Review: On ‘The Americans,’ Paige has had just about enough of this spy s–t

alan-sepinwall
Senior Television Writer
05.18.16 158 Comments

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A review of tonight's The Americans coming up just as soon as I assign you to eat a Twinkie…

“Are you serious? Do you hear yourselves?” -Paige

In yet another episode this season that would have done very well being called “Travel Agents” if the title wasn't already spoken for, two men we know well take trips out of the country that put them in jeopardy. One's going to return home alive and with an amusing story, while the other won't ever get to start up that stamp collection, but both their misadventures should leave deep and lasting scars for all the surviving characters.

Let's start in Thailand, where Gaad is dead. Richard Thomas was likely going to be off the show either way – it badly undercuts the Martha defection storyline if Gaad somehow remains involved in Stan's work, even as a civilian offering free advice – and this way, he goes out with a bang, and a crash, and a cut on his midsection that no amount of aftershave would do anything for. We don't know exactly what those KGB agents wanted to discuss with him(*), other than that Arkady (devastated afterwards to learn of his former counterpart's death under the stupidest of circumstances) knew about the operation, but whether they were there to abduct Gaad or simply recruit him as an asset, this could (assuming the US figures out what happened in that room) lead to blowback from the FBI that will make the reaction to Chris Amador's murder look like a mild temper tantrum. When last Gaad and Stan were in a room together, the former boss warned his former agent to stop forgetting that people like Oleg are his enemy. Knowing what we know about how Stan Beeman responds to the death of a colleague in Soviet hands, I wouldn't be shocked to see him go full-on Terminator before the end of the season.

(*) And remember: Stan told Philip about the trip after their racquetball game last week, and Philip gives the Centre regular reports about his interactions with Agent Beeman. He can't have known what this would lead to, but would the approach have happened at all if Philip and Stan weren't buddies?

And while Pastor Tim turns up alive, well, and more than a little embarrassed by his ordeal in Ethiopia, the wait for news on his whereabouts proves agonizing for Elizabeth, Philip, and Paige once Alice warns them that she has left an incriminating tape with her lawyer, to be released to the Justice Department in the event anything bad ever happens to her or Tim. Though this one incident turns out okay, that tape's existence is a reminder of the constant danger the family is in from their new best friends at the church.

That story's an interesting example of the way The Americans can deftly reverse our sympathies with a snap of its fingers. Elizabeth and Philip are enemy agents doing terrible things on foreign soil – we get painful reminders of that throughout the episode as Elizabeth gets to witness what she's done to Young-Hee and Don's marriage – and we know that earlier in the season, they even approved a plan to have Tim and Alice killed. They are the villains in this story. Yet because we know from the start that they had nothing to do with Tim's disappearance (or, at least, no more to do with it than Philip with Gaad's death), it's Alice who suddenly comes across as the unreasonable and dangerous one, whose paranoia – more than justified, based on what we've seen – could end up with Paige's parents in jail, or Paige and Henry having to learn Russian in their snowy new home.

The episode opens with the kind of cross-cut sequence the show doesn't do very often, particularly in its pre-credit sequences: Philip telling Paige a story about his childhood in Tobolsk, and the extreme lengths his own mother took to protect him, alternating with glimpses of Elizabeth at an uncomfortable dinner with Young-Hee's family. They say all men marry their mothers and all women marry their fathers, and Philip has wound up with a woman even more ruthless about protecting her family (and her country) than his own mama(**). In that context, it's again hard to blame Alice for going to extremes regarding the very real threat posed to her own family.

(**) Elizabeth's father, meanwhile, was a deserter during the war, and her husband would defect in a heartbeat if she ever gave him the okay to do it.

And though everything turns out okay in the end, the scare of it all – and the thought of having to move to a foreign country just to escape the mess her parents have made of things – proves incredibly eye-opening for Paige, who has clearly just about had it with all this spy bull. This was as bitter and sarcastic as we've ever seen her (a note that Holly Taylor played wonderfully), whether she was pointing out that Tim's disappearance could be good news for her parents, then with her long rant about the idea of going to Russia, which ended with the simultaneously nonsensical and cutting insult, “What are you going to do? You can't be Russian spies in Russia!”

And yet… when Pastor Tim has turned up unharmed, and tempers have cooled, it's Paige who's volunteering advice on when and how to approach Alice about getting their hands on that tape – exercising the same kind of judgment and authority about her asset as Philip or Elizabeth do when they meet with Gabriel. She gets scared, but her resolve doesn't break, where the whole ordeal on top of the Young-Hee thing seems perhaps more than Elizabeth can shoulder right now – which is why Gabriel offers(***) to ask the Centre if they can abandon the Young-Hee plan in hopes of finding William another way into the bio-lab.

(***) From my notes during that scene (with apologies to Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars): “Gabriel is smoother than a fresh jar of Skippy.” As with the seven-month vacation, this is him looking after his top asset, but it's also him getting her to trust him more, especially since it's a request the Centre is all but certain to deny.

For the entire run of the series, Elizabeth has always been the colder warrior in the marriage, the one with unshakable resolve, who can be physically slowed by a bullet wound but not emotionally swayed from her mission. But like Philip before the time jump, this is starting to become a little too much for her. If she's broken, and Philip's not entirely put back together, and Paige is suddenly the loudest voice in the room, well… that would be different. And fascinating.

But based on what we see throughout “Munchkins” – where the KGB has its tentacles everywhere from suburban Virginia to Ethiopia to Thailand – there's not a whole lot of wiggle room in this life. Like the saying goes, in America, you choose your job; in Soviet Union, your job chooses you. Forever, if it wants.

Some other thoughts:

* At times, it can feel a bit clunky when every important conversation between Paige and her parents has to begin with someone explaining why Henry won't overhear them. In the case of the moving to Russia discussion, though, it was perfect, with Henry's bouncing tennis ball simultaneously serving as distraction, irritation, and unintentional drumbeat of doom for the whole family.

* Kimmy not only returns, but once again gives Philip a cautionary tale about how Paige's knowledge of his true identity is harming her. What I loved about that scene – besides how great Julia Garner is every time she plays this role – is how much of what was going through Philip's mind was left unsaid there, and then after. Other shows would have required a later moment where he told Elizabeth or Gabriel about their conversation and how it stirred up feelings about Paige; this one trusted Matthew Rhys's face to tell us what we needed to know.

* And now we know why the show grabbed Matthew Beeman off the shelf where they'd been keeping him: to be a friend (and possibly more) to Paige, and thus create a whole host of new problems, given who and what his dad is. This should be fun, or agonizing. Probably both.

* Dammit, Elizabeth made Young-Hee cry. Not cool, Elizabeth.

* In previous episodes, we heard Stan making fun of Gaad's replacement, but here we actually see the guy, and he's played by TV's Peter Jacobson as Agent Wolfe. It took me a while to stop referring to Gaad as “Special Agent John-Boy.” We'll see if the new boss can impress me enough to not resort to calling him “Agent Taub.”

* Each of Oleg and Tatiana's sex scenes so far brings to mind that Catherine Zeta-Jones line from The Mask of Zorro where she describes her encounter with the masked man as “very vigorous.”

What did everybody else think?

Alan Sepinwall may be reached at sepinwall@hitfix.com

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