Review: ‘The Americans’ tries to solve a problem like ‘Pastor Tim’

Senior Television Writer
03.23.16 125 Comments

A review of tonight's The Americans coming up just as soon as I like you better as a blonde…

“We're in trouble.” -Elizabeth

Pastor Tim barely appears in the episode named after him, turning up dead in one of Elizabeth's nightmares. But the Gordian knot that Paige tied around her parents when she told Tim their secret hangs over the entire episode. Now that they know that Pastor Tim knows, there is no good solution. Kill him, and Paige will figure out they were responsible, and at best hate her parents forever, at worst turn them into the authorities. Don't tell him, and there's a man floating out there who can't be trusted to maintain Paige's confidence, meaning that their lives could blow up at any moment.

Like the Glanders sample that Philip just can't seem to get rid of – even after  murdering an airport security guard to the sounds of Soft Cell's “Tainted Love,” in one of the series' more impressive juxtapositions(*) of brutal violence and '80s synth pop (especially haunting because the man dies as part of a mission that accomplishes nothing) – Pastor Tim's knowledge is a problem they seem stuck with, and one that they never could have imagined when they embarked on this career path.

(*) On the one hand, “Tainted Love” is one of the less obscure needle drops the show has used, so it's harder to associate the song just with that scene in a way that I will be unable to think of poor Kimmie whenever I hear Yaz's “Only You.” On the other, that ugly murder is choreographed so well to the song that the association is going to linger.

But then, I imagine they couldn't have imagined most of what we've seen over the past few seasons, from Philip embracing America (he'd defect in a heartbeat if Elizabeth would ever go along), to their daughter becoming a devout Christian, to Philip having to go to est just to deal with his inner turmoil – and Elizabeth, the stoniest Cold Warrior of them all, being open to the idea of joining him.

When Nina gets caught trying to smuggle a message to Anton Baklanov's son – a noble gesture that should end any attempt to gain her freedom – she tells Vasili something that applies pretty equally to all our major characters at this point:

“I'm not who I was.”

There's a deep, almost crippling fatigue that's settled in for these characters after all they've seen and done. In every scene they look weary and haunted. It's just too much for them to deal with, and it's not hard to understand why Nina would be so willing to risk her freedom to do a kindness for Baklanov, who was once just another tool she was using to try to escape she was in, but whose complete lack of interest in using her opened up feelings she wasn't even aware she had. The Nina we met in season 1 would have been just as baffled at the notion that she would do such a thing for a man like this as the Elizabeth of the first season would be at the notion that she would not only be okay with her husband talking about his feelings and past traumas (even in a coded way) to a group of American strangers, but that she would be willing to go with him for the sake of a marriage that feels realer every day.

They've all grown and changed emotionally, often for the better, but there's precious little they can do about the violent and precarious circumstances in which they live every day. Philip may eventually be able to get past the memory of the murder he committed when he was just 10, but I doubt est is going to be of much use every time Paige or Henry has control of the car radio and “Tainted Love” comes on.

Some other thoughts:

* Stan is a man without a country, both at work, where Agent Gaad remains angry (and very passive-aggressive this week) about Stan going rogue with Oleg last season, and at home, where Stan and Philip aren't on speaking terms after the misunderstanding about Sandra.

* Elizabeth's nightmare also features an appearance by Colonel Timoshev, who raped her during her training and was abducted by Philip and Elizabeth waaaaay back in the series' pilot episode. She may change, but the demons will never go entirely away.

* It seems that Nina is technically still married to her husband Boris (played by Gene Ravvin), though they've been estranged ever since she had an abortion, while he's gone on to have children with another woman. Her love life has always been very complicated.

* An interesting parallel between Nina's new predicament and the death in combat of Oleg's brother, whose tour was up months ago but who (also like Philip's son Mischa) chose to keep fighting alongside his comrades when he could have been free.

What did everybody else think?

Alan Sepinwall may be reached at sepinwall@hitfix.com

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