Philip and Elizabeth Jennings are both fighters, even if the former struggles with violence more than his steadfast wife. But only one of the Jennings children displays the characteristics of a fighter, and it’s not the boy parked in front of video games all night long.
Henry’s forgotten role in the Jennings household has been apparent (and funny) for several seasons. In tonight’s episode, his passivity is cast in a different light. When Elizabeth and Paige arrive home and announce they were “almost mugged,” the youngest Jennings is clearly rattled, but quickly accepts his parents’ explanation, then heeds Philip’s directive to go to bed without any follow-up questions. Compare that to Paige, whose every line in “A Roy Rogers in Franconia” seems to end with a question mark. Paige always questions her parents, trying to get at an absolute truth that may not even exist — or, failing that, an understanding of why they do the things they do. Henry takes their explanations willingly, even happily, because it ensures his comfortable existence as a coddled American kid. (Well, relatively coddled: Elizabeth would never let him stay home from school, even if he was dying.)
That skeptical aspect of Paige’s personality has been clear for some time now. Even her attraction to religion was born out of a search for meaning and a desire to make change happen. But in recent episodes, The Americans has more explicitly implied that this very same instinct could end up drawing Paige into her parents’ world. Paige and Elizabeth are linked by their passion, by their desire to make the world better, and that connection may ultimately supersede whatever ideological nuances separate them.
Elizabeth and Paige spend the bulk of “A Roy Rogers in Franconia” in each other’s presence, as they together process what Elizabeth did, and what it means for their relationship. Paige is shocked and appalled, yes, but she’s also curious about the whys and hows of her mother’s deadly abilities. She’s trying to wrap her mind around her parents’ willingness to do dangerous things, bad things, and Elizabeth is best suited to put it in terms her daughter can understand. She tells Paige about her life growing up — something Paige was curious to learn even before she knew the truth about her parents — and how she saw people who had suffered terribly somehow find the fortitude to fight back. “I always knew I wanted to be like that, no matter what — to fight back,” Elizabeth tells Paige. “Dangerous didn’t matter.”
This is the conversation The Americans has danced around since Paige started going to protests and chaining herself to fences with Pastor Tim. Elizabeth is explicitly stating that she’s a fighter, a soldier, someone who considers the bigger picture over their personal safety — and Paige is finally understanding. It’s a philosophy not unlike the one that fueled her church activities, and she’s beginning to see parts of herself reflected in what her parents do. She’s also beginning to act on that instinct, reporting to them on Stan through her conversations with Matthew.
Elizabeth and Philip are taken aback when they realize that Paige has slipped into spywork, seemingly despite herself. And it is alarming to realize that Paige has reached a point where she feels she’s expected to do so, without any encouragement from her parents. Her relationship with Pastor Tim and Alice had to be maintained because they represented an immediate danger, but Matthew is neither a high-risk nor a high-value target, so it’s curious that she feels it necessary to inform her parents of their conversations. (But not about their first kiss — she’s still a 15-year-old girl, after all.) Does she think she’s “infiltrating” the Beeman household through her blossoming relationship with Matthew — hinting at another aspect of her mother’s work that she doesn’t even know about yet? Or is she just a teenage girl with a crush who’s looking for a way to talk to her mom about it? Does she even know? Paige is a confused mess on the best of days, and now that a certain shaggy-haired boy has reentered the picture, who knows what really motivates her at this point? Elizabeth has noticed Paige’s increased interest in Matthew — the staging of the scene where she prepares food while her daughter chats him up makes this very clear — so she’s probably asking herself the same thing right now.
Over on the other side of the ideological-awakening spectrum, there’s William, who is finally butting up against the limits of his commitment to a so-called greater good. William’s reluctance to help the Centre get a hyper-deadly modified Lassa fever pathogen has transitioned into full-on resistance now that he’s been given the Level 4 codes. (R.I.P. Patty.) It’s not that he’s scared for himself, he tells Philip, it’s that he’s afraid of this weapon being inflicted on the world. For an interesting contrast to William’s fear, observe Tatiana’s maudlin joke about trying not to kill half of the Eastern seaboard before her promotion to Rezidentura in Nairobi takes effect. Both recognize the calamity this mission could cause, and what their roles in that calamity would be, but only William acknowledges how much the possibility scares him.
A little realignment from Gabriel (“I didn’t change his mind, I reminded him who he is and what he wants”), along with a promise that he could return home seems to get William back on board — and at the worst possible time. See, William isn’t the only one letting his fear undermine his commitment this week. Oleg’s time with Tatiana has opened his eyes to how the Soviets want use biological weapons, and his time as a technology officer has opened his eyes to how unprepared they are to wield such power. “Without the right resources, they get their hands on things they can’t always handle in the right way,” Oleg tells Stan during another clandestine meeting he swears will be their last one, for real this time.
(A nice, historical touch to Oleg’s arc: Earlier, we see him studying plans for the Centaur-G rocket, which was planned for use on the Challenger space shuttle, before the 1986 explosion forced NASA to pursue a less-risky option.)
Oleg gives Stan just enough information about Tatiana’s activities to lead the FBI straight to William, who is now in their crosshairs. Granted, the feds had agents on him for a while now, as we already knew — and even if we didn’t, Chris Long’s direction reminds us through extended shots of those agents milling about during William’s meetings with Philip. But now Stan, Aderholt, and the Munchkin King (still not sure of the new boss’ name, don’t really care) know what they’re looking for, and the odds of William making that trip back to Russia are looking very slim.
Even though William’s fate seems all but sealed, the FBI’s discovery of him may end up being what allowing the Jenningses to spy another day. Before Oleg’s revelation to Stan, Aderholt reaches a big break with our old friend Mail Robot, unearthing the bug that Philip planted last season while Elizabeth oversaw some assisted suicide. After flipping the person who’s been switching the tapes, Aderholt, Stan, and the FBI initiate plans to follow her when she hands off the tape — presumably to Philip. They approach the mission with apathy, assuming that whatever gains they make will be minimal. When Stan brings Oleg’s tip to the Munchkin King, the Mail Robot mission is more or less scuttled to divert resources to tracking William, and to keep any shake-ups at the Rezidentura from complicating things. Of course, Philip also does hand-offs with William, so he’s far from safe as the FBI closes in.
As the season’s penultimate episode, “A Roy Rogers in Franconia” functions as a table-setter more than an action-packed hour, but there are a couple of very heavy balls in the air as we head into next week’s finale. Although I’m fairly certain Tatiana’s joke about a Lassa fever outbreak wasn’t foreshadowing such an incident, the bioweapons narrative has been building to something big. William’s blown cover seems like the fuse being lit on that story line. Meanwhile, the Paige narrative has also reached a tipping point. She’s known the truth about her parents, in some form or another, for a full season now, and soon she’ll have to decide what she’s going to do with that truth. At heart, she’s a fighter — she just has to choose what, and whom, she’s fighting for.