“My mother raised me. You should have seen the way I grew up. It was just me and her and three other families in a single apartment. If the families were too loud when I was trying to go to sleep, she would go scream at them. They would scream back. She would always win. … She had a real spirit. Like yours.”
“How can I believe anything you say?”
This week’s episode of The Americans is a relatively mellow affair, but this scene between a mother and daughter sitting in a parked car in their garage is one of the more gutting exchanges on the series this season. What Keri Russell’s Elizabeth has discovered, now that her daughter knows that she is an undercover Soviet operative, is that she has pretended so much that even her truths taste like lies.
Opening up to Paige, played by Holly Taylor as someone vibrating with anger and uncertainty within her still exterior, isn’t easy for Elizabeth. It has never been easy for her with anyone. But here, sharing something about her real past, something both painful and nostalgic, she finds the memory brutally thrown back at her by a child who now considers her a stranger.
This episode, number 11 with only two more to go, is “One Day in the Life of Anton Baklanov,” the kidnapped scientist forced to work on stealth technology for the Soviets. The title is a reference to One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, the 1962 novel by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, which shocked Russian readers by acknowledging the horrors of life in a gulag under Stalin.
We get glimpses of Baklanov (Michael Aronov) and the tentative trust forming between him and fellow prisoner Nina (Annet Mahendru), but the story of this episode is also about people imprisoned in other ways, by the identities they’ve forged for themselves. Elizabeth. Philip, although he’s pushing back against them. Martha, still trying to rationalize the betrayal of her husband “Clark.” (Or is something else at play with her?)
The episode begins in the Jennings’ kitchen “You guys don’t have to whisper when I come into the room – unless you have some other secret you want to keep from me,” Paige says.
Their daughter, who is also still grappling with this new reality after learning about her parents’ actual histories, is full of questions:
“When you woke me and Henry up in the middle of the night for a spontaneous vacation and took us to that cabin in the woods, you were doing something, right?”
“Yes,” Elizabeth says.
“We can’t talk about this now,” Matthew Rhys’ Philip adds, just trying to quiet her.
“Are you guys really married?”
“What about the travel agency? Is everybody there a spy, too?”
“Why don’t you have accents?”
Good questions, Paige! (Someone clearly didn’t see the Pilot.) But the fact that she’s wondering about these things is bad news for Philip and Elizabeth. Paige isn’t just accepting this. She’s questioning. That’s something her mother and father never did, that no good Soviet solider does.
“What are your real names?” Paige asks.
“Nadezhda.” Her daughter struggles to pronounce this.
“Mr. Beeman?” Paige says. “He’s not really your friend, is he?”
“No, we’re friends,” Philip replies with the kind of instinctual urgency that suggests … maybe they are. It’s the first time we’ve seen that perhaps Stan means something more to Philip than a mark.This must fracture the delicate compartmentalization necessary for the Jennings’ to do their savage work. In the light of day, maybe they are just Philip and Elizabeth, middle-aged suburbanite travel agents. Maybe that’s the only way they can be Mischa and Nadezhda when duties requires it.
“Is Henry really my brother. Am I really your daughter?” Paige persists.
Then Henry enters the kitchen and the talk stops. One guesses the questions keep rising in Paige’s head.
NEXT: The FBI’s secret quiet room