Keri Russell on The Americans.
Photo: Craig Blankenhorn/FX
It’s baptism day at the Reed Street Church, accompanied by the cool acoustic guitar stylings of Pastor Tim. Paige is about to go for a little swim and begin her new life in Christ, a coming-of-age moment that feels very different from the way that most baptisms are conducted: Rather than parents making a declaration of faith and identity for their child, she is making one for herself.
It’s something that makes Philip and Elizabeth — her parents, the secret atheist KGB spies — display a weird mess of emotions and faces throughout the ceremony, although Elizabeth smiles a little when Pastor Tim talks about her daughter’s ideological fervor: “Paige gives her whole heart to every political action we engage in at this church.”
Back at home, Philip asks Paige if she feels any different, and she says something about feeling more at peace. Still worried — rightly — that Elizabeth is going to recruit Paige into the KGB, he tries to give his daughter a coded speech about just saying no to … something? “Stand up for what you want. You should never feel pressure to do anything that you don’t feel is right for you.” Paige, naturally, thinks this is about drinking or drugs rather than her parents being Soviet spies and pretty much blows it off.
The debate between Philip and Elizabeth is on some level about the nature of choice itself, particularly as it exists in that fraught space between parents and children. As much as Philip insists he doesn’t want Paige to be “forced” into their way of life — that placing that weight of their secret on her is a sort of coercion — Elizabeth is convinced that Paige isn’t really choosing at all. After all, how could she choose an option that she’s never been given?
Anxious and unresolved, Elizabeth digs out her secret pack of cigarettes and ends up smoking them in the garage, only to end up getting caught by Paige in a hilarious role reversal. When Elizabeth confesses to smoking, Paige says that she doesn’t like it, but obviously she and Henry already know. “We’re not clueless, mom.”
Paige also finally calls Elizabeth on the amazingly weird faces of horror and alarm her mom makes every time religion comes up, as though Paige is constantly farting Jesus. She tries to turn their rare moment of honesty into a real conversation about religion, but just ends up with yet another spinelessly vague response from Elizabeth that “it’s just not really my thing.” Part of Elizabeth’s problem — part of why she and Paige never seem to get truly close—is that she defines herself to her daughter in terms that are entirely negative: as what she isn’t, rather than what she is.
Back in Soviet prison, Nina is taking a page from the Jennings “make it real” playbook, and using her actual emotional trauma over her betrayal to ply her cell mate for information. After crying and asking if her boyfriend betrayed her, too, she learns that indeed, Evi was a very willing participant in the espionage, not a patsy. After a short scene where we see Nina eating an unusually good meal in a different cell, the guards come to drag Evi away for her crimes. “Nina, what did you do?” she screams. Nina knows exactly what she did.
Stan, meanwhile, finally kind of sort of starts to move on by sleeping with Tori, although she immediately calls him on not being truly “present” — the same distraction and detachment that eventually tore him and Sandra apart. When a longtime friend dies suddenly, however, Sandra ends up waltzing back in to hug and comfort Stan — though it’s clear she doesn’t want a reconciliation. I don’t really know where this story line is going, but I also don’t care; as with so many breakups, it has now become simultaneously boring and excruciating.
Philip’s pseudo-seduction of Kimmy continues, this time with copious amounts of weed and Pink Floyd. After getting super high, Kimmy wants to take a bath — with Philip of course, although he demurs. This time it’s not just about avoiding statutory rape, however; he needs the time to let a KGB agent into the house and put a customized panel with a tape recorder in briefcase of Kimmy’s CIA bigwig father. After Kimmy exits the bath, she drops her towel and offers herself to Philip — only to get shut down yet again. He mumbles something about going to church and God and wanting to be better, but she takes it badly, and personally anyway. This might be the right choice on many, many levels, but it’s not going very well for the operation.
When Philip meets with Gabriel, he learns some unfortunate news about the tape recorder: In order to keep up with the situation in Afghanistan, they need to change the tapes weekly, not monthly. Gabriel is concerned that Philip’s refusal to get intimate may get in the way, since this kind of access will require “a real bond” with Kimmy. Then Gabriel switches tacks to another, very sensitive topic involving children: Philip’s illegitimate son Misha, the one he learned about back in the first season and has never met. Misha is in the military, and Gabriel has been checking up on him: “He’s good. He’s trustworthy. He’s like you in that respect.”
At her latest rendezvous with the charming graduate student Hans, Elizabeth learns that he’s spotted something strange at a student meeting — a person who reminds him of the undercover agents he used to see in activists groups back in Johannesburg. After a bit of reconnaissance, Gabriel discovers that the student in question has been meeting with someone from South African intelligence and could be planning a violent attack to discredit the anti-apartheid movement. Good catch, Hans! Inevitably, the conversation with Gabriel turns to Paige, and Elizabeth says that she’s going ahead without Philip. “But you’re not going ahead,” says Gabriel. As much as she’s pushed for it, she knows what happens when she pulls the trigger, how everything changes.
In the final scenes of the episode, everything dovetails and we find both Jennings parents waiting to pick up children after school: Philip waiting for Kimberly, and Elizabeth waiting for Paige.
Elizabeth has finally decided to take the next step with Paige, albeit a small one: driving her daughter to the ghetto and telling her a whitewashed version of the Gregory story, and revealing that she and Philip used to be hard-core activists in the “civil rights movement.” It’s an obvious attempt to link her beliefs to Paige’s anti-apartheid convictions, by way of a space that I would call “truth adjacent.” She hints that their work wasn’t all sunshine and roses: “We didn’t just sing songs and march. We fought in other ways. It wasn’t always legal. It was right … Sometimes doing good is harder than going to rallies and signing petitions.”
Paige is a bit confused by this, just like she was confused by Philip’s speech, because they are feeding her odd, disjointed fragments of their own agendas and expecting her to make sense of them. Does that mean that she’s not doing enough, asks Paige? No, says Elizabeth. “I brought you here because I wanted you to know that I’m more like you than you think.” It’s so close to what Gabriel tells Philip about Misha, about the way parents want to grow closer to their children by projecting themselves on to them, by seeing them as similar.
And that’s what makes what happens between Philip and Kimmy so interesting. When Philip first meets up with Kimmy again after school, she’s a bit standoffish, still reeling from the rejection. But then he says the magic words that her insecure little teenager heart so desperately wants to hear: “I can’t stop thinking about you.” Soon enough, they’re back in her room, and it seems almost certain that Philip has to sleep with her in order to keep the operation going. But then he throws a curve ball. He tells her a story about how he got a girl pregnant when he was 17, and now he wants to take accountability and be a better father, a better man in a way that he wasn’t before.
It’s one of those stories Philip and Elizabeth tell their assets sometimes, the kind that’s not true per se, but touches on something that is real to them. It’s hard to tell whether they do this because it helps them sell the moment — because it helps them “make it real” — or because it ends up being a sort of role-play that actually helps them process their lives, no matter how many levels of deception they have to filter it through.
He asks Kimmy to pray with him. When he says, “Please help me to do the right thing and be a better person,” he is telling a rare sort of truth, to both a god he doesn’t believe in and a girl he is deceiving. More important, he’s making a surprising choice: Instead of staying true to his ideals and sacrificing Kimmy for the greater good, he turns to Paige’s beliefs to find another way. He takes the faith of his daughter and places it between himself and the sin he doesn’t want to commit — between himself and the girl he doesn’t want to hurt — in a way that might save them both.
“That was amazing,” says Kimmy, when they finish praying. “It was,” says Philip, and he means it. He doesn’t see himself in Paige. Instead, when he wants to be better than he is, he’d rather see her in himself. Maybe, in the end, he, too, wants to be forgiven, to be reborn. For all of Elizabeth’s insistence that she knows best, maybe Paige was right after all. She’s not clueless. Maybe they have a thing or two to learn from her as well.