'The Americans' recap: 'Salang Pass'
Tonight’s episode of The Americans gutted me. Not in the way I expected it to, though.
All the way through, I was bracing myself for what last week prepared us for: Phillip’s potential seduction of the teenaged Kimberly. I worried that for a number of reasons, namely that I wouldn’t be sure what to make of it—I can’t see very many scenarios where it isn’t a bridge too far—and because the idea of sitting through it made me squirm.
The Americans is a smarter show than that.
Phillip, as Jim, meets up with Kimmy early on at an outdoor rager full of other teenagers—it wasn’t what he expected, and when some jock friends of hers spot him, things immediately get uncomfortable. Jim/Phillip tells her that her age is an issue, that they can’t be seen in public like this. So she tells him they can meet in private. Her folks were going to be out of the house soon. She’d see him then.
The next time we see Phillip with a female, it’s with his daughter, Paige. They are—much to Elizabeth’s chagrin—shopping for a dress she can wear to her baptism. Phillip exhibits spectacularly bad taste for a bit before settling on a very expensive dress that Paige frets over him splurging on. He tells her not to worry about it, and she loves it.
Like just about everything on The Americans, there’s a bit more happening in this scene than meets the eye, as we find out when Phillip has Stan over for beers later that night. Stan is talking about possibly moving on—Sandra is happy with her new husband, and Tori from EST is pretty insistent on asking him out. But his son, Matthew, is miserable. Phillip then tells him that he needs to spend as much time with him as possible.
“You get them away from the other parent,” he says, “and they’re just a whole different person one on one. Without that other….influence.”
Of course, that other influence is very much on Phillip’s mind as Elizabeth refuses to budge on the subject of Paige. She’s furious about the expensive dress—they’re fighting over her affections while they fight with each other. Elizabeth brings up Kimberly—there’s a girl that has no clue what her father does, and look how she turned out. Phillip, of course, is furious that she brought that up. The fault between them works its way just the slightest bit deeper.
Before he has to meet with Kimberly, Phillip goes to see Gabriel. He’s concerned about Phillip and all the women in his life. Martha, who wants a child. Paige, who wants her faith. Kimberly, who wants attention. And Elizabeth. When Phillip expresses reluctance towards completely seducing Kimberly, Gabriel warns him against his conscience, which can be a danger to someone tied up in as many romantic entanglements as Phillip.
“It’s one of the ironies of this work that so many lives depend on one man’s relationship with an adolescent girl,” he muses as he gives Phillip an ounce of strong Afghani weed for him to take to Kimberly.
At Kimberly’s, Phillip and Kimmy get high and talk about growing things—Kimberly thinks her father works in a branch of government pertaining to agriculture, and she tells Phillip about the small garden they used to have. It’s a lawn now, and her father isn’t around so much anymore—she even says it would make sense if he had a totally different family somewhere else.
After smoking, they go in to make some JiffyPop popcorn and eat ice cream. They have a small food fight. They watch TV together. As Kimmy falls asleep, Phillip says he has to go to the bathroom and instead goes into her father’s office, taking pictures of everything he can. When he comes back, he picks up the sleeping Kimmy and carries her to her bedroom—but she’s not asleep anymore, pulling him in for a kiss.
This is, thankfully, cut short when her parents unexpectedly arrive and Phillip has to race out the back door.
Back home, Elizabeth is waiting up to see if he’ll be coming back that night. She asks how it went, and he tells her about a briefcase he found, one that Breland takes everywhere and can be bugged.
Then comes that gut punch I was telling you about.
“Do you think about when we learned to do this?” Phillip asks Elizabeth, in what is easily the episode’s best scene. As the action jumps between past and present, we see Phillip in what appears to be a training facility, cold and sterile, as he’s forced to approach a number of partners, and have sex with them. A young woman. An old woman. An old man.
“They’d keep telling us we have to make it real. For ourselves,” he says. It’s a rare, precious moment on The Americans, where the characters are nakedly vulnerable, where we see the trauma these characters have been through, where they give voice to their insecurities. It’s sad. It’s beautiful. It hurts.
Then Elizabeth asks him if he has to make it real with her.
“Sometimes,” he says at first. “Not now.” They kiss.
HENRY WATCH: Henry gets to talk in one scene! Unfortunately, he totally blows it, asking Stan about Mrs. Beeman when he’s over the Jennings home for dinner. Way to drop the ball, Henry.
MARTHAAAA: Martha only gets one scene here, at the very beginning. She takes Clark/Phillip to a foster care center where they watch some preschool-aged kids at play. “We’re not buying one,” Clark/Phillip deadpans.
REZIDENTURA BLUES: After Stan tells him about his lingering suspicion that Zinaida the Soviet defector might be a KGB agent, Oleg spends some time fishing around to see if there’s any truth to it all. Unfortunately for him, he’s stonewalled by the first person he asks—the still-inscrutable Tatiana Ruslanova, who’s completely impervious to his small talk. I might start shipping these two.
DAMN, ELIZABETH: While this was certainly a Phillip-heavy episode, Elizabeth did have her own short and brutal B-story involving Lisa, her AA sponsor. After convincing her to take some time away from Maurice and stay at a place she tells her belongs to her grandmother, she finds out that she wants to move to a closer Northrop facility, one that would be advantageous for Elizabeth’s secret agent purposes. So she finds the guy who has the position she would fill, waits until he’s at home, working on his car, and rips the jack out from under it, crushing it. Lisa is elated to learn that there’s an opening for her! Yay friendship!
OH HEY YOUSAF: Yousaf is still around. But not for long. He’s going back to Pakistan. Bye, Yousaf!