blaring music, gyrating body, an attempt at sexiness.  There is nothing “traditional” about what she just showed us.  But, Lara doesn’t get picked.  Cindy throws a fit, but is reminded, “sometimes cooperation is more important than talent.”

The hokum parade continues when Robert gets home, to find Lara leaving with a guy he doesn’t like and Cindy doing the angriest bit of sewing this side French Revolution knitting needles.  “I believe in her…I believe in you” Cindy tells Robert, after giving us yet another speech about individuality versus conformity.  Robert has heard it all before and since he’s a nice guy, we know eventually he will turn on his superiors, but I’m guessing we are hours away from that.  “Maybe I even believe in myself sometimes,” Cindy then adds.  Of course.

I suppose even in a story as cold and forbidding as this one, we have to have a bit of sex.  Granted, the only sex plot seems to involve Sam Neill and Mariel Hemingway.  Mariel gets superb treatment anywhere she goes because she’s Sam’s girlfriend.  When her acting company is shut down, they sneer at her, saying she can get anything she wants.  So, she hops on over to Sam’s office to use some of that influence, only to find out that Sam ordered the playwright arrested.  She intends to do the play, though she is warned, “you do this, you do it at your own risk.”  Sam gives her the “it’s not my fault, I have superiors” speech that followers since the dawn of time have tried as justification for their actions.  Mariel storms out of the office.

Then again, the story finds time for some additional bad acting, like when Lara and her boyfriend, Don Reilly are hauled into a committee at school after being found making out.  Christine Lahti, Don’s aunt and a teacher, says they should “take them outside at recess and shoot them,” a comic nugget that she pulls off because her opponents are such buffoons.  We learn once again that old time rich families like hers have no sway, only the families of those in power.  When Christine and Lara go to Robert, Christine tries to reason with him, and even says that Don reminds her of Kris, Robert’s old best friend. He then tells Lara she doesn’t know the whole story and brings in the actual French Revolution as an example of when all one had to do was accuse someone of doing something wrong to get someone arrested or killed.  The teacher at odds with Christine and Lara is just that type of man.

There is cheerful news at Kris’ paroling.  He is being sent to the town where all of our characters live (you thought he was going somewhere else?) and if he leaves the 25-mile radius into which he’s being dropped, he may be “shot on sight.”

Write this down: “Survival is power without dogma.”

That one is said by Sam to Wendy on a plane where the argument is about rich versus poor and how some of the rich in America had always wanted to help the poor.  In the Soviet Union, such things are never discussed.

“Survival is power without dogma.”

You mean dogma such as a line like that?

We can keep counting on Mariel to keep it at least unintentionally funny, like when she sings “Younger than Springtime” at a party for the swells.  Hey, she’s moved from Schmidt and Jones to Rodgers and Hammerstein, that’s something.  Unfortunately, her voice (or the person actually singing) is no more adept with the masters than they were with the also-rans.  As Mariel continues to assault the ears (the R&H medley goes on a long time, she was about to hit “Me and Juliet”), Cindy and Robert have one of those “remember how it was” conversations that is a bit peculiar, but perhaps could prove useful later: Robert used to hold his breath for 90 seconds when they kissed because he was so nervous.

A mini riot occurs at a punk club where Lara and Don are (badly) dancing, because the dumb kids are sparked into action.  They burn a car, destroy property and more before the police send them scampering away.  The sounds of police cars can be heard in the dark room where Sam is interrogating Robert as a candidate for the big position.  “Our agents stir them up,” Sam tells him, so they can keep tabs on them, arrest some when the need arises, expertly controlling mayhem.  “There’s got to be a better way,” Robert says.  Robert wants a chance to get rid of “the occupation and let us prove we are not a threat.”  He still believes in America, though through the filter of 10 years of occupation.

Um, the next scene is, well, perplexing.  On their way home, Don apologizes for bringing Lara into this riot situation, but instead of being angry, Lara jumps on him and demands sex.  “Maybe if we don’t do it tonight, we never will,” she says like a caged animal in heat. Don actually turns her down (yeah, a teenage boy would do that?) and then Lara gets a crying speech that is simply an amalgamation of words, adding up to nothing special.

Robert is assured the fancy promotion and Kris finally sees Richard in an empty train station where Richard is overcome with emotion, crying and hugging while Kris remains silent.  Meanwhile, Christine has a rather sadistic assignation with a hunky-but-evil Russian soldier, though who is the top isn’t very clear.  In a pretty gazebo, Cindy admits to Robert, “I’m afraid…I’ve never been afraid like this before” after recounting the story of the urchin child who bolted from their lawn.

After watching the ripples in a stream, Kris returns home.  Christine is thrilled to see her brother, blabs nervously, allowing Kris only one word now and then, though he’s not really able to speak or articulate what he thinks.

Cindy goes a-slummin’ to the camp of the exiles, where she is recognized by a surly nurse.  Cindy says she wants to help and the nurse does believe her after a few jagged bon mots.  “Welcome to America’s Russian-inspired real life animal park,” growls the surly nurse.  Even more uncomfortable is dinner with Richard, Christine and crew.  Politics are bantered about, with Kris saying nothing, so mom brings out a cake, but the inability of dad to understand what’s happening around him has him bolting from his seat, his face pinched as tight as a man in a argument with a vacuum cleaner.  According to Richard, the loss of the farm is his father’s problem, but Christine wants to fight the system and forget about the last 50 acres of their land, a tiny amount of land from what used to be a farm so huge, the town was named for the family.  “I guess we’re all just trying to get by the best way we can,” says Christine, with a bit of bitterness and a bit of sadness.  Kris has his first moments of real dialogue when he tries to talk to his father in the barn.  There’s a generational gap (when we mention Vietnam, which American TV worked overtime to redeem in the 80s, as did politicians), but the father blames Kris’ antics and politics for the family’s loss of the land.

Well, Kris Kristofferson, to my knowledge, has never done a movie without a horse (no “Star is Born” jokes, please), so the next morning, he hitches up the horse and goes walking.  His older son is caught by Mother Wendy looking at pictures and newspaper articles about him.  She refuses to let him go to Kris, so he retaliates by yelling that she got her position by “screwing some general,” so she slaps him.

When things are getting too serious, as least we have Mariel to up the stupid quotient.  I understand the point of her character, a person just going along, not giving any thought to politics, not engaged enough to take sides, but since Muriel is not one of our, well, finer actresses, the lines she delivers come across as funny rather than wan.  She is transfixed, holding a glass of champagne, watching an old speech of Kris’ in Sam’s office.  She’s moved by the speech (okay, one eyebrow is moved by the speech).  “Never thought of myself as an American, you know, patriotic or anything,” she says when Sam asks her why she’s so touched, “I always just thought of me.  I mean, America was where I lived.  I mean, of course, I was an American, but it was just there, nothing I had to think about.”  This is actually one of the most important declarations of the movie because it’s what most people on both sides of the Iron Curtain thought.  People went about their normal lives, adapting when they had to, but no matter who was in charge, life went on.  “Would you follow him?” Sam asks her.  “I’m not sure, he makes me feel different, kind of like you,” she replies.  Wait, are we still talking about politics?  However, we get to do a little hairsplitting.  Sam wants to know what she thinks about Robert.  He makes Mariel “feel safe,” like a father figure, but she doesn’t feel safe with Kris, just patriotic.  “I don’t want to play this game anymore,” she says when her brain is too taxed.  “If I could understand this man [Kris], I could understand America,” Sam says.  What a perfect way to end a scene in the Reagan years.  Peggy Noonan wishes she wrote that line about either of her bosses (Reagan mostly, but Bush a little).

If you don’t understand the wacky oversimplification of Cold War politics as understood by a dolt like Mariel, “Amerika” makes it even simpler through Lara.  Now that her father is a high-and-mighty guy, she is given a spot on in the dance corps.  Don tries to she her that it’s pure politics, but she swears it’s talent (we saw her audition, it isn’t) and screeches at him that, “if you don’t understand that, you don’t understand me at all, and you don’t.”  Wait, what’s to understand?  She’s an obnoxious teenager.  Other than that, she hasn’t done a whole lot.  She confesses her love to Don, but he has the rebel alliance to show him right and wrong.

Now that Mariel has had a sudden dose of brainpower, she asks Sam why he loves her, claiming that he “just wants to love an American,” and when he flips the question to her, she giggles and calls him arrogant, then lists possible reasons why she might: his power, his influence over her career, perhaps she’s spying on him, a mole sent to kill him.  Yeah, if she could tell a fork from a spoon, some of those might be possible.  The worst part is that Sam continues the inane conversation with one of those ridiculous lines, “sometimes I think you don’t really know someone.”  He needs to talk to Cindy, wasn’t she the expert on really knowing someone a few hours ago?

Kris goes ambling through the shantytown, seeing the depressing sights, until called into the hut of a former East German musician who tries to get Kris to see some new reality, but Kris isn’t ready.  “You expected something else?” his wife asks, upset that no one has touched the plate of cookies she laid out.    When he goes back to exploring, he finds Cindy, his best friend’s wife, though it seems they have more of a bond than having known each other for a long time.  Cindy thinks he should visit his kids, so of course he tells her (from the miniseries handbook) he can’t because, “I don’t know who I am anymore.”

Having Kris back is bad for Robert.  Cindy is sad for Kris, but Robert doesn’t have time to deal with it because he has to explain a Continental Congress  too Lara, who has never heard of it and doesn’t care. But, to grab the attention of the patriotic, the Soviets are proposing a “Third Continental Congress” to make it seem like the Americans have a choice.  After visiting the President in the Oval Office, Armin tells Sam, “that man is the last President of the United States.”

At a ramshackle concert of classic music conducted by Dr. Ivan, Ivan stirs up the secret patriotic crowd by introducing Kris, to the chants of his name by a grateful small bunch of American patriots.  Kris tells them he can no longer be any sort of leader to those desperate for one and leaves them.  He had run for President back in 1988, but he’s no longer that person.

Don and his cohorts ambush a food truck, but Don refuses to take the food, telling his friends to burn it because it’s a show of power, not about securing food.  The truck driver says he’s not a “collaborationist,” he’s just doing is job and he’s as afraid as they are of the systems.

Those in charge think that Kris was responsible for the vandalism and even Robert finds this heavy-handed, growling that the Soviets now have someone to blame no matter what happens.  As for Kris, between Christine and Cindy discussing it with him, he wants to see his family, not knowing his ex-wife is a hugely powerful woman in the new regime.  Robert reminds him that the conditions of his parole prohibit him from seeing his family, telling him, “as far as you’re concerned, they might as well be dead.  After that, soldiers, including Christine’s sex buddy arrest him in connection with the assault the previous evening.

“They use sports as a pacifier,” Cindy says to the rest of the family, hitting very well a Communist dictate of the period, that the athletes had to be the best in the world, so good that everyone rallies behind them.

When in doubt politically, throw a parade for Lincoln Day.  In this case, the flags bear the visages for not only Lincoln, but also Lenin.  It’s clever propaganda, along with dozens of banners that espouse Communist doctrine, local sports teams and even Lara and her fellow bad dancers.  After Soviet tanks and helicopters arrive to put the scare back into the people, true US veterans, holding the flag upside down, to huge cheers from the assembled.  When asked by a Russian soldier what it is, Robert replies, “sentiment” with more than a little bile.  Robert stops their arrest by asking if it’s really necessary to detain a “bunch of old men,” and he and Cindy are cautiously enjoying this spectacle.  After this comes the woebegone shantytown residents with their handmade signs.  Robert makes a speech that sounds like any politician, and he chooses his works carefully, basically telling people to be patriotic and just deal with what is new.  In other ways, collaborate.

The next speechmaker is Christine’s lover, Reiner Schone, playing a heavy no one likes, but he has a surprise for the crowd and invites Kris to speak (surrounded by armed guards).  There is complete silence when he gets to the podium, maybe a little excitement and maybe a little fear.  He says nothing, but the crowd breaks out into The Star Spangled Banner, including all of the main characters (even Christine’s chronically angry father).  It’s tough not to be touched by this massive show of defiant patriotism.  If you chucked Mariel and Lara, we could have much more of these great moments.  Though Robert publicly sided with Kris, when they are in private, it’s not so rosy.  “I would like for us to stay friends,” Robert says, but it has a whiff of fatalism to it.

Reiner publicly shames Christine by taking her into is in front of the entire town.  Only Don, her nephew,  resists on her behalf.  This does have an effect on patriarch Ford Rainey, who is sitting in the dark when Kris gets home, telling him of some horror stories that happened while he was gone, and then extending a peace offering by his approval and a handshake.  As for Christine, she’s at her breaking point and aims a gun at Reiner.  “Have you ever killed a man, thought about killing a man, especially a naked man?” Reiner asks, assuming she will never be able to go through with it, then explaining why killing a naked man is so much worst than killing a clothed man.  Eh?  “You hate me, but you need me,” he sadistically reminds her, then calling her pathetic.  When she returns, Kris is waiting up for her and she’s angry, even tries to run away, but Kris grabs her and she falls apart in his arms.  This leads to Christine finally telling all of her horrors, which explain her shattered psychology.  The two of them get not one, but two scenes, in a row, no less, where they pour out their hearts to each other, explaining their behaviors and frustrations.

“You can’t just do nothing…it’s not in your blood, not in your character,” Christine begs Kris, hoping he will return to the voice of justice once again.  So, he puts his few belongings together and hops onto a freight train.

Robert is whisked off to a waiting jet and Wendy, but he’s suspicious and cannot understand why just a nominee “for a job that doesn’t exist yet” is being treated so well.  As for Kris, he is outrunning soldiers with terrible aim and ends up hiding out with some anti-government types.  That’s quite different from the stunning dinner served by Armin for Robert, which looks like a royal dinner.  He tells everyone that the intention is for the Soviets to return home, leaving the United States, or whatever it’s called now, to be run by hand-picked sure things…like Robert.  Everyone toasts to him and he had no idea he won.  “What happened to the election, the other candidates?” Robert asks Sam.  I think that should be pretty obvious.

Sam gets nostalgic and tells Robert about his dead grandfather with more rather cliche and annoying dogma.  “Never completely trust a man who will not get drunk with you,” would be one of those groaners.  All of this leads to the climax of Sam’s speech, saying that people can’t be trusted to govern themselves, so the government has to step in.  It was the Communists who had to stop the rest of the world from bad reactions to the way they ruined their countries.  He talks about finding his soul in America.  Whatever, this scene reads like a political treatise and has the dramatic oomph of a feather pillow.  Way too much social conjecture for a gigantic miniseries that could use pruning anyway.

With the rag tag rebels, Kris and company go to a wild and wonderful church exploding in the delights of their music.  On the way to meet the other rebels, Don is blown up by a land mine, though he lives.  Kris is taken to the Underground Railroad, resurrected now for different reasons.  The Reverend and his wife want to help, but he won’t acknowledge who he is until he’s told they can help him find his children.  Reiner has decided to make “reprisals” against the shantytown poor for their behavior during the parade.  Robert is whisked to Washington, where he meets the President for yet more propaganda and yes, survival, a word way overused here.  The President says he has no power, only the ability to create a smoke screen to delay the Communists.

Don wakes up in the hospital with the scariest bunch of Stepford Doctors who promise to take away all the thoughts and “anti-social” behavior that caused his accident.  In fact, one doctor says Don is not under restraints.  “We have one rule here–if you want walk out, you are free to go,” he says, though of course we know there is something far more sinister than that going on.

Robert delivers a monologue at the Lincoln Memorial about the loss of America, and then it pretty much happens, at least in a microcosm.  An order was given to destroy the shantytown, so in come the helicopters and tanks.  Reiner is the one to make it all happen, remembering what he found disrespectful at the parade and with the shot of his flair gun, the helicopters swoop over to frighten everyone and the tanks roll toward the area.  Another flare and the tanks tear right through the buildings.  The physical destruction is overwhelming and completely catastrophic before Reiner shoots the flair gun to stop the assault.

With all of Congress in attendance, Robert is brought in to give a speech accepting his position as Governor General.  It looks just like a State of the Union address and it can’t be a coincidence that this is staged to like the ultimate political moment.  He starts off a bit tentatively, new to speaking like this, but by the end, he’s the very poster child for what the regime wants, a malleable leader who is so appropriately American, no one can doubt him or deny him.  However, he is unable to call his family as he’s told “the lines are down, it’s a very common problem.”  For the first time, he senses something is not right.  It only took hours and hours and literally, an Act of Congress.

The exiles have the grim task of going through their camp’s rubble, finding dead bodies everywhere.  Yes, the montage is supposed to look like the famous wounded scene in “Gone With the Wind.”  Again, there is nothing subtle about “Amerika,” as it toys with both our fears and tears.  It should come as no surprise that when Cindy is picking through the debris, she finds that little girl who has been haunting her since the beginning…alive!  Dr. Ivan is too overwhelmed, so Cindy decides to take the girl into town and Christine makes everyone join that trip.  It was because of their last trip to town that Reiner unleashed this ferocity on them, but now two of the area’s most influential families are heading the pack.  With a massive orchestra underscoring, some of the townspeople actually leave their homes to bring the wounded inside.  Could be some changes a-comin’.

Unfortunately, the little girl Cindy picked up dies along the way.

Reprisals are swift.  The local diner where so many of the characters hang out and joke with the rotund sassy owner are all rounded up and the sign for the diner, which had been on for 30 years, goes dark.  When Richard shows up at the request of Reiner, he finds that the weasels on the town council have convinced the troops to give the town a “full curfew” because the townspeople helped the exiles.  “You can stand up to this Nazi,” Richard growls, referring to Reiner. Right there is the key to unlocking “Amerika.”  It’s only about The Cold War in theory, but in actuality, it’s yet another replay of World War II, with a bit of Vietnam thrown in.  That grounds it to a level where people actually have opinions can better understand.  Making this character German and not Russian could not have been an accident.

Richard, nominally in charge with Robert gone, has to make a deal with Reiner to have the troops removed and let the city return to some normality, whatever that means.  To hammer in the point, the exiles are rounded up and put on buses headed for…well, we’re not quite sure.  Kris is among them.  Families are split up and a very happy man keeps making perky announcements as everyone is put in lines to board trains.  They are all referred to as “Volunteers,” to make it seem as though they have a choice.  One of the overly chipper women guiding people is suddenly shot and killed.  A gun battle ensues, though Kris takes some sort of control and manages to get on a moving train (that’s the second time).

Just because “Amerika” has started to mature doesn’t mean it’s fully there yet.  Not when Mariel, as “Miss New America,” sings a bonnet and parasol number in a nightclub.  How very 1907 of her!  I’m not sure what the hell the song is about, but when it turns into a striptease, hold on tight.  Actually, the song contains references to her relationship with the Communists, but as she shirks the clothes and adds  more make-up, the song goes completely tuneless, not that it ever stood much of a chance of that with Mariel’s singing double being so atrocious.  Something like this would have been fun in Fosse’s “Cabaret,” but its completely idiotic here.  At the end, the police rush in and demand everyone quietly head outside of them.  The number was bad, but worth arresting someone over?  Mariel is spared arrest by her boyfriend’s aide.  It’s hard for Mariel to even attempt acting under the circumstances, but she’s particularly dire at the end of the scene.  Seeing herself in the mirror, Mariel is horrified.  It only took a few minutes longer to complain about it than anyone watching.

Kris and pal Graham Beckel makes it by train to Chicago where he sees kids putting up signs.  “That’s my wife” and former best friend, and the kid replies, “he’s the Governor General and she’s his deputy.”

“In our lifetimes, only a very few of us get to mold our own destiny.  Here is your chance,” Sam says as a pep talk before walking Robert into a giant banquet room with pictures of him and Wendy just waiting to be put in as brilliant new leaders.

Dr. Ivan does not take kindly to the fact that his exile patients are being kicked out and sent miles away to a place where no one has to see these undesirables.  At the same time, in Chicago, Kris is introduced to another resistance die-hard, Dorian Harewood.  The Chicago gang, we are told, operate in “cells,” a word that has more meaning today than in 1987, some on the establishment inside, some out on the streets and they “only come together for special occasions, such as meeting Kris.  There, he is told that “something is happening, perhaps in another country,” that is causing a ripple effect.  They think whatever it is will be something huge and they need to stop it.

Cindy is getting more and more fed up.  A super happy woman comes to the house saying she’s their new aide, though if they prefer someone else, it’s okay, but that Cindy has “a lot of new functions” as the wife of the Governor General.  Cindy brings up the violence, far more important, but is merely told, “it was unfortunate….that means you didn’t see your husband on TV last night!”  Even more news: the family is being moved to Omaha.  Cindy won’t budge until talking to her husband.

Remember Don at the hospital?  He’s easy to forget, but their brainwashing scheme is palpable.  They show dozens of images of atrocities and capitalism while the patients jolting headsets.  It’s supposed to indoctrinate them.

The hospital Dr. Ivan is given in a rat’s nest, dirty and probably unsafe.  Mariel arrives upset because everyone in the theater company is running scared.  “Did you really think sleeping with the enemy would help us?” one of them asks as she swears Sam can’t possibly be behind this.

No dope, when Reiner shows up with a call from Robert, Cindy is hesitant, assuming it’s a trick.  He has no idea what has been happening.  Cindy begs him to come home, but he says, “that’s impossible” and tells her to go to Omaha.  Sam gets on the line too, ordered by Sam to withdraw his men and leave everyone alone.  This all happened too easily to be as simple as it seems.  Resigned, she tells her husband, “it better not looking like the White House” and he pays her a floppy compliment.  As sad as Cindy and Lara are to leave their house, the townspeople are thrilled that the military is disappearing and attack all the cars, but the windows are tinted.

Sam has some plans that involve secession of Robert’s new state and then turns his attention to Mariel, whom he is told has disappeared.  “How is it possible?  She’s damn near helpless and yet two of your security men lost her,” he angrily tells his aide.  He threatens the aide, responsible for the raid at the club, that if he fails, he will be transferred, “perhaps Equatorial Africa.  I know how much you like Africans,” he sneers.  All this and a bit of time for racism too!

Mariel finds her way to Dorian’s group, asking to be a member, but Dorian volleys a series of harsh questions at her, concentrating on her relationship with Sam and refuses her until she realizes what the rebellion.  “You better figure out what you want before you change your life little girl,” angry Dorian spits.

At the hospital, Dr. Ivan sees the all-but-lobotomized group walking in circles outside at night.  To sneak in and become a staff member.  He tells the woman everything she wants to hear during an interview and has her laughing enough to hopefully forget he’s an exile and automatically suspicious.

Plans come to fruition when rebels flood the toilets arrives.  It seems all of the adults are in cahoots, but Kris and pals are posing as plumbers and the kids are fascinated by him.  One of the adults hands Kelly Proctor a piece of paper saying, “he’s your father” and insists his son go off with him.  Kelly is thrilled, but they also want to get the other son. He’s in the middle of a massive propaganda speech, but he doesn’t know any difference as he was to young to know a different system.  The younger son has been brainwashed by his mother, but he warms up to Kris fairly quickly, until deciding to squeal on his father and shouts for help.  “Kill him, kill him, his son says, freaking out.  He has no reason to trust his father.  Kelly runs off to the waiting fan, but Kris ends up staring down the barrel of a gun…held by his youngest son!

Up until now, “Amerika” has taken itself very seriously and has been written with a true spirit.  But, suddenly, once that kid pointed the gun at dad, things start to go haywire, or maybe a better word is “schmaltzy.”

As dramatic a cliffhanger as that is, a man staring down his youngest son across a gun, the opening scene of the next chapter is given to Kris’ completely unlikable ex-wife, Wendy Hughes, who stares outside frosted glass to a lovely winter scene while lover Armin Mueller-Stahl nibbles at her neck, knowing she’s upset.  But, he’s clearly mistaken if he thinks he knows why.  Oh, no, Wendy isn’t at all worried about her older boy, the one with a capitalist leaning, or her brainwashed younger son itching for human target practice.   “It’s me,” she claims.  Apparently, she feels Kris is there to destroy her and all of the wonderful things she has done to make Communism so merrily monochromatic in the years he was locked up without any chance of escape and paroled into a 25-mile radius, constantly watched.  Nope, apparently he’s spent all of that time and all of his non-existent resources thinking of her, though we have not a shred of evidence he remembers or her name.  “Why am I so afraid?  I know he can’t do anything?” she pushes, though Armin, as tan as a Palm Beach millionaire in January, only makes things worse by telling her not to feel guilty.  Oh, now the almost-tears come.  Has he hit a nerve?  Do you care?

While Wendy clutches her diamond-clad throat, there are people with real problems.  The rebels do have Kris’ son Kelly, who has one of the more known faces at the moment.  “He’s important,” the rebels know.

Sorry, people, it was only a two-minute reprieve from Wendy.  Now, not only is she afraid that Kris, safely in prison again, is coming after her, but Armin is hiding something from her, something…personal.  Again, the only way to make this character less likable would be to have her skin kittens alive.  “Be well, my little…my little American.  Who knows?  Maybe someday soon you will be leading your own country,” he says, unhelpfully.  “Why is it every time we say goodbye, I feel like I’ll never see you again?”  Armin can run the US, but he has no clue about humanity, because his reply is the very comforting, “one time it will be true.”  Can it get worse?  Yup.  He admits he loves her with as much enthusiasm as a hard-boiled egg and reminds her that she didn’t “betray” her husband for him, but “for the cause.”  She boards a plane as Armin turns away and goes into his car.

More useful is the conversation going on at one of the rebel alliance strongholds, where Dorian Harewood lays out what he thinks will be the enemy’s plan from the “show trial” to the prison torture.  Though they are heroes, their dialogue isn’t a whole lot better.  Dorian, admittedly giving it all he’s got, speaks in lofty tones to expound that Kris still has a name that matters.  “To whom?” another asks.  “To us…to them…maybe even to him,” he says earnestly.

Back in prison, Sam, wasting the entire salary of the incapable dialogue coach hired for “Amerika,” interrogates Kris, noting that Kris has “a following.”  Further “your presence here seems to be disruptive,” he says with bizarre understatement and then, not waiting for Kris to reply, works through all the possibilities from executing him to nominating him as Santa at the town Christmas pageant (okay, I made up that last part).  The point is, there is nothing they can do to Kris, dead or alive, to stop the momentum of the rebels and possibly his kids, aka “the revolution against their mother.”  Sam tries to kick him when he’s down by playing videotapes of his unsuccessful presidential bid.  One is a fairly effective tape (though insanely bogus and long) that shows Kris and Wendy entering the debating hall, stopped by the media for questions, only to be upstaged first by the Republican candidate who claims the country is perfect and then a mystery man who rambles on about what a fraud Kris is while the crowd laps up every word in dead silence…you know, like always happens with a media crush on TV. The only time it seems real is when it stretches into Jerry Lewis Telethon length, finally given some noise and heft when the mystery man accuses Kris of having turned secretly Commie in Vietnam and pimping out his wife to the Soviet leadership.  How deus ex machina of “Amerika” with so much time to go.

Sam is desperately trying to force a reaction out of Kris, baiting him with such zingers are “were all your guts ripped out of you in that camp or did you ever really have any?” and of course the ultimate male ego deflator, impotence at all levels against a scheming wife.  But, it’s some harangue about how devoted Sam’s grandfather was to his cause that finally gets Kris out of the chair.  “Damn you!  Damn you!  Damn you for forcing your way into my life!” Kris bleats, the most dialogue he’s had in the past seven or so hours.  But what it means, I’m not sure.  Did Sam win the game?  More to the point, what the hell is the game?

So the Robert Urichs are moved into an enormous house with servants.  Cindy and the kids are deeply suspicious, but apparently only Robert has never read a novel, the point of which is always, “if it seems to be good to be true, it is.”  Lara notes that she doesn’t feel like she’s living her life anymore, which is awfully bright of her, since she’s not.  The brother has no friends, but Cindy is the most prickly at all.  Not only do they not have enough furniture “to fill three rooms in this place,” but when she jokes about Robert taking over the world and he kind of agrees, she gives him a look of “no sex tonight!”  All joking aside, Cindy does have reason to be upset.  She reminds Robert of what she saw in the shantytown, “like pictures of old Nazi Concentration Camps.”  However, “in the midst of all that horror, I felt something in myself.  We all did, the town,” and reminds Robert how she and the town “found courage” to buck the system.  There’s no turning back from that, but it’s going to make Robert’s position mighty uncomfortable.

Maybe Robert isn’t quite as party-faithful as expected, because when it seems he’s about to give Cindy a lecture about “how much I need you in Washington,” it actually turns into him saying that maybe he’s the one to change things.  He’s afraid of the paranoia too, but he is on the inside, where possibly he can be more effective.  During an Emmy-baiting speech that as increasing violin music under it, Robert says he aims to be true to Abraham Lincoln, but in order to do that, “I have to make choices, compromises.” Cindy softens, but not completely, because of what she’s seen.  “Do you still want to be my wife?” Robert asks.  “I think so,” Cindy replies.  Maybe there will be sex tonight after all.

Ford is still changing, but he goes to the shantytown and does it by pouring out his soul to our Germany friend Marcel Hillaire, who lost his wife in the shantytown battle and they bond.  Somehow.  Another rush to the Emmy podium.

When Kris is transported from prison to court under armored security, crowds, including Dorian and Mariel, line the streets and clap in unison.  Are things turning?  We’ll have to wait to find out because Wendy has yet another (in ten minutes) breakdown that Kris is truly after her only, getting into another quarrel with Sam that is going to lead to someone’s downfall.  Even in the Soviet gulag, I don’t think the defendant’s ex-wife would be the presiding judge, but Wendy is, despite shaking so much she can’t apply a fourth coat of lipstick.

Wendy avoids looking at Kris until she absolutely has to, but she’s losing control and he’s as calm as ever.  The brays that the court holds the power here.  “Over what?  Life or death?  I think a simple divorce would have been sufficient,” he mumbles.  Even the prosecutors giggle at that one. The dialogue positive crackles with inanities:

“You’re in contempt of this court.”
“I’m in contempt of everything you’ve done.”

As a jittery Wendy tries to maintain control, Kris announces he doesn’t hate her, he just hates what she’s done to their sons.  “And for that, I’ll fight ya,” he says calmly as Sam, in the back knows for sure Wendy is losing it.  She commits him to a mental institution and says he’s nuts, on the record, but as she bolts from court, Kris asks a fair question: “If you have the power, why are you so afraid?”  She doesn’t answer, rushing out as quickly as possible.  It’s a good thing Kris Kristofferson never had any ability to bring passion to his wooden acting style (he could have been Charlton Heston if he tried a bit harder), because he makes the character such a calm zombie, Wendy seems even more unhinged.  Just as Wendy had suspected, Sam is enamored with Kris, his tactics and his beliefs.  “He is not afraid,” he says to his aide, in swooning admiration.

The next hurdle is to figure out who has jurisdiction over Kris.  Technically, Wendy does because she’s the Veep of the area (no one has asked Robert to voice an opinion, but he also hasn’t been sworn in yet), though Sam actually has him.  One of Wendy’s goons suggests they torture him, but she goes to the window and dramatically breathes, “I don’t want him altered,” as the audience thinks she’s finally seen the light, but then adds, “I want him killed.”

But just then, Sam comes in for a showdown.  I won’t bore you, as I was, with their back and forth claptrap, which basically comes down to Sam playing both sides, giving Kris the chance to make a speech that they won’t allow the media to cover and then turn him over to Robert (finally, someone remembered him).  Wendy’s goon has already gotten the order to off the ex, but she wants Sam to send in the major troops to find her son.

A climax is on the way as the square in front of the court is cleared, a microphone and speakers are set up and all media, including Dorian, are told there is to be no coverage.  There are a mass of grumbling extra, I think they can spread the word, no?  Dorian isn’t stupid, he tells the cameraman to keep it going, just without anyone knowing.  Inside the court, Sam speaks to Kris, as they both know that standing in the middle of an open plaza is an invitation for a hit.  Sam insists that Kris can be a powerful symbol if he just follows Sam’s plan.  Sam is actually clever, because he asks Kris to go out there and praise his old friend Robert, “something you genuinely believe about the man,” and of course Kris does think he’s a good guy, “particularly in contrast to your wife,” adds Sam.

With everyone waiting (Dorian and the hidden camera, Mariel, Sam and his pals, an assassin and heaps of extras), Kris steps to the microphone and delivers…The Pledge of Allegiance, the original, not the revised Commie one.  As he says it over and over, the crowd joins in.  The music swells and we drown in tears before Kris throws his fist in the air and chants, “America, America, America” over and over and gets the crowd whipped into a frenzy of pumped fists.  Sam looks defeated as Kris is loaded back into his armored van, the crowd booming.

A frenzied Wendy calls Armin but is not allowed through, due to a “communication freeze.”  Actually, Armin is hauled before a video conference with three colorless Soviets (who look like an Italian mobster, a genial Brit and a strong silent type) who feel that the whole American experiment is being badly handled, too lenient.  After all, this whole Central Area Midwest state is set to be an independent country if they can get control over things.  Armin and Sam then have another video conference situation where both seem to be dancing around the fact that they know things are falling apart and the only direct order from Armin is to make sure that Wendy’s son be found, for her benefit.

Yet another “secure phone” is used (this one is actually red), wakes Robert up because Sam needs to speak to him.  Robert can tell that Sam is uneasy, you know, “like a damn burst and flooded all of your new crop.”  Um, yeah, that’s exactly what it feels like when the central command of the Soviet Union makes demands.

As Ford and Marcel are playing comic relief over stubborn horses, Kelly is delivered to Ford, “through the Underground Railroad.”  Ford is over the moon to see the boy he hasn’t laid eyes on since he was a tyke.  So, he takes his new BFF Marcel up to the house with Kelly and Graham.  Isn’t that one of the first places the authorities would look?  I guess not, since a convention hall is being prepped for Robert’s swearing in, full of marching bands and happy people, though none of the bunting is red, white and blue.  Sam’s limo drives right into the hall, where he apologizes to Cindy for the shantytown trouble and she actually thanks him for his response, though following it up by asking him why he didn’t stop it in the first place, to which he answers that “events were already in place.”  “So, power, when it’s responsible for creating the circumstances, for evil is no one’s fault, while power, exercised against that same evil is to someone’s credit,” she wonders to Sam as Robert looks on helplessly.  The ensuring lines use the word “power” more than an electric company as the two match wits without actually saying specifically what they mean.  They finish with a grudging respect for each other, which is part of the miniseries increasing concern with making Sam blameless, merely a player in all of these games, not the leader.

Sam isn’t done speaking like a Soviet swami.  He pulls Robert aside to tell him Kris will now be under his jurisdiction and for him to help his friend in direct opposition to Wendy is not a good idea.  “You have to become a better chess player,” Sam notes, “and to become a better chess player, you have to sacrifice some of the pieces.”  My, my, don’t we love our metaphors!  Sam’s parting words to Robert are “you may have to secede sooner than you think.”

Cindy refuses to simply ignore Kris’ imprisonment, and she asks Robert for his “permission.”  He tells her to go to their friend, but that he cannot authorize it officially because it may have ramifications in the future.  So, Cindy’s Norma Rae routine has to be pulled from mothballs.  However, Robert warns her it won’t be simple.  In fact, in order to save Kris, he feels Kelly will have to be returned to his mother or else all is lost to Wendy’s control.  “If [Wendy] wants him dead, there’s nothing I can do to help him,” he says to Cindy Rae’s horror.

Uh oh, Mariel is back.  Granted, she’s been dragged from the rebel alliance back to Sam’s apartment, where he tries to blow her off, but she’s in a mood and that means she tries to act.  It doesn’t work, so fine actor though Sam is, he can’t save the scene from her caterwauling.  Steel yourself for the moment Mariel realizes she has to bring it down.  Fake tears not flowing, hair a mess, trembling, she tells Sam the big secret he hasn’t known since she disappeared with the rebel alliance.  “I realized I’m an American.”  Oh, good for you, sweetie, but no one said you weren’t.  The Soviet Union has only taken over the running of the country, they haven’t upended citizenship.  And Sam’s reaction is perfect.  “Yes?” he says, throwing his arm in the air.  There’s more to the speech, but you would be better off attention an elementary school Thanksgiving pageant where the kids all talk about what it means to be an American.  Sam has to top that by confessing his love for her, equally ridiculous, but then it’s time to part.  “Goodbye, my little actress,” he says, with no sense of irony about her character’s inability to act, not to mention Mariel’s.  He walks out, so does she get to keep the swank apartment?

In a puffy coat that matches exactly the color of the walls, Cindy is taken to see Kris.  At the same moment, Robert and Wendy are discussing this visit.  Wendy is on the attack and nothing Robert says really assures her.  These two are not destined to get along.  But, politics is about compromise and they agree that if Wendy gets her son back, Robert will concede to a lifetime prison sentence for Kris.  As if the cell is not bugged, Kris and Cindy plot.  Well, maybe that’s the wrong word, because Kris can only handle his beloved cliches, like “we’ve got to be for something, not just against the Russians.”  Care to elaborate?  Indeed, he does, but it’s nothing unexpected.  He confesses to “having lost the faith in the human spirit,” and it’s the rest of the country that has always had it, not him.  “I’m not what matters,” he says and Cindy suddenly confesses a lifelong love for him, a plot twist we definitely didn’t need.

It’s going to be a big day, the convention.  Robert is so nervous, he cuts himself shaving, Wendy doesn’t appreciate her beautiful peignoir, instead muttering, “stupid, stupid, stupid” presumably about the dialogue and assassins are perched all over the city to take out Kris, invited by Armin to breakfast.  The assassins kill every soldier in the convoy and then blast Kris’ transport truck to smithereens, bringing us to the end of another episode.

The convention hall is bursting with excited delegates (as if they have any purpose).  Wendy is told of the attack on the convoy and that “there are no survivors.”  Left alone, she actually seems to regret her decision, but Robert comes to fetch her, ever gallant as she takes his arm to keep her steady as they enter the hall.

Raise your hand if you thought Kris was actually killed in the ambush.  No one?  You sure?  Of course you are, you know your miniseries as well as I do–no lead is getting bumped off with so much time to go.  Instead, we see Sam’s aide putting him on a private jet to…beats me, probably that little Nebraska town again.

Robert is sworn in as Governor General, looking divinely presidential as Kris’ jet takes off.  I have a question–why is Robert searing on a Bible?  Isn’t religious a bugaboo of Communism?  And Cindy isn’t even holding the book (maybe it’s Das Kapital, to be fair, we don’t see the book).  Then it’s Wendy’s turn, swearing in as Reiner and his men storm the Nebraska town where they intend to find Kelly.  Kelly volunteers to give himself up so no one gets hurt, but the family, with Ford totally on their side now, is not giving him up without the biggest fight they can muster.  Back at the convention hall, everyone is singing the gloomy martial national anthem, naturally with a chorus of children to lead it (Cindy abstains from singing, but Lara emotes proudly, as if she’s expecting a dance break).

Christine hides Kelly in some convenient hole in the woods that kept her great-grandparents safe 130 years ago as Reiner and his helicopter stop Richard and the sheriff, only to find Kelly not with there.  Wendy’s younger son gives a rousing speech to the room, with Wendy mouthing it behind him.  Robert has the next speech, better at it than either of the numbskulls would be run for the Presidency of the US in 1988 an no one seems at al surprised when he even glosses over the idea of secession, the line “no longer as Americans, but as Heartlanders” sending the crowd into spasms of excitement.  Everyone but Cindy, for some reason thinking a beret was the best headgear for such an occasion.

Reiner and his men arrive at the Nebraska home, but Reiner hides behind Richard so Christine won’t fire the double-barrelled shotgun she totes so well.  Richard encourages her to do it.  It would be great payback for all of those sadism sex sessions with Reiner, but she declines.  No one will tell Reiner where Kelly is, so he orders their house burned.  The last reminder of a once-great family is reduced to ashes in front of them.

In the middle of the night, Wendy’s flunky calls her with the news that supposedly-dead Kris just turned up at the hospital.  She insists he be killed, but the doctors have refused.  “They say they are researchers, not killers,” the flunky relays and then volunteers to go and do the job himself.  It would be pretty easy since Kris is under sedation as the first part of the process of wiping clean his body or mind or whatever the hell they do.

At a meeting of state government types within the Heartland apparatus, Robert makes a speech assuring them they will keep their power and that after a plebiscite, they will be free of Soviet influence.  A brave woman stands up to ask if that means secession, which it does, though Robert refrains from completely admitting it.  He informs her, and everyone else that “there comes a time when we have to give up some of our unrealistic hopes.”  Dorian and his cameraman are happy to be catching this exchange.  “There is no America,” Robert says firmly, “there hasn’t been for some time.  That is the fact.”  The crowd is half dumbfounded, half full of jolly approval, with the jolly approval forcing the others to realize they are about to be outnumbered.  The local military is convinced to back Robert.

Sam, promoted to the rank of general, and Armin meet to discuss worries from the Kremlin.  There have been worldwide “disturbances” and the old men in power are nervous.  “They…we…are not very good at running the world,” Armin somewhat sadly notes.  There are more directives, but Armin doesn’t exactly say what they are, but Sam is given the authority to make sure all the other parts of former America secede as well.  Both seem to know that Armin’s caginess means he’s basically a goner, but in case the rest of us aren’t convinced, Armin puts his hands gently on Sam’s face and says, “you are a son to me.”  “And you are a father,” Sam replies.  That’s classic miniseries-speak for “say goodbye to this character.”  Sam finds a secret videotape when Armin goes to a “highly unusual” session of Congress.  Assassins mob the Capitol and “the Vice President would like to speak.”  Which is the unusual part, the second?

Apparently, the President is ill (or perhaps got a better job), so Armin is asked to speak to this emergency session of Congress.  A speech in front of Congress is yet more Emmy-baiting, but I can’t imagine anyone was still watching by this point.  His speech starts idealistically, but that soon gives way to threats.  “This body no longer services those ideas, there is no point,” he tells Congress about their place in the Soviet plan.  Armin demands the government “relinquish its power,” while the whole room heckles him.  Armin demands a vote, which is when the assassins swarm the chamber.  “You’re too late,” he says and departs.  Aware of what has just occurred, Armin looks deathly as he goes into a private room and the gunshots start to quiet the dissenting.

I have to say, as hellish and gruesome a plot point this is, it’s exactly what “Amerika” has been missing, some actual reason to fear the Soviets other than some “Manchurian Candidate”-like paranoia.  So far, lives have been uprooted, especially for the exiles, but overall, things have still functioned.  The Soviets have allowed America, or at least it’s various parts, to at least think they still have some control.  But, a slaughter of the national government of the United States (except the President, who was luckily ill), that’s the kind of frightening moment a piece like this needs.  The miniseries, now over a decade old, has given us some truly horrific sights.  Think of “Holocaust.”  By waiting until the last section of the miniseries, the emotional wallop to the viewers is blunted by all of the sleepiness in front of it.  Essentially, the piece is saying, “Soviet domination might not be so bad until their backs are so far up against the wall that there is no choice.”  That’s hardly a tagline to stir viewer devotion for 12 hours.

The assassins then torch the venerable building, leaving no evidence, not that anyone is denying having committed this atrocity.  To mitigate his role in the whole shebang, since we’ve come to kind of like his character, Armin wanders through the halls of the building (apparently, the fire is very slow moving), goes into the Congressional Chamber, sees the dead bodies (many of which are extras without proper training playing corpses since you can see them breathing) and shoots himself.

When Sam arrives, the fire is already out.  He’s first astounded by the fire damage, but then he goes into  the chamber and sees the carnage, completely breaking down into hysterical sobs at the thought of what has occurred.  He spots Armin’s body and cradles it.  This is bound to be a PR nightmare, wouldn’t you say?  Outside, Sam takes control and some American generals claim that the only people who could have done this are men with paramilitary training, but are convinced that no American could have done such a thing.  “But the Russians could?” Sam asks.  “It makes sense,” the general snaps.  “How can this make sense?” Sam screams.

The justifications that come out of Robert are getting more dimwitted every scene.  Arguing with Cindy before a function (he tells her the necklace she is wearing, one he gave her, doesn’t go with the dress–oh, so now we’re an elected official and the red carpet police?), he says he did not know of the plan to split up America, but he has to go along with it.  He claims that “people from South Carolina or California will still the Americans, just the way the French and Germans will always be Europeans.”  Skipping right over the obvious retort that Europe was never one country, Cindy snivels, “there just won’t be any country.”  Yes, I suppose that’s true, though I still wonder about this whole United State of Europe thing.  Robert is just getting started.  After reminding his wife that she never before expressed any devotion to being an American, he asserts that “the last time anyone cared about being an American was World War II.  I’m sick of this ‘I’m an American’ bull!” he rails.  As he continues, he comes closer and closer to the truth, not that too many Americans in the mid-80s would have gotten it.  He yowls about no one wanting to be in the military, no one rushing out for public service, a general malaise (my word, not his, since by the mid-70s, this was already true).  To her credit, Cindy agrees and says she’ll go with him, mainly because she believes he actually still cares about “making a difference,” even though the definition of that is not the same as it used to be.  Consider Robert’s character forgiven for any possible sins.

In the middle of the gala, when Robert is having a “pity dance” with Lara, as she calls it, he is summoned to the phone to talk to Sam.  Sam won’t tell about the murder of the Congress, but he will tell him that Wendy was behind the attempted murder of Kris and that Kris should be freed.  Sam asks to talk to Cindy, telling her to “find a way to influence” her husband about Kris.  Consider Sam absolved of his sins as well.  When Cindy gets off the phone, Robert somehow realizes Cindy loves Kris, but she explains that she loves them both in something akin to separate love channels.  “What do you say we leave this shindig and go back to Omaha?” he finally says, after a lengthy speech that doesn’t really make clear what he believes, but we supposed it’s all good.

During this crisis, Sam calls Mariel and tells her, “I need your love.”  In fact, he loves the fact that she’s a ditz who knows nothing about the world (or was).  She informs him she’s leaving Chicago, but won’t tell him where and reminds him he promised he wouldn’t chase her.  Hold on again, because Sam asks Mariel to sing him some of “Try to Remember,” which she does, with no music helping her, so she’s not only off key, but an affront to its writers, whom I hope got some money from it.  He hangs up while she’s singing, but she finishes the song even after.

Because she has a special passport, Mariel is the perfect person to carry Dorian’s prized videotape to the rest of the world.  Kris has been in a coma at the brainwashing hospital, but the doctor in charge feels guilty and tells the staff to call Dr. Ivan to help.  Naturally, Ivan will come to Kris’ rescue.

At the same time, Robert devises a plan to have Cindy visit a hospital on camera and discover “a brainwashing experiment,” but he doesn’t want it to be Kris, who still sticks in his craw.  “A year from now, nobody will remember his name,” Robert clucks.

Mariel, her pals and the tape of Kris doing the Pledge of Allegiance, are taken to a comic little man with a transmitter in his van and they drive around broadcasting it, Mariel explaining that he’s still alive.  This summons untold numbers of people to descend on the hospital and demand Kris be freed.  Inside the hospital, Dr. Ivan gets all the zombie patients to help him, which causes them to spring back to life, injuries and all.  “Is this an escape?” a dippy nurse asks.  She wants no part of it.  No one asked her to be anyway.  The crowd doesn’t realize that an ambulance leaving the hospital is carrying their hero and he’s gone by the time Cindy, her posse and even Dorian show up at the hospital.  The man in charge of the hospital, a total worm, hightails it out of the hospital because he smells the frame-up.  The female doctor in charge of Kris, assigned by Wendy, wants Cindy stonewalled and not allowed in the unit, but Ivan gives her a “the tide is turning” grinning warning.

Dr. Ivan gleefully tells Cindy that Kris is gone and she’s ready to leave, but Ivan says there is more to see.  He takes her to see a character we have long forgotten about, her daughter’s boyfriend Don.  He’s a complete zombie, worse than the others.  When Lara sees Don, she screeches her way into overacting glory, her last chance to grab a moment.  “He needs your love…something, to bring him back,” Cindy tells her daughter, urging her to help a kid she once despised, but then again, she’s not really talking about Lara and Don, is she?  She’s talking about how she did nothing when Kris was in trouble.

Thankfully NOT quoting Lenin’s theory of “productive chaos,” Sam orders his minions to follow only his instructions, even if they seem counterintuitive to the way things have been handled in the past.  Reiner is ordered to stay in the barracks, to call off the search for Kelly.  Sam then takes care of Armin’s legacy by getting Moscow to agree to bury his body in the Kremlin and then telling them not to be afraid if they hear of any public uprisings to their plans.  Sam has outwitted Moscow, who buy every word he says, apparently not noticing he’s swearing more than Richard Nixon ever could have imagined.

The news finally gets out about the massacre in the Capitol, though in a sanitized version that blames it on “suicide bombers” who are conveniently all dead.  Outraged that Robert knew of the atrocity and didn’t say anything (on behalf of her children, whom she claims “don’t understand,” though her son says he does, he just doesn’t see why Congress mattered–it’s a little late in the game for generational antics), she tells him she’s leaving.  “I can be your wife, but I don’t think I can be your First Lady,” she says.  Can you imagine Nancy Reagan’s reaction to that line when she and Ronnie watched “Amerika?”  Well, he was no doubt asleep, but I’m sure she watched.  Only Lara follows her mother; she doesn’t mind missing her dancing.  Frankly, the on-again-off-again-hot-and-cold-water-tap routine of Robert and Cindy is soapy and boring compared to the politics, which are left so deliberately murky, so as not to offend anyone.

The rebel alliance is in tatters, but Dorian, Mariel and the creepy old man with the speaker on his van decide to go back to tiny Milford.  I guess we’re headed for a denouement and, if we’re lucky, a reunion with Christine Lahti and her family, who haven’t had nary a line in hours.

Why exactly we return to the church in Nebraska to characters we forgot segments and segments ago, I’m not sure, but it gives everyone a chance to sing the “Battle Hymn of the Republic.”  Something tells me we’ll never quite get to the national anthem, mainly because it’s never made a whole lot of sense to Americans, who can’t sing the wacky song anyway.

Kris, up and mobile, with no after-effects from the hospital except some wobbly feet, is brought back home, to even the love of his father.  When Kris sees the land where the house used to be, Christine quips, “now is as good a time as any to tell you your old room isn’t quite ready.”  Cindy, Lara and Dr. Ivan return to the town to care for Don, as if they are qualified for such a task.  Ford takes Kris to fetch Kelly, and Graham asks, “is it over?”  “It’s just beginning,” Kris replies.  Oh, mercy, no!  Let’s wrap this mother up already!  The only villains left are Wendy and Reiner, and the latter should be very easily dispatched.

Speaking of Wendy, she’s desperate, so she calls Washington, not knowing that Armin is dead, and Sam takes his time telling her.  Gone is her protector, so now she’s can’t be easily picked off too, unless of course she has a last-minute change of heart.  Sam warns her that her only chance is to cozy up to Robert.  “You cannot win, you can only bring chaos,” he says frankly.

I cannot tell you where there is a really long section of the main family’s reconciliation, all silent footage so justify the orchestra’s salary.  Wasted time is the last thing we need at this point.  It ends with some pat dialogue between Cindy that Kris that leads to a passionate kiss (the first time in this whole miniseries we’ve seen a hint of romance–we can’t count Lara and Don or Mariel and Sam, those are just immature).

At a meeting of the rebel alliances, it sounds like a prize fight of howling and arguing.  It all quiets down so Kris can deliver a big speech reviewing his life and how he feels.  “I was afraid they would take away what I held in my heart,” he tells the rapt audience.  He then thanks everyone who has faith in him because “I lost my fear” due to it.  There isn’t miniseries cliche he doesn’t use, whether it’s about his renewed energy, the teachings of his his sister, reuniting with his son, but it keeps coming back to how he no longer has fear.  He even brings up the Founding Fathers.  “We’re the result.  The dream didn’t die with them.  It lives in us.  I can’t…I won’t…abandon that legacy.  America’s not a flag or a piece of territory, it’s each one of us, in here, around the country, that’s what America is.  How can we give it up?” he rambles to the crowd, and that’s only a snippet of a monologue that must have involved dozens of cue cards.

Now the music booms as the exiles follow Kris into town.  They should not be in any danger, because Sam’s orders were not to engage in battles unless attacked.  However, Kris waves a white flag, everyone puts their hands on their heads and they “surrender.” They all hide out, ready for a battle the next days with reinforcements due to arrive the next day.  For some reason, that night, they all sit in a field and Mariel leads them in a songfest of “Blue Skies.”  If they were going for Irving Berlin, why not “God Bless America?”  It’s also sweet that every since person knows the lyrics.

A bunch of the team blows up the barracks and vehicles.  Snipers from buildings around the rebels do a lot of damage, but the soldiers in tanks are also able to inflict much damage as well.  Now it’s all-out war.  The Soviets have might on their side.  Sam is worried Kris is a “loose cannon,” so his soldiers need to be careful.  Trying figure out which forces are good and which are bad is almost impossible to follow, but we’re clear that the exiles and pals are still staging guerrilla sorties and blowing up all they can.

Christine is helpful because she’s been inside the barracks.  As she attempts to open his safe, Reiner shows up. He kills her cohort and is about to do the same thing to her, but she reaches for a gun and shoots him in the throat.

Just as Kris is about to broadcast their successes to others around the country, Robert comes storming in telling him not to do it.  They argue a bit and then we hear a gunshot.  From the look on Robert’s face, it’s clear he gave someone the order to kill Kris.  That makes him even worse than Wendy, so a character we thought was noble ended up being a collaborationist.  Nearly every character, including Sam from a little distance away, is there are Kris’ family with American flag draped on it.  Kelly does a eulogy about how much his father affected him, though Kelly didn’t really know him longer than a few days.

The main reason that “Amerika” sags as much as it does is an overabundance of characters with nothing to do (the easiest acting gigs most of these folks ever had).  Even the leads disappear for huge amounts of time.  No one really has a plot.  The Soviets we meet aren’t all that bad (except when killing Congress) and frankly, it’s hard to describe the whiny Nebraska gang as heroic.  Of course, in a piece like this, we need to have oodles of characters because we’re talking about more than just a small town’s reaction to a world-altering event.  But, with characters this wishy-washy or underused, “Amerika” hardly seems like a place anyone would want to control.

Categories: Adventure Miniseries

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