“Happy families are all alike,” goes the oft-quoted Tolstoy line. “Every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” It’s such an easy, overused sentiment to whip out of your back pocket when commenting on another family dynamic — but after tonight’s episode of The Americans, it’s burning a hole in mine. This is one unhappy family indeed, and their unhappiness is unique, to say the least.
But first, we revisit the Morozovs, which may be the only other family in town having a worse time than the Jennings. Evgenhiya admits her affair to Elizabeth, unraveling before her eyes. Even Alexei confides in Philip that he too is homesick for Russia. He loves the prosperity of living in the US, and the fact that he doesn’t have to worry about starving, but “not so easy to be happy.” Philip’s understanding peeks through his disguise as he nods. There’s no place like the homeland.
The worst of their misery is poor Pasha, who is being absolutely tortured off screen. (I’m so glad we didn’t have to watch him find his locker full of dog shit. I only just finished 13 Reasons Why and don’t think I can handle another bullied, isolated teenager for 4-6 months, minimum.) All this, of course, is thanks to Tuan — who doesn’t exactly have the greatest homelife either. In fact, of all the unhappy people in these various households, Tuan’s past may be the most immediately traumatic. He seems cut from the same cloth as Elizabeth in many ways: He is a brutally committed and gifted spy, and his allegiance is almost certainly borne of the horrors he suffered in his home country. And when he slumps in the front door of his “home” to find Elizabeth, washing dishes in that quiet-angry-mom way, he looks about ready to burst into tears at letting her and his people down (by making secret phone calls to his cancer-stricken brother). And she knows it. “Everything you’ve been through...you’re special, Tuan.” The soft-spoken guilt trip she lays on him is worse than any punishment. She knows that too. She’s a mom.
Back in her actual home, her actual child seems to be on the verge of collapse. She and Philip come in to find Paige doing some late-night anxiety mopping in the kitchen. Turns out she’s been reading Pastor Tim’s diary again and found some passages about herself. “Pastor Tim thinks I might really be screwed up. He’s worried about my soul.” And she thinks he might be right (duh). “Because of all the lying,” she adds (also, duh). Philip points out that everyone thinks they’re screwed up (fine, duh to that as well, but come on, dad.) But again, it’s Elizabeth who knows how to work her children: “It wasn’t exactly lying, Paige. We kept things from you, we had to, to protect you. And when you were ready we told you.” Poor Paige just stands there blinking, not sure if her mother is being honest or messing with her head — suddenly aware that she cannot tell the difference.
Things are as grim as ever at Oleg’s house, too. As if to underscore this week’s theme of the Anna Karenina Principle, we see he and his parents sitting at the dinner table, in total silence, as if trying to prove that no, they’re the most unhappy.
A quick diversion from all this familial dysfunction takes us to Stan and Aderholdt’s own fake home, where they meet with Sofia. She’s dating a former Soviet hockey star, who now acts a courier, bringing packages from the USSR to the US. This is clearly the beginning of some new plotline (which they’ll have to wrap up quick — only three episodes left). But for now, it just brings us to a scene at the FBI, where we learn how coded Soviet messages are transported. (By the way, that “pineapple” device sounds a lot like the cryptex described in Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code. I’m so mad that I know that.)
Now back to more fake homes and extremely real problems. Elizabeth and Philip swing by the apartment to meet Claudia, where she drops a bomb: That super-wheat sample they sent back home? “They suspect it was bred partly from a cossack variety...stolen from us.” Meaning that this mission is far from over. The Jennings are going to have to run Stobert and Kemp indefinitely — for years.
Last week, we all but found out the KGB had deliberately tricked Elizabeth and Philip into getting them the Lassa virus — telling them they needed it for defence against the evil Americans, but really just wanting to use it as a weapon themselves, in Afghanistan. After that, there’s something familiarly fishy about this whole stolen cossack wheat story. Again it paints the Americans as the sneaky aggressors, stealing from the righteous Soviets. It could be true. But Elizabeth and Philip are finally catching onto the fact that, just like Paige, they will never be able to fully trust what the motherland is telling them.
Which, I suppose, is part of what leads them to do what they do. Adorable spoiler alert: Philip whisks Elizabeth off to an underground warehouse where they get married — for real. Well, “real” in the eyes of the Russian Orthodox Church. That’s why the rando priest appeared in last week’s episode. So we’d know who he was when he turned up this week, to perform a traditional marriage between
Philip Mikhail and Elizabeth Nadezhda. “I know it’s not perfect, with God and everything,” Philip whispers to Elizabeth, who simply smiles back at him with a look of utter love and tenderness. The fact that their real marriage is performed by a priest signifies just how much this means to them, how dramatically their loyalties have shifted. It is not merely a symbol of their newfound unity, but a direct betrayal to their staunchly anti-religion country.
During the ceremony (which does go on a bit, but if you’ve ever been to an Orthodox wedding, you know this scene is a very generous abridgment) the priest indicates a white cloth on the floor. This, he says, “symbolises the purity of intentions, and the road the new married have to follow together.” Hand in hand, they step onto it. In this moment, it’s hard not to consider the road ahead for the Jennings. Where can it possibly lead?
But for now, we get to enjoy a bit of sweetness, watching them go home and hide their wedding rings inside the fuse box. Are they putting away the old ones in order to start fresh? Or are they tucking away the new ones, for later. I’m guessing it’s the latter; this is where Elizabeth kept her mother’s recorded messages. It’s where they store the tiny pieces of their true selves for safe keeping. Fans might be bummed that this romantic ceremony isn’t consummated with an old-school, passionate Americans-style love scene (nor even a kiss). But the hug the couple shares is just so sweet it almost hurts to watch. Because, again, where can this lead?
No time for that now, though. The honeymoon is over as soon as Paige comes home, camera in-hand. I’ve skipped over much of what she does in this episode, mostly because it’s just more of the same: Pastor Tim tells her one thing, her parents tell her another, and her brow becomes ever more furrowed as she wonders if anyone is ever telling the truth. In between these devastating psychological crises, she tries to chill out and read a book, but then her parents barge into her room to ruin her life a little more. This week, they barged in to suggest that maybe they can get someone to lure Pastor Tim away with a new job offer, somewhere out of town. But only if she wants them to.
Now, in this final sequence, she does the barging in. She’ll take them up on that offer, and to help them figure out what kind of job to offer the pastor, she’s taken some photos of his diary. In it, she explains, he’s written about places he’s worked in the past, which he’s liked. Maybe they could all look at the photos together.
Down we go into the basement, where Elizabeth and Philip switch back into spy mode, developing the film in front of Paige. And yes, the pages do include one tiny mention of some charity work Pastor Tim did in college. But mostly, they feature his extensive writing on Paige and her parents. Are they monsters? I don’t know. But what they did to their daughter, I’d have to call monstrous. I’ve seen sexual abuse, I’ve seen affairs, but nothing I’ve seen compares with what P.J. has been through. He writes of her severe psychic injury and the damage he fears is permanent.
Watching Paige watch her parents absorb these words is both a heartbreak and a thrill. Heartbreaking because she is so clearly suffering and she’s had to resort to these measures to make her parents truly see that. Thrilling because she has turned the tables on them. After a lifetime of being lied to and months of being groomed and manipulated, she has found a way to trick them, to get to them for once. If they brush aside her worries after this, then they really might be monsters.
The cutting truth in this final scene all but erases the sweet romance of the one before it. Elizabeth and Philip can hug and make all the promises they want to each other. They can step onto that clean, symbolic road together, but there is no fresh start for them as parents. Paige is a living, breathing reminder of their past, and more than that, she is a person. The older and more capable she grows, the less they will be able to control her — or ignore her. Wherever they go on this new road ahead, she’ll always be there, between them.