'The Americans' Recap: Road Trippin' - Rolling Stone
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‘The Americans’ Recap: Road Trippin’

Curiosity takes Paige and Elizabeth on some very dangerous detours

Noah Emmerich the americans

Noah Emmerich as Stan Beeman on 'The Americans'

Craig Blankenhorn/FX

To the casual observer, Elizabeth Jennings is still a paragon of Directorate S: During this week’s rather mundane mission, which was to steal propeller schematics from a factory mid-move (thank you, Brush-Pass Fred for the heads up), all she needed was to fondle a crowbar and pocket the photo of a low-level cog’s youngest son to ensure his silence. There was no physical harm, there were no threats – yet Keri Russell gave off such a menacing vibe with her understated mannerisms that I wasn’t so sure Derek was going to get home for supper with his three boys. But at the end of “The Walk In,” Elizabeth makes a decision that proves there may be a heart underneath that cold exterior. What she doesn’t realize, is that by allowing Jared Connors to remain oblivious to his deceased parents’ true backgrounds – giving him his only chance to live a somewhat normal life – she is unwittingly providing another victory for the “enemy.”

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Even though history has already assured the futility of Philip and Elizabeth‘s goals, watching the children of Directorate S agents grow up as Americans was all the more satisfying in this episode. A series of flashbacks show that Elizabeth never had any interest in kids – until an increased U.S. presence in Vietnam pissed her off so much that she figured the most patriotic she could do was ask Philip to put a Soviet baby in her. Welcome to America, Paige! A year before Elizabeth seduced Philip with her Smolensk sexy talk (“You’ll make a good father”), however, the fate of both her unborn children and those of Leanne and Emmett had already been sealed. Back in 1966, after extoling the virtues of the Beatles’ “Here, There and Everywhere” as Jared’s favorite lullaby and double-teaming with a modishly dressed Elizabeth to kill their latest target, Leanne requests a favor while they’re literally washing the blood off their hands. Should she and Emmett die in the line of duty (dun-dun-DUN!), would Elizabeth please give Jared a letter explaining that Mommy and Daddy didn’t really think Revolver was “the best” — maybe they were Rubber Soul fans? — and that they preferred caviar to baloney sandwiches. Oh, and P.S. EVERYTHING YOU KNEW ABOUT US WAS A BIG FAT LIE. Elizabeth’s all, “Sure! Anything for the cause!” (Note: I like the slightly halting English spoken by 1960s-era Philip, Elizabeth and Leanne in this episode. It’s subtle, but noticeable.)

Back in 1982, after Elizabeth finishes putting Derek the factory worker into a permanent state of fear and Philip borrows Austin Powers’ miniature camera to photograph the propeller blueprints, they split up so Elizabeth can change wigs and fulfill her 16-year-old promise to her deceased friend. Posing as a social worker from the “Child Advocacy Center,” Elizabeth visits the family that has taken Jared in, fully intending to treat this as any other “drop.” But through her large-rimmed glasses, “Ann Chadwick” can see that Jared is in no way a young soldier prepared to take up his parents’ cause – he’s just a college-bound kid traumatized and guilt-ridden over his family’s murder. (His mom told him not to go swimming.) Elizabeth may not be ready to accept that her own children have been lost to the American way of life, but her heart grows two sizes that day when she leaves Jared in the welcoming comfort of his new home, without giving him Leanne’s letter. Over the strains of “Here Comes the Flood” (after closing out Season One with “Games Without Frontiers,” the showrunners would do well to continue their pattern of using Peter Gabriel tunes), Elizabeth burns the letter, effectively breaking her vow to Leanne and for the first time, placing the needs of the next generation above her duty to her country.

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Dealing with Jared was the easy part, though. It’s Paige who is turning out to be more of a threat than Leanne’s written confession. While her parents are down in Newport News, Virginia, ensuring that Derek will never sleep with both eyes closed again, Paige plays hooky, hopping a bus bound for Cresson, Pennsylvania in search of Aunt Helen. Along the way, she strikes up a friendship with a superfriendly teenage passenger named Kelli, who is all too eager to provide her phone number and Afterschool Special-esque platitudes like, “It always feels better to have someone to talk to, doesn’t it?” and “Give me a call if you want to hang out with other people who get it.” And boy is Paige going to need someone to vent to after her family-tree adventure goes horribly wrong: She arrives at “Aunt Helen’s” house, where a photo of Elizabeth and baby Paige hangs on the wall, but Aunt Helen is calling Paige “Shelley” and babbling about her “Raggedy Ann lamp.” Paige’s confusion (and mine) is increased dramatically when she gets home and Philip reads her the riot act over her unauthorized leave of absence from school.

How did he know? Why, “Aunt Helen” called him of course! Because she doesn’t really have dementia, she’s KGB too! And now, Philip, who up until now has come off as the one more likely to open up to his kids about his Russian roots, chooses to maintain his cover over his daughter’s curiosity. Going on a severe tirade about how “lying will not be tolerated,” he drives Paige straight toward the phone, where Kelli’s sympathetic ear is patiently waiting at the other end. Never mind that everything Philip tells Paige about Aunt Helen is a complete fabrication, or that maybe his daughter is hurting over not having much of a family – nope, she’s got to buck up because Philip’s dad died when he was six!

Other than a brief mention that Stan and his wife, Sandra, would be Philip’s top choice of foster parents should he and Elizabeth pull an Emmett and Leanne, the Beemans and the Jenningses didn’t cross paths this episode. Which is fine, because Stan’s feeling mighty good about himself and his quest to take down anyone assisting the KGB as he captured and killed the mysterious Soviet Embassy “walk-in” from last week (hence the episode’s title). After doing an all-night stakeout outside a Laundromat and a little digging into his suspect’s past, Stan pieces together that Bruce Dameran is a disgruntled Vietnam vet (again, the Vietnam War serving as the catalyst for two characters’ life-changing decisions this episode) who spent two years at Walter Reed hospital. During a frank discussion with Gaad, who did a monthlong stint there, it becomes evident that Dameran’s time at Walter Reed probably did him more harm than good. Soon enough, Stan figures out that the Laundromat is right across the street from a hotel where a big World Bank event happens to be taking place, and tracks down Dameran, standing on the Laundromat’s rooftop, wielding a sniper rifle and rambling about who “the real enemy” is – “the men who own everything!”

Just as Kanye Dameran starts in on how “Ronald Reagan doesn’t care!” he points his rifle at Stan, who retaliates by shooting him dead. His confidence restored, Stan falls into Nina‘s arms, professing his love and his gratitude for tipping him off to the walk-in in the first place. Nina may have let her country down by alerting Stan to Dameran’s plot, but after reading her report, Arkady has nothing but praise for the woman who has used her powers of sex, lies and persuasion to make an FBI agent say “I love you.” “You may be climbing out of the hole you dug for yourself,” he says. What Arkady can’t read in her report, though, is Nina’s smile when she recounts Stan whispering sweet nothings in her ear. Whose side are you on, Nina? The frustration is such bliss!

Previously: Front Window


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