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Teen Girls Rule the World on The Americans (They Just Don’t Know It)

15 Apr

Paige Jennings is having one hell of a year on The Americans (and still two episodes to go) and there is something impressive about the importance of teenage girls to the central plot and balance of this season. The Paige Problem has been at the heart of pretty much every argument between Philip and Elizabeth ever since they were informed of the KGB’s second generation program plans. While Paige has been relatively protected up until now there is another fifteen year-old who has been less fortunate at falling prey to those targeting her father.

The Americans 3.11 PaigeThere are plenty of parallels between Paige and Kimmy particularly when it comes to absentee parents; however Kimmy has been searching for connections from a more traditional teen source with booze and boys. Or rather weed and a dude pushing 40. Exploiting weakness is one way to make an asset more complicit and Philip has tapped into Kimmy’s desire for someone to be close to and in this case her hormones are driving the situation. Paige has gone in a more spiritual direction and both are essentially dealing with identity. Fifteen was a long time ago for me now, but that feeling of not knowing who you are or whether what you are feeling is normal is hard to wipe clean from your memory. That’s the kind of shit that might stay buried until you are given a prompt – in my case it happens when watching/writing about teen shows (see My So-Called Life/Freaks and Geeks) and these pit of your stomach awful feelings can be quick to resurface.

I am drawn to teen TV/movies and not just the ones which prompt nostalgia (related – I saw The Duff yesterday and Mae Whitman is a treasure). Like pretty much everyone I had my fair share of soul crushing teen moments where I longed to be in my twenties and everything would be far less complicated and my skin would be great (nope and nope). Teen girls getting their moment to shine in adult drama doesn’t always play out well and can often be a source of contention – I think Morgan Saylor was excellent on Homeland but Dana’s storylines did not hold up to Saylor’s performance – however when they do play a pivotal role that goes beyond just being an obstacle for the main characters it is something I find incredibly compelling; there is something so raw and open about this period in your life.

This season of The Americans has been brutal on a physical level – suitcase, dentistry, necklacing – but it is the emotional weight which has left me drained and invigorated after each episode. The story truly sings when the focus is on the relationships at the heart of it all; Philip’s small nodding gesture which sets in motion the huge revelation in episode 10 is indicative of this as a huge emotional weight is lifted and comes crashing down all at once. The spy stuff is a big draw, but the dynamics between these characters going far beyond the wigs is why The Americans is so compelling.

The Americans KimmyNeither Paige nor Kimmy are aware of how significant they are in the grand scheme in the fight between the Soviet Union and America. It sounds somewhat ridiculous when typing it out like that, but without Philip’s semi-seduction of Kimmy they would be without good access to the main operation they have been running this season with the CIA Afghan group. With Paige her relevance comes on both a macro and micro level; we know how the Cold War ends but at this point this is still over six years away for these characters and if Paige were to get on board she could access the CIA in a way Philip and Elizabeth never could. On the smaller scale Philip and Elizabeth have been experiencing disagreements aplenty regarding the fate of their daughter and even though they ended up telling her together it isn’t necessarily a quick fix for their relationship.

One teen is easier to control at the moment and this makes Kimmy’s story all the sadder for how she is being manipulated. Philip’s not a complete shit and there is a paternal quality to how he treats her with a side order of frowny face because of how much she wants to sleep with him. This storyline is far from over and it is hard to seeing it getting resolved in a way which will benefit Kimmy; the better for her would be to have her heart broken with plenty of tales to tell when she is older of the guy she listened to music with who ended up being an asshole with issues. Alternatively this story could end with far more than her heart getting trampled on and while Paige is the one who knows the truth about who her parents are, I fear if Kimmy is to find anything out about who Philip really is she will end up paying a grave price. That’s far more than the typical identity issues your average teenager might experience.

Paige’s power has shifted from in the dark and passive to a more dangerous and unpredictable place. She has questions aplenty and picking a time to ask them is not her strong suit. Being pissed off at your parents is pretty standard teen behavior and in this case Paige has earned all snark privileges. While it is easy to write off her sniping as bratty her entire foundation has been destroyed; figuring out who the fuck you are is hard enough without the extra bonus of everything about your family being a giant lie.

Rebellion for Paige has so far included the odd lie here and there coupled with her religious journey. What if this moment leads to Paige rebelling in a much more familiar manner? There are only two more episodes to go and plenty of ways for her to add to her parents already stacked roster of shit they have to deal with. Something as simple as Paige going out and getting wasted is going to compound things or she could start poking around the real family business. Whatever they have planned for these final episodes it is not a stretch to say this season of The Americans has been exceptional and devastating television with the two teen girl characters playing a big part in this. Special mention to both Holly Taylor and Julia Garner for their performances which cut straight to my soul and have me longing for happy endings for these characters however unlikely that is. What sets this apart from other drama shows with a teenage girl character of this kind is they feel incredibly relevant to the story as a whole; they are not here to remind us solely to remind us the leads have children or as another obstacle for them to overcome (see 24Homeland).

Cliches are avoided and Kimmy could have easily come across as the sad, whiny, horny girl with daddy issues (see The Fall) instead all of these aspects are part of who she is, but those are not the only things that define her. Kimmy is the parallel to Paige and the writing/performance is just as strong for each character. Even Henry avoids total second child/teen boy insignificance as others have (waves at Chris from Homeland) thanks to his interactions with Stan and his accidental awkward timing when it comes to doing impressions. Henry hasn’t been the cause of every argument ever between his parents, but they still have found time to give him a personality.

Oh and Paige if you need a therapist I have a really great idea for a spinoff/crossover thanks to Betty’s decision to go study psychology on Mad Men; after all she knows a lot about living with someone who hid their true identity for years. TV world make this happen.

 

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10 Responses to “Teen Girls Rule the World on The Americans (They Just Don’t Know It)”

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. The Americans 3.12 “I Am Abassin Zadran” Review: All in the Family | TV Ate My Wardrobe - April 16, 2015

    […] girls and specifically Paige and Kimmy are at the heart of yesterday’s Americans post and one matter discussed was how Paige might act out. Instead of going for the traditional act of […]

  2. Behind the Insta-Scenes: Photos from the Set | TV Ate My Wardrobe - April 22, 2015

    […] does Julia Garner, although I can’t help but get a little nervous at the sight of Garner and if Kimmy will make an appearance on tonight’s season finale of The […]

  3. Masters of Sex 3.01 “Parliament of Owls” Costume Design Recap | TV Ate My Wardrobe - July 13, 2015

    […] First thing to take note of is the time jump as season 2 ended in early 1961 and the very useful title card at the start of “Parliament of Owls” tells us it is now 1965. This means bigger hair, more pants and patterns. It isn’t a completely different change style wise with Libby still sticking to pastels and Virginia’s bow and button details remain intact (if not a little bigger in places) and the most notable difference is Virginia’s children who are now fully fledged teenagers (and different actors). The teens are used in this opening episode as a way to heighten conflict and so far they have proved to be pesky to both the adults and the audience. Think more Kim Bauer than Paige Jennings. […]

  4. Masters of Sex 3.03 “The Excitement of Release” Review: To Feel Wanted | TV Ate My Wardrobe - July 27, 2015

    […] have been detrimental to other shows. I worried that Tessa Johnson would be more Kim Bauer than Paige Jennings, but this week showed just how vital Tessa is in relation to the work her mother has been doing and […]

  5. Behind the Insta-Scenes: Photos from the Set | TV Ate My Wardrobe - October 7, 2015

    […] Kimmy lost her corkscrew curls and has been busy walking the runway at the Balenciaga Paris Fashion Week […]

  6. TV to be Thankful For: A Pre-End of Year List (of Sorts) | TV Ate My Wardrobe - November 26, 2015

    […] Teen girls on The Americans avoiding the usual annoying teen trap many other dramas fall foul of. […]

  7. Behind the Insta-Scenes: Photos from the Set | TV Ate My Wardrobe - December 2, 2015

    […] secrets in her hair. From the look on her face in this shot it doesn’t look like things are getting any easier for Paige Jennings in season […]

  8. Best of TV Costuming 2015: Removing Disguisies and Revealing the Truth on The Americans | TV Ate My Wardrobe - December 11, 2015

    […] nationality in the finale and why for me she is exempt from the scorn that is normally poured over teen characters who meddle in dramas such as Homeland and Masters of […]

  9. Out of the Box: Look of the Week | TV Ate My Wardrobe - February 19, 2016

    […] No word if she will be back for season 4 of The Americans but no doubt if she is then expect plenty of heartbreak.More leather and Alicia Vikander’s BAFTA Louis Vuitton frock is a weighty 35 lbs. The last […]

  10. The Americans 5.13 “The Soviet Division” Review: It’s Us | TV Ate My Wardrobe - May 31, 2017

    […] threads have been important for some time now and back toward the end of season 3 I wrote about how teen girls rule the world on The Americans (they just don’t know it), but this has now been extended to several boy […]

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