The most dramatic changes in life don’t always happen in the form of a car crash, a gunshot, or an explosion. Sometimes it’s just a phone call, or a knock on the door, or an email that pops up in your inbox. Last night on The Americans, the biggest seismic change in the season — hell, maybe in the entire series — happened because a teenage girl asked a question, and her parents sat down and quietly told her the truth.
Other things happen, too, so let’s talk about those first. Pastor Tim shows up at the Jennings travel agency to book a church mission trip to Kenya, and tries to cajole Philip into going, too, so he can bond with his daughter. Philip insists that “now’s not the right time,” which prompts Tim to start pastorsplaining the right way to raise Paige, until Philip finally gets the murder eyes and shuts him down. “Why don’t we look at some dates,” he says, quietly garroting Pastor Tim in his mind.
Zinaida continues her extravaganza of American entertainment, this time with the Dustin Hoffman comedy Tootsie. She heads to the ladies room afterward, where she washes her hands — and leaves a secret message under the sink. Oh, shit, she is a double agent! Stan’s spy-dar was right! When word gets back to the Rezidentura that Zinaida (aka WILLOW) was threatened by another Soviet (aka Oleg in a mustache), they don’t blame a traitor, but rather the disorganization of Soviet bureaucracy. Oleg’s not in the hot seat quite yet, but give him some time.
Nina’s seduction of the scientist continues, although whenever she asks about work he keeps shutting her down, telling her she won’t understand. Guess what she does understand? English! When she switches to the language of the promised land, something in his expression changes. He asks where she learned it, and she tells him “America,” making him light up suddenly, almost like he’s opened a gift. They have something in common, now.
Back at home, Philip gets called into “work” yet again during dinner — a now-regular occurrence that isn’t lost on Paige. It’s an alibi, of course, this time for his latest night out with Kimmy. She’s drunk at a house party somewhere in 1982, and Philip shows up to pull her out of a beanbag chair and get her home safely. “I think you’re the only one who cares about me,” says poor, drunk Kimmy as he puts her to bed, which is even sadder than she realizes. As she heads to the bathroom to puke, Philip sneaks into her dad’s office and switches out the recorder tapes in his suitcase.
There’s important intel on them, too: The Pakistani intelligence agency is sending some important visitors to meet with the CIA, namely some members of the Mujahideen. There’s a secret conference going down in a matter of days, so Gabriel immediately reaches out to Yusef. But Yusef will only meet with Philip, and only in person — and only on a date very close to the big visit. Gabriel’s got some other news, too: Per Elizabeth’s request, they got Philip’s Soviet son a reprieve from his military duties in Afghanistan, but he refused to take it. “We can make him go home. Do you want us to?” Philip paces for a moment, and then says no. It’s not the last time he’ll have to make a pivotal decision about a child this episode.
Stan, who is clearly tired of hearing his own voice echo around his lonely divorce house, drops by the Jennings’ to give young Henry a videocassette of Tron from the FBI’s confiscated film library. They get talking about a football board game called Strat-O-Matic that Stan used to play with his son. When Henry drops by to play it, he finds himself ushered into the living room, where the estranged couple is currently in the midst of dividing their things. “It’s really weird,” says Stan. They get out the board game and play it in the wreckage of Stan’s life.
Later, it’s Stan’s turn in the hot seat with the loathsome Agent Taffet, where he gets asked fun questions about why his marriage fell apart and who he thinks placed the bug in Agent Gaad’s pen. Stan hesitates for a moment at the last question, almost like he was thinking of someone, but he doesn’t say it. Afterward, he goes looking for Martha, but she’s already left the office. Oh, shit, his spy-dar is on point again!
Philip and Elizabeth head over to the hotel where the Mujahideen are supposed to stay, and start laying the groundwork for an operation. They wait to see who’s on shift behind the counter at the right time, and when a man shows up, Elizabeth goes in. She checks in and calls the man up to her room, complaining of a stain on the sheets, and walks away with his personal phone number and the promise of a booty call hanging in the air.
When they get home, Paige is waiting up for them. And that’s when she hits them with it: “I’m not stupid. I know there’s something going on. You’re out in the middle of the night, the phone rings and you’re gone. We have no family here … this isn’t normal. I’ve felt it for a long time now and I thought it was me. I thought I was crazy. But it’s not me, it’s you … I need to know the truth.”
They sit down with the table very quietly, and Elizabeth starts to speak, but surprise of surprises, long-time truth-telling opponent Philip jumps in to say it first: “We were born in a different country.” Then they lay it all out: They came from the Soviet Union, and they’re here in America to gather information for their country. Paige finally says it: “You’re spies?” Yup! Elizabeth tries to loop it all back to the whole peace-and-social-justice thing, but Paige isn’t having it right now.
Philip quietly warns Paige that if she tells anyone, they will go to jail forever. “No matter how much you trust someone, or think that you trust someone, you can’t tell them.” Her whole plea for honesty was kind of a monkey’s-paw wish when you think about it; after all, she wanted to know because the truth is so goddamn important to her, and now she can literally never tell the complete truth to anyone else, ever again.
There are no fireworks, though, no explosions. Paige walks slowly to her room, and the next morning she’s still there, lying on the bed in her clothes. She wants to stay home from school, and both Elizabeth and Philip are well-trained enough in handling assets to know that “pressure in this situation is counterproductive” so they agree. “Speak Russian,” says Paige suddenly, just before they leave for work. She needs to hear it to believe it. And that’s how we finally get to hear Elizabeth say something in her mother tongue: “I love you very much.”
In the end, Paige does place a call to Pastor Tim, but tells him nothing. I’ve always had a strange sense that Pastor Tim might someday have to die, probably because Philip looks at him almost constantly with murder eyes, but that day is not today. The final shock comes that evening when Stan drops by, and Paige has the wide-eyed realization that their family’s best pal/FBI neighbor has always been nothing but an intelligence asset, and everything she knows is a lie. Welcome to the party, Paige. It’s never, ever going to end.