The Americans: Dimebag

“What are you trying to say?”

…in which assets are developed, and developments are re-assessed.

As the “previously on” reminded us, Philip is worried that Elizabeth is “assessing” Paige and “developing” her into an asset. “She’s my daughter,” replied Elizabeth, in what may be the most fraught reading of that line ever. And this week, Paige proved that true.

Paige is inherently her mother’s daughter: devoted to a cause, more devious than she seems, and given to complicated emotional set-ups. The birthday dinner would have been hilarious if it weren’t so tense: it’s no coincidence that Paige slamming the door in her parents’ faces was the cut-to-credits moment typically reserved for a big reveal.

That dinner wasn’t just Paige’s bait-and-switch baptism, though. It was indicative of precisely how spyjinks can destroy any relationship. Just think of the secrets looming over that table: Pastor Tim didn’t reveal Philip’s late-night visit (from last season), Elizabeth didn’t reveal precisely why she hates religion, Paige didn’t reveal the dinner’s full purpose or her brother’s possibly-Oedipal affection for Stan’s wife. Philip was the only one whose demeanor matched his true feelings, and that’s just because he is extraordinarily conflicted.

Philip’s inner turmoil isn’t helped by the Center’s latest attempt to get the goods on the CIA’s Afghan group. The head of the group, Isaac Breland, may be a saint, but his daughter Kimmy is not. Her not-untypical adolescent rebellions seem to be centered on a daddy-complex and a desire to break picayune laws. Philip has to take advantage of that to cultivate her as an asset, just as Pastor Tim has cultivated Paige. (Philip even called himself “Jim” in this cover identity.) It’s unlikely that Pastor Tim has high treason in mind, though.

However, not all the relationships on this show are about secrets. Philip and Stan... well, okay, Philip is a Russian spy and Stan is FBI, but their friendship seems pretty solid. I don’t think Philip is developing Stan into an asset, because that’s clearly a non-starter, even after the events with Nina last season. But Philip doesn’t have to go to Stan’s EST meeting. He’s just doing it. He’s just being there for his friend, without any possible ulterior motive. (Right?)

Stan must need that, as he has developed a strong distrust for Zinaida, the Russian defector. I have to admit that I was a little confused about what he found in the bathroom: it looked to me like there was a doohickey, or possibly a thingamabob, tucked into the ceiling’s acoustical tiles. Was Stan angry because he found it, or angry because there was nothing there? Did he want to find something, or want not to find something?

That’s the essential question of this episode: what people want, and how they use others to achieve those goals. Every scene was about manipulation. The only moment of pure honest was Stan rejecting the concept of honesty at EST. But behind all that dishonesty, especially in Nina’s attempts to extract information from the na├»ve Dutch girl, there’s real pain.

Philip asked Kimmy if she wanted “the real answer” or “the bullshit answer” to what he did for a living. This is an episode about bullshit answers and the cost of giving them. During the fight between Elizabeth and Philip about the Yaz album—or ostensibly about the Yaz album—Philip asked Elizabeth “What are you trying to say?” That’s a question that more of these characters should be asking, but they’re all too deep in each other’s manipulations.

Other Thoughts

• This episode was littered with commercials. In fact, this whole season has been. But the Love’s Baby Soft commercial just may be the most horrific thing I’ve ever seen on TV. And I’ve watched all of Black Mirror, so that’s saying a lot.

• I loved the weirdness of Philip learning about what “all the kids are talking about” from his soon-to-be asset Kimmy, and giving the Yaz album to Paige.

• I fell far, far behind on this show (hence the lateness of this review) and attempted to marathon the past three episodes in one day. Totally not do-able: they’re all so intense that I feel like I need a warm hug and a cold drink afterwards.

Josie Kafka reviews The Vampire Diaries, True Detective, Game of Thrones, and various other things that take her fancy. She is a full-time cat servant and part-time rogue demon hunter. (What's a rogue demon?)

1 comment:

Jess Lynde said...

Philip recruiting the teenage asset is very uncomfortable to watch. In many ways, more uncomfortable and horrifying than the suitcase incident and the basement dentistry. (Though, as you say, Josie, not necessarily more horrifying than that Love’s Baby Soft commercial. What the hell was that?) I keep wishing he’d just refuse to recruit Kimmy. Find another way, dammit! Maybe this will be the line I can’t get past with the Jennings. Their willingness to drag children into this game.

I don’t think Stan saw anything in the ceiling. I think if he had, he would’ve climbed back up there. I think what upset him was that the fall functioned as a bit of a wake-up call about what all the dishonesty in his life was doing to him. There he was, laying on the floor in the women’s room late at night, because he can’t trust that anyone tied up in this business is being straight. That’s maybe why he went to confess to Sandra. He just needed to be honest about something, for once. No matter how painful.

Of course, I didn’t realize that Zinaida was getting so much access to mucky mucks, which lessened my confusion about what she might be up to if she was not what she appeared to be. So, I’m not totally sold on her being legit yet. This show makes the viewers just as paranoid as its characters! Everybody is lying about something and working some agenda. Everyone!