The Americans: The Monsters Next Door

Ever since The Sopranos, television has been in love with anti-heroes – not bad guys turned heroic (usually due to the transformative power of romantic lurve) but people who do very bad things just because. Who wouldn’t want to be conscience free/consequences free if only for a day? Whether they justify their actions as “dark passenger on board,” “just a soldier” or “terminal cancer,” our favorite monsters always find an excuse for doing what they want. The Jennings are working for a government, but they might as well be working for the mob. They might as well be vampires who simply can’t survive without feeding on the blood of the living. Someone gets in their way and they take care of it. We forgive them, even when that someone is a sweet but talkative old lady whose only crime is having insomnia and loving her work. Elizabeth is blinded by the belief she is doing good by being bad. As for poor Philip, who has a little more self-awareness, what’s his excuse? He’s struggling, and we can relate. However, enough may be enough as The Americans continues to meander closer to one of several possible tragedies that we can all see coming, and which could be easily avoided. Is it possible this season will end with something so pathetically sad and terrible that we’ll be rooting for Philip and Elizabeth to get caught? Was Philip talking about himself last week when he wondered whether Tuan screwed up on purpose to “get out of this shit”?

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In other news, your humble recapper has been wrong about a thing. Dee and her pilot husband (whatever his name is) are not stationed in Illinois. They live, as do the Morozovs in yet another suburb of the greater DC area. Alexei only works in Illinois sometimes. This explains how the Jennings manage to make it home for dinner most nights. It does not explain how after so many years of doing this they never run into people at malls or restaurants whom they have scammed and who recognize them despite the wigs, unless wigs operate in this universe the same way eye-glasses do in Superman/girl/boy etc.

Totally different people.

Episode 10, Darkroom, opens with Alexei sharing some homemade Russian hooch with Pilot Brad or whatever his name is, and for a change he’s not making with the wisecracks about how tough it was in the Soviet Union. Instead he’s talking about his sweet ma whom he misses, and how Moscow was a nice city. He’s well aware that his wife and son are miserable, especially his son. Pasha is a “very very very” sad boy. It smells like more than thirteen reasons why, and lets not forget that the man in front of him is one of the authors of that very sorrow.

The saddest house on the block.

Tuan returns “home” to find Elizabeth doing the dishes like a real mom. He still feels bad about getting caught, but she reassures him that he can be great at this if he doesn’t screw it up by having human emotions. Great fake-parenting there, Liz! Philip comes home and Tuan tells them he got the local bullies he’s befriended to put dog shit in Pasha’s locker. Elizabeth thinks that was a swell plan, and is even more impressed that he not only is sure Pasha doesn’t know it was him, but he thinks the other kids don’t even realize he got them to do it. What a chip off the old block!

When Philip and Elizabeth arrive at their real-fake home, Paige is making like Joan Crawford and obsessively mopping the floor. She’s upset because while she was babysitting she read Pastor Tim’s diary again and found out the good reverend is worried about her soul. She thinks he may be onto something. Maybe all those lies she’s lived with have damaged her beyond repair. Her parents (if they are her parents) tell her Tim doesn’t really know her, and they never really lied – just protected her until she was ready for the truth.

“Out out damn spot on my soul.”

Later, at the travel agency, Elizabeth wonders if it’s “not all bad” in that maybe Paige is beginning to see Pastor Tim as less than a tin-Jesus shining his light on thee.

Oleg and Peter Lorre are tailing the dame what the guy set them onto – Mrs. Big, allegedly, but she’s got a crappy car with no wipers and lives in a small apartment, so Oleg isn’t so sure. Peter Lorre, however, thinks those types sometimes sock it all away and know enough to keep the wealth on the down low. Oleg tells him about getting pulled in and the guys coming to the apartment. Peter Lorre figures they must have something, or they wouldn’t have gone to his father’s home, but they probably don’t have much or he wouldn’t still be working.

“Yeah, no worries. It’s not like I blew an operation to steal a deadly virus and managed to get one of their illegals killed.”

In a later scene, Oleg is having a very silent dinner with his parents. Is this dad’s passive-aggressive way of asking him to find his own place?

Stan and Aderholt have set up housekeeping in an apartment in Mrs. Kovalenko’s building, so she doesn’t have to sneak out of the office to see them. She’s thrilled about her new dental plan, and mentions her boyfriend, the Soviet ex-hockey star who now has a cushy job as a courier for the KGB and makes frequent trips to the US. Wow. They are SO going to screw this up for her.

What a beautiful smile they paid for. Too bad the price was her soul.

Philip and Elizabeth give Claudia the tape Philip got from Kimmie’s. He asks whether the hemorrhagic virus in Afghanistan is connected to the sample they got home. Claudia has no information to give them, and quickly cuts off conversation on the topic. They ask about the possibility of sending Pastor Tim on some far away assignment, something churchy and all about the Christian charity. They don’t mention whether he should die soon after in an unfortunate accident. Claudia might be able to help with that, but they want to check it out to make sure it’s what Paige wants before giving the go ahead because they are such concerned parents. Claudia tells them about the wheat sample. It looks like the wheat might have involved a cross from some stolen Soviet wheat – those dirty Americanski – but it’s going to take the agronomists years of study, so meantime they need to keep screwing Ben and Deirdre.

Still not warm and fuzzy like Gabriel.

Philip and Elizabeth talk to Paige about project ex-communicate Pastor Tim. She’ll need some time to think it through. It sure would make her life easier! She asks about the wheat sample. They tell her the threat has been averted, but they tell her in a way that implies there really was a threat in the first place, and they did something to stop it. It’s like for every true thing they say, there’s are at least two lies.

Where’s Henry? The one time it comes up, he’s at Chris’s.

Pasha’s mom tells Dee/Elizabeth about the dog shit incident, and Dee/Elizabeth looks SHOCKED, shocked by this terrible thing which is she is orchestrating. Pashas mom confesses to sleeping with her student – something she now regrets because Alexei has been nice to her and they’re both trying to be strong for their son. Dee urges her “friend” to fight to keep her family together.

Stan and Renee have dinner out with the Jennings.

Are two out of four people faking it or is it three out of four?

In the car afterwards, Philip goes stone faced and Elizabeth tells him it’s no big even if she was sent by the Center. Philip tells her he doesn’t want Stan to wind up like poor Martha. Ouch. You got to give it to Philip. He does care about his assets, like that time he made sure Annalise was nicely packed into that suitcase.

Philip goes to another EST meeting in which more psychobabble is muttered. Then he goes for a run which is really an excuse to drop off some secret coded message, and then he goes home to talk with his daughter, who’s still upset because of what Tim really thinks (but doesn’t say). Also she thinks they should let Henry go to boarding school because “he’s different” and she’s right, and it would be really kind of interesting if the writers would maybe explore that a bit. Remember way back in the first couple of seasons when both kids had questions and were trying to figure out what the hell was up with their parents?

Mom’s a commie. Dad’s into EST. She’s a Christian. It’s a mixed family.

Later at the pantry, Pastor Tim tells Paige he thinks she has a great future in front of her, which she now knows is the exact opposite of how he really feels. Plus he’s full of lots of religious platitudes that sound even dumber than EST or communism. Was Elizabeth right? Having discovered his hypocrisy and shallowness, will Paige unleash the power of a vast communist network to banish him to the cornfield some third world hellhole?

Aderholt and Stan are taking a break from rehearsing for a touring company of The Odd Couple (Aderholt is definitely the Felix in this relationship) and watching an old style educational film about how the Soviets sneak things out in their so-called “diplomatic” pouches. They are so on this thing! (This thing being the casual and callous destruction of Mrs. Kovalenko’s life.)

Elizabeth and Philip are driving around in wigs. Elizabeth for once has no idea why, and reminds her-fake husband that she doesn’t like surprises, but then it turns out that she likes this one. Philip takes her to some abandoned site where they don’t run into a bunch of teenagers out drinking including any of their fake or real children or Kimmie. Father Andre (Gabriel’s asset who we met last week for a higher purpose) is there to marry Mischa and Nadezhda for realzies in the name of the father, the son and the holy spirit, amen. He even tells them that whomever gets to Moscow first can file the paperwork. Does anyone else sense that this too may be foreshadowing, a secret message from the writers that one of them will make it back and file, and the other one won’t?

Ritual. It still has the power to impress.

Back in the laundry room they put the “real” rings they used for the ceremony in a hiding place because they’ll still be wearing their fake ones. Meantime somewhere in the DC metroplex which looks exactly like Court Street in Brooklyn, Pasha’s mom steps out of a dry cleaners, and is walking toward her car, when she is approached by none other than Tatiana of the Rezidentura, who never got her promotion and now works decoding the messages left by Philip, and running errands like this one. Tatiana just wants to let Pasha’s mom know that if she decides to move back to Russia, the government would be totes cool with it and no hard feelings.

We might even be able to get you an apartment with a private bathroom!

Paige comes back from another night of babysitting.She’s decided sending Pastor Tim, Alice and their little brat away would be peachy, and she even took lots of photos from the diary to help them figure out just where he’d want to go. It sounds like she’s talking about a puppy who grew up to be a handful and would certainly be better off on a farm where he’d have lots of space to roam free. Philip takes out the photo developing equipment. Granted these are professionals and all, but how did the kids not ever find the photography chemicals, and if they did, what did they think was going on? Does Henry believe dad is a pornographer, developing his own dirty pictures. Maybe he thinks his parents are porno stars and imagines they’re out filming on all those nights when they aren’t home. He might be relieved to learn the truth, assuming he hasn’t already figured it out. Couldn’t we just have an episode based on what Henry imagines his parents are doing all the time?

As we begin to see the photos develop, at first it looks like the world’s most boring diary, but then we see the pages pertinent to Paige, or PJ as she’s referred to. Tim wonders if her parents are “monsters,” and states that what she’s been through is worse even than physical or sexual abuse, that the damage might be permanent, that she might not understand right from wrong, or ever be able to trust anyone. And there are the faux-Jennings, or three out of four of them, looking at the words, explicit as porn, which can’t be unseen.

Check out Philip. It looks like he may have been hit by a truth bomb. His wife however is immune.

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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