The Americans wouldn’t have made it past its first season if we got the answers to all our burning questions right away: Will Paige and Henry find out Mom and Dad are about as American as apple sharlotka? Whose side is Nina actually on? Is Stan ever going to catch a break? Who killed Emmett and Leanne? And, no, sorry – none of those plot lines even come close to resolution in the penultimate episode of Season Two. BUT, all good showrunners need to throw their loyal fan base a bone every now and then, and series creators Joe Weisberg and Joel Fields (who also wrote tonight’s episode) succeeded admirably in that endeavor with “Operation Chronicle.”
Martha totally knows “Clark” wears a rug.
In the middle of keeping up with Philip and Elizabeth‘s missions to obtain samples of radar-absorbent paint from the Stealth Program and exfiltrating Jared Connors, the audience got a pleasant surprise during a seemingly throwaway scene between the Westerfelds. While Martha has every right to be proud that she was able to smuggle out so many classified FBI files for Clark – positioning her as the KGB’s best unsuspecting ally come next season – it was her offhand comment about her husband that made us gasp for joy: “You don’t have to hide anything from me. I even love your toupee!” At last, the mystery as to why she’s never yanked off his blond locks in the heat of the moment has been solved. Martha is merely an observant wife, sensitive to her husband’s insecurities. As one conflict is resolved, another immediately sprouts up in its place: Martha wants a baby. Clark, not so much. Keeping two kids oblivious to his true identity is enough of a challenge.
It’s not like Philip – or Elizabeth – have been the most attentive parents to begin with. This episode is no different: They all but abandon their children to bring some teenager they’ve never “officially” met to safety. The irony, of course, is their neglect has turned Paige into one of the sharpest, most vigilant 14-year-olds on the planet, and, as we’ve already seen by her investigative and forgery skills, an excellent potential spy recruit. When Elizabeth runs out “to the office” in the middle of the night for the zillionth time, Paige, taking a break from the classic do-your-homework-while-watching-Diff’rent Strokes routine (ah, memories!), delivers the ultimate burn: “Did a plane full of your clients crash?” (Henry, on the other hand, remains suspicion-free, nattering on about his low expectation for the upcoming Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.) Lucky for Paige, Pastor Tim is available to lend a friendly shaggy-hair-covered ear en route to the nuclear-weapons protest, and she confides that she doesn’t “believe a word that comes out of their mouths anymore.”
Eventually Philip and Elizabeth circle back to voicing concern about their offspring in the last minutes of the episode, but not until Jared is ensconced in the backwoods of upstate New York – at the same cabin that housed Elizabeth during her gunshot-wound recuperation. As hinted in last week’s episode, when Jared acted all shifty around Elizabeth-as-“Ann Chadwick,” it turns out he did know his parents weren’t typical American working stiffs. It’s still not clear how much Kate told him before meeting her fate at the hands of Andrew Larrick, but it was enough to allow Jared to trust Elizabeth-as-Ann when she spirits him away from his foster home to start a brand-new life. A brand-new life that in a few days, will not even be in the United States of America.
The episode ends with Larrick, who has been trailing Jared from the moment “Ann” picked him up, ominously interrogating a train-station janitor in the dead of night about the whereabouts of a “teenage runaway.” But the danger Larrick poses is more of an afterthought than anything else. At this point, I’m more curious about how much Jared actually knows – despite learning the truth about his parents, he was still oddly calm for an American-raised kid who’s just been told, “Hey, ditch everything you’ve known for the past 18 years and get ready for exile in a foreign country.” Strangely enough, Elizabeth doesn’t even pick up on this fact. Once she gets home and de-briefs with Philip, she’s too busy agonizing over how Paige and Henry wouldn’t keep such cool heads if the same thing happened to them. Philip, to his credit, disagrees about his daughter: “Paige is smarter than anyone,” he says. That’s great, Phil, but maybe now it’s time to address the 800-pound elephant in the room, which is that they can’t keep up this charade with their kids for much longer. Especially when Elizabeth, after all they’ve been through, refuses to take her eyes off the task at hand: “One day, it’s coming. You know it is.”
History has already proved that it’s actually not coming, but for the sake of the Americans’ narrative, the person who holds the key to winning the Cold War right now is, of all people, Stan Beeman. A staged beating of Nina and a threat of exposure for giving Oleg those FBI surveillance reports has persuaded Stan to call off his escape plan with his Soviet paramour and instead use his Stealth clearance to obtain the “Echo” program for the Russians. Now that Sandra has announced she’s moving in with her EST lover, he’s at his most vulnerable to commit further treason against the United States. Will he turn the program over to the KGB, or will he sacrifice the woman he loves for the sake of his country? The answer…that’s what season finales are for.
Previously: Far Away, So Close!