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‘The Americans’ recap: ‘The Midges’

We’re bowling with the Morozov family, and Alexei is griping about Russia again.

Philip and Elizabeth are barely holding their tongues. “Again with this,” Elizabeth whispers.

“The systems destroys anyone who tries to make change,” Alexei says, and his wife decides she isn’t holding back anymore. “You’re the one who destroys,” she snarls at him in Russian.

“They would have shot me,” he tells her.

“You should have told us that before dragging us to this miserable place like your luggage.”

After the fight, Alexei tries to explain his hardline attitude to Russia to his two nice American friends. “We had different time growing up. When I was 14, they dragged my father out of apartment. No explaining.” He tells them of traveling for days to go visit him, only to be told: no visitors.

“He died 15 years later,” Alexei says. “That is the Soviet Union I know.”

Elizabeth remains disgusted by all this, but Alexei is having an effect on Philip, who perhaps knew that Russia, too.

“Sounds like she didn’t know Alexei was going to defect,” Elizabeth says on the drive home. “How could someone do that?”

Later, Philip asks her what they would have done with their American-raised children, back when they thought they might have to flee back to Russia. “How would we have done it if we had to go back?” he asks. “Tell ‘em first or when we got there?”

“It’s different,” his wife says. “Alexei didn’t have to run. He wanted to come here and be a big shot.”

Philip nods. “He buys them a big meal at Bennigan’s and is starting a famine back home.”

Elizabeth notes that Tuan, the agent posing as their child in the Morozov operation, is exceptionally good at reading their son, Pasha, even though he despises him. “That was smart, throwing the gutter balls to make Pasha feel better,” she says.

“The kid’s got great instincts,” Philip agrees.

That leads them back to their actual daughter, Paige. “She can’t handle this. Any of it,” Philip says.

“What if we tell her about this operation?” Elizabeth suggests. “It’s a good thing. She’ll get it.” Plus, it could help draw her away from the FBI agent’s son. “Compared to this, Matthew Beeman won’t seem so important.”

Back at the Jennings house, Paige is watching M*A*S*H.

Her parents take their shot. “We think the U.S. government is planning to attack the Soviet Union’s grain supply,” her father says.

“We found a greenhouse where they’re testing pests that can destroy entire wheat crops. I know that’s shocking to hear, but that’s something they do. They go after us any way they can, including the food people eat,” her mother says.

“If we stop this, a lot of people won’t have to suffer,” her dad adds.

Paige is bewildered. How can they stop something like this? So they explain about Morozov, the agriculture expert who fled the Soviet Union and now works with the American government.

Their daughter is aghast at the danger of the undercover work. “Aren’t you afraid someone will call the police on you?”

“We don’t tell them our real names,” her father says.

“So they just think you’re like other people?” Paige asks. “Are you… pretending to be his friend?”

“Sometimes we do that, yes, to get the information we need,” Elizabeth says.

“Is it hard pretending to be other people?”

“Yeah, sometimes. It’s really hard,” her father answers.

Upstairs, later that night, he stares into his bathroom mirror. We see a memory of his childhood: his mother in a grimy apartment in Russia. His father brings home a single pair of pants. They look grateful for it.

Maybe sometimes pretending to be someone else is easier than being your true self.

Back in Moscow, Oleg Burov goes to a meeting with the manager of a grocery store, part of his new job investigating corruption in Russia’s food supply.

“You don’t have to be nervous,” he tells the manger. “I just want to understand how your department works. How do you get your products?”

What he really wants to know is how she gets so much phenomenal produce, while other stores go with nothing.

“These tangerines look delicious,” he says, lifting one out of a crate – but not eating it. “Most stores don’t have fruits and vegetables like this.”

He wants to know if she is paying the supplier a little extra, and maybe she could tell him who her contact is.

“I pay what they ask,” she insists, and claims she never asked the name of the government bureaucrat who keeps her shelves (partially) stocked.

“You’re doing what you must to survive,” Burov says. “Do you think it’s fair how hard most people have to struggle just to get food for dinner? How do you think it will ever end if you don’t speak up?”

As he leaves, empty handed in every way, the manager offers him a gift. “Please take the tangerines. They’re delicious.”

Burov says no, thank you.

As he leaves, the viewer gets a little surprise. Amid the women picking through the sparse supplies on the mostly bare shelves of the store, we see a particularly morose figure in a babushka, filling her basket, a look of loneliness and despair on her face.

We know this face. It is Martha, Philip’s “wife,” former secretary for the FBI counter-espionage chief. She has been relocated to Russia to save her life. But what kind of life is this?

Perhaps we’ll be seeing more of her again.

Back in the states, Philip is checking in with Tuan about American surveillance of the Morozov family. The check-ups are fewer and further between. The Americans don’t consider the family to be in much danger.

Tuan expresses contempt for Pasha. “He’s always picking at his food while his mother tells him what to eat, like a baby. Back home, I ate garbage off the streets. Most days I never ate at all.”

“My father died when I was six,” Philip says, absently.

“In the war?” Tuan asks.

“No, after. Before he died there wasn’t enough food…” Since Tuan harbors intense bitterness, he adds: “Not as bad as you. But we went hungry a lot.”

It’s hard to forget that empty, hopeless Russia that Alexei described.

Elsewhere, FBI Agents Beeman and Aderholt are doing their own legwork to create potential Soviet contacts, but the direct approach – confronting Russian businessmen while they eat, or are in a men’s room – doesn’t inspire much treason.

Philip and Elizabeth have a meeting with Gabriel, who tells them that the bugs Elizabeth found Morozov working on in Illinois were crop-decimating, genetically engineered pests.

“It’s related to a kind of midge that has never been seen out of Australia. Not only can this midge decimate grain, but it carries spores that can do even further damage,” he says. “This pest released into our grain supply could destroy us.”

He tells them a shipment of midges was sent to a business address in Oklahoma.

“Maybe they’re infecting the grain shipments. Maybe the bugs are intended to attack our own harvest,” he says.

When Philip and Elizabeth tell him that they brought Paige in on the operation, he’s alarmed but understanding.

“She doesn’t like people being starved,” Elizabeth says.

“She feels closer to you?” Gabriel says. “In that case, I think it was a good idea.”

Then we see Paige on a date with Matthew, who is filling her in on Stan’s new girlfriend (The Walking Dead’s Laurie Holden, who doesn’t make an appearance in this episode).

Paige’s mind is elsewhere. “The world seems so messy right now. It’s hard to know what we can do about it.”

“We’ll there’s nothing we can do about it,” her boyfriend says.

“You really feel that way?” Paige asks. She kind of likes that her parents think otherwise.

Matthew asks if things are okay at home, and as he presses, Paige does the finger-rubbing trick her parents taught her, to ease her mind, distract her body, and allow her to boldface lie to a boy she cares a lot about.

Later, Paige tells her mother what happened. “I looked him right in the face and lied about why I was so tense. It was easy. He had no idea. It felt… gross.”

“Do you think it would have been fair to tell him the truth? To put that burden on him?” Elizabeth asks.

“So, that’s how it’s going to be? For the rest of my life I’m going to be fake with my boyfriends?”

“It’s not being fake. A relationship is complicated. You don’t share everything. You hold back what you need to,” her mother says. “Everybody does.”

In Yugoslavia, we pick up the trail of Philip’s estranged son, Mischa, who is following directions to a contact he thinks will help him get across the border into Austria. The people he reaches are not the original contact his mother intended. That person has been arrested.

The smuggler he does find snatches away his money, takes too much of it, and seems hostile about getting him across the border. But… apparently he is on his way to America to find his dad.

The episode ends in Oklahoma City, where Philip and Elizabeth have spent way too much KGB money at the western outlet mall, trying to blend in with the cowboys and cowgirls. “All this land out here, you know what it looks like?” Philip says. “Home.”

But he’s not just homesick. He’s sick of what he remembers. “We’ve got this, too,” he says. “Why can’t we grow enough grain ourselves? Alexei, some of what he says…”

“Everybody has problems,” Elizabeth says, but this isn’t going to reassure him.

After a long silence between them, she puts on the cowboy hat and makes her way before him. “You think they’re gonna make me queen of the rodeo this year?” she asks, playfully.

She puts a hat on him.

They start dancing. Probably more happens after that.

Elizabeth – the kid’s got great instincts.

Back in Moscow, Burov gets a package left by a friend of Stan Beeman. It’s an audio tape of himself committing treason, tipping off the Americans that a famous Russian defector was actually a double agent.

Back then, he and Stan had the shared goal of saving Nina’s life.

She’s now dead, but this tape lives on.