The Americans: Her Personal Chernobyl (S4 E10 Recap)

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While Elizabeth, playing Patty, is over at Yung Hee’s spinning her web of deception for the greater good, Philip and Paige are hanging in the Jennings’ kitchen. (Henry as usual is somewhere else.) Paige asks Philip about his real childhood. His father worked hard and often came home tired, by which he likely means drunk although it’s not clear that Paige got that. She also missed the other part of his heartwarming tale, the one about his mother prostituting herself to the boss of his after school job at the rake factory to get the pay the boss was holding back.

At its core it’s a story not unlike what many of us have heard from our parents, or grandparents or great parents – a sanitized version (unless you’re old enough to read between the lines) of life in the old country. It’s so much better here. Yet, her parents are hell bent on destroying life as we know it in these United States.

Another day, Gabriel and Philip are playing scrabble while Elizabeth does the dishes. Aside from the children, Gabriel is the closest thing to a family either one of them has. Too bad they can’t invite him over to meet his spiritual grandchildren. In yet another swipe at the American left, Gabriel discusses the librarian he’s recruited to help him on William’s project. She’s so plain “you wouldn’t notice her if she sat on your lap.” How’d he know she’d be open? He saw a copy of The Militant sticking out of her purse. Is that supposed to be a wry political joke that only an extremely small circle of friends will get?It’s funny because The Militant was a Trotskyist paper of a fringe left group, the Socialist Worker’s Party, who were far more likely to be infiltrated by FBI agents gathering intelligence on these dangerous radicals who gave out free newspapers than agents of any foreign power. It’s entirely possible the only reason the librarian had a copy was because someone handed it to her and she’d forgotten to bring a book to read on the bus. Philip isn’t so sure about grabbing more samples, given what went wrong before, but you know Philip and his feelings (which turned out to be completely right about Martha).

Over at the FBI Stan makes a crack about “Munchkinland” after the vertically-challenged new boss tells Aderholt to “watch his margins” because short people got no reason, and back then you could still be make fun of them with impunity. Oh for the days when America was great like that!

Then Stan asks Aderholt if he’d like to go grab a drink. Aderholt says sure, possibly thinking he was wrong about Stan’s being a racist tool, but ha-ha it’s going to be with him and Martha’s dad, and no backsies!

Family dinner at the Jennings, and  Elizabeth is yelling at Henry to clean his plate. He’s already conveniently hiding in his room. Pastor Tim’s wife, Alice, shows up unexpectedly although she is so expecting that she looks like she’s going to burst with child. She’s got some bad news and some worse news. Pastor Tim and an associate are missing in Ethiopia, and if they don’t turn up or anything happens to her, she’s sent a tape to a lawyer exposing them as commie spies, and it’s going to the Justice Department.

After she goes, Philip checks in off-camera with Henry to make sure they don’t have to smother him with a pillow or have a very awkward conversation. Paige is wearing her “just kill me now, it’s all my fault, I am the worst girl in the world” face.

Yes, Paige, this too is your fault!

Yes, Paige, this too is your fault!

There’s more hot Russian sexytimes with Tati and Oleg. Afterwards she asks him for a favor. Can he get her a computer expert, female in her fifties or sixties from Moscow, who speaks perfect English, please? First she says she can’t tell him anything, but then she spills the beans about the bio-weapons at an American military base. He’s not reacting like “Holy shit! We’re doing what now?” But he does mention that the Americans are probably just looking for vaccines. There are treaties after all. Oh, Oleg you are so naive, and in for so much suffering!

A "twinkie" was neither a popular sexual act nor a designer drug.

A “twinkie” was neither a popular sexual act nor a designer drug.

It’s debrief time at the Jennings. Paige asks if there’s any chance the Russians really did grab the Pastor seeing as how it would solve a lot of problems. Philip points out that this is a disaster for them, so the answer would be no. Neither of them explain that if they were going to make Tim disappear they’d also have made his blabbermouth wife disappear at the same time, and while Paige has put a lot together, she doesn’t quite get all of it.

Elizabeth is SHOCKED, shocked and outraged to discover that her daughter believes her parents kidnap and kill people. It’s the gold star Elizabethism of the night.

"Honestly, Paige what's next? Are you going to accuse your father or having another wife and a 16 year old girlfriend?"

“Honestly, Paige what’s next? Are you going to accuse your father of having another wife and a 16 year old girlfriend?”

Once Paige has been dismissed, they discuss the possibility of running, which is not something they want to do. They decide to ask Gabriel if one of their peeps in Ethiopia could look into this.

Paige goes to the church where she has some private time with Alice that includes a hug, during which time Paige tells Alice that she loves her so much. Alice cries and tells her she’s scared. Not half as much as Paige.

Martha’s dad speculates that maybe this Clark character was just a run of the mill conman. He thinks Martha was too loyal, and too smart to be manipulated. Unfortunately, the FBI has come to the same conclusion, only they’re pretty sure her loyalty was to the KGB, and she was manipulating them. Mr. Hanson asks them not to give up trying to find her. Stan says nothing, but Aderholt assures him no one is giving up.

"In fact, we're so eager to find her, we've even put her on a list."

“In fact, we’re so eager to find her, we’ve even put her on a list.”

Philip tells Elizabeth he’s been listening to the tape from Pastor Tim’s office and hasn’t heard Alice talking to any lawyers. Paige comes in having missed the part about the bug on the phone. She gives her mother the report on Alice. “We prayed.” They tell her to assure her they’re doing everything they can. Then they tell her they might have to leave and go back to Russia. Paige will miss them. Wait? No. That’s not what they meant. When she realizes she and Henry will also be getting a one way ticket, she’s panicked. Wow, tell someone one lousy  family secret and look where it leads! Let that be a lesson to you children. Loose lips sink families.

Meantime, in Bangkok, John-boy Gaad and his wife are enjoying their vacation. She’s going out shopping, and no sooner does she leave then some burly Russians who will totally be working for the Russian mafia in a few short years enter the room. They would like very much a chat with Mr. Gaad. What do they want to talk about? Who knows because John-boy decides to evade them by jumping off the terrace, only the terrace door is shut and he breaks the glass and bleeds out in seconds because this is The Americans and not one of those shows where those fancy stunts work.

No more Waltons jokes.

No more Waltons jokes.

Good-bye John-boy! We should have seen it coming based on how all of the sudden they made your character important again even though you retired. Also now all that stuff you said to Stan about those lousy rotten commies will have even more resonance and he will blackmail Oleg into doing some awful thing.

The Russians stand around the hotel room looking sheepish like the way Huell and Patrick did that time on Breaking Bad when they showed up to strong arm Ted Benake, but he slipped and wound up in a coma. What a great homage and/or rip-off!

Hey remember Kimmi and how last season circumstances kept intervening to keep Philip from actually doing her because that would have wigged us out? Seems like they’re still hanging out. But he and Kimmi are just friends with benefits. Not those kinds of benefits! She’s got an age appropriate boyfriend. “James” (Philip) is her pot friend. He brings her great pot, and she gives him access to her father’s briefcase which he bugs, only she doesn’t know that’s what he’s doing, and apparently believes he just loves to give her free pot because of her scintillating personality.

Strangely enough sometimes James reminded her of her father.

Strangely enough sometimes James reminded her of her father.

She tells him a secret. Her dad’s CIA. He recently told her. Suddenly it all made sense —  the lies, the weird absences, the secret compartment full of wigs and glasses. He tells her she shouldn’t have told him because that was breaking her father’s trust. Philip knows if the situation was reversed and her father was smoking pot with Paige, that’s what he’d like him to tell her.

Some other day, probably the next one, Paige goes looking for Henry at Mr. Beeman’s because it’s not like either one of the Jennings children has friends their own age. Matt is the only one home, so he invites the slightly weird but potentially hot (if only she didn’t always wear ten layers of flannel) girl from across the street in to hang out. She says sure because she really wants something. Is it sex? Nope. Drugs? Nope. Alcohol? Nope. Paige wants COFFEE because in Paige’s world that’s about as transgressive as it gets. It’s tough to stay awake when you have to spend most of your time spying on your pastor and his wife, and the rest taking care of your little brother because your parents are off doing unspeakable things. Plus if you don’t keep your grades up, your mother will kill you, and she might not mean that figuratively.

After getting buzzed on the caffeine, she asks the neighbor boy if he thinks it’s weird that his father is in the FBI. He tells her it used to be, but  his dad is more chatty about it now. Then Matt tells Paige about the secretary who turned out to be a spy and disappeared. She starts talking about church and the “cool” youth group, maybe because she’s thinking that if he keeps talking about his father, she’s going to have to report everything he says to her parents and she can’t take that on too. Then she tells him about the missing pastor on the relief trip to Africa, and she really should be heading over there. Matt offers her a ride.

When they get there, it’s a miracle! And as it turns out last week’s promo showing Pastor Tim was a tease! Pastor Tim and his friend are just fine. They ran out of gas and got lost walking to the village. Alice tells Paige to tell her parents she’s sorry. All’s well that ends well, except it’s not going to end well.

Elizabeth listens to a phone message for Patty. It’s Yung Hee crying. Something is going on with Don and he won’t talk about it. She could really use a friend’s shoulder to cry on. Shall we add this to the list of potential tragedies still to be played out this season?

Don's life is going to get even worse.

Don’s life is going to get even worse.

Paige tells her folks that Alice isn’t the only who feels bad about what she said. Elizabeth hugs Paige, and talks about “trust” being so important in their job. Then she tells Paige they won’t tell her everything about their work, but they’ll never lie to her, except when they move their lips. Paige advises her parents not to ask Alice about the tape right away. She’s gotten really good at this. Then she asks when they’re going to tell Henry. Elizabeth answers, “That depends on Henry,” which actually is sort of true in the sense that they are never going to tell Henry.

Over at the Rezidentura, Arkady looks really shaken as he reads a cable about how operation John-boy went south.

At the FBI, Aderholt grabs Stan and gets him into the vault where he gives his colleague a heads up that John-boy is dead. He overheard something and doesn’t know details. There’s about to be an announcement.

Gabriel and Elizabeth have a chat about her progress in getting the codes for the lab. Gabriel gets how tough the assignment is for Elizabeth. He’s trying to handle her, but she tells him he sounds like Philip after an EST meeting. He tells her she’s already done the hard part. Elizabeth disagrees. Apparently the hard part wasn’t drugging Don and making him think he’d had sex with Patty. The hard part is what’s coming and it’s going to destroy Yung Hee’s family. Gabriel offers to talk to the Center and get her out of this. She tells him no, but he puts it more softly, and asks what if he checks with them to see if there’s another way in. She finally tells him to do it.

That Elizabeth is willing to even have him ask is huge. However, based on the promos for the next episode it doesn’t look like she’s getting out of the assignment. This season has already been emotionally wrenching with the death of Nina, and the exile of Martha, and there’s no sign of a let up. Elizabeth cares about Yung Hee, and maybe sometimes when she can’t sleep she hears the last words of Sooky Stackhouse’s gran echoing through her brain, telling her that people who do evil things always tell themselves they’re doing it to make the world a better place. We’re being set up for events that are going to spiral out of control.

Breaking through Elizabeth’s armor isn’t going to be easy. Philip, even her own children, can’t touch her, but something inside is beginning to crack. Like the Soviet Union itself she’s imploding from within, heading for a meltdown that will leave her permanently changed. Yung Hee’s family is her personal Chernobyl.

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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  • nomilubin

    This is funny and spot on. One thing: Elizabeth does say to Phillip once Paige goes upstairs, “does she really think we’d be so stupid as to leave Alice?”Ok, awaiting your next recap. No pressure. Lots and lots of no pressure, as a friend of mine loves to say.

  • nomilubin

    Oh, wait, I meant to ask, do you really think Phillip’s mother had to have sex with rake boss to get Phillip’s money? The sadder layer about the father I picked up, but I didn’t get any hint of anything like this with the mother.

    • I totally think she did. Did you not see Forest Gump? (Also if you didn’t, don’t. It’s terrible.)

      • nomilubin

        Haha, I did see it many years ago. Remember little other than it was feel-good in all the wrong ways and it was annoying how much praise it got. Don’t remember what you’re referring to, but I think I get the idea.