Spy parenting 101: Deadly decisions on “The Americans”

Philip and Elizabeth Jennings are good parents. That is their baseline identity. Beyond the spying and pretense, the mayhem inflicted by or upon them-they are determined to do right by their children.

The couple did disagree last season on the Centre’s (Moscow’s) push to bring their daughter, Paige (Holly Taylor), into the spy trade, with Elizabeth for and Philip against.

Elizabeth (Keri Russell) considers her job of protecting the Soviet Union behind hostile lines to be of the utmost importance. In previous seasons, we saw her and Philip (Matthew Rhys) do battle against South African apartheid, CIA backing of mujahideen in Afghanistan (out of whose ranks later came Saudi Osama bin Laden), and U.S. backing of Central American right-wing insurgents.

Why wouldn’t she view her mission as vital, so yes, she wants Paige to eventually enter the family trade, although she’d like for her daughter to serve the Soviet Union via a safer venue, such as the State Department. Philip, on the other hand, worries their American daughter will reject her parents once she realizes the true scope of their work.

Frankly, I think they should skip Paige and go straight to newly tall Henry (Keidrich Sellati), a son who acts as though as he could do well as an undercover soldier.

In this episode, the couple’s ongoing fears escalate about Pastor Tim (Kelly AuCoin), to whom Paige had confessed the truth about her family. Philip and Elizabeth first try a velvet glove treatment with the minister.

“What we do isn’t so different from what you do,” Elizabeth says, as she describes themselves as peace workers trying to defuse tensions between hostile sides, and working for equal rights. Not altogether untrue, but the holes in their explanation are countered by Pastor Tim, who cites the then-current issue of Jewish dissidents in the Soviet Union.

 “If you were to report us, we’d go to prison. Henry and Paige would go into foster care and there’s a good chance they’d never see us again.” Philip is telling the whole truth and nothing but at that moment.

“Let’s all think about this for a few days and then talk again,” advises the minister, who later proclaims with a righteous air he has shared Paige’s secret with his wife.

A troubling revelation, one the couple shares with their handler, Gabriel (Frank Langella), in his apartment.

Philip hands over last episode’s tobacco tin-within which is stored a vial of a deadly U.S.-made pathogen-about which Gabriel says wearily, “Can’t seem to get rid of this, can I.”

Gabriel alludes to the possibility of eliminating the pastor and his wife, which Philip dismisses on the reasonable grounds that Paige is too smart not to figure out what really happened.

Gabriel, stuck with a deadly vial and upset parents, says he’ll talk to the Centre about what to do, but in the meantime, “Keep calm and tell Paige to work on keeping Pastor Tim quiet.”

When Philip later tells Paige about Pastor Tim blabbing the truth to his wife, Alice, Paige is extremely upset over the betrayal, so now Philip has to be the calm person in the room.

He tells his daughter that her pastor and his wife are a part of the family’s life now and will be for a long time. How long is very much an issue, but not exactly a subject one discusses with a teenaged daughter.

Paige needs to talk to Pastor Tim, he says, for “we can’t have him turn against us, so we have to think about him in this situation, what he would think.”

This is an element of spycraft, understanding one’s enemy or potential asset, a skill Philip is teaching his daughter.

But when Paige does meet with Pastor Tim, he is still pompously defensive about his action.

Paige lets it fly. “Alice likes to talk. When I tell you something that’s a secret, you can’t just decide, well, I think I’ll just tell my wife.”

Gabriel talks to fellow handler Claudia (Margo Martindale) about his charges.

“We need to get them out,” (back to the Soviet Union) he says, but this is an argument he’s not going to win. The vote by their higher-ups at the Centre is to remove the troublesome minister and his wife.

Which leaves Gabriel, on his next chat with Philip and Elizabeth, trying to talk up the fun of having a vacation at Disney’s Epcot Center. “Go, take the kids. While you’re away, the pastor and his wife will have an accident.”

Philip is dubious, but Elizabeth is all in favor, saying, “We don’t have a choice.” She doesn’t want to go yet on the run to the Soviet Union. She sees the problems for her children having to suddenly deal with being in a country where they don’t speak the language and having to adjust to thoroughly alien circumstances.

Back at the house, they seed the kitchen counter with an Epcot travel brochure and act suitably iffy when Henry sees the brochure and immediately advocates for a family vacation.

Henry thinks he’s won a debate that never existed in the first place. Plans have been made. Fun in the sun for the Jennings family, but death for Pastor Tim.

In other ongoing plotlines, we learn more about Elizabeth’s inexplicable joining of the Mary Kay cosmetics sales team. In the 1980s (as in much of the world currently), women in capitalist societies lagged behind in level of education, income, access to all areas of the workforce and they also faced familial and cultural constraints well beyond that of men.

This is why Mary Kay, Avon and similar female-dominant sales companies positioned themselves as tools for advancement. On occasion, such a goal actually came true, but in this case Elizabeth must be up to something more than making friends with the warm and funny Young Hee (Ruthie Ann Miles).

Invited to a family meal with Young Hee, Elizabeth seems to actually be having a good time, and one thinks that the wine-drinking male relative at the table may be a potential asset in the making.

Later, when Philip asks, “Are you getting in there?” she replies in the positive. That particular mystery continues.

For poor Martha, Philip/Clark’s real-pretend wife, the central mystery may be solved, for Clark is indeed a spy, but she says to Philip, who wakes up during a scheduled sleepover in their Centre-provided apartment, “I’m still not used to it.”

At work in the FBI office, Martha has attracted the suspicion of Stan Beeman, but he hasn’t found anything actionable at this point. Fellow agent Adalbert is dubious, but does agree to take Martha to dinner. This would leave Martha’s apartment available for Stan’s inspection.

Does Martha have stowed away a photo of Clark aka Philip? Not an easy thing to explain away.

Speaking of Stan, Elizabeth advises Philip to try to patch things up since they could use a friendly face at the FBI. Stan is laboring under the delusion that his ex-wife, Sandra, is having a fling with Philip.

When Sandra happens to drop by the Jennings house, Philip tells her about the mix-up and then subtly tries to lead Sandra toward thinking sympathetically about her ex.

Philip points out his rock hard belief that if he left his house for whatever reason, his family would come with him, but in the same situation with Stan, “I can see him leaving that house and living in a motel, and not wanting to see Matthew because because who wants to see Dad in a motel? I’ve been through it.”

Food for thought for Sandra, but for Stan’s ex-lover/exploited sexual servant Nina, conversation is hardly pleasant.

She is meeting with her court-assigned lawyer in the Soviet Union, where once again she’s committed an act of treason. Already on thin ice, she chose during the previous episode to send a message on behalf of extracted scientist Anton to the man’s family in the U.S.

The message might have been innocent but the use of smuggling connected to a top-secret facility is a cut-and-dried major offense.

Her lawyer tells Nina that “exceptional punishment” is on the table as a possible outcome of the case, but Anton has told investigators that he knew nothing of Nina’s actions. When Nina reads his words, she is delusionally happily.

Later, Nina dreams of being released into a bright room where Stan says he is sorry for what she has gone through. She turns to see Anton, who appears sad-then she awakes, back in her cell. She could be facing execution, reason enough for her mind to go wandering.

Meanwhile, Philip and Elizabeth pay what always feels like a rare visit to their cover business, the travel agency. They talk in their office again about what to do about their kids and the trip.

Phil confides, “The last two days I’ve had an alarm going off in my head. It seems Paige loses whatever we do. We have to meet with Gabriel.”

But when they arrive at their mentor’s apartment, he is deathly ill and the obvious culprit has to be that deadly weaponized glanders.

Loyal to Gabriel, there’s no question of abandoning him, so they set up with a quick meet with William, the dissident American scientist who had provided them with the sample.

When William learns what has happened, he flees the park but Philip takes him down and emphatically spits in the man’s face. If there is contagion, William has it now. Now William has to help.

They return to Gabriel’s apartment, where the scientist gives everyone antibiotic shots and places the frozen vial container in the oven to kill it.

The next part is even more fraught with peril. They all must stay in the apartment for thirty-six hours and keep receiving shots, in hopes they can survive glanders.

Compared to what the U.S. had in mind as a potential death toll for the bioweapon, this room of four potential sufferers pales by comparison.

Despite their own lives being in danger, all Philip and Elizabeth can think about are their children being alone for that length of time.

And with the trip called off, are Pastor Tim and his wife still targets for elimination?

Tune in next Wednesday for another tale of ’80s spycraft on The Americans.

Photo: “The Americans” Facebook page


Carole Avalon
Carole Avalon

Texan Carole Avalon is a writer and reviewer.