The Americans: Sharper Than a Serpent's Tooth

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This week on The Americans: Philip gets child-rearing advice from Pastor Tim, Zaneida goes to the movies, Henry makes a new friend, Paige takes a sick day, and Philip still avoids sexing up Kimmi

Some of us never have that frank discussion with our parents about why they are so weird. We either grow up hearing the stories – “We were so poor that….”My father used to …” – or we spend years’ worth of our future children’s college tuition talking to professionals and trying to untangle the web we believe holds us back. The healthiest amongst us accept it’s best not to open locked doors. As Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young put it, “Don’t you ever ask them why.”


Paige – child of the narcissistic 80s, the age of exploring not only your navel but your own genitalia with a speculum and mirror – has been encouraged to ask questions. But can she live with the answers?

This week’s episode features no burning ring of fire or drawn out stories from the soon-to-be deceased, but drama nevertheless. We start with Pastor Tim stopping by the travel agency on business – booking a trip for 20 to do good deeds in Kenya. He suggests Philip and Elizabeth might want to come. “It’ll be really light on the God part.”

So he's a Methodist now?

So he’s a Methodist now?

He’s also there to give parental advice, talking about how Paige is one of those kids that needs to be treated like an adult. “Do you have kids?” Philip asks. At least this time he’s asking a question and not beating the shit out of him.

Meantime, Stan is taking Zaneida to see the Americanski comedy film Tootsie. He has to escort her to the bathroom and asks if she’s enjoying the show. “He dresses up like woman. In Soviet Union this would never happen,” she says. Yes, because in Soviet Union the womens dress like sack of potatoes or just fill in your own Yakov Smirnoff joke here.

Stan checks out the bathroom in advance, but not afterward, leaving Zaneida a chance to leave a secret message under the sink because, as we all know, she is totally a double-agent.

Over at the Jennings, it’s suppertime and Henry is putting away his box of porno. Is that or isn’t that Mrs. Beeman in a bikini? Some mysteries are best left unsolved. There’s another one of those strange phone calls, and suddenly Philip has to go out. Paige notices.

Where is he off to? Some teenage party where he has to show up as Skivvy Jimmy. He might do better with the teens if he was wearing the Joey Ramone wig from two weeks ago.

What red-blooded 15-year-old girl wouldn't want a piece of this?

What red-blooded 15-year-old girl wouldn’t want a piece of this?

In Russian Gulag-lite, Anton is trying to work, and Nina is trying to work him. This time she does it with English, which he finds intriguing.

Skivvy Jimmy takes Kimmi home, but she’s drunk and gets sick so that’s how he avoids sexing her up this week. As she’s conveniently passed out, he’s able to exchange the tape from her dad’s briefcase, so mission accomplished. He notices an innocent-looking family photo in her dad’s den, and his expression of self-loathing is strong. At home he plays the tape for Elizabeth. Something is brewing involving a Pakistani intelligence agent coming to visit with the CIA. They’ll be staying at a hotel in Crystal City.

The next day Paige stops by the travel agency and doesn’t catch her parents up to no good. It’s all real enough, including requisition forms to keep her busy. “You’re trying to turn me into a travel agent?” she asks, when they give her some work to do. There’s a forced fake laugh from Elizabeth.


Over at the home front, Henry lets Stan in without even noticing who it was. He never looks up from his primitive electronic game. Stan could have been the neighborhood molester, and Henry wouldn’t have cared. Another example of how this show could never take place now because the Jennings would have been completely busted for free-ranging their kids. Then again, maybe Stan IS a molester – always showing up when the parents aren’t around and now he’s come with gifts – a seized illegal video of Tron.

We get it. It's the 80s. You don't have to try so hard to convince us.

We get it. It’s the 80s. You don’t have to try so hard to convince us.

So he’s encouraging Henry to break copyright laws? Isn’t that how it starts? What next? Seized cannabis because it’s okay to smoke it as long as he’s with an FBI agent? Elizabeth and Philip come home, but they have to go back out again because a travel agent’s work is never done. However, they offer to let Stan hang out and eat leftovers with their kids, which he declines.

Not that lonely. Yet.

Not that lonely. Yet.

Stan is home alone when Henry stops by to play a board game he mentioned. The house is a mess because he has to inventory stuff to decide what he wants in the divorce. When Henry asks if Matthew still lives there, the response is, “I don’t know.” Maybe he’ll let Henry move in and the Jennings won’t even notice.

Meantime, at the Crystal Hotel, Elizabeth, dressed as a sophisticated business lady, gets the manager in to see a stain on her bed. She uses it as an excuse to flirt and get his name and card. Is this really a spy thing, or is she just bored with Philip?

Philip goes to see Gabe where he’s told the Centre arranged to get his son an early release from Afghanistan, but the kid turned them down. Philip doesn’t want to force him. Also, Yussef will be coming to Gabe’s the next day. Doesn’t that seem risky?

When Elizabeth and Philip get home, Paige is sitting at the dining room table, and she confronts them. She wants “THE TRUTH.”

He won't ruin that phrase for everybody until 1992.

He won’t ruin that phrase for everybody until 1992.

What does she suspect, given that they have no relatives and there are always these wacky late night calls and all? Are they in the witness protection program? Or drug dealers? Or are they actually from Remulak by way of France?

Elizabeth, who you’d think would be dying to tell to her, can’t quite get the words out. For once, she turns to Philip for help. “We were born in a different country,” he explains. It’s Elizabeth who blurts out, “The Soviet Union.” They explain enough about what they do for Paige to get that they are “spies” but not enough for her to realize that they stuff people in suitcases, drop cars on regular joes, sex up teenagers, maintain additional fake marriages, and force sweet old ladies to suicide themselves. Elizabeth talks about serving the cause of “peace around the world.” So it’s kind of like her church.

"The talk" goes a little different in every family.

“The talk” goes a little different in every family.

Paige walks upstairs. Philip tells her she can’t tell anyone, as they will go to jail forever.

Wow. Kids. Can’t live with them. Can’t make them overdose on heart medication. The Jennings both have a sad. This is not how Elizabeth thought it would go. The next day, Elizabeth knocks on her daughter’s bedroom door. Paige’s eyes are open (in every sense). She wants to stay home, and it’s not like they’re in a position to pressure her to do anything. Elizabeth offers to stay with her or have “Dad” do so.


Cheer up, kid, your dad can totally score you fake IDs and killer weed.

Meantime, Henry is imitating Eddie Murphy’s Mr. Robinson’s Neighborhood from SNL because it’s a topical reference and because it shows us the kind of nerdy, slightly creepy non-entity Henry is growing into. If only he had a father figure, like Stan Beeman. Philip packs him off to school, and then comes up with a breakfast tray for Paige because he’s the nurturing parent. Elizabeth is behind him. Paige makes a strange request. “Speak Russian.” Elizabeth manages a phrase in what even a non-native non-speaker could recognize as THE WORST ACCENT EVER. Please use Kate Mulgrew’s dialect coach from Orange Is the New Black next time you try this, show. The Jennings go off to work because Paige wants to be alone and they are now taking orders from her. Later, she calls Pastor Tim, but doesn’t tell him anything other than that she talked to them. Okay, boys and girls, raise your hands if you suspect that Pastor Tim is also KGB because THEY ARE EVERYWHERE.

Over at the FBI, Teppit, who is still on the case, is having a conversation with Stan about his divorce. Teppit asks if he was “compromised.” “There was no other woman, no,” Stan lies. Teppit asks if there’s anyone he thinks would have placed the bug in Gaad’s office. There’s a pause in his “no” and his face gets that brief “something does not compute” look. Then Stan notices that Martha is missing. He asks the New Guy, who tells him, “She left early. Some family thing.” Looks like his spidey-sense is kicking in.

Three seasons too late...

Three seasons too late…

Oleg and Arkady are talking in his office about the need to get bomb photos (not photo bombs, which won’t be invented for a very long time) to the scientist – the thing Anton mentioned to Nina, so it looks like her information is getting to the right people. Tatyana interrupts their bro te bro with some news for Arkady only. It’s about “Willow,” their code name for Zaneida. Someone approached, threatening her, and she got a message out about it. But Arkady figures the whole thing is so compartmentalized that whoever it was didn’t know she was a plant. Given that the old timey Soviet Union was pretty inefficient at the spy stuff, that’s the most realistic idea ever on this show. He’s going to contact the Centre and get right on this. I wonder how long it’ll be before Oleg is back in the USSR?

1968, for the record (PUN!)

1968, for the record (PUN!)

Stan drops by for dinner. Paige stares at him long enough for him to notice – and for Philip to make a lame excuse (while sharpening a knife) about how “observant” she’s gotten since the baptism. Does she think Stan’s a spy too? Or maybe someone she can talk to?

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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