It’s not easy being Elizabeth and Philip Jennings, especially since they don’t exist, even in the world of The Americans. I guess that’s arguable; there’s a famous Kurt Vonnegut quote about being careful about what you pretend to be, because you become the thing you pretend to be.
And Elizabeth and Philip pretend to be a lot of things:
The Supportive Friend With the Bad Haircut: Tonight Elizabeth is wearing yet another unflattering wig and her best Harry Potter glasses, this time to meet with an older woman who works for the CIA. The woman tells Elizabeth the story of the one operation they let her undertake in her 23 years with the agency, and how she got more out of an asset in one night than that stupid hotshot agent Jeff got in six months. Despite totally killing it, the station chief didn’t stay a word to her, and Jeff got promoted instead. If that sounds like a familiar story, that’s because it’s the story of most women throughout the majority of human history. Jeff always gets the promotion. Fucking Jeff. Elizabeth nods supportively, as if to say, “Fuck the patriarchy, but also definitely give me that piece of paper in your hand, give it to me now.”
The woman takes a drink, says “screw the CIA,” and pushes the paper across the table. She says it contains the names of CIA agents working on Afghanistan, and excuses herself to the ladies’ room. En route, however, she has a crisis of conscience and ends up calling the CIA to confess. She tries to play it casual after she gets back to the table, but she sells the “c’mon stay, just stay” vibe a little too hard, and Elizabeth is out the door and around the corner before the men in black roll up. She takes off her wizardly spectacles and flips her coat inside out, but doesn’t ditch the wig, which might be the one thing that keeps her identity under wraps after two agents really do catch up with her. “Excuse me, ma’am,” says one of them, tapping her on the shoulder. “We’re with the F.B.—” before he can get to “I,” she’s already pummeled him to the ground.
The second man grabs her in a chokehold, so Elizabeth flips him over the car and into the path of an oncoming motorcycle, causing it to skid out and leaving both men bleeding and writhing on the ground. She momentarily points a gun at the third man, but knocks him out instead of shooting him. There’s a problem, though: The piece of paper with the names is gone, possibly because she put them in a jacket and then turned it inside out? She scans the streets for a moment but cuts her losses when she hears sirens.
The Supportive Friend at the Bullshit Seminar: “You’ve never had a single real experience in your entire lives,” says the seedy-looking leader at the self-help seminar that Philip and Stan are attending. In addition to teaching them “the difference between experienced and non-experienced experience,” he seems to be advocating that men shouldn’t worry about whether or not women have orgasms during sex, because it will help the men be more present and focused on their own experiences. I’m not sure if his name is Jeff, too, but I bet it is.
This advice does not seem like it will be particularly helpful to Stan, especially since he’s only attending this stupid seminar so that he can convince his estranged wife to come back to him, especially now that he’s totally done banging that pretty Russian girl he betrayed last season. We learn that poor Nina has since been convicted of treason as a result, and Stan treats us to a brief moment of looking guilty (or maybe like he’s eaten bad Chinese food). Then he’s back outside Sandra’s house, claiming the seminar he in fact rolled his eyes through “was pretty good stuff.”
Sandra is no fool, however, and sees through his game. “I thought it was stupid, total bullshit,” he finally admits beneath her withering gaze. “I’m glad we got that cleared up,” she says, walking away. She doesn’t flip him off as she walks back to the house, although on a spiritual level I like to believe that she does.
The Fake Husband: The attenuated tragedy that is Philip’s sham marriage to Martha continues. Tonight, Martha and “Clark” are trying out positions from the Kama Sutra, a.k.a. the tried-and-true strategy of white-bread couples looking to inject an “exotic” thrill into their sex life. Later, we also learn that Martha has been learning how to shoot at the driving range with Stan, who looks surprisingly cool in a pair of yellow aviators as he shows her how to line up the sights. So, now she can shoot to kill. I wonder how that will be relevant in the future!
The Swedish Agent: And there’s Philip’s other other woman, Annalise. She thinks he’s Scott Berman, a Swedish intelligence officer who has recruited her for the very, very important mission of having sex with Yousaf, a Pakistani ISI agent. Bad news, though: Annalise can’t stop talking about how great Yousaf is, how he “has got this kind of quiet strength.” She gives Philip a blow job, but afterward she cries a little, looking almost guilty. Something has changed. “I shouldn’t have done this,” she says. “I think I might be in love with him.” Uh-oh.
This is probably why, the next time they meet up for a sexy rendezvous and he tells her to leave her husband and move to Zurich, she agrees — and whispers the truth about her secret-agent-ness to her lover who loves her oh so much. To his extremely partial credit, there are tears in his eyes as he chokes the life out of her. Philip is listening from next door like a creep, and after he senses that something has gone wrong, he comes through the door not with the panic of someone trying to save a life but the careful precision of someone setting up a game. “We can’t undo this, ” says Philip — already using “we” language, already working his asset — “but I can help.”
Mischa: Elizabeth doesn’t seem happy very often, or at least not the sort of happy that floppy-haired seminar leaders would call “real.” But there’s a genuine look of happiness on her face when she and Philip go for dinner with an old comrade named Gabriel. After the pleasantries about food and health, Gabriel soon brings up the topic of Paige — the clear ulterior motive of the dinner — and asks if they’re laying the groundwork for her future as a second-generation member. Elizabeth insists that they are, that she and Paige have been attending a church that’s very active in leftist causes. “Ideologically, she’s open to the right ideas,” says Elizabeth. “We’re getting her ready to find out who we really are, who she really is. And that’s going to break everything open, change everything.”
Philip, as is often the case when things don’t go his way, looks as though he has smelled a tremendous fart. When they’re back in the car, Elizabeth insists that she was just telling the Center what they needed to hear, but Philip isn’t fooled. He knows that deep down, Elizabeth thrills at the idea of telling of Paige, of uniting her family under the Communist ideals that have defined her life, the ones she’s never been able to share with her beautiful, progressive daughter who is searching so hard for meaning. In Elizabeth’s perfect world, she and her family would all stand in the light and embrace the glorious revolution together, because that is more real and more true to her than anything else in the world.
The spy game has a way of chewing up women and spitting them out once they have lost their delicious flavor — Annalise being only the latest and greatest example — which might be part of why Philip is so resistant to the idea of letting Paige join the cause. Of course, there’s another reason as well: Telling the truth means abandoning the fiction of Philip for the reality of Mischa, the man he’s still supposed to be. But unlike Elizabeth, who is pure Nadezhda beneath her turtleneck sweaters, that’s not necessarily who he wants to be anymore. This was the man who almost defected to America, who stopped not because he loved the U.S.S.R. but because he loved Elizabeth. And so we see their disparate reactions to the idea of showing their daughter their “true” faces: Elizabeth’s enthusiasm, Philip’s shame.
“You’re developing her,” accuses Philip. “She’s my daughter,” Elizabeth shoots back. There’s a difference between trying to make someone into someone else — between exploiting someone, the way Philip exploited Annalise —and helping someone become the person they want to be, the person they already are. Philip stares back with a fearful look in his eyes, almost like he’s looking at the opening scene of the episode, where we find Elizabeth standing at the side of a public pool with a much-younger Paige, who’s learning how to swim. “It’s okay,” says Elizabeth, comforting her. “It’s going to be okay.” She looks around for a moment to see if anyone’s watching and then throws her daughter in.