An Honest Exchange
A Television Review by Akash Singh
NOTE: SPOILERS OCCUR!!!!!!!
“We’re in trouble.”
There’s an honesty in tonight’s episode of The Americans. It rests upon that meaningful exchange between Elizabeth and Phillip as they sit within their car, their silhouettes drowned out by all of the walls closing in around them. Those handful of words might truly be the most honest exchange in the history of this espionage narrative, rife with resignation, an air of despair. The Jennings’s are in trouble, there is little to no doubt about that. At various critical junctures throughout the series, Elizabeth and Phillip were able to shut off their emotional tracts to focus on the mission at hand. I’m reminded of when Annalise’s body was broken and stuffed into a suitcase or when Elizabeth was injured and she buried the immense pain under the importance of the tasks they had lying in wait before them. That ability to stifle emotions for the sake of the job at hand, however, became subsequently more complex when Paige entered the picture and now her parents find themselves standing at a fork in the road, not sure of which route to take, which route would espouse the least disastrous consequences. Elizabeth and Phillip had always thought to make the lives of their children better than the lives they were leading and in that desire was the underlying thoroughfare of the experience every immigrant family goes through. Part of wanting your children to lead better lives means for them to espouse their new home more, but there’s always this small part that hopes that they understand where they came from and respect the foundation from which they were born. When the Centre ordered the Jennings’s to follow their second-generation illegals plan, that aspect of their lives became suddenly far more opaque and simultaneously crystal clear. Here was a chance to show Paige where she truly came from, the legacy that was in her hands, the life she could be meant to lead. But it would come at the expense of another life she could have lived, a life that her parents in some way hoped that she would lead.
The breaking point that Elizabeth foresaw was when Paige would meet her grandmother under the curtain of the Iron Curtain. It had the opposite effect and that led to Elizabeth’s realization as she’s listening to the wiretaps. Keri Russell plays that moment with beautiful subtlety, her eyes growing wider as each one of Paige and Pastor Tim’s words to one another echoes throughout her mind. There’s no explosive confrontation here, no moment that echoed the exchange where Phillip denounced Paige’s Bible and exclaimed that their daughter respected Jesus but not them. Elizabeth knows that any conversation with Paige had to be handled with the utmost of care, lest they estrange their daughter any further than they already have. Instead, Elizabeth reveals to her that her mother had died. It’s a quiet admission but there’s an emotional heft there that Gabriel’s breaking of the news simply did not have. Paige rushes to embrace her mother, her guilt rushing to the forefront of her mind. Elizabeth plays her off quietly, waiting for the moment she hoped would arrive and arrive it did. It’s a clever, quiet calculation from Elizabeth’s approach in confronting Paige about her revelations to Pastor Tim, but there’s an emotional component here that I fear may get lost by some viewers in translation. Certainly the approach works on a tactical level for Paige’s guilt becomes overwhelming once again and she spills everything to her mother. Elizabeth displays her appropriate angers but she dials it down just right enough. But Elizabeth has often been seen by some viewers as being the cold, manipulative embodiment of the series, a characterization that I find to be fairly inaccurate and stems from a long line of sexism towards antiheroines (Skylar White, Carrie Mathison, etc.). The love she feels towards Paige as a mother is a key component of the route she picked and it is that very love that might lead to the complications Gabriel had warned against.
The theme of confession established in the opening moments of Glanders continues here and beyond that of Paige coming clean to her mother. Oleg discovers from Arkady that his brother died in Afghanistan, a death that echoes Nina’s imprisonment. They both could have left when they had the chance but he chose to fight with his comrades and Nina chose to smuggle a note to Anton’s son via her husband. It doesn’t work and when Vasili somberly asks why she did so, she notes without any trace of regret “That’s not who I was.” Stan confesses to Oleg that there would be no prisoner exchange for Nina because she wasn’t valuable enough to the American government. Oleg responds with a wry, sardonic smile that never truly reaches his eyes before walking off into the sunset. Gabriel notes to Elizabeth in the most callous way possible that her mother had died and for a moment Elizabeth is shaken before she regains her bearings. He confesses that her mother had sent a message of love to her and Paige, a confession Elizabeth doesn’t entirely buy but one the audience can note she truly wants to. Phillip admits to Elizabeth that he’s been going to E.S.T. because it helps him deal with things. He confesses that he fought back against a childhood bully and Elizabeth lauds him before he finishes the sentence with admitting that he fought back too hard and the bully died. He was ten. Elizabeth looks upon him with an understanding and warmth, surprisingly offering to go with him if he ever wants her to do so. The camera settles upon their silhouettes when Elizabeth confesses to him that her mother died, that the two were, as Phillip agrees, in trouble before the screen fades out to black. They’re together in one but that’s maybe all they truly have left.
Great/Not So Great Moments Not Mentioned Above:
+Phillip looks aged, wizened
+“Happiness is not exactly his strong suit.”
+“You want to kill him?” How exactly do they deal with Pastor Tim, who is everywhere in the episode named after him yet nowhere to be seen. That ephemeral shadow is very palpable to the Jennings,
+“We can get this miserable son of a bitch out of our lives.”
+The camera panning over Jesus on the cross before it pivots towards Elizabeth through the window
+Phillip’s kill being for nothing
+“I’m just a little nervous.”
+The Capitol building in the background of Oleg as he meets Stan and then departs from the car
+“So, we’re friends now?”
+“I really fought back.”
+Soviet style architecture in America
+“I don’t want it in my house.”
+“Elizabeth, your mother died.” I know Gabriel is not necessarily a hotpot of emotional warmth, but surely there are better ways of announcing this honestly
+I find Elizabeth becoming closer to Phillip and drifting away from Gabriel to be a fascinating turn of events. Just compare the camera framing of her sitting next to Gabriel on the bench to the final shot in the car that closes out the episode.
+Henry is back and he has a crush on his science teacher. Is this going somewhere?
+What is the significance of Elizabeth remembering her rapist in a dream about Paige finding a dead Pastor Tim?
Episode Title: Pastor Tim
Written by: Joel Fields & Joe Weisberg
Directed by: Chris Long
Image Courtesy: Slant Magazine