A review of tonight’s The Americans coming up just as soon as my teachers are my coaches…
“I understand everything now, Gabriel. All of it.” -Martha
Midway through “IHOP,” Philip has to take a break from all of his usual spy assignments to meet with another of Gabriel’s operatives, an undercover priest currently without a handler and very much needing someone to talk to about all the things he hears and does. An impatient Philip bluntly tells the man that he has no time to meet with him on a regular basis (and for reasons the episode never explains, doesn’t try foisting him off onto Claudia until his new handler arrives), and goes back to his many other assignments.
The scene has nothing to do with everything else happening in “IHOP,” or through season five to date, but it serves as a pithy commentary on just how overextended the Jenningses are at this point. They have Paige’s ongoing recruitment, the mission with Tuan, periodic visits to Topeka, running the travel agency (it’s funny to see them checking the books; they actually have to do work there!), plus other jobs — like Philip visiting Kimmy to swap out the tapes in her father’s valise — which we are to assume continue even as we don’t see them for long stretches. (Kimmy hasn’t appeared since late last season.) It’s a narrative problem for the series at the moment — so much is going on that none of the stories have room to develop into something as interesting as they could be — but it’s also what the overall story is about: the Centre is asking much too much of Philip and Elizabeth, and things are starting to slip as a result.
This is most obvious in the parent/child relationships, even in an episode where Paige is absent. Tuan’s recent entreaties for his “parents” to spend more time at the house wind up backfiring, as Elizabeth makes a surprise visit on a night when he is absent, which leads to them discovering (with help from Norm and Marilyn) that Tuan has been hopping a bus to Harrisburg to make unmonitored phone calls to the family he lived with in Seattle, where his adopted kid brother is battling leukemia. This is Tuan going off-mission, and risking either exposure or simply punishment from his superiors back in Vietnam, but it’s also a recognizably human impulse of the kind that Philip and Elizabeth aren’t always allowed to follow, and they nearly missed altogether that this was happening because they’re almost never over there with him.
And when Henry confronts them — in a kitchen scene staged to mirror the one in “Stingers” where Paige demands her parents tell her the truth about what they really do — about his application to a New Hampshire boarding school, they realize they barely know anything about what their actual son is doing anymore. He has plotted out this whole future for himself without their involvement — and, interestingly, it isn’t anti-capitalist Elizabeth who objects most strongly to him going to such a haven for the rich, but Philip — and they’re left to figure out what to do with the boy whom they’ve managed to keep out of the family business so far, and who is, perhaps not coincidentally, thriving right now.