The Americans: Fake it till you make it

This week on The Americans, Elizabeth proves once again how much self-awareness she lacks (all of it). Stan and Aderholt might want to rethink their recruiting techniques. The noose tightens around Oleg, and we get a surprise blast from the past.

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There are only a few times when an adolescent boy will look as pensive as Pasha does. Is he masturbating or planning a mass school shooting? Nope, he’s bowling and he’s not so good at it, so Tuan fakes some gutter balls to make him feel better. The parents, quote unquote, are all there too. Looks like Elizabeth wasn’t lying (for a change) when she told Paige that bowling is an essential part of a spy’s education.

Pasha fighting off the urge to bash his father’s skull in with the bowling ball.

How long will it take for Pasha’s dad to ruin this bucolic scene with his tales of the terribleness of the Evil Empire? Not very long. As usual, his wife tries to shut him up in Russian, allowing Philip and Elizabeth to find out that Morozov didn’t share his plans to defect with his her or Pasha. Morozov tells the Eckharts the story of his father’s being taken away by the authorities and put in prison, where they weren’t allowed to see him, and where he died fifteen years later. What does it mean to them when he literally gets into their faces and tells them that despite his wife’s insistence, things really were that bad?

On the way “home,” Tuan predicts that one day the US will destroy the Soviet Union, just like America destroyed Vietnam, and then he backtracks a little when it’s clear he’s gone too far, and his fake-dad reminds him their mission to prevent that. As they change out of their Eckhart drag, Elizabeth talks about the awfulness of Alexi, how he lied to his own family about this plan to leave. She’s completely irony free, and unable to recall that they almost did the same.

When Philip and Elizabeth arrive at their “real” fake home later that evening, Paige is up watching television. Henry isn’t there.They don’t even bother asking where he is,and we don’t see him the entire episode. Oh please let it be Henry, who takes them all down in the end! They’ve decided to tell Paige about their mission, thinking this is one they could be proud of – preventing mass starvation. After all isn’t her good friend Jesus into feeding people? Philip hopes it might make her realize Matthew Beeman isn’t as important as saving the world by any means necessary. Anyone get the feeling that at least some of Philip’s feelings about young Mr. Beeman are those any dad would feel about his little girl growing up and maybe having sex with someone he deems unworthy?

We know you’ve got on a lot on your mind. By the way, did we mention the US is trying to destroy our country?

They give her an alternative fact filled version. Paige asks if it’s difficult pretending to be other people, not quite getting the irony: They ARE always pretending to be other people.

Later Philip has a flashback while looking at himself in the bathroom mirror. (Once again that bathroom seems to be the place where he and Elizabeth are most honest with themselves and each other.) He sees a vision of his pathetic childhood. His mother is taking in a pair of his father’s pants. Is his father starving? They feed little Mischa but not themselves. Later when Tuan talks about going hungry, Philip tells him how hard it was in Russia even after the war. Tuan doesn’t seem impressed.

Oleg visits one of those suspiciously well-stocked stores although by American standards it looks like the dollar store in the strip mall on the last day of the going out of business sale. He tells the manager not to be nervous. Of course she’s nervous. He’s the KGB and he’s there to ask her questions. There are some good looking tangerines in her office. She insists her ability to land primo produce is just the result of keeping an eye out and hard work. He suggests she’s paying someone extra, and that this cycle will continue unless someone speaks up. She doesn’t agree that this is what is happening, but she does try to bribe him with fresh fruit, which he will not be bought off with. Then again, given how Oleg lives in his minister father’s comfortable home, why would he be tempted by quality citrus? She would have offered him more (wink wink nudge nudge) had he but asked.

He’s suspicious of her melons.

As he leaves the store, the camera focuses on a woman whose hair is mostly covered by a kerchief. She’s picking through the slim pickings on a shelf. Omigod! Could it be! Yes, it is Martha. Martha alive and well in Moscow! From her expression she’s trying to figure out the what this mystery product inside the cellophane is. Remember how she was looking at the peanut butter on her last day in America? Is she thinking about that now? Has the peanut butter become for her what Moscow was for The Three Sisters? A metaphor for something she lost and will never find again? We only see her for a moment, and we should be grateful even for that. Alison Wright is, after all, the hardest working woman in showbiz featured in both Sneaky Pete and Feud, plus a recent movie, and a current Broadway play. But oh what a tease this is! And she almost met cute with Oleg! How awesome would that have been? Dare we ‘ship Martoleg? (Your humble recapper would like very much for Martoleg to be real and for these two good people — who’d each betray a country rather than someone they loved — to find each other.)

But where is the Skippy?

Meantime, Aderholt and Stan are hanging out at diners and in men’s rooms trying to recruit Russians who work for Russian companies in the US. Do they not know about honeypots?

Not the way it’s done.

The Jennings visit Gabriel who tells them the insect specimen Elizabeth gave him was a midge – of a variety previously unseen, but they’ve tracked them to a shipment of midges from Australia to Oklahoma, so the Jennings will be going there to do some investigating. He’s supportive in a parental kind of way about their telling Paige.

Paige and Matthew are having pizza. He’s talking about his dad’s dating – which is either a big red herring or something that will be really important. She references that time her parents were separated. He notices how sad and preoccupied she seems. She does that thing they showed her with her fingers, and tells him it’s just the state of the world. He doesn’t think they can do anything about that, and she’s taken aback. This alone with no parental interference could have been a thing that made her not take him so seriously. If Paige is vulnerable to her parents’ drawing her into the spy game, it’s because she’s an idealist who believes it’s possible to change the world. She might have born post-boomer, but she’s got a boomer’s heart. Matthew is a straight up Gen Xer.

Elizabeth is doing spy stuff in the laundry room when Paige knocks, and seriously if either of the Jennings children had friends over, someone would have pointed out the extreme weirdness of having to knock before entering the laundry room. They talk more about Elizabeth’s work. She tells Paige they’ll be going to Oklahoma. In exchange for this information, because when you’re a spy, information is always part of an exchange and never given freely,Paige tells Elizabeth about how easy it was to lie to Matthew. She wonders if she’ll have to be fake with boyfriends for the rest of her life. Elizabeth tells her that everybody “holds back.”

There’s nothing fake about being fake says the fake.

In Ljubljana, Yugoslavia – which back then was the childhood home of a future Trump wife – Mischa knocks on a door. He’s looking for someone named Luka whom his mother’s letter directed him to. He’s there to buy the papers that will get him into Austria. It’s not clear how this is going to go. They’re going to tease out his arrival all season aren’t they?

In Oklahoma where the wind comes sweeping down the plains, Philip is wearing a cowboy hat and aviator glasses, and Elizabeth is wearing a long blonde wig – which is a very good look for her. They’re in a hotel room. Philip mentions Marilyn. If we aren’t sure who that is, she turns out to be the middle-aged asset they’ve used before – the one Gabriel recruited when he saw her reading a radical newspaper because weren’t all leftists wanna-be Soviet assets in the 1980s (No, they were not!) We’ll also get a glimpse of their other silent partner whom we’ve seen a couple of times this season, aka indistinct black man.

Philip and Elizabeth speculate about the US plan. Are those loathsome Americans planning to infect the wheat they send so that it harms people? Is the idea to import the midges and sabotage the crops Russia grows? Philip’s thinking about some of the stuff Morozov was saying. He wonders with all the land in the USSR, why is it they can’t grow enough grain themselves? Elizabeth quickly stops that negativity and decides to make it real for her husband and change the subject with some sexy times.

Oleg gets approached again and warned about not missing another meeting. He’s handed another note, this time a tape. He gets home and plays it. It’s him telling Stan that the alleged defector is a KGB agent. That was from back when he and Stan had the crazy idea of exchanging the high-level double agent for Nina. What will Oleg do? (This scene feels almost like a repeat of last week’s episode and could easily have been shot immediately before or after.)

Elizabeth and Philip are breaking into the Smith Poole research labs. Marilyn is in a car with binoculars acting as a look out. The lab is full of glass tanks with plant eating insects, and bigger glass cages with bats which flutter like butterflies when the Jennings move around the lab. Marilyn sees someone pull up and get out of a car. She sends them a signal. They hide. A man walks into the lab. He knows something is off because the bats are very active. He’s about to make a call. Philip approaches him holding a gun. This is beginning to look a lot like that time they had to kill that sweet but talkative old lady.

Poor schmuck thinks the blonde lady might be the nice one.

The man claims to be a lab tech.They look at his ID. He’s the deputy director. They ask him what the bugs are for. He tells them they can’t tell him anything. He looks at Elizabeth like he thinks the blonde lady is the nice one. She bashes his head in to the bat tank. He tells them they were hired by a company called Agracore to breed the bugs from eggs. He tells them they’re wheat eating bugs. They ask where he’s going to send them. He pulls something from his Rolodex. There’s a Topeka Kansas address. Philip asks again what they are being used for. He tells them he doesn’t know. Elizabeth tells him he should’ve asked and pushes him to Philip who breaks his neck.

They carry him out to the car, and stuff his body in the trunk. Philip goes to check with Marilyn and make sure she’s okay. She is because don’t you know all the old left types were just waiting for a chance to kill for communism. (No, they were not.) Philip then asks Elizabeth in that understated way of his whether they should tell Paige about this, which is a ironic given that telling her anything about the mission was his idea. Philip has always been the wild card. In the pilot, he wanted to defect. Later he wanted the Center to leave Paige alone. He’s the most likely to question the information he’s been given, but he seems to accept the evidence they’ve uncovered and believe the US is planning something evil. But the question he asked Elizabeth earlier about Russia’s inability to feed its people lingers. Is he having doubts?

Comments? Thoughts? Predictions?

Marion Stein

Marion writes television recaps and reviews for the Agony Booth, and books you can find over at Amazon.

TV Show: The Americans

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  • Thomas Stockel

    Prediction: Stan’s son is going to get killed before he is able to contact him, most likely by Claudia or Gabriel. Or Claudia and Gabriel. This sets up the final season when Stan finds out and this prompts him to say “screw it” and defect over to the Americans, leading to a bloody showdown with Elizabeth. Judging by how utterly ruthless she is, I’m thinking things are not going to go well for Stan.