Philip and Elizabeth discuss Paige at her birthday dinner.
Photo: Craig Blankenhorn/FX
“There’s one person no one can resist, and that’s a baby,” says the completely out-of-control commercial that Philip watches this week. As a sexy teen model in a white dress tongues a lollipop, the ad promises its body spray will deliver “the innocent scent of a cuddly, clean baby that grew up very sexy … because innocence is sexier than you think.”
Whenever you finish barfing, consider that this commercial not only represents the exploitation and loss of innocence that he fears for his daughter at the hands of the KGB, but also exactly the sort of exploitation he’s about to practice if he seduces the teenage daughter of a key CIA agent. To be clear, that is exactly what the Jennings are planning. “She’s young,” Philip says uncomfortably. “We’ve never used someone this young before.” The conversation ends abruptly when Paige gets home from youth group, and Elizabeth asks what she wants to do for her birthday. At first Paige doesn’t want to do anything, but when Elizabeth suggests having some of her friends over for dinner, Paige knows exactly who she wants to invite: Pastor Tim and his wife. “Great,” says Elizabeth. It’s a good thing she lies for a living.
Back in Soviet prison, Nina is still wearing her totally adorable tracksuit when she gets called in for another meeting with Oleg’s dad. This time he has a proposal: Her cell mate Evi was caught leaving something suspicious at a dead drop three weeks ago, though she claims it was just a package for a friend of her boyfriend. If Nina can get her to spill, she’ll receive a more lenient sentence in return. Nina is intrigued.
When she gets back to her cell, Nina immediately starts opening up to Evi, apologizing for not being more talkative. Just like we’ve seen the Jennings do so many times, Nina is developing an asset. At first she pretends to have a husband and presses Evi for info about her boyfriend, but doesn’t get a lot of traction. Then she switches tacks: She decides to go very, very real instead, telling Evi the truth about the KGB and America and Stan and Arkady, about her stupid life and how she managed to ruin it. It feels real because it is real — because the best way to manipulate someone is with the truth, strategically applied. Later, when Nina wakes up screaming from a nightmare, Evi holds her as she sobs, telling her everything will be all right.
Meanwhile, Elizabeth (a.k.a. Michelle) shows up at the house of her AA sponsor (and potential asset) Lisa, pretending to have fallen off the wagon. The next morning, Elizabeth/Michelle opens up about her supposed mistakes in hopes of getting Lisa to spill her own secrets in return — the exact same game Nina is running. Lisa confides that her husband has been out of work for four months, and it’s gotten so bad that she sent the kids to stay with her sister. How bad is bad? asks Elizabeth. “He’s a good man,” says Lisa, the kind of preface you only need when you’re about to explain how someone isn’t.
Back at the EST seminar, the douche-y facilitator invites Stan up to have an imaginary role-play chat with Sandra, and although Stan tries to send Philip up in his place — a scenario I would love to see — the man insists. Stan finally heads to the front of the class and plays along, at least until the facilitator/”Sandra” calls him an asshole. “This is bullshit,” he screams, on his way back to his seat. It’s hard to tell whether he’s talking about the seminar, Sandra, or himself. It doesn’t matter; everyone claps for him anyway. Afterward, a very pretty woman named Tori invites him out for a drink “with the group,” a.k.a. her, and gives him her number when he declines. “You’re single,” nudges Philip as they walk away. “No, I’m not,” says Stan, because that’s the specific level of denial where he lives now.
He’s also growing increasingly suspicious of Soviet defector and Milky Way enthusiast Zinaida, and after they eat at a local diner, he ends up coming back in the middle of the night to frantically search the ladies room in search of a dead drop. He comes up empty-handed, and then, oh my God, he’s back at Sandra’s house. Stan has absolutely got to stop this shit, but he insists that he needs to talk to her because he just wants to be honest. He finally confesses to the affair with Nina and owns up to being an asshole — but instead of stopping there, feels the need to tell Sandra how much he loved Nina, because that’s a piece of information she needs in her life!
It’s okay, though, because he’s just being honest, as though honesty were some magical panacea that could wash over his misdeeds and their failed relationship and wipe it clean; as though he is doing her some sort of favor by dropping painful and unnecessary bombs about a relationship that is long over now, on a woman who desperately wants to move on. Pro tip: If you want to reconnect with someone you’ve hurt badly, it’s generally a bad idea to ignore the way they feel so you can say and do whatever seems easiest for you. But hey, maybe they haven’t gotten to that stage of the seminar yet.
Philip makes his first pass at Kimberly outside a club where she and her friends are getting turned away by a bouncer, to which she responds by threatening to tell her dad at the Better Business Bureau, which is both hilarious and probably the cover he uses. As the trying-too-hard teens walk away dejected, Philip shows up to tease them about their fake IDs with just the right mix of cooler-than-thou condescension and dangerous flirtation. Kimberly immediately starts staring at him like he’s a cartoon hamburger, because of course this is exactly her bag.
He says his name is Jimmy. Jimmy wears a suit and likes to talk down to sexy teenagers. Jimmy is the worst and Philip knows it, wearing the alter ego with a nearly palpable distaste, like a set of damp, dirty clothes pulled out of the hamper. He offers to make them fake IDs, though like all good manipulators, he makes them think it’s their idea. When they meet up in a park, he asks to listen to what Kimberly is playing on her Walkman. She says it’s Yaz, and he nods sagely like he’s been listening to them for years. “Good taste, Kimberly,” he says, doling out a compliment like a dog treat. She gobbles it up.
For their first shitty “date,” they chill on the steps of a building with a boom box while Philip rolls joints and makes fun of her. “I don’t mean to be insulting, but your pot kinda sucks,” negs Philip with the tone I imagine every middle-aged pickup artist employs when hitting on a child. She pointedly mentions that she’s cold until Philip has no choice but to take the bait; he tells her to snuggle up close and puts his arm around her, looking incredibly uncomfortable.
Back at the Jennings abode, Philip a.k.a. Jimmy a.k.a. Dad decides to bring a present home for Paige: a copy of the new Yaz record! She loves it and thinks it is the hippest, gazing at him with a look of adoration almost as beatific as the one Kimberly shot him earlier. Do we even want to get into what motivated Philip to buy his daughter the same album as the teenage girl he’s probably going to seduce? Maybe not in this recap.
But something about the sweet synth-pop grooves of Yaz finally pushes the Big Jennings Argument to a head; Elizabeth is miffed because they’d promised to discuss birthday presents together, which Philip manages to spin into his own accusation that Elizabeth is only spending time with Paige to groom her for the KGB. She responds that 1) she’s spending time with her daughter because she loves her, asshole, but 2) she also wants certain things for Paige — and not the American dream that Philip has in mind.
Then it’s finally time for Paige’s fun-time birthday dinner, where the pastor offers a sage parable about how Jesus was willing to die for what he believed in — in other words, how Elizabeth and Philip operate every day of their lives. Their entire existence in America is basically one endless night in a communist Garden of Gethsemane, forever waiting for the other shoe to drop and the jig to be up, for the Roman soldiers to rush in.
And that’s when Paige drops the bomb: She wants to get baptized. Philip stares at Pastor Tim for a few terrifying, slow-motion seconds where all you can hear is white noise, which kind of makes me think Philip might kill him. For all the talk about Paige wiping herself clean for Jesus, Philip sees Pastor Tim doing the same thing to Paige that he’s planning to do to Kimberly: taking away her innocence. (If Philip and Kimberly end up going all the way, expect there to be some potential blowback for Pastor Tim; we’ve seen Philip show up at his office before wearing murder gloves, and he’s going to need a scapegoat for his guilty pedo shame.)
Philip has been pretty angry with Elizabeth for trying to bring Paige into their world, but maybe what he really wanted was to keep Paige out of the world altogether — for her to stay a child and for things to stay the same. That’s not possible, of course; the inner lives of teenagers abhor a vacuum. But Elizabeth is angry now, too, at all the indecision and wheel-spinning over Paige and how it has opened the door for an ideological enemy to win her daughter’s heart. “If you tell her now, this will all blow up,” says Philip, trying to crisis-manage the situation back to a standstill, back to Paige in pigtails forever.
But Elizabeth is tired of pretending that her daughter’s world is flat or that it can stop turning, because she knows it’s a lie — and she knows how powerful the truth can be, when strategically applied. What did she say earlier? “It is happening. It is just happening, Philip. And yes, I am doing it, with or without you.”