The Americans: Everybody Lies

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The Jennings family including Henry—the lost boy—are all at the airport. The story is Elizabeth has scored one of those free trips travel agents get and is going to West Germany for a week with Paige. Paige shows great potential at the lying game with Henry. Her mother must be so proud!

"Henry, didn't we tell you to wait in the car? We're trying to have a family moment here."

“Henry, didn’t we tell you to wait in the car? We’re trying to have a family moment here.”

Philip then goes to meet with Yousaf, who informs him the CIA cancelled the meeting with the mujahidin so whatever Philip did must have worked. Yousaf asks him if it was worth it. Philip talks about the hundreds of young Russian men who would have died, so we know he’s thinking about his OTHER son, the one who might not even be real. Then he admits he feels like shit all the time, which seems like a strange confession to be making to an asset. Is Philip losing his boundaries? Was revealing himself last week really for Martha’s benefit—or his own?

Sandra and Stan are dividing their stuff. She’ll leave him the wedding photos. He wants the rocking chair she used when she was nursing their son, but she takes it because it’s hers or maybe because she’s creeped out by his nostalgia for a marriage that wasn’t that great.

After dark, Elizabeth and Paige walk the streets of Queens West Berlin. Elizabeth goes into caution mode, thinking maybe they are being followed, which wigs Paige out—but not literally, as she’s not wearing wigs yet.

Gabe and Philip meet, but not to play Scrabble. Elizabeth’s trip was unauthorized. Did Philip figure the Centre would just go along? Philip explains he had to think of his family, and besides, didn’t they want Paige to know more about her heritage? All the Centre has to do is get Elizabeth and Paige into East Berlin. Gabe tells him to “grow up.” But what exactly is the plan after East Berlin? Catch a plane to Moscow or wherever Mamushka lives? It’s never explained.

"Look, I figured we'd

“I figured they’d just catch trains and stay in hostiles. Isn’t that how Europe works?”

Our favorite bros, Stan and Oleg, have one of their clandestine meetings. Oleg has good news. Arkady announced there was an unauthorized action by an unknown agent, which means that Zinaida must have gotten a message out, which means she is a double agent, so Stan can bust her and trade her for Nina. Does Oleg realize this means that Stan now totally owns him? That even Arkady’s crush on him and his daddy’s influence won’t be enough to save him? Nope. He believes that Nina somehow knows he’s trying to help her, and maybe also he believes in the Russian version of the tooth fairy. He is the least cynical, softest, most honest, and most romantic character on the show. He is so screwed.

Over in the gulag-lite, Anton is excited to have gotten his stinger missile photos—the ones Elizabeth had to go through all the shenanigans with Lisa and Maurice to get, including dropping that car on some guy. He tells Nina working his brain is the one thing he still has that excites him and he’s “no martyr.” He says “they” only have his body and asks her if she understands. Of course she does. Her body’s been had by both sides. Later, she drops by his room. They have what seems like an honest conversation—but is there such a thing on this show? He admits he knows why “they” brought her there, and she confesses, as she sits on his bed, that she isn’t sure if buying back her life again and again is even worth it. He advises her to refuse what they offer, even if it’s what she wants, because that’s the one way they lose power. It’s tender scene, but what does it mean? Is he not going to sleep with her because she’s what’s being offered? Is this his way of saying, “It’s not you. It’s them.”

Forever alone.

Forever alone.

Stan meets with his boss, John-Boy Gaad, in “the vault.” Stan passes him a cassette. It’s not a special mix-tape Stan made for him, but even better. It’s Oleg confessing that Zinaida is working for the KGB. You’d think John-Boy would be all “Good job, Beeman,” but no. When he finds out Stan’s been involved with Oleg behind his back, he’s all like, “You’ve been bromancing some Russian dude without even telling me?”

Stan then refers to Oleg as “the asshole” like he was just using Oleg all this time and they weren’t best buddies for realz. Does this mean no spin-off? John-Boy is still all, “How can I ever trust you again?” even though he should be “Yay! We now have the science officer at the Rezidentura as an asset. We win the Cold War!” Instead, he asks Stan if he was the one what planted the bug, and then he tells Stan he’s going to talk to the director about firing him. He is also absolutely gleeful about NOT trading Zinaida for Nina because that’s how big a prick he is. This went even worse than Philip’s talk with Gabe, but in both cases the same principle holds: Bosses don’t like it when you go rogue. Especially in government work. Just ask that lady who was once a vice presidential candidate but is now too crazy to even work for FOX News.

What’s Philip doing in addition to the usual lying and killing while Elizabeth is away? He’s taking some “me” time to attend an EST “graduate sexual intimacy” seminar where a woman is telling the entire audience about how fantastic it was that after she confronted her husband about their lousy sex life, he went down on her. Everyone applauds because who doesn’t like a happy ending? Sandra is there too, and afterwards she says hello to Philip. Philip explains that Stan doesn’t know he came back to EST, and Sandra doesn’t want Stan to know she’s there either, because then he might think something isn’t going well with her boyfriend, which would give him false hope. So it looks like these two are now sharing a secret. How sexy is that?

Philip’s victim of the week is the FBI computer tech guy we would have forgotten about if he hadn’t been featured on “previously seen on The Americans.” Philip waits around his apartment, playing with this proto-hipster nerd’s plastic wind-up robot collection. Tech nerd doesn’t even notice anything strange when he gets home because he’s grooving to his music on his Walkman. So ahead of his time, so doomed! What apps or hardware might he have invented? But instead, Philip chloroforms him and then hangs him from a ceiling fan. He leaves a cassette neatly “hidden” in a drawer, the better to frame him for planting the bug, and pecks out a suicide note on the computer: “I’m sorry. I had no choice.” Then he looks at the hanging man with his sad puppy eyes, and it’s clear that sums up Philip’s feelings on the matter.

Elizabeth and Paige are sleeping in a hotel room when they get a late night or maybe early morning knock on the door. It’s some handlers bringing in Elizabeth’s very frail mother for a visit. In Soviet Union, you don’t visit ill mother, ill mother visits you—in West Berlin. Sure, they smuggled this dying old woman out of Russia and into West Germany. Did they stuff her in a diplomatic pouch? There follows a nice, but short visit written so that Keri Russell doesn’t have to actually say much in Russian. And the three generations all clasp hands for a group hug. It was all very special. So did this trip work to get Paige more in touch with her roots? In the immediate aftermath, Elizabeth finds her daughter sitting on a closed toilet with her hands clasped. She’s praying, which maybe wasn’t the reaction Elizabeth had in mind, but fortunately Mamushka is already being whisked home to die and won’t ever know that her granddaughter is not only a true American, but a religious fanatic—nor will she ever know that in a few years most Russians will return to the Orthodox Church. If Mamushka wasn’t already terminally ill in 1983, perestroika would have killed her a few years later.

John-Boy, who told Stan a while back “not to lose sleep” over his gut feeling that Zinaida was doing them dirty, is only too happy to be taking the credit when they bust her, which maybe means he gets to keep his job despite his complete incompetence. It’s almost as though he was a poster-boy for government inefficiency. Oh wait! He is! Turns out the deputy attorney general drops by headquarters and, instead of firing Stan, tells him that John-Boy is just a bureaucrat and President Reagan knows sometimes you’ve got to cut through the red tape and go around those guys—even the ones in Congress—in order to get shit done, like the way Reagan’s team was figuring out secret ways to go around the Boland Amendment (a commie plot) and get arms to the Contras. The good news for Stan is he’s not fired. The bad news is no can do on the Zinaida for Nina trade. They’re getting a CIA asset instead. Win some. Lose some.

"If you can't set me up with Nina, how 'bout some help with the wife? I'm not terribly picky about which ex I end up with."

“If you can’t set me up with Nina, how ’bout some help with the wife? I’m not terribly picky about which ex I end up with.”

It seems like maybe the Jennings have shared a little about the Centre’s career path for Paige with Paige. After Mamushka’s visit, Paige says she doesn’t know how Elizabeth and her mother could just say good-bye forever like that, and Elizabeth says with certainty, “You would never have to do anything like that.” Is this what she believes? Or is she lying to herself, or is she lying to Paige?

Back at EST, Philip hears some important messages, which strangely parallel the advice Anton is giving Nina. “Your body belongs to you.” “The feelings in your gut are more important than the shit in your head.” It turns out that what Philip is getting from EST—a look at living a more honest and authentic life—is very similar to what Paige gets out of church. After the session, Sandra approaches him again. She’s glowing like she just had great sex and wants to talk to him about how “intense” the session was. You can see why Henry has such a big crush on her. She confesses to sometimes feeling like no one knows who she really is, and asks if he ever feels that way. Then she gets carried away and suggests maybe she and Philip could “experiment” by just telling each other everything. Philip replies, “I don’t know that I can really do that,” leaving out the part about having to kill her if he does.

Elizabeth and Paige arrive back in the US of A, where Paige confesses to her mother that this lying to every single person in her life thing might be a little difficult for her. “It’s not who I am,” she says, because the episode is hitting us over the head with the theme of being true to ourselves.

Elizabeth replies, “Everybody lies.” Paige’s point is lost on her. Most people don’t lie about everything all the time.

Philip arrives home before Elizabeth and Paige do. The answering machine is blinking. It’s a message from Stan. Henry is hanging out with him, and they’re playing a football game. It will be so sad for Henry if his dad has to kill Mr. Beeman. Then again, maybe this is the Chuck Cunningham moment we’ve been waiting for and Henry will never come home or be spoken of ever again.

Elizabeth and Paige walk in. Philip hugs his daughter, “the world traveler,” but there’s a kind of tension until Philip explains that Henry isn’t home—meaning they can actually talk about the real trip. Elizabeth’s in no hurry to get Henry, whom she hasn’t seen in a week, and instead they all have something to eat. Paige bows out, explaining she needs to get some sleep. She’s lying. See how easy that was?

In their bedroom with the television on, Elizabeth says she thinks the trip was good for Paige. This from a woman whose life depends on her ability to know what others are thinking and feeling. Philip talks about work. “I took care of that thing for Martha today.” He plans on letting Martha hear about the suicide at the office, figuring she’ll come to him if she wants to know more. Elizabeth has the better judgment here, suggesting it might be a bit much for Martha—the guilt and all—and maybe he should explain it to her first.

Paige is in her room having a crisis and makes a phone call to Pastor Tim because every teenage girl has a spiritual advisor with whom she shares her deepest secrets.

"Say, you don't think anyone's tapping that phone, do you? Naaaaaaah."

“Gee, what are the odds someone is tapping our phone…”

Philip admits to Elizabeth that killing the tech guy hit him particularly hard because he had toys and gadgets—like Henry. Work can be so stressful sometimes. Elizabeth doesn’t quite get what he means; he goes on trying to put what he feels into words, but he’s so inexperienced at expressing his true feelings and she’s so unused to hearing them that no real communication happens. They both begin to pay attention to the television news. Reagan is talking to a group of Evangelical Christians about the nuclear freeze movement, and in his own folksy way he’s contrasting “us” and “them,” stating clearly that “they” are evil and “we” have God on our side. Elizabeth looks at the television and America’s acting president with an expression that says, “See, there it is! Everything we’ve been fighting for! Mamushka was right.” Philip just looks more shell-shocked than ever.

"Gip! Gip! Gip! Gip! Gip! Gip!"

“Gip! Gip! Gip! Gip! Gip! Gip!”

Meantime, Paige—crying and sounding not quite sane—tells Pastor Tim that her parents are fakes. They aren’t Americans. They’re Russians…

So how bad will the fallout of her true confession be? There’s going to be an entire season four at least, so probably less bad than it looks. What are the possibilities? Maybe Pastor Tim will drop by to tell Philip and Elizabeth that Paige is having a psychotic break. Or maybe Pastor Tim is also a spy and his brand of crunchy-lefty Christianity nothing more than a communist plot. But is he working for Russia or China? That could be very interesting.

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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    • Yeah, the Russians are 0 to 2 so far on this “next generation” thing, but at least she hasn’t slaughtered her entire family yet.

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  • Didn’t think of it in the cap, but if the Centre is listening in — and by this point with Philip going off the reservation and Paige knowing the truth without yet committing to the cause — they’d be stupid not to be — it’s possible that Paige got cut off right after she said her parents were fakes. Remember it was a one-sided conversation. The next thing that could happen would be Paige saying, “HELLO! Hello? Pastor Tim? Are you there?” And Claudia or Gabe might stop by for a chat and to let the Jenning’s know why their phone is down.

    • Start of next season, picking up right where we left off…PAIGE: They’re Russians! (long pause) Pastor Tim? Pastor Tim!?GABRIEL’S VOICE ON PHONE: Pastor Tim is no longer on the line… And it’s time we had a talk. Paige gets warned that she’s always, ALWAYS, being watched and anyone she tells will be quickly murdered and it’ll be her fault. Then the whole season is Paige’s descent into paranoia. PS: What happened with Kimmy??