Can I just say that no matter the future implications or metaphors inferred from Phillip teaching Paige to drive, the two of them honestly going through the motions of father/daughter time is simply divine? Kicking off the episode with Phillip’s calm, bear-poking instructor persona was good enough, but to have their one-on-one drive time become a theme of the Paige-centric episode was a welcome inclusion. “You have to blink, Paige,” may be how I choose to remember the episode overall: a tension-relieving respite from the pressures of eight anxious weeks, just before the real shit hits the fan.
And it’s coming. In addition to giving a frightening glimpse of the realities of Cold War America via the TV movie “The Day After,” “The Day After” shifted emotional focus from Phillip to Elizabeth, as she faced the harsh reality of her chosen profession. Seducing, drugging and pretending to have sex with her best friend’s husband was a rough first gig after seven months of light work, and next week we’ll see how her ploy pays off for the KGB, even as it destroys another small part of Elizabeth’s soul.
Phillip’s Loyalty: In Flux
It seems like a break was just what Phillip needed. Not only did he really ramp up his racquetball skills, but his reaction to William’s questioning of authority was more measured than it would have been pre-vacay. He didn’t back down from William’s assertions, showing he wasn’t totally off base from his moral core before, but he also pushed William to trust the Centre — at least this once. Later in the episode, when it became clear what Elizabeth had to do with Young Hee, he was open to hearing both sides. He knew and respected how she felt (even more than she did, at first), while remaining loyal to their overall cause. It’s a good thing he’s settling down, too, because…
Elizabeth is about to go through some shit. There’s a reason Phillip was giving Paige driving lessons solo, and that physical distance between mother and daughter represents a deeper wound from their confrontation last week (AKA seven months ago). Moreover, Elizabeth dealing with her true feelings for an asset, Young Hee, after Phillip just went through everything with Martha shows a distinct shift to her perspective. It began last week when Elizabeth had to kill another close asset in Lisa, but now the pressure is suddenly on Elizabeth to do what she could only advise Phillip to do before — stay true to your training, suppress your emotions and get the job done. She backed up her tough talk, for sure, by making Young Hee’s husband think they had sex — and leave it to “The Americans” to make one of Elizabeth’s most debasing moments look classy as all get out — but the final shot of “The Day After,” with Elizabeth and Phillip sitting quietly on the bed together, speaks volumes to how much the job has taken out of them. Before, we were focused on Phillip’s inner turmoil. Now it’s Elizabeth’s turn.
Stan: Savant or Square?
“You can’t lose sight of who these people are.” Agent Gaad’s fateful final words from last week sprang back to mind as Stan watched “The Day After” on TV, perhaps reaffirming his resolve to do whatever’s necessary to protect his family, his country and himself. Of course, this came shortly after he confirmed to a Soviet spy that the FBI was indeed tracking Martha, and then, more recently, revealed information about this mysterious “new boss” of his. I still suspect Stan got the promotion and these “munchkins” are actually following him around, but we’ll learn more about that next week (considering Episode 10’s title is, “The Munchkins”). For now, we know Stan is still in love with his ex-wife, he still sucks at racquetball and he’s still not spending enough time at home — which, ironically, would actually benefit him at work, as well. Not that we want him to find out who Phillip’s recently “let go” clients actually are…
Best Asset: Paige
Elizabeth definitely went overboard last week when chastising Paige for expressing hesitation in regard to her spy duties, but she was right about one thing: Paige is the key to everything. What she does and doesn’t do from here on out will directly affect the fate of the Jennings family, and she’s not exactly getting schooled in the benefits of unsolicited Russian diplomacy. After watching the haunting TV movie, Paige asked Phillip, “Do you really think it makes a difference?” “I don’t know,” Phillip replied, which certainly weren’t the reassuring words Paige was hoping for. Phillip seems to be playing good cop, in that his response to Paige’s worries was to let her take the Camaro for a spin rather than speak directly to her about her fears. He wants her to have fun and see they all can still have fun, but that experience will continue to be jaded for Paige until she comes to terms with her moral crisis, one way or another. And that’s the truly terrifying part of this waiting game: No matter what Paige decides, she’s still the most vital asset Phillip and Elizabeth are responsible for, and, unlike Martha and Young Hee, getting rid of her isn’t an option.
Wig Count: 3
A pretty solid effort overall, especially considering this episode showed the Jennings taking a break from spying, “The Next Day” sported a few new looks and one classic one. Elizabeth had to dress up like her Mary Kay alter ego, blonde wig and all, but we also got to see her rock a brown wig while monitoring activity around William. Phillip also manned up a bit for his meeting with Gabriel — now that they don’t know whether or not he’s being monitored — throwing on a thick black combover and mustache. If taking a break spurs the Jennings to put a little more effort into their disguises, then we’re all for a few more. Nice work, you two.
Quote of the Night
This is why we’re here.” – Elizabeth
“The Day After” may not have had the exact effect on those watching in the Jennings household as it did on everyone else in America, but it’s closer than you might think. Seeing the devastating effects of a nuclear fallout scared the bejesus out of just about everyone watching. Sitting there in silence, the wide array of characters in “The Americans” all carefully judged what could have very well been a preview of their future. Whether they took it as an inevitability came down to personal positions, but Phillip glancing at Paige as Elizabeth sat transfixed by the horrors on screen is about as close as a silent scene will come to clarifying their moral imperatives.
Still, Elizabeth seems to be softening. It’s hard to imagine her returning home after a particularly difficult mission, leaning on Phillip and saying, “I’m gonna miss her.” How far she’ll let herself go down the path of empathy will prove decisive as these final four episodes play out. Will the “why” in her above statement continue to connect for Elizabeth, or will it become a little less clear, as it did for Phillip? They may not be able to hide in their house, but the Jennings still need a new plan. And they better think fast.
Watch the latest TV trailer from Indiewire below: