One of the most immediately attractive things in the first season of The Americans was the period soundtrack. Just in the pilot, the story was structured in a way to get the most out of what many people might have considered overplayed songs. Fleetwood Mac’s “Tusk” and Phil Collins’ “In the Air Tonight” book-ended the beefy first episode that helped announce it as a real player in that season of television. Finally, in the third episode of the second season, we get one of those montages that stands well above most other attempts to weave storytelling into an episode’s music (Sons of Anarchy is in love with this idea to its detriment a lot of the time). As the final moments of “The Walk In” occur, Peter Gabriel’s “Here Comes the Flood” builds up and crashes down on the audience as an explicit way of saying “Hey, get ready. Everything up until this point? Child’s play.”
If the song isn’t convincing on its own, everything that happens in “The Walk In” should be an indication that things are going to escalate. First, we have Paige, who ditches school to go visit “Aunt Helen.” Apart from the fact that this is a great way to make Paige’s character interesting in a world full of boring child/young adult TV characters, the conversation Philip has with Paige when she gets home emphasizes how big of a theme parenthood is this season. Despite all the covert operations Elizabeth and Philip have to do in every episode of The Americans, the writers still find a way to give them more normal conflict, reminding the audience that these are people who have lives – albeit ones forged through deception and necessity – and need to go through those motions as well. In many ways, the Philip-Paige conversation is a simple scolding session – the best example of a parent in The Americans being upset with his child for doing something she isn’t supposed to be doing. Philip tells Paige that it’s the most irresponsible thing she’s ever done. Of course, we know why Philip is so bothered about Paige making personal inquiries into the family history, but that wording “that you’ve ever done” is heavy with the recognizable tone of an angry parent.
The wheels are really turning for Nina, too, after feeding Stan some intelligence that leads to him getting a medal and telling her that he loves her. Again, it might be Annet Mahendru’s facial acting, but it’s hard for me to interpret the smile she’s holding back as she’s typing her report. It could very well just be that she’s proud of herself for doing her job so well and, as Arkady says, digging herself out of the hole she made by going double-agent. But that’s a very cold reaction to recalling the events spent in bed with Stan, and The Americans hasn’t defined Nina as someone totally devoid of emotion. She puts on the facade of being the stern worker (poor Oleg does his best to get her to lighten up), but we know that it is a bit of a facade. So, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to suppose that part of that smile – part of those smiles, actually, if you also count the one she wears after Stan drops the L-bomb – comes from trying to repress a genuine happiness. If it isn’t that she’s happy that Stan loves her, it might be that she’s happy that she’s loved at all, having felt so disconnected for so long. Now that the Jennings marriage is relatively stable, the Stan-Nina relationship is the one that generates the most conflict. Believing that there’s still potential there makes it much more engaging to follow.
And, of course, trouble follows the two main characters, Philip and Elizabeth, wherever they go. Both are handling the executions of their former colleagues with the utmost of paranoia and care. There isn’t a scene as worrisome or immediately dangerous as last week’s construction across the street as far as thinking their lives are at risk, but that dread is still all over “The Walk In.” When they go to itemize some equipment only to find that one of the workers doesn’t have what they’re looking for, Elizabeth intimidates the guy in Keri Russell’s best sequence of the season so far. The man flashes pictures of his sons as a plea for his life; little does he know how lucky and timely he is when doing that. Elizabeth takes one of the pictures as collateral, but that she doesn’t kill him, which absolutely felt like it was going to happen in the moment, is an indication of how deeply affecting the murder of an innocent girl has been on her. It reaches the point where Elizabeth goes back on her promise of delivering the letter detailing the KGB history of the surviving son’s parents. Elizabeth has seen what this life can do to the people involved with it and to the innocent people in their lives. Rather than giving the boy some form of closure, Elizabeth leaves him in mourning ignorance to keep him completely out of harm’s way – something she wishes she could do for Paige and Henry.
One of just a few side notes to finish up, I can’t help but want Henry to get some more things to do now that Paige is getting herself into trouble. He basically gets to spend “The Walk In” talking about and looking at stars. He even tries to engage Philip in a conversation about cars only for Philip to answer the phone in a way that sounds like “Yeah, whatever, Henry.” Poor kid. The scene where Stan shoots the sniper is another great execution of tension for this series. But I always wonder about the training agents go through when trying to talk people down. It always feels so forced and non-conversational. Obviously, it must be very difficult to plan your next word and movement in a situation like that, but the tone that we see people use in television shows is always so patronizing. If I were being talked at like that, I’d probably swing the gun over too. No Martha this week, which is a shame, but she’s definitely a character that can’t be used to the same degree as Stan or Nina. Three episodes in, and we’re also now on Claudia alert, because we know that she has at least some kind of role to play this season until The Millers get cancelled and Margo Martindale can return full-time. Here comes the flood.
[Photo via Patrick Harbron/FX]