It is hard to separate the personal from the professional on The Americans when Elizabeth and Philip’s family life is so intrinsically linked to their roles as KGB officers. Their marriage and children are a by-product of the work they do and season 2 ended with a bombshell; the KGB now wants to recruit their daughter Paige into the family business and not of the travel agency kind.
When we first met Philip and Elizabeth their ideological differences were quickly established as Philip revealed he would choose their family over country. Since then the pair have broken up and come back together with their union turning from more than just work into something far deeper. Falling in love wasn’t part of the plan, but it’s hard not to forge some kind of emotional bond over a period of time this substantial. So how do you stay objective when your child could end up becoming part this dark and murky world?
Honesty is also a huge topic in “EST Men” from the meeting Philip and Stan attend to Annelise’s decision to spill the truth to Yousaf with tragic consequences. The lies that are told and whether someone deserves to know the truth weaves its way through The Americans. Paige is of course a focus of this debate as Philip so vehemently stated at the end of “Echo” that it would break her if she knew the truth. He talks of her age and how she is so close to going off to college and living a life of her own. We actually see very little of Paige in this episode and yet the Paige question simmers under the surface throughout. The church activity shows Elizabeth’s bonding attempts as well as observing Paige’s slight flirtation; Elizabeth is a lot better at fake smiling her way through it but she’s had a lot of practice. This has been a regular mother/daughter activity and much to Philip’s dismay he thinks Elizabeth is using this opportunity to assess her.
In part I think he is probably right because while it is a hard life, Elizabeth sees the sacrifices they make as means to an end to protect the Motherland. I also think Elizabeth wants a close relationship with her daughter even if she isn’t sure how to engage in this kind of behavior. The flashback we see at the start of the episode – and I think it is important to note that Elizabeth is absent in the family photo the camera focuses in on – shows Elizabeth taking a different approach to Paige’s swimming fears going for the sink or swim approach. There’s no mollycoddling here and I wonder if Paige has fond memories of that time her mom taught her how to swim. Attempts to bond have always been rather fumbling such as the bra shopping question in the pilot and Elizabeth can come across as stiff and awkward when dealing with real relationships of this nature. She is so good at fake forging a connection but when it comes to letting her guard down and experiencing actual emotions it is difficult for her.
This brings me to her relationship with her own mother and considering how guarded Elizabeth is we actually know a whole lot more about her pre-Elizabeth life than we do about Philip’s. This focus makes sense considering what is going on with Paige right now and Elizabeth’s joy at receiving a tape from home is short lived when she finds out her mother is dying and this time she isn’t around to nurse her back to health. We know it was just Elizabeth and her mother from an early age and it is likely this is playing a role in how she is dealing with this current Paige situation; even if she isn’t doing it on a conscious level coming from a single parent home is probably impacting how she views her role as a mother. Philip thinks she has been spewing lies since they found out what the KGB had in store with the second generation program and she probably has been using this time to assess Paige, but I do think she does want to be close to her child.
In a way it mirrors the argument Stan has with Sandra after his attempts to woo her back by going to an EST meeting. Sandra can see straight through his weak praise for his experience. She points out how he has been yessing her for years to avoid conflict and this sounds like Elizabeth has been doing the same to Philip up to this point with Paige. When it comes to different ideologies at least Philip and Elizabeth are pretty much on the same page (except for when it comes to the actual Paige) and I can’t see a reconciliation between Stan and Sandra as they are so distant from each other. More Philip and Stan hangouts as a result of this would be most welcome.
Several new characters are introduced with the most significant being Frank Langella’s Gabriel as their new handler and unlike Claudia or Kate someone who they know and are fond of. Their history is evident from the moment they step through the door and from the way he playfully shoves Philip in the face it is clear they are very much like family. This whole setup plays like catching up with a relative from the quips to asking about kids. I fear that Henry loses points with Gabriel as he is apparently now more interested in baseball than hockey. Henry isn’t who Gabriel wants to talk about and what goes from sharing a traditional meal and pleasantries turns contentious when Paige’s recruitment is raised. Matthew Rhys delivers his best Philip pissed off face (there are several variations of this) which boils over into full contempt when they return to their car. Elizabeth claims she is just saying what they need to hear, but she sells it far too easily to Gabriel as it is something she is deeply considering.
Food plays an important part later on as when they are in a post-fight funk Elizabeth reaches out with the brownie apology that doesn’t win Philip over and then she opens up by telling him about her mother. This doesn’t automatically solve their bigger parenting differences and yet the hand hold shows all is not broken; they are still united on certain fronts.
Feelings have a way of messing things up; Stan is still pining for Nina who has been found guilty of espionage and treason. Oleg is also at a loss without Nina and he’s getting a little too cocky about his negative feelings about the war in Afghanistan and Arkady warns him not to speak so freely around those they don’t know well. Arkady also asks if Oleg has tried to use his father’s connections to help Nina to which Oleg replies that he begged, but his father isn’t into using his position for personal reasons. All hope at this point seems lost for Nina and I wonder what Oleg hopes to achieve by spying on Stan; to get some intel that might save her?
Annelise finds out the hard way that professing love when you have been playing someone might not have the best conclusion as Yousaf reacts with violent and deadly force when she reveals she has been passing on his bedroom chatter. Philip refers to this situation as ‘awful’ and while he has been intimate with her on countless occasions (including in this episode which prompted Annelise to mention her feelings of love towards Yousaf) she is ultimately a means to an end. Philip drafted in Annelise so Elizabeth wouldn’t have to do it and no matter how Philip feels about the women he uses for information he will always choose Elizabeth first. Martha also makes an appearance this week learning how to shoot with Stan and working her way through the Kama Sutra with Clark. It is a reminder of everything Philip is juggling and that as with Annelise there is potential for it to go wrong at any time. In fact they are both balancing so much that it is going to get increasingly hard for them to keep on top of everything, let alone being parents to their children.
And then comes the big news that is going to have an impact on the Cold War as the Russians are floundering in Afghanistan and their leader Leonid Brezhnev has just died. This is shown to us not through Arkady or Philip and Elizabeth finding out, but with Paige flicking through the channels and not sticking around to watch anything more about this news story. At this point it means absolutely nothing to her. Paige and Henry are surprisingly good at sharing the TV and I think this is something their parents will be very pleased to see.
Stunning Shot of the Week
There are a couple of new things I want to add to these reviews and as this is one of the most visually exquisite shows on TV I want to highlight specific moments like the one above. Framing Elizabeth in the doorway emphasizes the distance that has been growing between the pair before they circle back together as a result of the news she shares about her mother. An amazing shot from director Dan Sackheim.
Disguise of the Week
The blonde Velma wig returns! And even though Elizabeth ended up with a very close call I did enjoy her attempts to distance herself from the person she looked like in the bar by turning her coat inside out and removing her glasses.* Some quick thinking allowed Elizabeth to end up the better off even with a super bruised face, shoulder and busted tooth. Agent Gad can’t quite say the same.
*A trick similar to when my friend couldn’t get into a bar after we got ID’d (She didn’t have ID and I did), which involved switching coats adding glasses and tying hair back. Yes it worked.
Outfit I Would Wear in 2015
I have an ongoing 70s style obsession and as this is the early 80s the previous decade is still playing a big part with the style we see on screen. I sadly couldn’t get a better shot of this ‘family’ dinner attire, but Elizabeth’s calf length skirt and blue wool tee (of which I currently have a very similar looking grey one) paired with boots (her favorite shoes) is simple and super stylish. While this isn’t a fantastic view of the outfit, it is another beautifully framed shot. I am also glad to see Elizabeth’s turtleneck game has started strong this season.