The Americans recap: Experimental Prototype City of Tomorrow
This episode is all about the way we project a future for ourselves, existing in possibilities, imagining destinations, and then slamming face-first into the inescapable present.
Titled “Experimental Prototype City of Tomorrow,” it involves a plan to visit Walt Disney World’s futuristic EPCOT Center near Orlando, Fla., but you know what happens to best-laid plans, right?
The hour opens with “Clark” waking up beside Martha on his fold-out sofa. She’s staring at him, and it’s easy to read her eyes: This is not my beautiful house; this is not my beautiful spouse. “Still not used to it,” she says when Philip wakes up and catches her staring.
Elsewhere, Elizabeth is undercover, apparently infiltrating a Mary Kay makeup sales meeting. A Korean-American woman named Young Hee (Ruthie Ann Miles) is talking about how most store makeup counters don’t know how to apply foundation that matches Asian skin tone, making them appear green. But, ah, Mary Kay has the personal touch that solves that!
“I tell my friends they don’t have to look like Martians,” Young Hee says. “We are all Americans now.”
After the credits sequence, we’re in the office of Pastor Tim (Kelly AuCoin), and he is conversing with Philip and Elizabeth, whose true natures he recently learned from their daughter, Paige. Secret Soviet agents are a new one for the good pastor.
“I’ve never heard of anything like this,” he says.
“What we do is not that different from what you do,” Elizabeth says.
“I know what spies do,” says Pastor Tim, who has probably seen a lot of movies.
Spies. Elizabeth forces a smile. “Is that the word Paige used?” Gosh, golly, that Paige!
“We develop relationships with people on both sides who wish to defuse the tension between our two countries,” Philip says.
“We fight for justice, for equal rights for everyone,” Elizabeth adds.
“Unless they’re religious,” says Pastor Tim. Touché.
“Our country isn’t perfect,” Elizabeth says. “Neither is this one.”
“I understand the need for secrecy, but let’s be clear — a pastor’s obligation to keep his parishioner’s secrets ends where his duty to the greater good begins,” says Pastor Tim, dialing up the sanctimony.
The Jennings explain that if he reveals them, they’d go to jail. Their son and daughter would go to foster care. “They’d never see us again,” Philip says.
“I’m listening to you…” Pastor Tim says. “And I’m listening to my conscience. Let’s all think about this for a few days and talk again.”
Before they leave, Philip asks if the pastor has told anyone else, like his wife, perhaps?
“Alice and I minister to each other,” he says, adding that she understands completely the sanctity of the confidence of the secrecy of the church of the…
Really, he just put crosshairs on Alice’s back, too.
NEXT: To run or not to run…?
Elizabeth and Philip keep their cool, but at the apartment of handler Gabriel (Frank Langella) they are freaking out. “Pastor Tim told Alice,” Philip says — but he also has worse news. He hands Gabriel the tin tobacco box that contains the pathogen that their pilot refused to accept last episode.
“Can’t seem to get rid of this, can I?” Gabriel says, accepting the bad penny. He places the box on the mantle, next to a thermos you’re going to want to remember.
“We should leave right now,” Philip says.
“There are other ways,” Gabriel tells him. He all but draws his finger across his throat.
“No,” Philip says. “Paige told us she told him. If we kill them now, she will figure it out. She will blame us. She will hate us.”
Gabriel agrees to consider all possibilities. “But you need to help Paige work on keeping Pastor Tim quiet,” the old man says.
At the FBI counterintelligence office, Agent Gaad (Richard Thomas) lectures his employees about sloppiness, especially given that they know the Soviets have infiltrated the office. “Counters indicate six extra copies unaccounted for today alone. When people don’t log their copies, they put the division at risk,” Gaad says.
Stan (Noah Emmerich) notices Martha looking nervous. He has noticed this before. Later, we see him stalking her at night, monitoring her behavior.
Stan enlists the help of Agent Aderholt (Brandon J. Dirden), who previously had similar suspicions about Stan. “I’ve been watching Martha, and there are two nights she didn’t come home,” Stan says.
He wants Aderholt to join him in the surveillance.
“I won’t do this, Stan,” Aderholt says. “But…I’ll take her to dinner.”
This gives Stan the cover he needs to search the FBI secretary’s apartment.
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Elizabeth, once again in her Mary Kay disguise, meets Young Hee in the grocery store. It’s no accident and soon Young is leading Elizabeth on a door-to-door sales trip. The two are becoming fast friends. She invites Elizabeth over to her family dinner.
We still don’t know why she’s working Young, a housewife and mother of three, but it may be to get close to someone in her family.
On a park bench at night, Gabriel meets with his own handler, Claudia (Margo Martindale). He wants her to cut the Jennings loose. “They’re done, Claudia — we have to get them out,” he says.
“There’s always another choice,” she says, echoing the same line he fed Elizabeth and Philip.
“Do you hear yourself? The pastor already told his wife. There are no good choices,” he insists.
“First, there are no choices. Now, there are no good choices,” Claudia says. “I’d say we’re making progress.”
“Trying to bring their daughter in was a mistake. It’s time to take them home,” he says.
Claudia’s not going to do that, however.
Back in the gulag, Nina (Annet Mahendru) is meeting with her lawyer, but she gets bad news: Because she has already been found guilty of treason, there will be no new trial over the letter she tried to send to the son of her friend, the kidnapped Jewish scientist. The only question is whether she will be shown mercy.
Nina is having dreams, picturing Stan in their old apartment love nest. She seems like a doomed woman. Something will have to save her. It doesn’t seem like she has any choices left – good or otherwise.
NEXT: Will Pastor Tim and his wife have “an accident”?
Back in the States, Gabriel presents Claudia’s alternate plan. The Jennings family is going to Disney World! That will occupy the whole family and lead to no further questions about any bizarre mysteries that may arise.
“So here you are, top travel agents, and you’ve never been to EPCOT Center?” Gabriel says. “You should go, take the kids; you could leave Friday and come back Sunday night. While you’re away…the pastor and his wife will have an accident.”
They hate this idea. Paige will know. “She’s not stupid, Gabriel,” Philip says.
“She’ll never be sure,” Gabriel says. “Will she wonder? Maybe.”
He tells them to make sure they don’t do anything suspicious around their daughter. “No phone calls, private conversations, be in bed before she is…”
Elizabeth doesn’t want to run, so she seems to be the one who settles Philip. “We don’t have a choice here,” she says. He is convinced this will alienate their daughter.
Gabriel reassures him. “People believe what they need to believe.”
At home, Elizabeth keeps working Philip. “You honestly think it would be better if we leave. What are you going to tell Henry? That we live in Russia now because…”
“She’ll figure it out. Not right away. But she will know,” Philip says.
“They’ve giving us a way out of this that lets us keep our lives,” his wife tells him.
Then, we see Paige meeting with Pastor Tim herself. She’s livid that he shared her secret — her family’s secret — with his wife.
“Alice understands. If she didn’t, I couldn’t do my job,” he says, kinda whiny.
“Alice likes to talk,” Paige says. “When I tell you something in secrecy, you can’t just decide, ‘I think I’ll tell my wife.’”
“I’m trying to help here,” he says.
“Help who? Me?”
“Of course you!” Pastor Tim insists. “Until we know exactly what your parents do and whether people get hurt as a result…”
“This is my mom and dad you’re talking about,” she says.
As Gabriel told her parents: People believe what they need to believe.
At the Jennings home, Henry looks at some brochures and thinks he talked mom and dad into going to EPCOT.
Meanwhile, Paige briefs her parents on Pastor Tim. “He got annoyed. Who am I to tell him his wife can’t keep a secret?”
“Okay, when we get back from Orlando, let’s the three of us go in and talk to him,” Philip says, building cover for when they return and find Tim and Alice deceased.
Paige hesitates. She asks if people get hurt in their work.
“Of course not,” Elizabeth says. “You know us better than that.”
It’s a great line and reminds me of one from 1998’s A Simple Plan: “Nobody would ever believe that you’d be capable of doing what you’ve done.”
Paige isn’t so easily convinced. “Where do you go two nights a week?” she asks her father.
NEXT: A killer on the loose…
At the Hee family dinner, Elizabeth is wrapping up some loose ends before the EPCOT trip. She’s having a grand time, eating hot peppers, doing the hot pepper dance. She’s getting close to Young, and there appears to be a genuine bond between them — maybe because Young, like Elizabeth, is also an immigrant.
Young complains about the horrific Cabbage Patch Kids her children collect and the way they are manipulated by advertising. They always forget about the toys until the next ad tells them to buy more.
“That’s America for you,” Elizabeth says. She hates a disposable culture. You know, the kind that would cast away the lives of a pastor and his wife simply for knowing a secret.
Back at their travel agency office, Philip is still trying to persuade Elizabeth that running is the better option. She can’t fathom going back to Russia. “Two kids who don’t know anyone, don’t know the language. What about us. Everything we’ve built here. Our work. Those things matter,” she tells him.
“It all matters, but for the last two days, I’ve had an alarm going off inside me going run, run, run,” he says. “Paige loses, whatever we do.”
So, Elizabeth and Philip go to meet with Gabriel, ostensibly to tell him they’re out — and want to run.
But Gabriel is on the floor, coughing. There’s blood. “Get out, get out…” he rasps.
Elizabeth and Philip know what this means: glanders. That little pathogen vial they returned to him.
They signal William (Dylan Baker), who works at the lab and stole the sample for them. When they explain what happened to Gabriel, he listens carefully — then runs.
Philip tackles him and spits in his face. Whatever they may have, William now has, too.
He needs to help them. He has no choice now.
William has a “broad spectrum antibiotic” at his apartment, and he agrees to go with them to Gabriel’s place to see if the treatment will work for all of them. He finds the pathogen in a familiar thermos in the freezer and places it in the oven to kill the virus.
More bad news: It’s going to take 36 hours worth of treatment, though. So much for the EPCOT trip. They are all stuck at Gabriel’s apartment.
It looks like Pastor Tim and his wife are going to get whacked at a time when Philip and Elizabeth are not only in the vicinity, but suddenly go missing from home, canceling the family vacation.
Philip looks at the smoldering pathogen in the oven. It may as well be his life going up in smoke.