The problem with finally opening up and being honest is discovering all the past betrayals of someone you trusted. This episode of The Americans has apparently sent KGB handler Gabriel on his way, but his final line to Philip is simultaneously a refreshing moment of candor and a knife in the heart. Now he tells him?
This episode also opened up potential for a theory that would have colossal ramifications for the show — and could indicate how two disparate story lines may eventually converge. But we’ve got to save that for the end of the recap.
We open in the safe house where Paige has just been invited to meet with Gabriel, her mother and father’s longtime handler, who is soon to depart and retire. “I can’t tell you, Paige, how much I’ve been looking forward to this day,” the old man tells her.
Her questions are simple. They’re treating her like an adult, but the things she wonders are childlike: “Are you a spy?”
“Yes,” Gabriel says. Smiles all around. It must be a pleasure to finally just say it out loud.
“I know it’s been a difficult time, Paige, finding out your parents have withheld things from you,” Gabriel says. “To you they’re just your parents. They probably drive you crazy, because they have driven me crazy from time to time. But to us, they’re honestly heroes. They’ve saved a lot of lives.”
He tells her she is like them. Courageous.
“I haven’t done anything,” she answers.
“Yes, you have. Despite all the garbage you’ve had to deal with. You asked for the truth. And you faced it. I think that’s courage,” Gabriel replies.
Asking for the truth. Facing it. There’s much more of that to come this episode.
Paige notes the absence of any photos in the safe house. To her, it looks like Gabriel has no one else in his life. Her parents assure her that’s just a meeting place, not where he lives, but… yeah.
“He cares about you,” Paige notes.
“He cares about you too,” Philip says.
Her parents recall the various ways Gabriel has influenced her life. When Paige started school, Gabriel told her mother: “You need a pencil, a notebook, and a brain. Buy her the first two. She has plenty of the third.”
A stuffed tiger she treasured as a child? That was a gift from Gabriel.
“He’s like your family?” Paige asks.
“Yeah, he is,” Philip tells her.
The Jenningses are planning a heist of the super-wheat they’ve been pursuing (unknowingly) this season, and the greenhouse where they killed a worker is a no-go. Too much security now.
They plan to follow Stobert, Elizabeth’s honeytrap mark, to Mississippi, where some of the experiments may be growing.
Philip’s own mark in the operation, Deirdre, is still the ultimate dud. She doesn’t like all his questions, his chattiness. “Are you planning to move to Topeka?” she asks.
“What would happen if I did?”
“Probably this would end,” she answers bluntly.
No talk. More sex. That’s what she wants. Philip complies like a kid being told to do his homework.
Elsewhere, Elizabeth breaks into a psychiatrist’s office to get his files from the American Psychiatric Association’s work with the Committee on Human Rights – a dissident group from Moscow, working against the Soviet totalitarian regime.
What’s in the file? Names. Addresses. They won’t be used for the Kremlin’s Christmas card list.
Back in Moscow, Oleg Burov goes for a walk. This is his second attempt to meet up with the CIA blackmailers who were trying to pressure him. He doesn’t know it yet, but Stan Beeman’s counter-blackmail against the American government over violent actions he has performed for them has actually safeguarded his old contact.
Burov is amazed. He tells his mother they disappeared. Part of his reaction is relief, part disbelief. His mother, who told him she was once sent to a prison camp, knows that most bad things don’t simply go away on their own.
Back in Washington, Stan and Aderholt set up a meeting with Sofia Kovalenko, their first nibble on an effort to recruit contacts within Soviet companies. She works for TASS, the Russian news agency, and what they want from her is fairly simple: questions about how the organization works. Maybe a name or two.
In exchange, they can offer her money. But she wants a guarantee of safety for herself and her young son. Aderholt says, “That’s possible.”
“’Possible’ is what Americans say when they don’t want to make a promise,” she answers.
Stan steps forward to say they can’t guarantee safety for her or her son. He knows this for sure. He remembers Nina. He thinks Oleg is still on the hook. Stan isn’t lying people into danger anymore.
Sofia makes a hasty escape, and Aderholt shoots death-lasers at Stan. “When I’m on my deathbed, don’t try to make me feel better,” he says.
At the Jennings house, Paige and her mother are talking about missing Gabriel. When Philip returns home, Paige asks him polite questions about his trip – which completely unsettles him. He’s not used to openness with her, even though they’ve now successfully recruited her into their life of tradecraft.
“Hi, how was your trip? Were you working on the grain thing?” Paige asks.
After looking around for Henry, who’s not home, he answers like a teenager when you ask how school’s going. “Uh, it’s okay.”
Paige is transfixed by the grain operation, still believing it to be an effort to stop the American government from causing a famine overseas. They haven’t told her the American effort is actually to create a strain of super-wheat.
“I knew America did terrible things. But I never thought… I mean, people’s food,” she says.
Is covert action the best way to stop this? “Can’t you just go to the press and tell them what’s going on, about what they’re doing with the grain? It worked with Watergate. Let them expose it to the world?” Paige suggests.
“No one would believe us,” Elizabeth says.
This rings false, but Paige accepts it.
Later, when Paige meets with Pastor Tim, she tells him life is better for her. She knows who she is now. She has purpose.
That’s bad news for her boyfriend Matthew. Paige is tired of making out with him. She now understands the danger of getting too close to the FBI agent’s son. Her loyalty can only be stretched so far.
Paige dumps Matthew, who takes it badly. When he grabs her, she shoves him across the room. (That training with her mom has paid off.)
She seems happy to have one less complication in her life. But she misses him, too. Paige likes to tell the truth, but now lies are a permanent part of her identity.
At FBI headquarters, Stan finally learns that the CIA has given in to his threat and pulled back from pressuring Burov.
“That’s the good news,” Stan’s boss tells him after the meeting with the Deputy Attorney General. “Also, he said he wants you transferred out of counterintelligence.”
But the boss protected Stan by insisting he was vital to this ongoing operation to recruit the woman from TASS. If Stan wants to keep his job, he needs to bring her into the fold.
Down in Mississippi, Elizabeth and Philip sport American Gothic 1984 disguises to follow Stobert, first to a field of super-wheat – then to a rendezvous with another woman.
Afterward, they are digging up the plants, and Elizabeth is unsettled. “I didn’t think he was like that. There was something about him that I thought, maybe…”
“You liked him,” her husband says.
“No, I didn’t like him.”
“It’s okay to care.” He certainly did about Martha.
“No, it isn’t Philip,” his wife says. “Not for me.”
This painful moment gives way to one of triumph. As she holds that uprooted wheat, Elizabeth imagines how it will multiply, how it could soon be used to fill vast fields. “Can you imagine?” she says. “They’ll plant this back home and make better food out of it.”
Philip clutches two fistfuls of the wheat. “I feel like one of the guys in the posters,” he says.
That’s one of the two funniest moments on this episode of The Americans (which owes some fantastic direction to star Matthew Rhys). The second one is coming up…
Back home, Gabriel unwraps his new centerpiece.
“You wouldn’t believe the instructions I have for this thing. I have to tend it like a baby,” he says, putting the potted wheat on his kitchen table.
“I’ve been thinking about Paige,” he tells Elizabeth, who’s visiting him alone. “You did well. She doesn’t think the world owes her happiness, which is no small accomplishment growing up in this country.”
“Sometimes I think put too much on her,” Elizabeth says. A Pause. “Gabriel, why are you leaving?”
“It adds up,” the old man says. “Some of it’s okay. Some of it isn’t. But it adds up.”
“What are we going to do without you?”
“What about me?” Gabriel asks, noting his has one cousin and a nephew back home. He doesn’t sound very close to either.
They sit quietly for a long moment.
“I leave late tonight. Send your husband to say goodbye,” Gabriel tells her.
At home, Elizabeth contains her delight that Paige has kicked Matthew to the curb. She’s dealing with her own betrayal with Stobert, but she can’t commiserate about that with her daughter.
Across the street, Stan and his mysterious new girlfriend, Renee, are watching Breaking Away on TV. She’s telling him a story about skinny dipping at the same quarry where they shot the film, but he’s barely listening. She turns off the TV, nudging him toward opening up about what’s on his mind.
I still think she’s a KGB officer, performing an operation on Stan after the Center received so much helpful intel on him from Philip and Elizabeth, but so far Stan has remained tight-lipped. He knows, um, not to trust the people he trusts.
But this time, he drops his guard.
“My boss… I thought I was going to get fired the other day,” he says as Renee listens earnestly. “He called me in and told me, there’s this thing — I’d asked my boss’ boss to make this thing happen. He was not happy about it. No one was.”
This scene is hysterical. Stan is telling her all the verbs but none of the nouns. Renee’s eyes widen, like someone trying to see through deepest darkness. He talks and talks, but there’s no telling what he’s talking about.
“Forget about that part,” he tells her at one point, after telling her nothing.
Then he tells her some more nothing.
“Thanks,” he says at the end. He was glad to get all that nothing off his chest.
Back at the Jennings house, Philip tries to comfort Paige about her breakup, but he struggles to connect. She knows more about him than ever before, but it’s starting to feel like he knows less about her.
He says he gets it, her feelings of isolation: “You’re different from everyone else.”
“It’s a million times worse than that, Dad. I felt that way before any of this,” she tells him.
“I still think you’re a beautiful girl. In time, you’ll get used to these things.” Okay. Thanks, Dad.
Back in Moscow, we get another glimpse of Burov on a new mission. His mother said she was imprisoned because her husband was a high-ranking person in the party. Presumably, the wives were jailed as collateral — a way to keep her husband in line while she was detained in a gulag.
Burov goes to an archive and calls up an old file — Yelena Alexandrovna Burova — 1947 to 1951 – Kraslag, Kansk Unit.
Okay, whoa. Whoa. More on this in a moment… I’ve got a mind-blowing theory.
Back in the U.S., Philip goes to Gabriel’s place for their goodbye.
“I’m sorry you’re leaving. Really,” Philip says.
“That’s good of you to say. We’ve had our ups and downs,” the old man tells him. He indicates the wheat. “I’m glad it’s all ending on this. Something good.”
A silence. “I doubt we’ll ever see each other again,” he says.
“What’s this thing – Elizabeth’s doing?” Philip asks, but Gabriel is cagey. There’s a reason they didn’t involve Philip in the psychiatrist office operation.
“People who are part of a well-organized opposition to the party at home,” Gabriel says, keeping it vague. Philip and his nagging conscience can’t be trusted with the dirty work anymore.
“Can I ask you something? You said when you were younger, you did terrible things. What things?” Philip asks.
Okay. Philip has earned this one. “It was bad. It was worse than you could imagine. People were shot. Worked to death in the camps. Some were counter revolutionaries,” Gabriel says. “But some… some hadn’t done anything. Just people.”
Gabriel persecuted these people too, he says. “To set an example. The organization was full of people who were scared and confused.”
“But not you,” Philip says.
“No. I believed I was acting in the service of a higher purpose. But I was just scared. It was terrible, terrible times,” Gabriel says.
Last week, he confirmed that Philip’s father also worked at the camps. A lumber camp, actually.
Gabriel claimed not to know him, not to know if he was a brutal guard, or a killer. But Philip wondered if he was recruited to the KGB as a young man precisely because Gabriel and others in the KGB knew and trusted his father.
Gabriel told him this wasn’t the case, but… was it? Was he pulled in the same way Paige is being recruited?
“Is Stan Beeman’s new girlfriend one of us?” Philip asks. Gabriel says no. Actually, he says, not that he knows.
“You’re losing it, Philip,” Gabriel tells him. “It’s possible the Center didn’t tell me because they knew you would ask me this question. But as far as I know, she is not one of us.”
The old man opens his door to leave. But he has a parting thought for Philip.
“You were right about Paige,” Gabriel says. “She should be kept out of all this.”
This is devastating. Gabriel all but forced Philip to reveal their secret life to Paige and draw her into the organization. Now he tells him that was wrong? (Notice that Gabriel didn’t say this to Elizabeth.)
Again, when you live in lies, the truth can feel like a betrayal. The consequences of Gabriel’s admission are going to reverberate for some time in Philip’s hollow heart.
That’s where the episode ends, but now back to the file that Burov uncovered showing his mother was imprisoned at Kraslag, Kansk Unit.
I did a search on that, just to learn a little more.
In real life, it was a lumber camp.
These story lines on The Americans have always run parallel, and seemed to be diverging. Has Burov ever had a scene with Philip or Elizabeth?
But now, given the kind of atrocities that may have happened in that camp, could Philip and Oleg Burov maybe be…