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The Americans S02E02: "Cardinal"


Every TV hero needs a worthy TV opponent: Walter White had Gus Fring, the Starks have Joffrey, and in The Americans' world of espionage, the universal enemy is "the unknown." Not like Commie ghosts or whatever, but rather the pool of undiscovered facts swirling around in the ether that could tank a whole mission, kill your kids, or stop Russia from developing space plans. In a war where intel is ammo, ignorance is the ultimate foe and the price of losing is death. Set in the aftermath of last week's hotel massacre, the very solid "Cardinal" found the Jennings struggling to escape that threat still lurking in the unknown as the hour bridged the intensity of the Season 2 premiere with the growing, mysterious dangers ahead. 

Still reeling from her near-death experiences (her gunshot recovery and the deaths of Emmett and Leanne), Elizabeth couldn’t seem to shake a heightened motherly concern for the safety of Paige and Henry. She spent the majority of  "Cardinal" suspicious of city workers outside the home, keeping the childrens close, and generally doing what moms do when they feel scared for their progeny (a.k.a. insist they go to the movies in the middle of a board game). In what's becoming a trademark for The Americans, Elizabeth’s espionage-fueled perspective exaggerates the normal feelings that parents experience as their kiddos hurtle toward young adulthood—a period of adolescence with more freedom and more parental worry. Frankly, I’m happy any time Elizabeth is shaken by the real threat of this sort of lifestyle. She spent a good portion of Season 1 with her head in the KGB, so it’s always welcome when she makes an effort to strengthen the family unit.  


Only by the end of the episode had she returned to her spy duties—and to be fair, she had never neglected them really, except for early on when she cut short the decoding. A taste of the field gave Elizabeth the chance to be motherly to Lucia the Sandinista ("Your revolution is beautiful. A foothold for us in Central America"), and hey, that was Aimee Carrero from Level Up

Really, both Jennings found themselves in a position to guide and mentor, with Philip’s being a smidge less comfortable than that of his counterpart. Man oh man, how tense was it seeing ponytail-mustache-phone guy bound into Fred’s home, trying to talk down the rattled gunman? (P.S. More John Carroll Lynch, please!) Really, Philip should've known better than to touch a metal box under the floorboards without checking first to see whether it was electrified, but given the pressure he was under, I could see how he might forget such a detail.   

The most important part of that arc was the debriefing Philip had to deliver to Fred regarding, well, "reality." I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: In the world of espionage, facts are currency. While this includes schematics and government details, it also includes basic vitals like what a person’s name is, and more complicated particulars like who they are when the mission ends. Heck even Henry remarked on the value of truth, saying, "Maybe I’m just a little bit more interested in real life than the game." As we learned in The Americans' first season, human assets require a personal connection to "the cause" to get through through the dark times. A certainty they can cling to. If even that reality came crashing down, anybody would lose his/her cool. (Hell, I locked myself in the laundry room for 18 hours one time after learning how hotdogs were made.) The point is, Fred was broken up about the death of "Paul"—a fake person, a character played by Emmett. But who cares what the flesh looked like? The internal connection was real, and that's the part that hurts.  

Which brings us to the fellow who had both sides all aflutter: Bruce Dameran (Erik Jensen—maybe you’ll remember him as 30 Rock’s "C. Cjokula"). Dameran is an employee of the World Bank, an ex-employee of the Department of Agriculture, and a Vietnam veteran with a Purple Heart. And perhaps most damning, he was BORN IN RENO NEVADA. No just kidding, I have family there and it is a fine place. My favorite part of Dameran’s introduction was getting to see how someone can become an agent of their own volition. What does he know? What has happened in his life that's brought him to this willingness to commit treason? Maybe he feels burned by his experience in Vietnam. Maybe he’s mad about the state of agriculture in this country (in 1982). Either way, he's of MUCH interest to both sides.    


In regards to the Rezidentura’s new asset, and really most of the goings-on here, Beeman’s still playing catch-up to the point of becoming a peripheral character in Nina’s story. I'm not complaining, Nina seems to have risen through the ranks the same way that Annet Mahendru has become a series regular. But I’ll admit that "Cardinal" was the first episode where I’d expected Stan to wake up concerning his relationship with the beautiful mole. I mean, sure, early on he could see that she needed his help, but I wonder why he isn’t himself becoming suspicious of her participation. Like, look at him, and look at her. She is gorgeous! He is handsome in his own right, yes, but Nina really has other options, and Beeman has to know this. Right? Like, can't he imagine a world where the Rezidentura has cleared her betrayal? He seems like a smart guy, and at some point he must’ve explored the possibility of Nina relaying his moves back to the KGB. Is he that clouded by his own charms/romantic needs? What will happen once Nina can’t give him anything of value? Mark my words, this conversation is coming, and it’ll involve Oleg "You’re the first person I’ve met who wasn’t exactly as they seemed" Nicholiavic.  

Speaking of people who are not "exactly as they seem," Clark provided a wonderful "Martha Moment" (ha she's getting a gun for protection) that fed into a truly touching expression of love from Philip to Elizabeth. Man, when Elizabeth gave her husband the okay to be with his fake wife, and then he turned right around and surprised the family by coming home instead because he sensed how much his real wife needed him, that was like end-of-a-romance-movie material. Very heartwarming indeed.   

The Americans seems to be a part of that "new television" movement where the creators understand how necessary it is to cram in all the cool stuff up front, leaving room for even cooler stuff down the road. We're still very early in the season, and already there are tons of moving parts. "Cardinal" smartly continued the sort of balance laid out in last week's "Comrades": part family strife, part compromised missions, and part existential attention paid to the very nature of identity. We’ll never forget this is a spy show, but dammit if The Americans isn't intent on showing us every facet of espionage that relates to our fragile human condition. Mysteries and all.   



SPY NOTES

– Poor son of Emmett. He will be "taken care of." Ugh. What if they ask Philip to do it?

– What is CARDINAL? Any history/Russia experts know this reference? Alls I could find was a character in a Tom Clancy/Jack Ryan book (The Cardinal of the Kremlin) with that same codename who was a CIA agent embedded as an aide to the Soviet Minister of Defense (which we also got a reference to). 

– Okay, so the Rezidentura is just as in-the-dark about the hotel murders as the FBI. Still, "CARDINAL" hasn't reported back what they know. Could be an internal thing!

– Uh-oh, Paige continued her sleuthing, using the operator (remember those?) to look up "Helen Leavis." 

– "Someone may have to take the fall," this spoken line of dialogue from last week made another appearance in the form of a recording. Martha, I'm looking at you.

– Beeman's plumber acquaintance sounds like he's getting a good bachelor package. I love how Stan keeps trusting the Jennings more and more. He's headed for a rude awakening a la Breaking Bad's Hank/Walter.

– Philip’s "phone guy" disguise was pretty close to his wiener-skewering alias from the pilot. 

– "I really enjoyed our dinner. The steak was excellent." Who was Fred talking to?

– '80s touches: TIME Magazine, Bo Derek in Playboy, Raiders of the Lost Ark, LIFE, Blondie chatter. What else, help me out here...


What did you think of "Cardinal"?


Previously Aired Episode

AIRED ON 6/8/2016

Season 4 : Episode 13

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You seriously didn't lock yourself in the laundry room for that did you?
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An icy feeling comes over me - thinking of the decision Elizabeth will have when Paige actually uncovers some unexplainable item - and confronts her parents. Elizabeth - Family or Country loyalty ? They've been allowing her motherly side to grow lately. Last Season she seemed pretty cool to her family connection at times. Phillip was more the loyal family parent.
Equally icy is the thought - what happens if Claudia becomes aware of a discovery by Paige - and Paige's likely loyalty to America?
My head spins - just questions/fears - no answers.
Terrific show - best ever imho.
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Also of Sovietological note, on the bookshelf behind her in her office, Nina has a copy of Adam Ulam's biography of Stalin.
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The real "Grey Cardinal" of the Kremlin was Mikhail Suslov, who as it happened died on January 25, 1982, the date specifically indicated in the show (the only one so far, I think). Coincidence? According to Wikipedia, "Suslov was considered to be the Party's Chief Ideologue and second-in-command. His death on 25 January 1982 is viewed as starting the battle to succeed Leonid Brezhnev in the post of General Secretary."
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Another excellent episode. There are so many things that I enjoyed about this series.

1) The cool gadgets and ways that 80s spies used. The spy shows today make it so easy. A few touches on the keyboard and you get to know and hear everything. We get to see how "phone hacking" was done then.

2) The attention to all the details. Who among us do not have a playboy hidden in our closet in the 80s and how many have not watch Raiders of the lost Ark growing up.

3) The well written supporting characters played by good actors/actress. This week we have Lucia the Sandinista (Aimee Carrero) and the rattled gunman? (John Carroll Lynch)

I am also intrigue to find out who actually did the family murder in the hotel.

It is totally understandable that Beeman is blinded by Nina. Many man probably cannot resist Nina's charm and would really want to believe she is totally in love with you. As smart as he is, his current bad marriage and his ego would push him even more into her.

The report by Nina about her rendezvou with Beeman (even in Russian) would put many male viewers (maybe some female) in a horny mood.
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I am going to feel bad for Poor Martha. Because when her "marriage" to "Clark" gets exposed -- or he just doesn't need her anymore (yeah, go clerk at the EEOC and see how long that fake marriage lasts) -- she's going to be hung out in the wind, if she is lucky.



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wait what...how are hotdogs made...HOW ARE HOT DOGS MADE!!-seriously tough great episode.
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My idea for Stan's "Hank on the toilet" moment: He's at a neighborhood barbeque with Philip & Elizabeth, sees or hears something that triggers a realization, and an all-consuming sense of panic & confusion sets in.

P&E are more careful than Walter White about mixing their lives, but maybe they have a asset in a safe house, Elizabeth bakes a pie & brings it to asset as nice gesture (hey, it could happen), leaves it in the fridge at the safe house, forgets about it or never considers it to be a potential issue, something bad happens, P&E think they tie up all loose ends, the FBI checks out the safe house, Stan tastes the pie, later Elizabeth brings the same pie to a barbeque or party, Stan tries it, and realizes that both homemade pies taste exactly the same.
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When Beeman and his friend went to Phil and Elizabeth's travel agency to arrange a holiday package, for a moment I thought the Jennings would get mixed up from getting caught at such a short notice, and would give any signs that they haven't done any travel-arranging in a long time and that place is a front, but no, they had the answers at the tip of their tongue and maintained their cover as travel agents. Still, that shows they've got to be alert every minute.

No news of Sandra and son yet. I wonder when Beeman's family life will become an issue again. Will he get away with his affair with Nina?

Who's replacing Claudia as their handler? And in the story, she's still in the US like before, even though she's not in the show anymore.

So Paul's name was Emmett? What kind of Russian name is that?

Cyclical pop culture references. It's funny how Star Wars and Indiana Jones would be updated references in early 1980s and now as well. But not Bo Derek, obviously.

Am I getting old or things like the cars and clothing shown in the series wouldn't seem misplaced today, over 30 days later? AS far as clothing is concerned, you'd have to be very fashion-aware to notice much. But I know some people are. They notice things that were worn a couple years ago, but are out of fashion now.

It's really nice to watch a show in which there's no internet that gives instant information and gives the characters a too-convenient shortcut to vital intelligence. Now there's always a website that they find in seconds and gives the solution instantly. Also, there's no hacker who magically uses his or her bogus hacking skills and disables alarms, hacks into cell phones, government systems, etc. Yes, I'm looking at you, Person of Interest and Arrow. Somehow, hacking has become something of a myth, writers rely too much on it and apparently don't know how to use it in a believable way.

I think I missed this details, but "someone will have to take the fall for this" refers to the pen microphone Martha placed inside Gaad's office, right?

In how many ways will Vlad's death come back and bite Beeman in the behind? I imagine grave consequences. Nina will never forget that, and Beeman has created a monster.

Anybody misses Amador, by the way? And Gregory?
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I bet they didnt know each others real Russian names and Emmett was the guys cover name the way Phillip and Elizabeth never shared their real names until something triggered it last season
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It's ok, except that the other guy asked Phil was Emmett's real name was. If that's Phil's notion of "real" name, he's more brainwashed than I supposed.
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Emmet if I recall was originally a German name and they could have recruited him from East Germany.
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Very originally. As in when English and German was much alike. Loooong time ago. But still you could be right about the East Germany connection.
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Emmet never was a German name. Source: I am Austrian
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I always thought that it derived from Emma which is Germanic in origin.
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Sure, a Germanic origin. Which isn't the same as a German origin. Because a name originated from Emma a thousand years back doesn't mean that the same name exists in East Germany.
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OK, point taken.
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i wonder how Philip or Elizabeth have pictured Martha & Clark parting ways now that they're married. Martha & her parents should pictures of Clark from their wedding day. Clark can't disappear without saying goodbye because Martha would ask the agents she works with to do what they can to find him. Martha would likely tell them that Clark's a government agent, which they'd check into & discover it's a lie. "How'd you meet Clark?" asked out of curiosity or suspicious leads to to how Clark was asking a lot questions about the FBI office & getting Martha to plant microphones. Alarm bells ring out. A picture of Clark should get Stan's attention, even if he doesn't know why.

If Martha were to disappear, be gunned down, or something done to make it look like an accident, there' still the potential for Stan to figure out Philip's involvement. If she were to disappear or clearly be murdered, the FBI would surely investigate. They'd talk to her parents, and the subject of her husband, unknown to her employers & coworkers, would have to come up. The FBI would want to talk to Clark. He can't simply disappear her parents likely have pictures of the daughter & son-in-law from their weddings day, unless P&E manage to get ahold of every picture of Clark. She can't die in an accident because even if Clark disappears soon before or afterward, her parents will wonder where Clark is & would probably ask the FBI to find him.

Clark's death could be staged in a car accident with Martha. Stan & company would learn about Martha's marriage, but having never met Clark or dealing with his disappearance, it could end there. I could imagine Stan at Martha's funeral, looking a bunch of pictures of her with her friends, family, & husband, seeing a decent picture of Clark and never giving it one thought that he looks familiar. I hope we get some scene of Stan & a disguised Philip or Elizabeth in the same room, maybe in an elevator, just to see if Stan notices anything,
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If I remember correctly "Clark" never let her take pictures of them, saying how super secret his job is and how she can't tell anyone. They told that same story to her parents so they would never mention it to anyone. As far as getting rid of her the accident could work "a gas leak explosion" at her parents house would take care of all 3
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Very good episode. The Nina stuff was weird. What is she up to? I got the impression that she didn't tell the Russians that she had told Stan about the walk-in, that she lied to them about trying to get information from him, and that she put sexual details in the report just to give her boss a boner. Is she going to sleep with him too to play both sides as much as possible? Does she really need to? Does she want to?
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I'm also at odds about what Nina did. What is she up to? Was it maybe just a mistake? Because she wasn't fully involved in the case of the new asset that walked into the rezidentia? Maybe she thought he wasn't that important so she could give him away in order to get closer to Stan. But I don't believe it. Nina is up to something, she's too smart for fooling around with no plan. Or is she? Goddamn it, this woman!
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A very good and solid episode. It's hard to use words like awesome or amazing when it doesn't actually provide me with an "Oh shit!" moment, but this was as good an episode you can get, I think, without an "oh shit!" moment. I'm enjoying it.
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Or one, very stretched "Oh shit" moment, from the opening to the ending credits. Super slo-mo.
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I love the new dynamics of Jennings in season 2. In season 1 the story was focused on marriage. Season 2 is all about family.

1. The death of Jennings' friends kicked Elizabeth really hard in the stomach . She's scared out of her wits that something bad will happen to Paige and Henry. She's looking for kill squads everywhere. She's on verge of paranoia. Keri Russell is fantastic as always.

2. The sense of gulit is eating Phillip alive. He can't forgive himself for entangling Henry into KGB's stuff.

3. I felt sorry for Nina when she was describing her intimate meeting with Beeman. That was just sad. I wonder if she has feelings for him?

4. Paige is snooping again. It seems like this time she needs to see something stronger then 69. Any ideas?

5. "The Cardinal of the Kremlin" is a great book. If you love The Americans you will enjoy it too.

6. Since I'm Team Elizabeth I really hate Martha. Someone should kill her. Since she's getting a gun maybe she will off herself? Fingers crossed.

Thanks for review, Ryan!
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Without getting too spoilery, I noticed the Wikipedia description of "The Cardinal of Kremlin" also involved space technology. This seems like too much of a coincidence to be ignored. Then again I can't imagine a whole character would be lifted from another author's creation, so maybe this "Cardinal" situation is just a nod, or is based in some top secret history.
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I read the book over 10 years ago. From what I remember it's more about the agent himself then the information he gathers. I know that part of the book happens in Afghanistan.

The other cold war Clancy books - Red Rabbit and (obviously) Hunt for Red October are good too. I recommend all of them.
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I think Paige is going to have to see butt stuff. I don't know really. I thankfully never walked in on my parents. I walked in on my buddies parents and that was bad enough and led me to announce myself every time I entered in their house and area where the hot tub was.

I would however like to see a episode with a little more emphasis on Paige. We know Paige suspects, but why? how? What has led her to this point of suspicion enough to continue after her being shown her parents having sex. I know the kids are kind of secondary, even tertiary characters if you think about it. But without a context for her do continue it just seems odd. But I still like it.

I think it would be interesting to take a girl that for the whole of her life associated herself as American to find that her parents are spies for the perceived enemy of her country. Would she run and tell Beeman, would she ask to be trained and take part? She is getting close to the age where Elizabeth likely started training. I think they could really do a lot with this plot line.

Martha is going to be set up for something big. But likely she will have to die because she has spent the most time with Phillip and could Identify him to a point.
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Who was/is the Helen Leavis Paige was asking about?
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I think Helen Leavis is the "great-aunt" that Elizabeth was supposed to be staying with while she was recovering from her gunshot?
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Now that I've got your reply I'll have to go back and watch it again. It's just annoying to have missed the significance of who Helen is. Thanks though.
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Helen Leavis was the name on the Post Card. I would presume Helen Leavis is not an actual person and it was merely a coded message for the Jennings. Paige tries to find her she find out who she is and finds that no one by that name exists. Which then adds to her suspicion.
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Gee, do you really have to make a comment like butt stuff?
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Paige - I agree - she has to see either butt stuff or orgy to stop snooping.

I would love to see an episode from Paige point of view. Getting into her mind would be very interesting.

I'm not sure if I want Paige to become KGB agent. Probably not.
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At some point I really want Phillip to pull a Frank Underwood and look at the camera and tell us what he really thinks of Martha. I think it would be hilarious.
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Wow I am not sure there is a bigger contrast of quality right now on tv other than Wednesday FX at 10pm vs Tuesday FX a 10pm. The Americans is just good and has easily surpassed Justified as FX's best show. It isn't even close anymore. This show makes the current season of Justified look like it was written by children, which could explain an awful lot about this season if that were true.

Yea I got nothing on Cardinal either. I am familiar with the history of that era and nothing. The only thing I could pull out of my arse would be to find allegories in the show related to cardinal sins vs cardinal virtues. But that would be a stretch.

Either way the episode was fantastic, just unbelievably well done. I am really enjoying the contrast of Elizabeth from last season to now. Last season she was a little robotic and played the role of mother well. But this season she is full on matronly, almost to the point where it might get her in trouble. After the death of their friends, she is concerned for her children this year. And she is starting to walk that fine line between diligence and paranoia. And likely she is going to start to slip just a little bit. Not necessarily in her work but at home. Paige is going to find some things out and that story is going to come to a head before the season is over. I really can't wait to see what she comes up with and how they explain it to her.

Phillp's story was pretty good this episode. You can see him conflicted and even a bit worried that if Martha goes to another job that he is going to have to kill her. My guess is that they are going to set her up in the long run for a fall. I hate to see that because I like Martha. But this is espionage and it is expected. Phillip counseling the guy that was holding him was also very good.

Mina is still my favorite. She is just so good. In dealing with Beeman and the new guy in the embassy. I would love to see her hook up with the family if only to get Elizabeth to teach her how to kick ass.

Overall I like where the show is going and can't wait to see what they come up with.
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May as well hang up a sign.
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That was a great episode. I love the way Elizabeth and Phillip are coming together as parents and are protecting their family.
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Need to scramble some eggs to go with all the Spam here, hehe.
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I Loved this episode. Each time I think the idea of the show will start to falter, it just gets more entertaining. Very gripping episode, and I really enjoyed the Philip/Elizabeth scenes.
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Good Lord!!!! The SPAM!!!
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I like to think flagging it actually does something, but they never seem to delete it...
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Since most of the spam we see is always near the top of the page, they probably delete a lot of stuff a few times a day.
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Elizabeth was staying close to the kids by playing Life, but she dragged them off to the movies because she got a call to rescue Lucia the Sandinista. Elizabeth making an excuse as to why she was only dropping them at the movies was paper thin and Paige knew it.
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Heh, I kept thinking how much Phone Guy Philip reminded me of the 2012 model of True Detective's Rust Cohle.
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The Starks have Geoffrey? You apparantly don't know your Ice and Fire :P
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They were talking about Geoffrey Rush. The Starks hate him for his roles in "The King's Speech" and "Pirates of the Carribean". lol, j/k
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Staff
Eek fixed!
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