Some of the bigger moments of this installment of The Americans were played off as no big thing. But we know better, right, comrade?
Chief among them, the revelation of Stan’s new mystery woman, a friend from the gym who has become very important to him in an extremely short period of time. Not much happens except an introduction, but she’s played by The Walking Dead’s Laurie Holden, which is the main reason we know she will be looming large in this season’s narrative.
The episode begins with Philip and Elizabeth at a loss for words as they hand over a slice of their fallen bio-weapons spy William and break the bad news to Gabriel that their protégé Hans became infected by the virus.
Rather than let him drag on, Elizabeth put a bullet in his brain.
“Everything all right?” Gabriel asks, noting their somber expressions.
Philip can barely get the words out.
“I’m very sorry,” Gabriel says. Then, anticipating a question that wasn’t asked: “You do understand, we had to have it.”
Elizabeth and Philip are good soldiers. They understand. Hans probably would have, too.
Gabriel has other alarming news: “I’m getting signals from the center every hour. They’re not their usual picture of calm restraint.” Famine is sweeping the Soviet Union. The concern is that Morozov, an agriculture expert who defected, is doing something to poison Mother Russia’s crops.
“Half of our grain comes from America and its allies. If they’re doing something to it, contaminating shipments, we don’t know exactly what,” Gabriel says. “People will starve.”
Philip is disgusted. “Going after people’s food? I thought there were things they wouldn’t do.”
Morozov is heading to farm country in Illinois. The Jennings are assigned to track him and figure out what he’s doing there with the American government.
Back home, Philip and Elizabeth find Paige is missing from her room. Their fear is that she’s at Matthew’s house, but before they can leave, they hear a moan from the closet. Their daughter is curled up in there asleep.
As she moves to her bed, she groans that it just makes her feel better.
Her parents share an alarmed look. Their daughter seems to be coming apart.
Back in Moscow, Oleg Burov is embarking on his corruption investigation of Russia’s food suppliers – regarded as one reason for the famine. His boss warns him of efforts to bribe him, ways the suppliers will try to lavish gifts upon him to curry favor. He is advised to avoid their influence.
Burov is an honest man. This won’t be a problem for him.
He has other problems, although he doesn’t know it yet.
Back in the states, Stan confides to Philip about his new special lady-friend. He recently told her what he does for a living and she was taken aback to learn he worked for the FBI. (Was she, though? Hm…)
Stan also tells Philip he has noticed strange behavior from their daughter, which is exactly the kind of alarm the Jennings clan did not want to ring. “I just notice, she seems… I don’t know. I spend a lot of time with her. Maybe it’s just teenage stuff,” Stan says. “I get the feeling everything’s not all right in Paige Land.”
Philip plays it off by saying she is just a heavy kid, always taking things too seriously. But now he’s spooked, too.
Back home, Elizabeth is giving Paige another self-defense lesson in the garage. As Paige throws punches with her fists, her mother jabs with questions, mainly: “How are things going with Matthew?”
“Fine,” Paige says.
“What’s that mean?”
“Fine means fine.”
But that’s not good enough for Elizabeth. If she’s spending that much time in the shadow of their FBI counter-intelligence operative neighbor, she is going to need a deeper briefing.
“I really like him. Why can’t you just let me like him?” her daughter says.
“I don’t think you’d ever tell him straight out. But you might end up acting in a way that might draw suspicion,” Elizabeth explains. “Any other boy but him.”
Upstairs that night, Elizabeth is pensive. When Philip returns from Stan’s she says, “Hans hadn’t talked to his parents in a couple of years. His sister is visiting from South Africa in three weeks. He was all excited. I guess she’ll just call and…”
“I tried to talk to Paige about Matthew. I think I just made her mad,” she says, changing the subject.
“When I was over at Stan’s, he asked me if she was okay. He said everything doesn’t seem right in Paige Land.”
“How long is it going to be before she slips, Philip?”
“I don’t know, but she’s over there all the time. And he’s already picking up on something,” her husband says.
At FBI headquarters, Stan Beeman gets a visit from the CIA. “It’s good news,” his boss says, but that’s far from the truth.
The CIA has been tracking Oleg Burov back in Moscow, and they’re aware he hasn’t been compromised after helping the Americans thwart (they think) William’s bio-weapons operation.
They intend to keep working Burov as a source. “This is obviously a good opportunity for us. Anything you can tell our officers in Moscow?” the agent asks.
But Stan warns that Burov wasn’t turned. He only helped “because he thought the soviet bio-weapons program was a threat to both countries. It was a one time thing.”
The CIA isn’t giving up that easy. They intend to use the tapes Stan made of Burov committing treason in order to leverage him.
“I just don’t think you’re listening,” Stan says. “Burov will sacrifice himself before betraying his country. He can’t be turned.”
“How does he feel about his parents?” the CIA operative asks, and Stan looks revolted. “Would he worry about taking them down with him – if things go bad for him?”
“You’re going to get him killed, you know that,” Stan says, dropping the pretense of politeness. “You want something to do, why don’t you figure out who killed Frank Gad in Bangkok – and why – instead of going after the guy who gave us the tip of the century and then went home to live his life.”
Stan eventually pushes the issue with the Deputy Attorney General, but he is rebuffed again. This time he makes his case more forcefully:
“He gave us information that allowed us to capture William Crandall. He put himself at risk. He trusted me. I can’t just stand by while we destroy him,” Stan says.
The Deputy AG is unmoved.
“We have to play by the rules. Burov is a decent man. He did the right thing. Not for money or because I twisted his arm but because he wanted to prevent a lot of innocent people from getting hurt,” Stan says. “I just don’t know what kind of organization we are if we punish him for that.”
That’s a devastating statement, but the Deputy AG shrugs it off. “I sympathize, I truly do,” he says. “But as I said – it’s out of my hands.”
Back at Stan’s house, Paige has a quiet moment with Matthew.
“I’m kind of in a fight with my mom,” she says, already treading dangerously close to the kind of revelation her parents fear.
But the talk shifts toward more playful reminiscing about their earliest memories of each other, and then Paige and Matthew are kissing. And Paige’s hand is moving dangerously close to something else…
In the fields of Illinois, Elizabeth is tracking Morozov as he ventures into a remote barn with what look like a group of stone-faced government men. She waits until they leave for dinner, then sneaks into the facility, where she finds two crops of wheat. One has been decimated, the other is vibrant and green.
In a sequence that plays out more like something from The X-Files, she soon discovers that the seemingly healthy plants are crawling with tiny bugs. There are so many swarming around her that she literally has to wash them out of her hair when she gets back.
At home, she tells Philip about what she found, even though he doesn’t understand it.
“Maybe we should just get rid of him,” her husband suggests.
“I don’t think we’re going to figure this one out without him,” she says.
At the gym, we finally meet Stan’s new girlfriend, Renee, but we’ve already laid out everything that happens. She says hello to Philip, who doesn’t seem to recognize her, and she has a conversation about a future date with Stan in which they finish each other’s thoughts.
Stan says she loves sports and beer and seems to be a perfect match for him. I’m thinking that’s not an accident. But we’ll see.
In Moscow, Burov is walking home when a stranger approaches and hands him a note. “Stan Beeman sent me,” he says.
Oleg goes home and hangs his head. The note is a map with a time on it. He is being drawn back into the world he was trying to escape. The only question is whether Stan actually sent the man, or whether this is the CIA using his name to gain Burov’s trust.
Back in the states, Elizabeth and Philip pose as Mr. and Mrs. Eckert as they have dinner out with their fake son Tuan and the Morozov family. Mr. Morozov is once again belittling Russia and criticizing its harsh way of life while his wife and son urge him to stop.
“I’d rather die back home than live here,” his son, Pasha, tells the table – in Russian.
“Such a stupid thing to say,” Tuan says on the drive home. “My whole family died back home. I was out with my grandma when they bombed our village. These kids have no idea. More food than they can eat, all these clothes. I can get Pasha to do anything I want. He’s weak.”
Tuan reveals that the U.S. government surveillance of the Morozov house is lax. The car monitoring him has been skipping days. “They think the threat is low,” Philip says.
While on a surveillance job with Aderholt, Stan gets some dating advice (a restaurant with a see-through grand piano) and also a suggestion about letting go of the Burov issue.
The episode ends with Philip and Elizabeth arriving home to offer a new round of suggestions to Paige about her blossoming romance with Matthew.
“I am not, I would not ever tell him anything,” Paige protests.
“How do you know? Sex muddies things,” her mother says.
Paige insists they aren’t doing that, but her parents know where things are headed.
“If you do, you are going to feel and say things to Matthew that you have never felt or said to anyone before,” Elizabeth says.
“I know you would never hurt us, but it could happen without you even realizing,” her father says.
“Fine, I’ll just be alone for the rest of my life,” she tells them.
“There’s something we can show you. A technique, to help you keep your emotions in check. To help you stay in control,” her mother says. “If you can learn this thing, really master it, you can keep seeing him.”
The trick is to focus on rubbing her thumb and forefinger together and thinking of her parents and who she really is. They tell her its something she can do whenever she feels overwhelmed, a method of centering herself.
“It’s just a little thing, but if you practice it, it will always be there for you,” Philip says.
Just a little thing. Insignificant. But this episode shows that those are sometimes the things that matter most.