The Americans Recap: Age Is Just a Number

By
Martha and Clark. Photo: FX
The Americans
Episode Title
Salang Pass
Season
3
Episode
5
Editor’s Rating
3/5

Oleg goes for a run in the park, where he finds Stan waiting for him. Running is a great sport to take up if you want to have clandestine meetings, according to television. Stan thinks the defector Zinaida isn't really a defector, and if Oleg can give him proof, the Americans can trade her for Nina. Oleg, to his credit, thinks this sounds like a trap so obvious it might as well have been engineered by a cartoon coyote; still, he can't totally resist the delicious birdseed of saving Nina, so he decides to try.

After drinking some whiskey with the inscrutable new agent Tatiana — who makes a backhanded compliment about how much he's enjoying his American posting — Oleg turns the conversation to the defector and suggests that, hey, wouldn't it be a great idea if they trained one of their agents to defect? She gets a look in her eye, one that could be either interest or suspicion, as though maybe this Oleg isn't quite the Westernized fool he seems to be. She tells him to write a memo but doesn't give up the goods on Zinaida — if, indeed, they exist. 

Meanwhile, Elizabeth (a.k.a. Michelle) meets up again with Lisa, the AA sponsor/Northrup employee who can't seem to leave her alcoholic husband. Elizabeth makes a very generous offer: Her mother has just moved into a nursing home, and she'd love to have Lisa stay in the house with her kids, to get back on her feet away from Maurice. "You can't live like this, Lisa. Let me help you out. I'd like to." It's a hugely attractive offer, because Lisa is in a very deep hole. People in very deep holes are very attractive to people like the Jennings; they look like an opening. You can walk right through them.

After moving in (and realizing that Maurice suuuucks), Lisa puts in for a transfer to a Northrup plant that's much closer to the new house. I'm guessing this is the plant Elizabeth cares about, because after she makes a late-night visit to surreptitiously crush a man under a car, a position miraculously opens up! As they celebrate with expensive cheese, Elizabeth lays down the groundwork for the next step of her plan: talking about the handsome man who keeps taking her out and paying her generously to answer questions about her job. They laugh about sex a bit, but then Lisa looks at her, more seriously: "I'm not kidding. You be careful."

Remember Yusef, the ISI guy who murdered his girlfriend and turned her into a human Rubix Cube? Well, he just wants to move on with his life, but Philip can't let him do that because of world peace or something. Instead, he wants Yusef to go back to Pakistan and "make peace" with the fundamentalists in ISI, who are growing increasingly radical. Yusef says his colonel just added a new question to their assessments: "How religious are you?" Yusef said five, which was already an exaggeration, but most of the other division heads said ten. "Next time, say ten, Yusef," advises Philip. In fundamentalism, the answer is always ten. Hell, it's 11. 

It's hard to say what Paige would answer on the great godly scale of devotion. She's not a ten yet, but the needle is high enough to make Elizabeth squirm. At a Jennings family dinner guest-starring Stan, Paige says she wants to buy a new dress for her baptism. Elizabeth is ready to shut her down until Philip jumps in, saying he's happy to drive her. Cue eye-daggers from Elizabeth. Later, at the dress store, Philip finds a lacy white dress that looks perfect — at least until Paige looks at the price tag. He tells her not to worry, that he'll buy it, because he's definitely the cool dad who loves her.

When Elizabeth sees the dress, she immediately gets shitty with Philip, but he points out that he was "just" taking her dress shopping to spend time with her, in the same way that Elizabeth was "just" going to church with her. It's completely about the love they have for their daughter and not about a deeper ideological agenda, okay? Which is both true and not true. The love of parents usually comes encoded in the virus of their values. Elizabeth points out that Kimberly doesn't know the truth about her father, and look how she ended up. This is not an analogy that Philip enjoys, since it yet again draws parallels between the teenage girl he's trying to seduce and the daughter he's trying to get closer to.

Kids come up again and again, not only after Martha takes Philip to look at foster-care children, but also when Stan starts talking about his own relationship with his son, who apparently hates him. Stan spent three years undercover, and when he came back, his son didn't seem to have missed him — maybe he didn't really know him anymore. It's a story about everything Philip fears around his own undercover mission and Paige, so he advises Stan to do a little "dress-shopping" of his own: "Spend time alone with him now that you get a chance. When you get them away from the other parent, and they're just a whole different person one-on-one, without that other influence."

When Philip goes to meet Kimberly, he finds her at a hangout full of high-school kids, which immediately makes Philip uncomfortable since it's a hangout full of high-school kids, and the last thing he needs is several dozen teenage assholes who can identify him. Two jocks in letterman jackets immediately confront him when he starts talking to Kimmy, and Philip simply walks away. When Kimmy runs after him, he says he really likes her, but inviting him was a bad idea because "when people see us together, it's weird." She insists that she tooootally understands that and just needed a ride, and age is just a number and she'd rather spend time alone with him, anyway.

A few days later, after stopping at Gabriel's to pick up some dank Afghan weed, Jim the Experienced Older Man arrives at Kimmy's house, complete with aviators and cowboy boots. As soon as he steps inside, she asks if he wants to see her room, because rooms are the houses of teenagers, the small, concentric circles they create within the larger sphere of their parents. Jim and Kimmy get high, and as they sit on the porch, Kimberly tells a heartbreaking story about how she and her dad used to have a garden together, how they planted vegetables and would rake the lawn from either side until they met in the middle. Now her mom's dead, her brother and sister are out of the house, and thanks to her new stepmom who doesn't like things "messy," the garden is just a lawn. She is lonely and 15, and there is a hole in her heart almost bigger than her body; it would be so easy for Philip to walk through.

After making popcorn and getting out some Rocky Road ice cream for their munchies, they have the sort of play-fight a dad would have with his daughter, which is probably why Kimmy loves it. Which is probably why she loves all of this. "I'll take you down a rocky road," Philip laughs, throwing popcorn at her. Yeah, I bet you will. When Kimmy passes out in front of the TV, super stoned, Philip heads to the "bathroom," a.k.a. her dad's office. He takes careful, precise pictures of the jacket and briefcase he finds, then carries a sleepy Kimberly up the stairs and puts her to bed — but not before she leans up and kisses him. Before things can go any further, they both hear the car door slam outside. Oh, shit — her parents are home! He books it out there like he's 16 again, which, again, is the problem.

When a haggard-looking Philip makes it back to the Jennings abode, he tells Elizabeth what happened. "The whole thing was just — oh God, I don't know." He asks her if she remembers when they learned how to do this. There's a grim flashback to a young Philip going through what I suppose you would call seduction training. The door opens and it's an old woman. A young woman. A man undoing his pants. What Philip and Elizabeth do is a form of a sex work; creating the illusion of desire is a very personal kind of labor, and not always an easy one.

"They kept telling us we had to make it real to ourselves," says Philip as he lies in bed next to Elizabeth. It's what he does with Martha. It's what he might have to do with Kimberly. Elizabeth asks if he ever has to make it real with her. "Sometimes," he says, touching her face. "But not now." It's one of the most interesting — and real — things about marriage, maybe: how they alternate between the moments where they fight, the moments where they manipulate, and moments like this. Moments where it's real, in a life that never really will be.