SEASON 5, EPISODE 10: DARKROOM
Are they monsters? I don’t know. But what they did to their daughter I’d have to call monstrous. I’ve seen sexual abuse, I’ve seen affairs, but nothing I’ve seen compares to what P.J. has been through. – Pastor Tim (Diary)
If Tim doesn’t get that job offer, he’s going to get that dirt nap. One of these two things is going to happen. His days of packing red beans in cardboard boxes in the nation’s capital are over. We don’t see any anger in the eyes of the parents as they study Paige’s photos in the homemade darkroom. What we see are eyes that give away a bit of guilt, of disappointment, and of confusion. The problem for Pastor Tim is he doesn’t understand Philip and Elizabeth’s pain over the entire situation. Should they have read Paige into their lives and the truth behind the travel agency? Even Gabriel now thinks that answer is no, but at the same time, how much choice did they have? You can only fight the obvious for so long, and she was asking questions, taking note of problematic occurrences, and beginning to distrust her mother and father.
Are they monsters for bringing her into their world? I’m not sure the answer is cut and dry, although I’ve argued Henry’s success illustrates the quality of his life compared to hers. It’s the lack of stressors that allows him to grow into adolescence. He’s spending time with a girl he fancies, while Paige was forced to drop a boy she deeply cared about to protect him from the secret. His biggest issue is whether he’s allowed to attend an elite boarding school. Hers is keeping her parents from treason charges, keeping her wits about her, and learning self-defense out of fear for her long-term safety.
Tim sees himself as a sort of father to Paige, in much a similar way to the way Stan treats Henry. Neither tries to replace Philip and Elizabeth, but each man is a friend, a confidante, and a source of advice. Similarly, both could be and are trouble to the Jennings family. As an FBI agent, Stan Beeman is directly involved in the Cold War, and battles the Soviets at almost every turn. As an activist, Pastor Tim is exposing Paige to Jesus Christ and organized religion, which flies directly in the grill of Karl Marx and his “opiate of the masses” belief structure.
This side of the episode was strong and well laid out, but the rest of the hour was a bit of a struggle. I find myself caring less and less about anything happening in Moscow, particularly Oleg’s story. I like that character, but it’s possible we should have said goodbye to Burov last season, with the only exceptions being direct ties to the past with Stan. When Nina Krilova is brought up, then we can check on Oleg and the quality of his mother’s borscht. But, watching the food investigations and Dmitri and the tips and even Burov looking into his own parents has been tedious and dull. If it leads somewhere, and it certainly might, I’ll gladly eat these words. Right now, when we flip to Russia, I tell myself not to pick up the smartphone or look away from the screen.
However, if we just spend time following a blonde woman that routinely removes her windshield wipers when she parks in order to make sure they aren’t stolen, that’s a spin-off I can get behind.
And I wasn’t expecting Vera Cherny to reappear, but Tatiana was the perfect person to put pressure on Evgheniya on the street. They’re getting closer to extricating this woman and her son from the United States. It’s by no means a “clean” operation, however.
Poor Pasha is dealing with dog dung in the locker. I know what you’re thinking. You’re telling yourself some variation of, “If I had a nickel for every time that happened in my school.” Actually, I’ve never heard of it happening before, but can’t wait to get your emails for the next few days at firstname.lastname@example.org telling me about the worst pranks that happened to you while you were advancing through your formative years. The Center has immediate interest in getting Evgheniya back to Russia due to her tryst with the likely head of the CIA’s Moscow station. She comes clean to Dee about the affair, then feels guilt as her husband is actually working hard to avoid conflict or argument. He wants to do more than create dirty alcoholic drinks and share them in mason jars, but he really wants to help his son through a tough time. Meanwhile, Tuan is asking every asshat he knows to bully the poor kid. He’s also trying to stay in the good graces of Philip and Elizabeth in the wake of the trust issue created by the trip to Pennsylvania last week.
We only hung with Philip at his Est meeting for a brief time, but we were there long enough to hear the instructor say this: “When you’re walking in the dark, you don’t know the answer, but you have an instinct of how to move forward.” Later, the man added to his point, defining enlightenment as “knowing the truth” and “accepting that you are a machine.” How this is supposed to help a Soviet spy on foreign soil, I have no idea, but there’s something to the first statement, especially if you add Philip’s discoveries about his parents this season. If you allow a reach, you can also apply Philip’s search for meaning and contentment as he grows disillusioned with his employer, and it’s likely that’s exactly what he did. It remains a very good thing he does this on his own, because boy, Elizabeth is still not ready to hear this without rolling her eyes or snapping someone’s neck.
Stan and Renee are still doing well, and after a nice double date with Philip and Elizabeth, the two couples agree to do it again. Originally, the Jennings pair hoped for the following week, but mysteriously, “I have to head home next week.” The reason this deserves mention is because it led Philip back to his theory that Renee might not be who she appears to be. The way Laurie Holden executed the line led me to the same conclusion. The moment happened in order to make us think like Philip, not like Elizabeth, and it also brought us to a new revelation. Philip LIKES Stan Beeman and views him as a friend. Elizabeth flippantly asks why it would matter if the KGB had sent Renee, and if she was working for them and not in a legitimate relationship with a lonely FBI agent. Philip’s response says a lot about where he is in his life and how he’s changed. “I don’t want Stan to be like Martha.”
In that one sentence, Philip reminds us of the turmoil and guilt he still feels over what happened to his fake wife, and simultaneously makes sure we know he doesn’t view Stan as an enemy. What’s interesting here is we know Stan isn’t a bad guy, so Philip endears himself to the audience with this thought process. Stan’s doing his job, for his country, just like he and his wife are, but he also served as babysitter and friend to their children, cooked Paige and Henry food, gave them a place to spend time when their parents were unavailable, and generally has been a great neighbor. It’s not strange that Philip would see many valuable qualities within Stan Beeman. It’s only odd because of the psychological hold communist and Marxist theology has on everyone indoctrinated with the concepts. He’s showing empathy and the ability to think for himself, which is supremely treasonous under a collectivist, authoritarian regime.
Stan and Dennis are seeing results from Sofia, who seems very happy. She’s smiling widely and even showing her teeth, which had me wondering if the agreed-upon dentist’s appointment did wonders for her. She’s getting close to a man in a key position, and the relationship between the two agents and their new informant couldn’t be going any better. From all we know right now, it’s the same for Stan and Renee, but we’re going to have to wait a few more weeks to find out if it’s on the up and up. Philip hasn’t been wrong very often as of late, which could make it a misdirection, but Renee being what he’s afraid she is could also be one of those incidents that sets up the final season and finally breaks the connection between him (and maybe Elizabeth) and the KGB for good.
The final takeaway from “Darkroom” is the marriage ceremony, which was a beautiful scene that doubled as an affirmation of these two people as more than what they might have been a decade prior. There’s real love here, and the chemistry oozed through the screen as Father Andre worked through the words that officially bound Mikhail to Nadezhda. This was The Americans at its best, even amidst its weakest season. The emotion and the raw power were palpable, and although any of us unable to speak Russian were forced to read the words, the impact was still the same. So often, this series relies on its misery and sense of dread, and on the occasions where it gives us the carrot, rather than the stick, it’s doubly effective.
The crowns of glory and honor from God, the ritual cloth, the vows of free will and firm intention, and the coupling of the servant and handmaiden of God…it actually made me want to get married in Russia. There was a regal feel that doesn’t exist in many American weddings of today, where tradition has gone by the wayside so someone can walk down the aisle to “She Thinks My Tractor’s Sexy.”
Paige’s covert actions against Pastor Tim and on behalf of the parents she now sees as heroes for what they’ve done with the food problem in Russia made this episode much better than it otherwise would have been, and the marriage ceremony was a necessary point of exhalation for the season. Three episodes left in 2017, and the number one job Joe Weisberg and Joel Fields have in these hours is to create as much anticipation as possible for the final stretch in 2018. It’s an all-time great series, and though we’ve dealt with a lull, Paige’s story improved mightily, Stan-Renee has the potential to be explosive, Topeka is now a long-term operation, and Philip seems more devoted to Est (and of course Elizabeth) than he does the Center.
Fireworks are still to come, but I felt a sense of urgency in some of Tuesday’s writing. It was a good thing. Not a fantastic episode, but what was good was REALLY good.
I’m @JMartOutkick. If you want to know my secrets, crack open this fake rock.