The Americans is a tour de force about identity, ideology, and truth. But for a prestige TV show that questions our very beliefs, the most frequent question is a surprising one: “Where’s Henry?” While Philip and Elizabeth are busy with nefarious spy craft and Paige is moping about Pastor Tim or her boyfriend Matthew, the youngest member of the Jennings family is frequently missing in one way or another.
Think about that: These Soviet spies are tasked with smuggling biological weapons out of the country, decoding secret communications, and bugging the homes of American diplomats, but they can’t keep track of a single teenage boy. And during the rare moments when Henry isn’t missing, Philip and Elizabeth have to make sure he’s not able to hear their conversations. That’s why, whenever they’re divulging their deepest and darkest secrets to Paige, The Americans needs to toss out a plausible excuse about where Henry might be so he doesn’t overhear any sensitive information.
During the show’s five seasons, characters have enquired about Henry’s whereabouts no less than 22 times. That means in nearly half of the 54 episodes that have aired, a writer had to concoct a reason why Henry wasn’t around. Here are all of the excuses we’ve heard so far.
“Huh? Henry? Oh, he’s, um, at Stan’s.”
The best part of this answer is that Philip forgets for a moment that he has a son and isn’t quite sure of his name. Then he’s not even sure of his location, even though Stan just called to tell him he is at the neighbor’s house. Henry is often described as being “across the street” or “watching a movie with [Stan’s son] Matthew,” so this is easily the most popular answer to his whereabouts. Although a grown man spending all of this time with a young boy in the early ’80s might have seemed normal, these days, Chris Hansen would probably be waiting in Stan’s kitchen.
Apparently, Henry had a friend named Peter in season two. He visited his house once, and never heard from Peter ever again. Maybe the KGB made sure he disappeared?
Doug seems to be the best friend who replaced Peter. This justification for Henry’s whereabouts is used three times, including once when the they are working on a science project together. The best instance is when Paige says, “I guess he’s at Doug’s?” which is almost certainly the verbatim answer that The Americans writers use when the showrunners ask where Henry might be during any given scene at the house. Much like Henry’s parents, the audience has never met Doug.
“The library. Allegedly. He’s probably at the arcade.”
Even when Paige knows where Henry is, she still doesn’t really know where he is. Why would he even need to sneak to the arcade when he’s left to his own devices all the time? He can play all the Atari he wants. Nobody will notice. Anyway, this is proof that Jennings family distrusts everyone — even poor, maligned Henry.
A convenient excuse for any scene that happens when the sun is down, “Henry is sleeping” has been used at least twice. Considering no one ever knows where Henry ever is, there’s no way anybody knows what his actual bedtime is. Hell, he could be in the red-light district working as a barback in a strip club and no one would be any wiser.
“Henry’s just down the hall.”
This vague excuse is similar to Henry being “asleep,” but whereas “asleep” lets the Jennings go about their usual spy business, this prevents them from doing anything that will create any noise. Yes, it happens more than once.
This is an odd one because it isn’t used as an imminent narrative threat, like Philip and Elizabeth have to wrap up a mission because Henry might pop in to say hello. Instead, it’s used to simply explain that Henry will be present in a minute. Two times, a character on The Americans was actually waiting for Henry, which must be a very strange sensation for him.
“Henry’s in his room.”
This is a neutral description of where Henry is that has been used on three separate occasions.
“Henry’s waiting in the car.”
This is the perfect answer because it means he’s nearby, inaccessible, and vaguely inconveniencing everyone. That is the very core of Henry’s existence on The Americans.
Riding the rides at an amusement park.
During a second-season episode, Elizabeth runs through an amusement park shouting Henry’s name after another spy clan is murdered. Is he safe? Is he in danger? Nope, it turns out he was just blithely enjoying an amusement park ride. Elizabeth is relieved to find her son, but his response is classic Henry: “…What?” He has no clue why anyone would be looking for him so frantically. He never has any idea.
Spying on the neighbors.
Elizabeth yells upstairs for Henry to leave for school, but he’s preoccupied staring through his telescope at the neighbors. Nope. Not creepy at all, Henry.
Looking at the stars.
When Philip returns home one night, Henry shouts down the stairs that he’s looking through his telescope to find Polaris. It’s so sweet that Henry believes the family thinks he uses his telescope for astronomy.
“He’s doing his stupid Eddie Murphy routines.”
There is no better 13-year-old-suburban-kid-in-1984 answer to a question than this.
“How should I know?”
The only honest reason.