'The Americans' recap: 'Born Again'
It starts with a baptism.
Television shows, even good ones, often struggle when it comes to incorporating Christianity into their stories (hi there, Friday Night Lights season 2) because Christianity is deliberately constructed in a way that’s in direct contrast to the way we traditionally build narratives. The sources of tension and conflict are all very different and don’t always sync up. It’s also all too easy for individual characters to lose their unique voice once they take the plunge.
But using Christianity as yet another lens with which we can examine Phillip and Elizabeth, while still being wholly genuine about Paige’s investment in her faith? The Americans is having its cake and eating it, too. In the final moments of the cold open, which takes place during Paige’s baptism, the camera focuses on her parents, trying their best to look pleased. Phillip seems to be having the hardest time of it—which is ironic, given that faith is going to take him some interesting places in this hour.
In fact, the entire episode revolves around characters taking some sort of stand or another, making for one of the most cohesive episodes in the season. In a Moscow prison cell, Nina has made her decision to betray her cellmate, feigning vulnerability and opening up to her so she would admit to being an accomplice to her treasonous boyfriend. Stan decides to try and commit to honesty, admitting to Tori that he still considers Sandra his wife after a dinner at the Jennings home. Since this is in perfect alignment with the radical honesty of EST, Tori is appreciative, and the two sleep together.
Phillip, meanwhile, is quickly running out of ways to keep Kimmy at arm’s length. She’s no longer content to get high and cuddle—in fact, at their next rendezvous, she asks him to share a bath. In a sequence that combines the series trademark low-tech tension with serious discomfort, Phillip tells Kimmy to get started without him while he lets in a fellow agent who goes in to plant a bug in her father’s briefcase. When Kimmy comes looking for him in a towel, he takes the agents earrings and tells Kimmy he got them for her. And when she finally drops the towel and tries to kiss him, he wraps her in the towel and says he can’t. Then he tells her something really interesting: He’s found religion, and because of that he wants to take things slowly.
That he applies what his daughter is going through to a cover story he’s feeding a girl that could be roughly his daughter’s age suggests layers and layers and layers to what’s going on in Phillip’s head right now. It’s also not the only time Phillip’s home life creeps into his field work in this episode.
In a meeting with Gabriel, Phillip learns that Irina, his former love and KGB deserter (who told Phillip they had an adult son in the season 1 episode ‘Duty and Honor’) has been found by the Russians in Brazil and sent back to Russia for trial—and that their son, now 20, is serving in the Brazilian army. If that weren’t enough, Gabriel then tells Phillip that he needs to continue to develop his relationship with Kimmy, since he’s going to be expected to collect tapes from the bug in her father’s briefcase weekly instead of monthly.
Ever the host, Gabriel also meets with Elizabeth not long after. He tells her that he knows about Phillips doubts regarding himself and the plan to recruit Paige into the family business, and Elizabeth says she’s willing to move ahead without him if necessary. “But you’re not going ahead,” Gabriel notes.
So she picks Paige up at school the next day. Meanwhile, at another school, Phillip waits for Kimmy to come by. He goes home with her as Elizabeth takes Paige to a seedy neighborhood. She tells her daughter about her friend Gregory, who taught her a different way of seeing the world. And Phillip—desperately trying to find a way to extend his relationship with Kimmy without actually sleeping with her—gives her a reason for why he’s turned to religion—and it’s something true.
He tells her about his son that he hasn’t seen for years, that he may want to finally meet and be a part of his life. He says he wants to be better than he was—and so he asks her to pray with him. She acquiesces.
On a park bench, Elizabeth sits down beside Paige telling her that her parents used to, and still do, care about things other than the travel agency. That they practiced an activism of their own. That Paige has more in common with her mother than she might think. We don’t get to see what happens next.
Back to that baptism: In some ways, the act of baptism is the polar opposite of everything Phillip and Elizabeth do on The Americans. As a ritual, it symbolizes a spiritual death, burial, and resurrection—the old you goes under, the new you comes out, “renamed and reclaimed in the name of Jesus,” as Paige’s pastor Tim said in the cold open.
If only the Jennings could be so lucky. Whoever they were before they started this life went under long ago, and they’ve been holding their breath for their entire marriage. Will they ever come to the surface again?
HENRY WATCH: Henry continues last week’s bad move of totally blowing the 60 seconds of screen time he gets every week by asking Stan’s date Tori too many questions about EST when they’re over for dinner. You’re making it really hard to make a case for yourself, Henry.
MARTHAAAAAA: Martha is only in one very brief scene, with what I understand may be one of your favorite characters: the mail robot. She learns that the mail robot is no longer fit to carry classified files. That sounds like it might be a problem down the road, yeah?
There’s a bit of a subplotinvolving Elizabeth and her trainee, Hans. He thinks that a student is a CIA recruit. When she brings this up to Gabriel, she’s surprised to find out that the Centre finds some validity to that, and tells her to keep an eye on him. This will probably come into play later.
Cliffhanger! So, do we think Elizabeth actually said anything to Paige? Way to go full-on Sopranos with that cut to black, man.