The only thing missing from this week’s episode of The Americans was Dame Diana Rigg stepping in at the end of kidnapped refusenik Anton Baklanov‘s single scene – not dressed as Oleanna Tyrell, but as fashion guru Lady Holiday – and remarking on his tech-heavy monologue, “It’s plot exposition, it has to go somewhere!”
As fun as it would have been to include a timely reference to 1981’s The Great Muppet Caper, it’s not The Americans‘ style to break the fourth wall. Thankfully in “Stealth,” Professor Baklanov breaks it all down for folks who weren’t obsessed with airplane schematics as kids, straight from his open-ended stay at the Fabulous Hotel Gulag and Laboratory. (Book now for the State’s latest special: a female “companion” to share your bed – hurry, blondes are going fast!) Baklanov’s pre-credits scene sets up not so much Philip and Elizabeth‘s next mission, but Nina‘s: Get Stan to obtain a computer program called “Echo,” which “determines if a planned design for a stealth aircraft will or won’t result in a plane that is invisible to radar.” Because without that program, all Baklanov is building out there in the freezing cold is a “model airplane.”
Philip and Elizabeth will have their own roles to play in the Stealth chase eventually, but, as always, they’ve got more important problems at hand. It’s still the Cold War in the Jennings household, with Paige giving her parents the near-silent treatment over being barred from church camp – and Elizabeth’s hypocrisy reaching an all-time high. For all of Elizabeth’s rants against the church’s “indoctrination,” she’s doing the exact same thing that she’s supposedly fighting against: choosing and controlling what goes into her daughter’s mind. Meanwhile, now that Agent Gaad has been reinstated at the FBI and his pen bug is back up, Philip’s been alerted that the FBI knows Emmett and Leanne were KGB – and that Stan has already paid Jared Connors a visit.
So, off goes Elizabeth, back in her dowdy “Ann Chadwick from Child Services” disguise to see Jared. Not so much because she wants to make sure he’s OK, but to ensure he didn’t learn the truth about his parents from – gasp! – an American. Oh, Lizzie, you sure know how to warm the cockles of a teenage boy’s grieving heart with those priorities. The scene is fraught with tension for several reasons: “Ann Chadwick” looks a helluva lot like that sketch Stan showed Jared in last week’s episode. Plus, despite Jared’s insistence he didn’t recognize the woman or the man in those pictures (we never saw him give Stan an answer), his constant fidgeting with his snack and refusal to make eye contact with “Ann” suggests otherwise. Maybe that’s because Jared’s been meeting up at the local pizza joint with Kate – which Elizabeth discovers while conducting her post-official-visit stalking.
It’s only fitting that Elizabeth’s suspicions are raised about her young handler, who wears babushkas to meet-ups and orders vodka at bars. But Mr. and Mrs. Jennings won’t learn about the lengths of Kate’s sacrifice until the end of the episode. The audience has known since last week that she was poised to be Andrew Larrick‘s next victim after he bugged her phone line, and it was only a matter of time before the Navy SEAL showed up at her doorstep. Like any well-trained spy, Kate knows something is amiss within seconds of entering her apartment. Judging from her mad dash to the bathroom, where she removes all the toilet paper from the roll, she’s either got a severe case of the runs or she’s ensuring her impending death will not be in vain. (Whether it’s wiping a Mossad agent’s ass or leaving an emergency message, the KGB knows how to make good use of bathroom tissue.) The camera then cuts to the POV outside the bathroom door, the toilet flushes and Kate emerges to meet her fate, but not before engaging in a last-ditch smackdown with Larrick.
Wrenn Schmidt’s turn as Kate was all-too brief, but despite her character’s wet-behind-the-ears shortcomings, she played a vital role in her final scenes – shedding light on the show’s ongoing theme of good vs. evil. The real enemy to humanity isn’t the KGB or the FBI; it’s individual monsters like Larrick who are brilliant at torture and morally corrupt at the core. Kate’s last minutes alive have her hanging from ceiling lamp, her wrists tied above her head, while a calm and tender Larrick, a gentleman in latex gloves, slowly swings her body back and forth as he demands the names of “the scumbags who killed my friends” before ungagging her. Her spitting in Larrick’s face in response only wins her a broken neck and the admiration of the Soviet Union for refusing to betray her comrades or her country.
Twenty-four hours after Kate’s expiration, the Centre hasn’t heard from her or George (the dispatch guy Larrick took out last week), and Elizabeth – and the script – is finally getting around to suspecting foul play. She and Philip are about to check on their handler when Paige interrupts with the most kick-ass, articulate speech ever made by a 14-year-old: Although she gets that her parents have control over what she does until she’s 18, “who I am and what I think and feel and believe, is mine.” GO PAIGE. Herein lies the fatal flaw in the Directorate S mission: You have American-born children to maintain your cover, right? And in order to make that cover more believable, you make sure your children aren’t exposed to any sort of Soviet rhetoric. So you can’t get upset when these American-born and -raised children start expressing thoughts and ideas that clash with your own. What did they expect, that Paige would come home one day espousing the virtues of Karl Marx? That sort of “indoctrination” doesn’t exist in the American public school system.
To everyone’s surprise – her husband, her daughter, the audience – Elizabeth acquiesces when Paige asks to join her church group at an anti-nuclear-weapons protest that weekend. Could Elizabeth finally be opening her mind? But, as we find out a couple of scenes later, it’s just a red herring. While doing the laundry (what else?), Elizabeth observes that, “Paige is like me. She wants to make a difference in the world.” And then: “She’s just looking in the wrong place.” Dammit, Lizzie!
Wherever it is, it’s unlikely Philip and Elizabeth will be around to help their daughter make the “right” kinds of decisions in her life in the coming days. They go to Kate’s apartment, which has no trace of the murder that took place the night before. (Who needs Olivia Pope and Associates when Larrick is a one-man killing-and-cleaning service?) But the one place Larrick failed to sweep was the bathroom – where Elizabeth notices the empty paper roll – which has a series of code numbers written on it. Once decoded, the message reads, simply, “Get Jared out.” Rest in peace, Kate. You did well.