The children’s war continues for ‘The Americans’
Two Soviet spies and daughter Paige. | FX

Paige Jennings, the collegiate daughter of two 1980s undercover Soviet operatives, thinks she is more than capable of handling herself in a fight.

After all, her mother, the formidable Elizabeth (Keri Russell) has been sparring with her for years. Given Paige’s increasing role as a back-up surveillance team member, one can see why her confidence has increased.

But Paige is petite, and in those bouts, she wore pads. She’s been haggling with Elizabeth over whether she should get closer to a young man who works as an intern in the office of a senator who’s on the Arms Committee.

Elizabeth has soft-peddled the sexual dealings that can arise from spy work. She is aiming her daughter for a future in which Paige (Holly Taylor) is employed at the CIA or the State Department.

Paige isn’t thinking about the future. That intern, who Paige has already banged, is a soft target Paige wants to explore. Now.

This episode, “The Great Patriotic War,” explores how children are drawn into dangerous conflicts like the one, for instance, experienced by Russian children and their families in World War II to the tune of over twenty million dead. The possibility that Paige may fall at any point in the then-current Cold War is never far from our minds.

The subject of World War II arises when KGB handler Claudia (Margo Martindale) describes how she lost her siblings and most of her family during the Nazi siege of Stalingrad. Paige is properly stunned.

Elizabeth, who recalls her family eating rats, fills in more details of life during wartime. Paige sees in these women the strength it took to survive and their determination to keep such a struggle from ever happening again.

We see modern-day examples of the way children are treated as collateral damage, as in the thousands killed by U.S. air and ground attacks in Iraq. Although Paige has it easy by comparison, her luck may not continue much longer.

Meanwhile, Elizabeth’s intelligence mission to gain intel on the upcoming U.S.-Soviet nuclear armaments talks continues unabated, as does her effort to track down Gennadi, a Soviet courier who defected with help from the Jennings’ neighbor, FBI agent Stan Beeman.

Stan’s profile has been relatively low in the early part of this season, but in this episode he sees his wife, Renee, off to work with the promise to finagle a job for her in FBI personnel. We learned in an earlier episode that the persistent Renee (The Walking Dead’s Laurie Holden) was older than the age cutoff for being an agent, but it looks like she may at least be in the building helping agents do their work.

Speculation has abounded online that she’s a spy, but for whom? Another U.S. agency, the Soviets, or some other country? Maybe she’s a multi-season red herring. If so, a frustrating choice by the showrunners.

In a more substantive storyline, Stan (Noah Emmerich) spends time with Gennadi, who’s lonely in his tiny apartment. His estranged wife, Sonia, has nicer digs with their young son, Ilya. Years earlier, Stan had, after many strikeouts, found Sonia, a lowly Soviet media staffer all too willing to be bribed.

However, Sonia (Darya Ekamasova) was a regular blabbermouth and wanted Gennadi (Yuri Kolokolnikov) in on the deal. Fine, job done. Sonia soon sweetened to life on the FBI payroll and soured on Gennadi. When she fecklessly began recruiting another Soviet official, Stan had to extricate Sonia, Gennadi, and Ilya.

Gennadi, a former hockey hero who perhaps took too many pucks to the head, watches games on TV with his only “friend,” Stan, who is working on warming Sonia up to the prospect of reuniting with Gennadi.

With all this domestic drama, Stan hasn’t paid sufficient attention to his surroundings, for Elizabeth’s surveillance team of Norm and Marilyn has been tailing the FBI agent.

They now know where Gennadi is holed up. Elizabeth gets close to Gennadi on a darkened street, but his not-Stan FBI handler catches up, and the moment passes. The agent, however, may have glimpsed her face.

On her second try, she climbs a fire escape and sneaks through the kitchen window of Gennadi’s apartment. Realizing he has unexpected company, she’s about to leave the way she came in, when Gennadi spots her.  He is a big man, she’s not getting away, so her only move left is to swiftly close the short distance and stab upward in his throat.

TV audio in the living room covers the sound of Gennadi dying, and once again, she’s preparing to leave when Sonia walks in the kitchen and sees what happens. In short order, Elizabeth takes her down.

She peers around the corner and sees Ilya raptly watching the show. Elizabeth, with agonizingly slow steps, creeps back into the kitchen and out the window.

The boy will at some point walk into the kitchen and sees the bodies of his parents. Would the U.S. even let him be returned to family members in the Soviet Union? Doubtful, but regardless of his future, his present is too awful to contemplate.

In every episode this season, Elizabeth has killed people at a rate that easily dwarfs her rate in previous seasons. With help from Philip, could she have avoided some of the carnage this season? Possibly.

Elizabeth is a spy, a hidden soldier in an unending war. She is tired and overworked, while in her other, more extensive mission, she operates under immense pressure from the anti-Gorbachev faction in the Kremlin to track Soviets likely to collaborate with the U.S. in undermining the U.S.S.R.

As feckless and venal as Sonia had been in accepting FBI money, she surely didn’t deserve her fate, for it was her lovesick husband, Gennadi, who made a conscious choice to commit himself to the Soviet Union’s nuclear-armed foe.

He sealed his fate from the moment he took the money and began passing state secrets to the U.S. If not Elizabeth, then another Soviet agent would have accepted the task of executing Gennadi.

U.S. spies and military service members carry out decisions that result in the deaths of others. Knifes flash, bombs rain down. The calculus is grim.

For Philip (Matthew Rhys), still reeling from the numbers crunch destroying his travel agency, his effort to avoid returning full-fledged to his old line of work is faltering badly. Last episode he visited again with former KGB agent Oleg Burov, and hesitantly gave Oleg slight details of Elizabeth’s current nuclear-themed mission.

A little treason, like a little suicide, is an oxymoron. Once attempted, there’s little hope of walking it back without timely intervention.

But this time out, the hard ask comes from his wife, who doesn’t know how far Philip has come already toward betraying their country. Elizabeth desperately needs to find out what Breland, a CIA official, is hearing about the Soviet side of the nuclear arms talks.

Years ago, a disguised Philip had wiggled into the life of Kimberly, Breland’s teenaged daughter, in order to plant a wire listening device in the father’s briefcase.

Occasional visits by “Jim” to Kimberly (Julia Garner) have allowed him to switch out the recordings, but another visit won’t be possible until Christmas because the now college-aged Kimberly is looking forward to a trip to Greece.

The intel mission can’t wait, for by then, Gorbachev’s faction may have cut a side deal with the U.S. that leaves the Soviet Union fatally weakened.

Elizabeth had questioned her superiors’ cockamamie plan to suborn Breland by framing his daughter for drug possession in Bulgaria.

But now, as a disciplined soldier, she makes the pitch to Philip, who reluctantly agrees.

Philip dons his Jim disguise and meets up with Kimberly at a restaurant to suggest the pair meet up in Greece. Kimberly politely brushes him off. Jim is but an older platonic friend and she wants to spend time with her pals.

In her earlier teenage wannabe-player phase, Kimberly had tried to make out with Philip. Creeped out by the age difference, he couldn’t have sex with a girl who reminded him of his daughter. Since then, he’s been the weed buddy in Kimberly’s life.

Now, he uses the card he refused to play back then, and they make out. Philip plows ahead, having sex with all the ardor of a thoroughly worn-out adult film star. He’s not the male version of Stormy Daniels, that’s for sure.

Philip has made sure Kimberly will welcome his visit in Greece, which means the planned drug frame-up is back on.

The man he took the first steps toward treason with, Oleg, is approached by former coworker Tatiana as he is leaving after the college class he is taking, which is not a very convincing cover.

Tatiana, for one, doesn’t believe he’s back in the States for school, not when critical U.S.-Soviet talks are in the planning stages.

Oleg (Costa Ronin) keeps brushing her off in a somewhat condescending manner, but Tatiana (Vera Cherny) persists until she bursts out in anger, “I know it was you. You told the Americans about my operation. But you got out of it [the blame], right? You and your connections.”

His interference in a delicate mission caused her to lose a chance at promotion. “Think about all the things you crash over along the way,” she retorts.

Later, when Tatiana talks to the Rezidentura boss, she says, “Oleg’s not here for them, not here for us. He’s not loyal. Send that cable.”

Oleg’s pattern in this show is for him to trust his judgment, however rash, over all others, and to highly value his status, as he did over that of the late, lamented double-agent Nina, an error he appears to be repeating by endangering his sadly much-too-helpful father back in Moscow.

In backing Gorbachev, Oleg has selected a supposed vessel for change who, history shows us, proved ill equipped to handle the massive societal and economic distress caused by his clique’s actions and inactions during the period.

Paige is similar to Oleg in that she, too, over-values her abilities, although she has the understandable excuse of being young and inexperienced.

While at a nightclub, she accepts the offer from a nice guy to buy her a drink, but the outing deteriorates quickly when the nice guy–who turns out to be a weakling–allows his boorish friend to talk about jerking off and then insults her looks.

When Jerk Bro accelerates the verbal abuse, Paige puts all those sparring lessons to use, tripping him to the floor, and giving him a couple of good thumps in the process.

The weakling not-so-nice guy tries to catch up, but Paige isn’t having it and gives him a broken nose.

Instead of heading to her apartment, she beelines for home, where she demands a sparring bout with Elizabeth.

Reluctantly, Paige reveals what happened at the club, although she massages the truth more than a little, claiming that the two “assholes started a fight with me.”

Elizabeth gives her usual lesson about the essence of spying is not drawing attention to oneself, and a callback to Paige’s desire to work the cute intern for intel.

Paige erupts, “You can’t tell me who I can or can’t sleep with. Get off my ass.” And off she goes, leaving a worried set of parents.

Elizabeth explains to her husband, “I am not telling her to sleep with someone. She sees a cute boy, she’s like any other girl her age…but maybe you’re right, maybe she’s not cut out for this sort of thing.”

Philip in essence says that while Paige could probably be a spy, the mental toll would be crushing.

Paige and Elizabeth mend fences somewhat during a visit to Claudia where the experienced handler explains how to handle booze better than their potential targets. Apparently, this involves drinking a shot of olive oil beforehand in order to coat the stomach.

The trio knock down booze while talking about how dating guys went in the old days. For Elizabeth, her first time at sex was something of a botch due to her partner’s desire to avoid their being overheard in an overcrowded apartment.

The women’s laughter at her story brightens the mood for a moment in this tense episode, but for Elizabeth the pressure returns during her usual stint in disguise as a dowdy home nurse for the cancer-stricken Erica, who is the wife of a U.S. nuclear arms negotiator.

To distract herself from the pain, Erica (Miriam Shor) has been giving Elizabeth art lessons. Judging by the jaundice of her skin, the cancer must have spread to her liver, but this deadliest of foes too often lingers before the killing blow.

Upon inspecting Elizabeth’s sketch book, Erica complains, “There should be dozens of drawings in here.”

“I don’t have free time,” Elizabeth meekly responds.

“Free time, kind of a funny phrase,” Erica says sarcastically, a woman with next to no time left. “You’ve got to try. There’s someone in there who’s trying to see. Look at the vase–draw. Don’t think, just draw.”

Elizabeth bends her head down and tries again to draw. We see from Erica’s pleased reaction, that finally her pupil/nurse is making some progress.

Elizabeth may be coming closer to an emotional breakthrough by this point–or a breakdown.

Speaking of breaking points, Paige’s too confident attitude about fighting is preying on Philip’s mind, so he visits her apartment. He says, “I remember that feeling of being able to do that to people. How good it felt.”

“I’ve never hit anyone before except mom in practice…I don’t think I’m the same as you, dad. I know you’re not into what mom and me do, but I am.”

Really? You can almost see the thought balloon over Philip’s head. We’ve seen him successfully overcome many a foe. “So, come at me,” he orders. “I want to see what you’ve learned.”

Paige can’t quite hit her father at first, but Philip sparks her into making more of an effort. He handles her easily at first, then she fights in earnest, using the time-honored tactic of biting his arm as he executes a not-quite chokehold.

His daughter is not in danger nor suffers real harm, for Philip is an expert fighter.

He’s made his point: she’s not yet ready for a real contest. But she fought better than he imagined she would.

“Not bad,” he says as he leaves.

He’s back home, probably about to tackle his travel agency bills again when neighbor Stan comes by to cadge a beer and kvetch about work.

He’s a touch more open about his job than in the past. “It’s this old case from when I was working with the Russians,” he explains.

Philip happens to have his back turned fetching a glass when Stan reveals that his Russian defectors have been killed.

Appalled, Philip manages to control his expression by the time he turns around, but he knows, bone-deep, that Elizabeth committed the acts. And that he would have done the same, if tasked with the mission back in his more active past.

He can’t go through with his part of the mission involving Kimberly, so he goes to a payphone and breaks it off their relationship.

“You need someone your own age,” he explains to a crestfallen Kimberly.

Well done thus far, but Philip takes the mea culpa much too far. “One last thing, when you go to Greece, stay in Greece. If someone tries to get you to go to a communist country, don’t go.”

Kimberly may not realize that he has outed “Jim” as being a Soviet spy, but if she reveals this conversation to her father, he’ll understand the context immediately, and have his entire house checked for listening devices.

Which will reveal the bug Philip left in his briefcase. Kimberly can provide a detailed description of “Jim”, whose wig is hardly enough of a disguise.

Despite his convincing display of physical chops to his daughter, Philip’s incompetence as a spy these days is morphing into something more toxic—a traitor.

His and Elizabeth’s son, Henry, who has largely been off screen this season attending a New England private school, may see his world come crashing down as the result of Philip’s actions. His sister possibly arrested or disappeared into the Soviet Union. Or dead.

Too often, sons and daughters become tangled in battles not of their own making, whether in the Sudan, or Iraq, or here in the U.S.

Tune in to The Americans final season on FX to see how this final contest plays out.


CONTRIBUTOR

Carole Avalon
Carole Avalon

Texan Carole Avalon is a writer and reviewer.

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