THE AMERICANS: “Operation Chronicle”

The Kobayashi Maru is a Star Fleet officer’s test for an unwinnable situation in The Wrath of Khan. I wonder if Stan Beeman’s ever taken it?

“What? Did a plane full of your clients crash?”

–Paige

Paige has been in rebellion all season. Whether she’s making an unannounced visit to Elizabeth’s “aunt” in Pennsylvania or giving a church hundreds of dollars behind Philip and Elizabeth’s back, Paige is fighting back against her parents’ control like any other teenager. The problem, of course, is that Philip and Elizabeth Jennings are Soviet spies, and they have considerably more dangerous secrets to hide than the average parents. They aren’t just hiding personal conversations from Paige; they’re hiding covert secrets that could put her in a very treacherous place. They’re also fighting an ideological battle against the opiate of the masses, a western fairytale meant to pacify the weak-minded into American submission. So when Elizabeth and Philip strike back at Paige’s rebellion, it often seems the punishment is medieval; ripping pages from her bible, screaming in her face, and making her stay up all night to do housework. You would never call their parenting style warm and cuddly, but to them (especially the hard-line, black or white Elizabeth) it’s the only way.

Unfortunately, Paige isn’t privy to any of that information. She just sees her parents go out at odd hours on “emergency business,” hang out in the basement all night, and have hushed phone conversations, and she isn’t buying it anymore. Philip catches her trying to listen in on one of their phone calls, and she tells the still super-creepy Pastor Tim on the bus ride to an Air Force protest that she doesn’t know what her parents are up to, but she knows she can’t trust them anymore. I mean, what would travel agent emergencies be anyway? Both Paige and I want to know. Poor, seldom-seen Henry just wants to know if the new Star Trek movie will be any good. More than just being evasive, Elizabeth wasn’t around to help her pack for the protest trip like she’d promised, and the one chance they had to bond over something they both agreed on this season came and went. Elizabeth constantly frets that she and Philip’s work puts Paige and Henry in unknown danger, but that desire to protect hasn’t gone hand in hand with being a warm, loving mother.

All of this makes it strange to see how Elizabeth acts when she’s dispatched to collect the Connors’s son, Jared, and get him to safety. Kate’s last communication with the Jenningses was a coded message reading “GET JARED OUT,” and now Elizabeth has to do just that. She meets Jared as he walks to school, again in her social worker disguise, and convinces him to trust her using a coded phrase that the center has assured her he will know. As the two drive away, she tells him that she was good friends with his parents, and they discuss Jared’s next move. Using coded language and discussing relocation, you would think that Jared definitely has a feel for what he’s in to, but whether they’re just being hidden with their language, or purposely on part of the writers, Elizabeth and Jared never explicitly mention that Emmett and Leanne Connors  – and, by extension, Elizabeth herself – were covert Soviet spies. It seems a little cagey, as though that language was purposefully left out, but maybe Elizabeth is just being delicate. Jared is still a teenager dealing with his parents’ deaths, and the sudden news that he’s going to have to move and leave everything he knows behind. Elizabeth isn’t saccharine, but she’s warm, and she assures Jared that he’s going to be taken care of and how proud his parents would be of him. They don’t dissolve into tears and hugs, but it’s more tenderness than Elizabeth’s given Paige all season. Maybe she just feels guilty for having burned the letter that she promised Emmett and Leanne to give their children if the worst were to ever happen. Seeing as how Jared is already involved, and Elizabeth’s logic in burning the letter was to protect him from dangerous secrets, torching the note seems like a pointless waste now. Finally, she makes Jared change his clothes to hide his identity, throws the old clothes and his backpack in the trash, and puts him on a train to upstate New York until the KGB center figures out what to do with him.

Little did they know, Larrick was following them for much of the afternoon. Using a tracker hidden in the straps of Jared’s backpack, Larrick was following Jared and watched as he got into Elizabeth’s car (Where the heck did this tracker come from, and how did it get put in Jared’s backpack? Plotholes, producers, plotholes). Thankfully, the tracker can only lead him as far as the trashcan where Elizabeth dumped Jared’s clothes, but the ever resourceful Larrick, anticipating Elizabeth’s next move, begins checking bus and train stations with a fake police badge and the story that Jared is a runaway. The last time we see Larrick he’s made it to upstate New York, and he’s asking train station workers if they saw Jared leave with anyone. The real question here is why Larrick cares about Jared so much. He’s not a spy (as far as we know), and Larrick should presumably be hunting down Elizabeth and Philip instead. Is he just going after anyone with connections to Soviet spies? Does he really think Jared has any useful information on Elizabeth, a woman he only met three times and who didn’t reveal herself to be a spy until today? Or does Jared know more than he lets on. There’s still the unanswered question of why Kate was meeting with him without a disguise. Furthermore, why would Kate suspect that Larrick would go after Jared in the first place? Surely all of this can’t just be to protect Emmett and Leanne’s uninvolved son.

We also get our first look at Martha in several weeks when “Clarke” stops by to visit. It’s a short, but revelatory scene for two reasons. First, Martha shows Clarke several classified documents that she brought home from work. Philip, whose “Clarke” persona claims to be a securities auditor for the government monitoring the secrecy of the FBI, is stunned. Martha is proud as can be, claiming she simply picked them up off a pile where they’re frequently left unmonitored. You need evidence of lax security measures, she says. There it is. Suddenly, Philip has access to a handful of classified files that would probably be a Soviet goldmine without having to do a thing. Secondly, after they finish a lovemaking session brought on in thanks for the files, Martha tries to lure Clarke into a discussion about kids which he’s desperate to avoid. Martha’s frustrated, but she says she loves Clarke anyways. She loves everything about him – even that toupee he always wears! That’s right. Martha has always known that Philip wears some sort of disguise, though she probably suspects it’s just to hide baldness. Either way, it’s a startling revelation. Her husband is incredibly secretive about his job, he’s interested in classified documents, and he always wears some form of disguise. How long is it before she realizes that all of these things have a much simpler explanation than the one Clarke’s always given her? I’m on record saying that I think Martha’s days are numbered. Is this the start?

Meanwhile, the center wants a sample of the stealth paint that Philip learned about in last week’s episode, and Philip needs Fred’s help to make it happen. Fred is reluctant, but Philip insists that this is the best way to help the cause, and that, along with a dolled-up Elizabeth making eyes at him, is enough to convince Fred to help. Philip claims he has special shoes that Fred just needs to wear across the work floor, and they’ll pick up paint flecks on the floor. Poor, good-hearted, bumbling Fred. He’s probably in way over his head, but he’s willing to try. If he succeeds the Soviets will have half of what they need to create their own fleet of stealth fighters.

The other half of what they need is the Echo program, which Stan is working to acquire. He’d considered just smuggling Nina away to her safety, even going as far to try buying a car with cash and no title, but that plan gets turned on its head when he goes to Nina’s apartment to tell her the good news and finds a black-eyed, busted-lipped Nina with Arkady and two Soviet thugs standing over her. Arkady makes it perfectly clear: they have eyes on Nina, they know about her past treason, and she’s not going anywhere. Stan can get the Echo program which he’s recently gained clearance for, or Nina can stand trial and execution in Moscow.  Furthermore, they admit they have Stan over a barrel with all of the other information Nina has given them about his activities. Stan really has no other options. He has nothing but Nina left. His marriage continues to dissolve, and his wife is moving in with another man. His boss will barely look him anymore. His country and Nina are all he has left, and he’ll have to sell out one to save the other.  If he’d made it to the theater to see Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, he might have a little more understanding about these seemingly unwinnable situations. Left with no other options, Stan goes to the stealth facility to examine the program. As he walks down the hallway with a supervisor, the camera focuses on another man walking the opposite way. More accurately; it focuses on his shoes before letting him continue down the hallway slightly out of focus. He’s an overweight white man with a large bald spot. Was this our first look at Fred and his special shoes? If so, both he and Stan are now onsite in the stealth facility with intent on getting the Soviets exactly what they need to make their own stealth fleet.

I can’t convince myself that Stan is ultimately going to betray his country. If nothing else, he’s got a son of his own out there to set an example for. But if he did, it would take the show in some completely new directions. Though Paige and Henry aren’t in any immediate danger, that possibility has lingered around the edges of the show. What if Philip and Elizabeth decide that it’s all been too much, and they’re ready to move on with their lives and protect their children from further harm? Elizabeth says that neither Paige or Henry are as prepared for the worst as Jared was, and she openly wonders how long it will be before her children are forced into a similar situation. “One day, it’s coming. You know it is,” she says. Maybe they’re just tired of being spies (as the preview for the finale hints at)? If so, suppose that they go AWOL from Soviet control, and the KGB assigns the now turned FBI agent Stan Beeman to track them down. That would be an interesting new wrinkle for the show’s Amerians vs. Soviets dynamic, wouldn’t it? I’m not saying that’s where the show heads, but it’s an interesting possibility. Either way, season 2 concludes with next week’s episode “Echo,” and the show still has a bunch of unresolved issues to tie up before the finish. All the pieces are in place, and there’s no more time to stall. Buck up, Americans fans. The end is near!

Stray Thoughts:

-Whatever happened to Claudia’s boyfriend that she thought might be responsible for Leanne and Emmett’s murders? Surely they’ll touch on that during the finale. That murder’s been the lingering unsolved mystery of the season.

-I can’t help but wonder how differently things might have gone for Stan if his partner Chris Amadore was still alive.

-I heard Lev Gorn in an interview today where he didn’t use the Arkady accent. I felt like Santa Claus had died.

-How great is Henry’s debate about whether he wants to see the next Start Trek movie or not? Hang in there, Henry. The Wrath of Khan is going to be awesome! Also, how appropriate since our characters seem to keep finding themselves facing unwinnable situations. The Kobayashi Maru is in full effect.

-They clarified something I’d missed earlier in the season. “Cardinal” is actually the codename for Fred. They never really explained it in the episode with that title. Stan’s Soviet code name is apparently “Oriole.” I expect they’ll wish they’d gone with “Albatross.”

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