Are your arms still tired from last week’s digging? Too bad, because The Americans is back. Thankfully this show tends to let audiences breathe between big developments, enough to feel safe and have a big lungful of surprise the next time it punches you. “Pests” was one of those breathers.
Let’s check out the storylines setting up for season 5 in this week’s latest episode.
Spoilers for 5×02 “Pests” below
“Pests” picks up where “Amber Waves” left off. Philip and Elizabeth meet with Gabriel to hand over the William sample and inform him about Hans. He tells them the Center is frantically sending messages and suspect America of contaminating grain sent to Russia. He also tells them Morozov (Pasha’s father) will be leaving for Illinois and laments the state of American government.
Philip and Elizabeth return home afterwards. When they check on the kids, they find Paige sleeping in her closet. Looks like self-defense lessons didn’t help much.
Over in Moscow, Oleg’s boss further describes the level of corruption and methods they will face. They begin their investigation into this corruption. Back in the states, Philip and Stan talk about the girl in the gym some more. Looks like Stan’s going to awkwardly blunder through this every step of the way while Philip rolls his eyes.
While Elizabeth offers Paige another self-defense lesson, Philip and Stan share a beer. Stan briefly mentions Matthew’s college choices before asking if something is wrong with Philip’s daughter lately, because he’s noticed it. Philip tries to blow it off as “that’s how Paige has always been.”
He’s not entirely wrong, but there’s a reason she acts that way.
Elizabeth uses the training session to bring up Paige’s new relationship with Matthew. She asks whether they’re having sex and the vulnerable moments which may lead her to accidentally say something. She doesn’t want Paige seeing Matthew. Paige returns to her training with an increased vigor afterwards.
Elizabeth mentions having to talk to Hans’s sister while she and Philip get ready for bed, and also tells him about Paige. Philip mentions Stan’s suspicions. They both assume she will slip and wonder what to do about it.
Speaking of Stan, he’s still an FBI agent! His boss brings him into a meeting with a CIA agent to tell him about Oleg. This agent wants to turn Oleg and asks about potential strategies. Stan grows increasingly frustrated while telling this agent Oleg cannot be turned. When the CIA agent suggests threatening Oleg’s family, Stan reacts particularly badly.
Next the episode transitions to Illinois, where Elizabeth and another agent tail Morozov through some bustling farmland. Morozov’s car and the men guarding him eventually turn onto a farm. Perhaps they are FBI agents? If so, I wonder what they think about Stan’s plan to approach the Deputy Attorney General about stopping the CIA from approaching Oleg. At least he told his boss before going over his head again.
Back home in D.C., Philip is in his Eckert disguise picking bird nests from blocked gutters. He asks Tuan about potential surveillance and Tuan’s plan if someone comes knocking. We get a little bit of Tuan’s actual orphan past. Philip’s actual kid, Paige, does homework with Matthew and talks about her frustration with her mother. Matthew talks about his mother as well. They stark making out.
This is exactly the vulnerable moment your parents talked about, Paige!
While his son tries to get laid, Stan approaches the Deputy AG as promised earlier. He make the argument that taking advantage of Oleg now breaks the rules and makes them no better than the Soviets. No matter how he pleas, though, the AG tells him he’s powerless. He has no control over the CIA. Meanwhile, Elizabeth does her spy thing back in Illinois. She breaks into a greenhouse Morozov entered and finds rows of dead plants. Further inspection reveals rows of healthy plants covered in bugs.
While Philip and Stan wait for their turn at the gym, Stan expresses his frustrations about the CIA. He also tells Philip about his first date with gym lady! Turns out her name is Renee. Stan compares the date to going out with a female Philip. You don’t see things throw Philip off guard very often, but that did it. He gets to meet Renee while Stan sets up a second date with her.
Oleg’s love life doesn’t appear to be going so well. After a brief scene where Philip and Elizabeth discuss the bugs on the plants, a CIA agent approaches Oleg as he walks home and hands him a slip of paper. He also uses Stan’s name. Oleg returns home and finds out that the slip of paper is a map with a meeting point.
I’m sure he also misses the giant dinners like the “Eckerts” and Pasha’s family eat at a restaurant. This dinner goes much like the one in the premiere. Morozov badmouths the Soviet Union and talks about his father’s imprisonment. Pasha angrily wishes he was still home. His mother tries to make peace. During the car ride home, Tuan talks about the day his family died in Vietnam and calls Pasha weak.
They also discuss surveillance of Pasha’s house again and what the lax security means. Afterwards we see Stan and his partner Aderholt conducting surveillance of their own. Stan again expresses his disapproval about the Oleg plan. He also talks about Renee.
When Elizabeth and Philip arrive home, Elizabeth says she’s sick of treating Paige “like a goddamn kid” and they go talk to her. They again bring up Matthew and the emotional vulnerability sex creates. The episode ends with them showing her a technique to control her emotions which they have used and perfected over the years.
Most awkward birds and the bees talk ever.
This was a bit of an awkward episode all around, for both good and bad reasons. I suppose I’ll start with what few negatives there were. There was a bit of unevenness to the beginning of the episode. The dialogue was somewhat stilted and forced, especially in the opening conversation with Gabriel. Many scenes felt off, especially with Philip. Maybe Matthew Rhys was off his game while filming these scenes?
This episode also served as one of the notorious slow-burners The Americans is known for. For the less patient TV watchers out there, maybe they walk away hoping more happened. Though I suspect anyone watching season 5 of The Americans knows to expect these episodes. If not, how did you get this far?
(One more small complaint; I hope something eventually happens with Henry. The way so many scenes in the Jennings house begin with making sure he’s nowhere to be found are funny; but right now I don’t know if they’re hiding a bad actor or setting something up.)
Once the awkwardness early on settled, though, the episode found a groove and continued establishing the storylines of season 5 and beyond.
The focus on food continued, and Morozov’s job and importance was made clear with the bugs and the grain. While Elizabeth may have immediately assumed research involving destroying grain, I interpreted it as protection. They were figuring out how to protect the plants from those bugs, not using them. The purpose is uncertain. Philip and Elizabeth will probably spend the next few episodes trying to clear things up.
This uncertainty spread throughout the entire episode with many characters. The Americans spent a great deal of time showing how they have become uncertain in their lives and futures. Paige continues to struggle with keeping her parents’ secret and her new relationship with Matthew. Oleg now faces the uncertainty of the CIA’s attempts to turn him. Morozov and his family all struggle with their new life in America.
Uncertainty is nothing new to The Americans. Every season sees every character struggle with it. Whether they worry about their missions, their secrets, their personal lives, or the way all these things intertwine, everyone on this show deals with uncertainty.
Most of all, though, “Pests” focused on double-crosses. I know, shocking for a spy show. However, it increasingly looks like this season will revolve around testing the allegiances of multiple characters.
Stan especially stood out in this regard. I can’t believe I’m saying this about the same Stan Beeman from season 1, but he may genuinely struggle with loyalty to his country in the near future. This episode did a great deal to make him question both the FBI and his patriotism. Whatever issues I may have with the man, he has always considered America morally superior to the Soviet Union. That belief drives his fervor for his job.
Over the course of season 4, Stan developed a real bond with Oleg over their shared love for Nina. No better way exists to change someone’s mind on a different race, sex, culture, or whatever quicker than prolonged exposure to someone of that demographic. Oleg provided Stan with a culture shock of sorts. Here was a Russian man Stan struck up a real friendship with. Someone he could relate closely to and understand. This did more to weaken Stan’s fervor than anyone or anything else possibly could have.
Now he’s being told Oleg’s cooperation in stopping William will be punished. His life will be placed at risk and his good deed turned against him. This strikes directly at the moral superiority Stan feels over the Soviets. At what point does Stan not just question his bosses as he does here, but begin to resent them? When does that resentment spread to his country??
Especially if his new girlfriend is a Soviet spy trying to turn him. I think she is. His line about her being a female Philip was more than a weird, funny line.
Renee as a spy would tie Stan’s story with Oleg’s as the CIA tries to turn him. Here are two men who have spent multiple seasons with storylines intersecting through Nina. She may be gone and they may be in different countries, but The Americans appears to be continuing this connection between them.
(P.S., I have missed both Nina and Martha quite a bit through these first two episodes.)
I also have to wonder how long the Jenningses can listen to Morozov tell cold, hard truths about the squalid conditions of the Soviet Union before they question their moral superiority as well. As funny as it is to watch Morozov rant and rave while oblivious to everyone else’s complete disagreement, at some point they will realize he’s at least partially right.
I think Philip reached that point years ago. He was ready to defect in season 1 and showed little regret. He still loves his home country and does terrible things in its name, but I also think he recognizes the many advantages America has provided him throughout his life.
Elizabeth is a different story. She’s hardcore Soviet Union and it will take something fierce to change her mind. I don’t think she’s closed-minded, though. Whether it’s her children, her husband, the conditions of her homeland, or some factor yet to be introduced to the show, I can see her harboring the same doubts Stan now does.
Such doubts are likely what drives her and Philip’s paranoia over Paige right now. They are intimately aware of the difficulty in hiding secrets and doubts from those you love. They kept those secrets and doubts from each other for most of their marriage. Paige is a teenager with zero training. She can’t possibly be better at keeping these secrets than her trained parents are. Her own doubts and sense of moral superiority are simply too strong.
Neither of her parents are emotionally equipped to handle her doubts and fears, either. Philip and Elizabeth try in their own ways and always have, but they cannot relate to their daughter. They are Soviet-raised, Soviet-trained spies incapable of understanding the troubles which have Paige presumably sleepwalking and sleeping in a closet. They don’t know how to handle a genuine romantic relationship with someone who can never know a vital aspect of their lives. And they certainly don’t know how to handle all of this as a teenager.
The Americans focused heavily on the doubts and allegiances of its characters this week. Stan, Oleg, Philip, Elizabeth, Paige, even Tuan seems to be developing his own fondness for America. Fans knew these doubts were coming and they will only increase throughout the last two seasons. Where will it all lead? Is there any real chance that Elizabeth Jennings turns? Or Stan Beeman?
I can’t wait to find out.
Images Courtesy of FX