THE AMERICANS: “Stingers”

It’s the biggest game-changer in The Americans history.

You’re…spies?

-Paige Jennings

You want the truth? You can’t handle the truth.

Take a look at the picture that heads up the very top of this recap. Elizabeth and Paige are in the kitchen together talking around the kitchen island as they’ve done many times before. For all its Cold War spy drama, one of the ways that you really know the significance of The Americans’ family storyline is because of just how much of it has taken place in that kitchen.

Harkening back to the idealized, family shows of yesteryear, the kitchen table was a place for togetherness. It was the place where everyone gathered at the end of the day to break bread, share in conversation, and commune together. That’s obviously a fantasy for most of us (by the time I was in high school even my mother – who had previously insisted on sit down family dinners – relaxed those rules to accommodate me and my sister’s hectic schedules), but that fantasy still largely endures. We still honor the tradition of family meals even when our everyday lives become too busy for them to endure as a regular activity. We still have Thanksgiving, Christmas, and holiday meals and recognize those as special events.

So think back to how frequently we find ourselves in the Jennings family kitchen and dining room, sharing meals and conversation with family and friends. It’s no accident that the last scene of Season 2’s finale took place there. Claudia had just informed Philip and Elizabeth that the KGB wanted them to turn Paige, and the two of them sat there pondering their options at the kitchen table as they sat down to eat with Paige and Henry. The grime of their working lives slowly crept ever deeper into the “safe” harbor of home.

So it also isn’t any shock that when Paige finally learns the truth about her parents and their activities for the Soviet Union, it happens in that same kitchen.

But first, the groundwork:

“Stingers” opens with Philip getting a visit at the travel agency from Pastor Tim, who wants to use Philip and Elizabeth to book the Church’s mission trip to Africa. He attempts to sell it as a God-lite trip in hopes of convincing the entire Jennings family to come along. Philip, however, is having none of it. He’s having even less when Pastor Tim attempts to give him parenting advice. “A kid like Paige really needs to be treated more like an adult than a child,” he urges Philip, who is turned away from Pastor Tim and shuffling through travel brochures while the preacher offers his advice. It’s a smart blocking move, and it allows the camera to stay focused on Philip’s face while Pastor Tim offers his counsel in the background. We get to see the wonderful look of annoyance on Philip’s face as he presumably considers whether he wants to keep looking for the travel brochures or beat the pastor to death with a stapler.

“Do you have kids?” Philip asks, knowing the answer. “I have a whole flock,” the pastor replies, but Philip stresses that it’s not the same. He remains ever protective of Paige, still trying to shield her from harm – whether it be from spy work or the dangers of organized religion.

The gist is a reminder that Paige is growing up, and The Americans has steadily pointed that out all season. She’s dressing less like a teen and more like a woman. She’s replacing the pop idol posters in her room with scenes of Paris. She’s acting like an ersatz parent for Henry while her parents are out all night. When she unexpectedly swings by the travel agency, Elizabeth and Philip put her to work filing papers where she used to play with the Legos still stashed away in their office drawer. “Are you guys trying to turn me into a travel agent?” she asks, maybe a little too on the nose. It won’t be long before a decision on Paige has to be made, whether Philip is ready for it or not.

But, ultimately, Philip and Elizabeth never have to make the decision they’ve troubled over all season. It falls right in their laps. After Philip spends another night out “at work” after receiving a mysterious phone call, Paige has had enough and confronts her parents. “This isn’t normal!” she says, pointing out that her parents disappear in the middle of the night. There is no extended Jennings family, just the four of them. “Tell me the truth,” she demands.

Thus, Elizabeth, Philip, and Paige again find themselves gathering around the kitchen table. As much as Elizabeth has longed for this moment, she ultimately finds that she cannot speak, and it’s Philip who’s left to tell the heavy truth: “We were born in a different country,” he says before their story begins to spill itself in broken fragments.

Where? The Soviet Union.

Spies? Freedom fighters.

Say something in Russian. “I love you very much,” Elizabeth replies in her mother tongue.

Look at that picture at the top of this recap again. For all the talk about how Paige has grown up this season, what do you see in that picture? Paige looks so small compared to her mother. She looks scared and frail. Elizabeth (and by extension, this new revelation) seems to loom over her. It’s one thing to know the truth, but it’s a whole other to be able to handle it. Driving the point home, Philip tells Paige that she can never tell a soul, no matter how much she trusts them. “If you do, we’ll go to jail. For good,” he says. In her search for the truth, Paige has stumbled upon a secret that she can never reveal to another living soul.

Elizabeth and Philip are fine with it when Paige skips school the next day. She understandably has a lot on her mind. She tries to call Pastor Tim, but realizes that she now has a secret that she can’t even tell him. It’s a cold new world she’s living in, and she only seems to realize it all the more when Stan comes over for dinner that night.

It’s a borderline The Godfather moment when her parents, Henry, and Stan sit down for dinner that evening while Paige watches in horror from the next room. The precarious game her parents have been playing slowly begins to dawn on her, and now she’s complicit in the cover-up. The very man who could put her parents away for life sits down and breaks bread with them a few times a week – in the inner sanctum of their family dining room no less. If she were to slip up at dinner, it would all be over, and that’s a huge burden to bear for anyone – no matter how “mature for their age” that person may be.

———————-

Obviously, there were more plots in this episode, but I wanted to focus on what may be the biggest development in The Americans history for my recap. Some quick notes on rest:

Stan and Henry seem to have a budding bromance going. They bond over games of Strat-O-Matic and confiscated FBI VHSs of Tron. Stan gets a replacement for the son he never sees, and Henry gets a father figure. For Philip to be emotionally struggling with his Russian son fighting in Afghanistan, he doesn’t seem to be spending much time with Henry at home.

Nina is slowly working to win Baklanov over, and it might just be succeeding. He seems intrigued when she talks about America and speaks English to him. They get just one short scene, but it crackles with life. I can’t wait for more.

After seeing Kimmie and retrieving the suitcase recording, Philip learns that the CIA is trying to pull together a meeting with the Mujahideen. Yousaf will only meet with Philip to discuss the developments, but he’s putting everyone off until closer to the big date of the meeting. Trouble brewing?

It seems Stan’s hunch about Zinaida may have been correct. While on a trip to the movies to watch Tootsie, she slips a note to the Soviets in a bathroom about her encounter with a Soviet agent last week. That agent, of course, was Oleg. However, he’s not privy to the knowledge that she is indeed a double agent. He was just trying to get her to confess in order to trap her into a hostage exchange for Nina. However, if he’d just get on with his real work – getting plane photographs for Bakalnov – he’d likely help Nina free herself. It appears job compartmentalization and lack of communication is really creating a complicated web at the Rezidentura.

The Dead Drop

  • Henry and Stan hanging out together is incredibly weird to me, and I don’t really like it. Do they ever talk about their mutual love of the same woman since Henry is hiding a dossier of lingerie photos, including one of a bikini-clad Sandra Beeman, in his closet?
  • Again tying the theme of the idealized dinner table and cold war drama together: Did you know that the premiere of Leave It to Beaver and the launch of Sputnik occurred on the same day? October 4, 1957
  • Sadly, no mail robot sightings this week.

That’s it. See you all next week!

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