The first three episodes of The American’s second season have me revisiting one of the series’ recent promos featuring the song “Russians” by Sting:)
“There is no monopoly on common sense On either side of the political fence. We share the same biology, regardless of ideology. Believe me when I say to you, I hope the Russians love their children, too.”
The Americans is great at deftly portraying members of both sides of the political fight as humans, not monsters. They both come from a perspective of loyalty to country and family; they’re both upset when they see atrocities done at the hands of those on the other side. “The Walk In” cleverly used the narrative of the Vietnam War to get this point across, such as during a 1967 flashback a distraught Elizabeth says to Phillip, “This war. They’re killing everyone. They’re never gonna stop.” Not that the then-Soviets/now Russians are exactly perfect, but you get the point: Whoever one’s enemy is, they don’t have a monopoly on destruction. However, being disgusted by their destruction can sometimes be akin to pointing out a speck in their eye while not recognizing the plank in one’s own.
Elizabeth and Phillip love their children, but so does Derrick, the worker who cleans the machines at the plant the Jennings have infiltrated in search of the cylindrical grinder for which Fred passed information. Derrick quickly senses Elizabeth isn’t who she says she is — Jackie from “the moving company,” not that the crowbar in her hand helps — and to buy himself time and hopefully his life, he shows her pictures of his children. Elizabeth takes one of them with her when she and Phillip leave, a sort of insurance to remind Derrick to keep his mouth shut. Hopefully, it also will serve as a reminder that her enemy isn’t so different from herself.
Bruce Dameran, the walk in in question, served in Vietnam but considered the real “enemies” the executives at his place of employment, the World Bank, whom he planned to assassinate. “I saw the real enemy, and it’s right here — the men who own everything. Ronald Reagan doesn’t care!,” Dameran told Stan, who tracked him down thanks to first a tip from Nina and later by visiting Dameran’s office. Not much is explained about his reasoning for the planned attack, or why he reached out to the Soviets and whether they planned to assist. Stan shooting Dameran upped his reputation in the FBI, at least, and that combined with his declaration of love for Nina upped her status at the Rezidentura. She’s got him where she wants him, and it appears Dameran’s plot only served to provide an opportunity for both Stan and Nina to advance in their respective agencies.
Thankfully, the plot arc of the Connors has continued to develop instead of being dropped after the premiere. In the first flashback of the episode, Elizabeth and Leanne talk in 1966 Silver Springs, Md., waiting for a mark and discussing children. Elizabeth admits she has never been keen on having kids, and it isn’t until the 1967 date in which she discusses Vietnam with Phillip and sees his compassion that she agrees to try. “You’ll make a good father,” she says. He sees the horror she sees, and he feels the way she feels, and that connection convinces her he’d be a good partner.
Bringing children into their world of espionage is all part of the plan to make themselves fit in with American society, but they didn’t account for the scenario Emmett and Leanne found themselves in in the present day when their daughter Amelia was murdered alongside them and their son, Jared (Owen Campbell), is now an orphan. In 1966, Leanne asked Elizabeth a favor: that if anything should happen to her and Emmett, that Elizabeth deliver a letter to Jared that explains just who his parents were. Elizabeth retrieved the letter from her friends’ house, but after a visit with a distraught Jared who is staying with family friends, she decides to burn the confession and let Jared alone. She’s probably right — it may be best for Jared not to know what happened, to not be brought into any further the tangle that is the lives of the sleeper agents. The farther he can escape, the better.
Paige, on the other hand, is determined to explore her family and its history, which has been presented to her as largely over and done with. As far as she knows, she has one living relative — Helen Leavis — and she skips school to head to Harrisburg, Pa., to meet her. A confused Helen is there, referring to Paige as “Shelly” as if she were her own daughter. Only later do we see a not-at-all-confused Helen call Phillip, addressing him as “Sir,” introducing herself as “Aunt Helen” and telling him Paige came by for a visit and was on her way home. Helen is out to protect the Jennings and appears to have played her cards right by trying to steer Paige off course, but I’d bet this isn’t the last we’ve seen of her.
After Phillip lectures Paige, complete with the phrase “lying will not be tolerated,” she turns to a newfound friend, Kelli (Lizzy Decelement), whom she met on the bus to Harrisburg. Kelli’s appearance feels too coincidental — is she one of the agents assigned to watch the Jennings children, or is she too young for that? No matter what, Paige appears to be setting out on a road of misbehavior, and Kelli surely won’t help. Additionally, Phillip’s words are amusing in respect to how many lies he and Elizabeth tell on a daily basis. Sure, Paige is a teenager who messed up and is acting out, but her curiosity isn’t unwarranted. As violence begets violence, so does lying beget lying. The agents have lied to protect their children, but that many lies can backfire.
Something bigger is coming, and the show let Peter Gabriel bring the point home at the end:)
Sarah Carlson is a TV Critic for Pajiba. She lives in San Antonio. You can find her on Twitter.