Note: Do not read on if you have yet to see Season 1, Episode 6 of "The Americans," titled "Trust Me."
Excuse me while I remove my foot from my mouth. I was getting impatient with the poor Jennings, but now, stuff is going down, kids.
And speaking of kids, before we get into the trials and tribulations of spies and marriage, can we talk about the duck pond?
Maybe it's nostalgia for being a pre-teen with a little brother, or just that I've just been accustomed to the children on my favorite dramas being so cringe-worthy and irritating, but I am enamored of the Jennings' duo.
"It was a really scary day," is how Stan Beeman summed up this episode for his wife, and it was the worst for those two kids. But they aren't sobbing or stomping around. In fact, after realizing that mom's not coming to pick them up at the mall, big sister Paige insists they just start walking, which leads to hitchhiking. Oh, the eighties. I have been a thirteen-year old big sister, and let's just get it out there -- we make the worst decisions. Much to Henry's chagrin, they get in the car with a seemingly nice, albeit seemingly creepy guy, who offers to drop them off on his way to work. So early in the episode, I still wasn't sure if he was an FBI agent sent to distract the kids or just the kind of guy who likes to pound six packs while feeding ducks on his way to work. Both seemed plausible.
Turns out, he's the latter. While little Paige tries to warm up to him like a thirteen year old girl does, Henry spots a knife in his jacket and knocks him out with a bottle and they run all the way home. Whether they know it or not, being a bad-ass runs in the family. When they finally make it home, they end up bonding in that way that only brothers and sisters can.
This can't be the first time they've been left alone, especially given Paige's certainty that "mom's not coming." I'm looking forward to keeping my eye on her -- she's old and clever enough to start picking up on things.
But back to this Sunday afternoon in Jennings-land. Philip is packed up into a van and brought to an empty warehouse. His kidnappers know he's a spy. They have his passports, recordings of conversations with Martha. They dunk his head in water -- the Cold War version of water-boarding -- and demand answers.
Meanwhile, Elizabeth is chopping vegetables and lets us know she's human by wincing through the onion tears before she switches into mega-spy mode and hears someone upstairs. Two men abduct her in her bedroom and bring her to the warehouse. Since women are so emotional, they use psychological tactics on her and put her in a room plastered with pictures of her children, so she can get her priorities straight.
When they brought her out into the same room as Philip, I was bummed. They totally fooled me into thinking the FBI had figured them out and I just assumed Peter would turn, if left to his own devices. But together, they profess to die for their loyalty to the motherland, just as Claudia, their handler, comes out to stop the whole scene. Cut! They were pawns in a ploy for the KGB to rule out mole suspects. The Jennings are pissed. At the KGB and at each other.
I was beginning to think Philip was a bit of a cad and his comfort with America too easy of an out, but this time I'm sold. Philip's doubts Elizabeth's loyalty to him, as he should. She may have told the KGB that he liked American closet space and fast food. And that's why they're suspect, and have to force a car accident to lie to their kids when they get home. He's a dedicated family man as much as an agent for the KGB. When he shouts I fit in!, you get that this is a personal and professional accomplishment. He's just as dedicated as Elizabeth, but in a more realistic way. Her loyalty is unquestioning and robotic, his is rational and comes from a survival instinct.
This is the first time we get a glimpse at what their marriage has been like before we met them. Philip sleeping on the couch, away from his traitorous wife. Elizabeth smoking cigarettes with Gregory and asking for his protection. Philip wooing Martha with Elizabeth's jewelry, for the sake of a source, but also, maybe, for the sake of affection.
Things take a turn at the Rezidentura, too. Nina begs for safety now that the KGB knows there's a mole, and Beeman gives her a camera to take inside. When she balks, he tells her not to worry, and carries out a rather extravagant plan to set the Rezident up, including purloined diamonds from an FBI evidence locker and a contact at a local tea shop. The episode ends with Beeman content that the Rezident has been pinned as the mole, boarding a plane to Russia to face his fate. But it's sort of unclear if any intel was gained, or if he was just keeping Nina safe. Did you guys catch that? And does the Rezident suspect Nina? How smart is this guy? That's why this episode won me over. I like being a little confused about the plot.
It also finally dawned on me why this show seems sleepy at times, despite its moving narrative. It's the first show in quite a few seasons of television, on any network, about "the American Dream," and politics and family and love that isn't ripped from the headlines. Unlike "Homeland", or "Scandal", or "House of Cards", or even "The Good Wife," we're in a completely imagined, but very realistic, world. It's almost like a good novel. They're not taking scenes from CNN and showing us some hyperbolic backstory -- this is very good, highly original drama that works.
Like in real life, things seem to work out. Until that moment, like this week's episode, when everything is tossed back up in the air again. Elizabeth and Philip are at odds with each other and the KGB, which they can't trust anymore. The kids are alright, but maybe too keen. And Beeman's finally whispering sweet-nothings to his wife. This is what we call a mid-season bump.
"The Americans" airs Wednesdays at 10 p.m. EST on FX.