Elizabeth and Philip really aren’t the best at communicating with each other on The Americans. Sure they make an excellent spy team with a shorthand that’s about more than words and we’ve seen how in sync they are when out in the field. At home they also have an outward appearance of harmony as a couple who managed to work through their differences and hit the rare reconciliation mark rather than divorce which Stan is clearly headed towards. Real and fake intersect at every turn; a fake relationship produced a real family followed by falling in actual love years after getting together. It is this unique aspect blurring professional and personal which makes the marriage at the heart of The Americans so utterly mesmerizing; seeing how these emotionally stunted people trying to navigate their relationship while also dealing with matters of grave national importance.
Last season we watched as Philip’s soul was eroded away by his rather large kill count (this season he is still on zero to Elizabeth’s one) and he is being tested in another way this year; he might not have killed anyone yet but he is still doing some very bad things to other people all in the name of the Motherland. Gabriel voices his concerns to Philip in a way that would suggest paternal instinct and yet it is hard to fully trust him as his methods read more manipulative than caring.
Gabriel tells Philip he is worried about the amount he is juggling with Martha, Paige and Kimberly offering up compliments about how he is “the best.” Philip doesn’t seem all that swayed by these attempts simply saying that he isn’t confused about what he is undertaking. Time for another paternal tactic and Gabriel puts a supportive arm around him while also reiterating how important this operation is and how “conscience can be dangerous.” Effectively he is telling Philip to do whatever needs to be done and if that means sleeping with a 15 year-old so be it.
Ah yes the hormonal teenage girl problem and in “Salang Pass” Philip tries to navigate this unsavory aspect of the mission with a whole lot of deflecting and some very strong pot. His interactions with Kimberly are all flirty on her end whereas his behavior reads as everything we see with his own children from the food fight to scooping a half passed out Kimberly and taking her to bed. It is only when she wakes up from her weed induced slumber and smooches him that it switches; thankfully Philip is saved by the sound Kimberly’s parents getting home and his exit would have only been more ridiculous if he had to shimmy down a drainpipe.
Returning home and trying to sneak in only adds to how teen this whole situation is, but Elizabeth has waited up for her husband to return from this dalliance. In his semi-stoned state they have one of the most honest conversations we have witnessed between the pair and it echoes – right down to the close face to face embrace – my favorite scene from last season when they talked about icicles back home. This chat is on the bleak end of the scale as Philip discusses the seduction training he underwent and in the brief flashbacks we don’t see Philip’s face just a stream of different people he had to sleep varying in age (both men and women) and how they were told to “make it real to ourselves.” Looking exhausted and at his wits end Philip lays down next to his wife and asks if he should sleep with Kimberly – not your standard bedtime discussion – and he reiterates this by asking her honest opinion and her response is probably not that helpful to Philip’s predicament because she doesn’t know if he should.
Feeling bad about the whole situation is just one aspect, another is the moral line he would be crossing and how his own daughter is the same age as Kimberly; Kimberly’s sad garden story and how little her parents are around mirrors the situation in the Jennings home and that’s got to hit a nerve along with the ick factor. In part Elizabeth’s answer is informed by this moral quandary and there is also an element of jealousy as she shut down her own potential hookup with Hans a couple of weeks ago on account of Philip. But then the importance of the mission looms and as Philip now has access to Kimberly’s CIA dad’s briefcase and jacket it is not an opportunity they can pass up as the war in Afghanistan continues to go horribly for the Russians (the title of the episode is named after this tragic event which is on the radio when Elizabeth remarks that Philip looks worried).
Back to the conversation about making it real and shifting away from the predicament Philip faces as Elizabeth asks “Do you have to make it real with me?” The expected ‘never’ doesn’t come from Philip’s lips instead he answers with a vague “Sometimes. Not now.” It is the first part of that sentence which comes loaded with questions; is that sometimes from the way it used to be before they fell in love? Or is it more recent because of all the Paige angst which is going? The lack of a definitive answer outside of the here and now suggests there are still some trust issues and this makes sense considering who they are and what they do.
Take earlier in the episode as they go from talking about Martha wanting to foster a kid to remembering their own children being small and falling over all the time – “Remember Henry?” – with such fondness. It’s also a point of friendly contention as Philip recalls Paige being graceful whereas Elizabeth’s focus is on the summer of grazed knees. It’s something really small and yet the time the time they are referring to was long before the mostly loving relationship we see now. And with the mention of Paige the wall goes up and Elizabeth makes her excuses to go make dinner.
Elizabeth is queen of the conversation switch as demonstrated by their bathroom chat where she gets pissed at Philip for seemingly being on board with the whole baptism thing because of the dress shopping trip (which is a very sweet father/daughter moment and thankfully unlike the pilot it doesn’t end with some skeeze checking her out). Philip gets his own zing in with “you’re the one who has been singing with the choir.” The convo switch comes in with a dig and a half as Elizabeth refers to Kimberly as “your girl” raising the tension up another notch by equating Kimberly’s ignorance to her father’s job as being the same as their situation.
Juggling various sources and missions is not just limited to Philip as Elizabeth is working hard on her new BFF Lisa. The funny/tragic thing about the whole Lisa friendship is Elizabeth is actively helping her, but it is all a means to an end and a way to get vital information. She is helping Lisa move on with her life and if Lisa had stayed with her husband she might have got pulled down with him, now thanks to Elizabeth she is sober and free from a toxic relationship. To Lisa, Michelle is her lucky charm and if only she knew why Michelle was doing this. As Michelle, Elizabeth becomes warm, fun and compassionate; words you might not use to describe Elizabeth and it is refreshing to see her laugh like this even if it isn’t real.
Elsewhere Stan enlists Oleg’s help in his quest to prove Zinaida is not as she seems and tries to appeal to his sense of love for Nina to dig a little deeper. Oleg comes up with nothing and his attempt was a tad lackluster using alcohol and a suggestion of placing a double agent in the form of a defector. A defector sends out a signal of weakness and it is still unclear whether Stan is grappling for something that isn’t there in the same way he has been doing with his relationship with Sandra. He seems to at least be moving on from that as Toni from EST upped her game by ringing the FBI to ask him out and that is one way to show interest in someone. Stan spends dinner and on another occasion getting beers with Philip and despite their deep down fundamental ideological differences this is a friendship that is pretty real. If only Stan knew who he was really having a beer with. Stan talks about his estranged father/son relationship as there’s “nothing like a teenage boy.” All Philip must be thinking is try a teen girl; the one he is trying to protect and the one he is trying to work.
The same problems still persist and while it doesn’t feel like Philip and Elizabeth have made all that much progress in terms of any of these, this final conversation is a big step and maybe when they need to clear the air they should get a little stoned as it certainly has a positive influence on how they communicate. It might not be the best spy tool.
Shot of the Week
This is a reverse of the post fight standoff from last week and while the focus is on Philip in the foreground, the manner in which Elizabeth stands attentively in the background is important.
Bonus Shot of the Week
Another shot which relates to something from last week with another props department shout out and as we’re spending a lot more time in their bedroom/bathroom this season certain details pop out like this light bulb mirror. Excellent pissed off face from Matthew Rhys in the midst of another argument with Elizabeth.
Disguise of the Week
Elizabeth does some recon early in the episode with a lab as her companion and this look is not all that dissimilar to how she usually appears, albeit (sorry Henry had to use it somewhere) a little more frumpy. It is the classic blending in before you later murder someone disguise.
Outfit I Would Wear in 2015
Putting the Coach bag blatantly on show and flashing about her new designer duds is one way Elizabeth subtly works Lisa and I think she will soon be getting her all the information she is after. Gorgeous green color top too.