Down the River
A Television Review by Akash Singh
NOTE: SPOILERS OCCUR!!!!!!!
To truly find one’s own self can be a fairly difficult thing to do and it is arguably amongst the most challenging task set before a human being. It involves a great deal of introspection, which can be whittled down to three key questions an individual needs to answer for the process to be considered successful. One, have you confronted your past? Two, has confronting your past allowed you to understand your present? Three, now do you have the ability to redefine your future? Those deep questions, however, rarely just arrive out of the blue. Certain pivot points exist in one’s life, critical junctures that give birth to or at the very least shed lights on the desire to be born again as someone new. For Paige, that pivot point is when she found Christianity, something that for her has shown her a new way of life that extends beyond the simple, unfulfilling existence she felt she had led for so long. For Elizabeth, it was the KGB coming to her mother and taking her away to serve the motherland that would give her at least a chance to serve the greater good and at small level make up for her father’s desertion in the war. For Tori, that pivot point where she realized that she needed to answer those questions was EST. But while these pivot points can lead to a greater awareness of self, they can often simultaneously complicate one’s existence quite a bit and in a show like The Americans where the characters are already wearing multiple facades, the guarantee of an enlightened self-awareness leading to a golden path of sorts dims even further.
Paige’s character from that vantage point is absolutely fascinating. She gets a spiritual rebirth of her own at the beautifully shot baptism sequence, an act which Pastor Tim (without a trace of irony, I might add) notes as her most public act of defiance. The outburst of religion, or as Elizabeth calls it, “the opiate of the masses” from Paige’s point of view is less a reading of Karl Marx’s view of religion than it is a profoundly new vantage point from which to look at the world and become an activist for those who are oppressed. The scenes between Elizabeth and Paige in that light are extremely intriguing. The first major scene between the two in this episode is where Paige catches Elizabeth smoking a cigarette while she’s trying to hide it. Paige and Henry are both well-aware that Elizabeth smokes and her eloquence catches Elizabeth quietly off guard. Questions of religion arise as Paige quietly questions whether her own mother had ever thought to pray (the answer to which is, of course, no). The second scene that the episode ends on is perhaps the most significant of the hour. Elizabeth takes Paige to the neighborhood where Gregory used to live. She described all the civil rights activism that they were involved in, trying to break the new Paige’s perception that her parents really only cared about their work and home and little else. Elizabeth chooses her words extremely carefully, with the memory of last season entrenched firmly in her mind. “I am more like you than you think,” she says quietly and the curtains close amidst a chilling air.
Born Again is one of the most astoundingly uncomfortable episodes of television I have ever seen, which in and of itself is saying something as I also avidly watch Game of Thrones and Homeland. The primary object of that extreme discomfort unsurprisingly lies in the scenes between Phillip and Kimberly. As expected, Kimberly goes the sexual route but James quietly puts the towel back over her. As one would expect from a fifteen-year-old girl, Kimberly is immediately worried that she has done something wrong and that is the reason why James is rebuffing her sexual advances. On the spot, he invents an excuse that digs into an extremely secretive part of his past. Gabriel informs him earlier in a thinly veiled blackmail that Irene has been caught in Brazil and the son she had from Phillip was now in Afghanistan. He twists that truth slightly and tells Kimberly that when he was seventeen, he had a child and he was never the parent that he needed. “I’m messed up,” he says in what might be the best combination of meta statement and understatement in the show’s history. But he simply doesn’t stop there. James digs into his own private life once more, using the faith Paige had found and telling Kimberly that he had started to find God. They pray together and for now at least Phillip has kept sleeping with Kimberly at bay, but the blurring of the lines between James and Phillip have become more dangerously muddled than ever before. Even Elizabeth doesn’t know about this son with Irene, after all.
Nina’s pivot points have been less about her making a choice for her own self than they have been about others essentially throwing her onto different paths for their benefit. She knows this duly, noting to Evi how she had two lovers in America. One was a capitalist and one was a communist. But in the end, their love for their nations trumped their love for her. Even within the Soviet prison, the choice she is presented with are more in line with Hobson’s choices than anything else. In essence, she’s damned if she does and damned if she doesn’t Betraying Evi was a cold, brutal calculation but it’s truly hard to fault her for it. In Nina’s mind, the truth that Evi did deliver a package for her boyfriend before she was to meet up with him in Brussels was going to be extracted by the Soviets one way or another. If she refused to get the confession for them, she was even more doomed than she already is. Evi’s fate was sealed and Nina was going to try and forge a survival out of it. But there nevertheless is little doubt that Evi screaming “What did you do, Nina?! What did you do?!” as she tries to latch onto her in a desperate final move while Soviet guards are dragging her away is one of the most chilling sequences this show has ever done. There were thunderous shivers down my spine as the camera reverberates back towards an expressionless Nina, now more alone than ever before.
Great Moments Not Mentioned Above:
+The Hans/apartheid storyline is really quite intriguing. I’m excited to see where that goes.
+“Paige is always on the front line.”
+Phillip telling Paige to always stand up for what she believes in, no matter what anyone else says to her
+Henry on EST: “Sounds weird.”; Stan: “You know what, it kinda is.”
+“You sill believe in love, after all this?”; “What else is there?”
+Elizabeth worried about Phillip being with Kimberly
+“I’m just impressed with you.”
+“Paige, I will support you, no matter what.”
+“Give me your earrings, now.”
+“You’re a good kisser.”
+Elizabeth and Phillip getting high together was utterly fantastic
+“She’s living in a fantasy world.”
+“Jesus really came through for me tonight.”
+Gabriel noting that it’s becoming difficult for the Mujahadeen to survive without American assistance
+“Phillip is losing faith in me.”
+“Would you pray with me right now?”
+“I am looking at you right now.”
+“We were never caught.”
+“We fought in other ways.”
Title: Born Again
Written By: Tracey Scott Wilson
Directed By: Kevin Dowling
Image Courtesy: Hitfix