There are no good results to Project Paige. Failure brings the threat of Philip and Elizabeth being alienated from their eldest child and very likely exposed to law enforcement, whether Pastor Tim and Alice finally take action or she simply walks across the street and spills the beans to Stan. It might be the best outcome for Paige in the long run, but the Jennings family would cease to exist. There’s always the possibility (or likelihood) that things will fall apart eventually, but the immediate concern is that Paige could leave their operation exposed, even inadvertently. She knows enough now to be dangerous, no matter how much she buys into her parents’ recruitment efforts.
Success is arguably worse. It may be better for Philip and Elizabeth because it keeps their family together, but they’re confining Paige to a life of unhappiness, disillusionment, uncertainty, and violence. The more headway they make with Paige, the more glimpses they get of the trauma that’s enveloping her conscience: the sight of her curled up like an infant in her bedroom closet; the diminishing of her faith; the souring of her relationship with Matthew, which would flourish under happier circumstances. In “The Committee on Human Rights,” Pastor Tim is pleased to hear Paige talk about how she’s learned that life is bigger than herself, but he misreads her. Paige isn’t talking about the sorts of charitable sacrifices — or even basic empathy — involved in being a good citizen and a good Christian, but her sudden awareness of mass-scale, deliberate suffering.
The Americans articulates Philip and Elizabeth’s own misery so beautifully that we need to remind ourselves that they’re recruiting their daughter through insidious lies and half-truths. They haven’t told Paige about the super-wheat pivot — The Super-Wheat Pivot is the name of my upcoming novel, incidentally — so as far as she knows, her parents are the only people who stand between the Soviet people and an American government intent on starving them for political gain. Project Paige is still too tenuous an operation for her to receive anything like full disclosure. She can’t know that the American government didn’t have any plans to sic pests on the Soviet wheat harvest. She certainly can’t know that her parents killed an innocent man over bad intel. And boy does she not know that mom and dad are taking separate flights to Topeka to seduce information out of a couple of lonely, innocent agribusiness people. Or that they’ve had a long history of devastating such people for the greater good.
Those lessons are coming, but Paige needs to slide further down the slippery slope before she can learn the dark art of moral relativism. She’s still just a kid who believes in good and evil. She can’t yet operate in the murky space in between. Perhaps that’s why Marx is appealing to her right now: She can get drunk on the righteousness of his ideals without having to sober up on their real-world application. Philip and Elizabeth know from experience that agents are recruited to defend patriotic ideals and the true nature of the work is buried deep in the Terms of Service, waiting for them to discover after they’ve already signed their lives away. Only now they’re the highers-up deciding what is and isn’t useful for their underling to know, and Paige will surely grow to resent them as they do Claudia or the unseen hand of the Center.
Still, the opening scene of “The Committee on Human Rights” is enormously affecting and sincere. Paige learns that Gabriel has been hearing about her since she was a small child, and we can see his pleasure in finally meeting her. When he compliments Philip and Elizabeth, it’s not merely a recruitment ploy — it’s real. “Your parents have sacrificed a lot for others,” he says. “They’ve stood for something larger than themselves and that takes courage.” Philip may flinch at the thought, but Gabriel isn’t putting on a show for Paige’s benefit; talking to her about Philip and Elizabeth offers him the opportunity to give them the affirmation and encouragement they’ve surely been longing to hear. He’s the closest thing either one of them has to a father, and Paige picks up on the family vibe. He’s been an unseen but significant presence in her life, too.
And yet, what a closing line! “You were right about Paige,” says Gabriel, on his way out the door. “She should be kept out of all this.” What could Gabriel mean here? Did he pick up some information about her temperament during their meeting? Or, more likely, does this relate to his abrupt decision to retire early? Turning away Philip’s son was difficult for him to do; keeping them apart was unfair to the boy and unfair to Philip, to say nothing of having to hide this essential truth to maintain the status quo. It seems doubtful that he thinks Paige is ill-equipped emotionally to handle the work. She’s a product of her parents, after all, and thus possesses the intelligence, toughness, and discipline required to be effective in the field. But the rightness of the cause itself has come into question for him as it has for Philip, and condemning another generation to a fight that’s neither just nor winnable seems to weigh on him. Gabriel’s retirement either betrays a lack of faith or portends developments that he can’t contain. Either way, Project Paige is headed for the rocks.
Hammers and Sickles
• When Paige asks Gabriel if he’s a spy, Frank Langella’s disarming little smile when he says, “Yes” is a small but wonderful piece of acting. He dispels the dark cloud hanging over the whole enterprise, at least for a moment.
• Great to see Philip’s one-size-fits-all seduction technique not working on Deirdre, who’s looking for a casual hook-up, not pining for a Martha-esque commitment. His eagerness is a turnoff and she barely tolerates it.
• Fascinating exchange between Philip and Elizabeth after they catch Stobert stepping out with another woman in Memphis. Philip recognizes that she likes him and may be stung by his behavior, but Elizabeth sees the danger in developing genuine feelings for a source, perhaps because it’s brought Philip himself such misery. It will be interesting to see how Elizabeth relates to Stobert knowing what she knows now, and whether her personal response starts interfering with her professional responsibility.
• “Is Stan Beeman’s girlfriend one of us?” Gabriel’s fury in answering that question, mere moments before he walks out the door, serves as a last warning to Philip about his tenuous status with the Center. Gabriel denies it, but more important, he adds that it’s possible he wasn’t told because the Center knew Philip would ask such a question. That feels ominous.