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The Americans S02E03: "The Walk In"


More than ever, Elizabeth Jennings seems like she's starting to feel at odds with the demands of Moscow. A mother’s instinct to protect her young is strong, and if you're going to mix that instinct with Communist karate, you'd better hope you aren’t the one she ends up wearing a wig around. Combine that with a husband who loves you and his family more than anything else in the world—even the KGB—plus an increasingly suspicious older child and the threat of death to the offspring you’ve been lying to, and it’s fairly easy to see that an eventual standoff between the Rezidentura and the Jennings is unavoidable. This week's "The Walk-In" preyed exactly on that parental insecurity, forcing Elizabeth and Philip on a mission away from Paige and Henry while filling the hour with the idea of family and ruminating further on the intimate pain awaiting them should their operation ever go belly-up. 

Family was literally everywhere in the episode, from a '60s-era Elizabeth (ha) discussing the professional benefits of parenthood with Leanne (R.I.P.) to Philip guilting Paige by telling her how he lost his father at the age of six during their serious dad-to-daughter talk. Given the one-two anxiety punch of this season’s opening episodes, the focus on less death-defying affairs (at least on the Jennings side of things) in exchange for a basic spy mission and an emotional discussion was a welcome relief.  


Which is not to say the audience got off easy. If it wasn’t Aunt Helen mistaking Paige for her deceased daughter, the kinky-haired bus girl Kelly (great '80s name) shuttling between her parents, or Derek the shop worker using photos of his sons to avoid a feared crowbar beating, then our hearts found due wrenching in Jared, son of Emmett and Leanne. On The Americans, no human drama is complete without a dash of espionage, and so Elizabeth’s contact with the orphan boy carried with it a mission. I’m not sure any of us expected Elizabeth to actually give Jared the letter explaining his parents' true identities, like she’d promised Leanne she would—that would've been too big of a move too early. Was she visiting Jared as recon, or did she just want to check up on him as a mom? Burning the letter to the tune of Peter Gabriel’s "Here Comes the Flood" (yay some music!/boo the sequence was ho-hum) solidified what we already knew: Even under dramatic, tragic circumstances, Elizabeth still takes her job as seriously as she takes motherhood. As long as she's dealing with someone else's child. 

If the idea of family wasn’t literally present, then thematic overlaps between suburban life and the spy world—like Philip helping Henry fix some space technology of his own, Helen using a deceased kid as a cover against Paige's Harriet the Spy act, and a disguised Elizabeth stating that a child's main need is the assurance of safety before comforting the sobbing Jared—kept the idea of moms and dads and brothers and sisters fresh in our heads. Family is mutual group love, but it's that same devotion that can blind us to members who might capitalize on that love and use it as a weapon. 


Last week I questioned why Stan had not yet started to grow suspicious of Nina, but this week’s thwarted assassination attempt and subsequent award should hold him in her unquestioned trust for a little while longer. That his success at work translated to a declaration of love for Nina—who went on to coldly document his emotional proclamation in report form and accept praise from Arkady as though she had increased her work productivity—illustrated just how valuable feelings are in a game of deception. Feelings are real to a person, they are biological truth. While it was cool to see Beeman have another noir moment when he raced up the stairs and snuck through some roof sheets, I felt kind of bummed to see Bruce "Ronald Reagan doesn’t care!" Dameran so quickly introduced and then eliminated. From Vietnam vet to would-be World Bank killer, Bruce at least gave us all a recent convert's angle on the fluid nature of belief.  

Speaking of shifting cultural attitudes, Oleg remains my favorite. I love how relaxed and confident he is and I totally vote for him entering a love triangle with Beeman and Nina. Is it too soon to hope for that? He seems to be getting through to her. I also like how gung-ho he is about engaging in American culture (Dennis Maruk plays for the Capitals—get it?), and that he’s sort of tempting Nina with this stuff too. Currently, her only exposure to American life is through Beeman, and I think she’ll realize on some level that experiencing the enemy’s entertainment has an appeal—and furthermore, that Oleg can provide her with that, plus some much-needed fun, while reminding her of the Motherland (see there’s that word again). 

In keeping with its disparate thematic ties, "The Walk In" could refer to Dameran, late walker-in of the Rezidentura, or Paige, curious in-walker of her parent’s spy world. While we’re all hankering to learn more about Emmett and Leanne’s murderers, this third chapter of the season took an earned and necessary pitstop to underscore the devastating stakes at play in every second of the Jennings' life. It’s one thing to find those space plans, but it’s another to remember the living, breathing relationships keeping the homes on Earth worth protecting.    


SPY NOTES

– A taste of the Jennings from 1966 to 1967. My, they looked so young! They knew Leanne and Emmett a long time. So sad.

– Surprise surprise, Elizabeth wasn’t that into having kids originally.

– Ha. Paige was going "to buy jeans." That sounds fun. Bet her new bestie Kelly’s going to help her snoop some.

– I like how Helen Leavis's first onscreen words were "Ohhh!!"

– When Philip surprised Paige in the kitchen, that was precisely how it looks to get "busted."

– When people let themselves into the homes of strangers on television, I’m always like, "Who would do that?"

– Sandra's self-help source this week was Werner Erhard

– "Scalp it?" "It’s a capitalist term..."

– Henry tossed his space disc thingy into an American flag trashcan.

– Philip's spy camera and Nancy’s dope sweater tied for this week's best '80s thing. Sorry, Tab soda machine.

– Gaad took time off from the FBI to fight in 'Nam and suffered third degree burns on both legs. What a hardass. 

– A lot of storytelling happens in the world of intel. Beeman’s character breakdown of Dameran was a good example of this. 

– Finally, some music! The Beatles "Here, There, Everywhere" and Peter Gabriel's "Here Comes the Flood."


What'd you think of "The Walk In"?


Previously Aired Episode

AIRED ON 5/21/2014

Season 2 : Episode 13

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