The Americans followed up its action-packed premiere with one of its most contemplative episodes to date. Apart from a quick chase scene and a heart-stopping encounter between Oleg (Costa Ronin) and Stan (Noah Emmerich), most of the hour is spent cleaning up last week’s messes, leaving plenty of time for the principal characters to ponder their pasts and plan for their futures. The title of the episode, “Baggage,” specifically references a piece of luggage Elizabeth (Keri Russell) brings to a memorable, cringe-inducing scene, but it also applies more generally to the emotional and psychological baggage everyone on the show, but particularly Elizabeth, seems to be lugging around these days.
Elizabeth, somehow decoding Philip’s (Matthew Rhys) request for help moving files at the office as a request for help disposing of a dead body at a hotel, arrives at Annelise’s (Gillian Alexy) murder scene with the titular suitcase. She also brings along a handy plastic tarp, and with the help of Yousaf (Rahul Khanna), the three literally get cracking, breaking Annelise’s bones with unnerving precision in order to cram her into the suitcase.
Philip and Elizabeth then use this leverage on Yousaf to try and obtain the names lost by Elizabeth last week of the CIA operatives working on Afghanistan. Yousaf sets up a meeting with members of the group at a hotel where Philip and Elizabeth will run surveillance, but the plan goes off-track when Yousaf is brought to a sports bar with the world’s worst beer selection. Feeling guilty over having lost the list once before, Elizabeth, to Philip’s vexation, recklessly follows Yousaf to the meet. Once at the bar, emotions settle, and Philip and Elizabeth successfully complete the operation over a couple of Miller Lites. Just another date night for the Jennings!
Other than the car chase following Yousaf, the only other action sequence in “Baggage” is when Oleg attempts to execute Stan outside what has to be the seediest video store in all of Northern Virginia. Stan, refusing Oleg’s order to get on his knees, dares Oleg to shoot him in the back. The ensuing walk down to his car lasts only a few seconds in real time, but will take a few years off the viewer’s life. Eventually, Stan turns around to an empty alley. Oleg has lost his nerve (either that or he really wanted to snatch up that last copy of Tron from the video store).
This lack of traditional action doesn’t mean there isn’t real tension in “Baggage.” Other storylines do get advanced, but they are moved along by more peaceful means. Negotiations are made, decisions are reached, lives are altered. And in keeping with the theme of the episode, we realize that these outcomes aren’t driven entirely by logic, but by the personal baggage of the characters making them.
It’s looks as if it is this type of emotional blind spot that will save Nina (Annet Mahendru) from a life sentence in a prison “not meant for innocent people.” Haggard (okay, more like “prison chic”), urinating in a pot, wolfing down meals, and refusing any form of human interaction, her salvation arrives in the form of Oleg’s father. Introducing himself to Nina as Igor (Borris Lee Krutonog), the loyal party member and stern patriarch, who’d previously rebuffed Oleg’s request to help, now appears ready to sacrifice his principles for Oleg, despite his stated disappointment in him (and in children all over the world).
On the other hand, Stan, a walking textbook of psychological trauma, is in even more of a dark place by episode’s end. After his near death experience with Oleg, he reacts in a surprisingly un-Stan-like (i.e., human) way, reaching out to his son, then paying a surprise visit to Sandra (Susan Misner), who, it should be noted, has wasted no time shacking up with her EST soul mate. Stan opens himself up to Sandra like we’ve never seen previously. Sandra is touched, but not in the romantic way Stan was hoping, leaving him even more lost and devastated than he already was.
But not even Stan can take the title of “Most Devastated” away from Philip this week. Throughout the episode, Elizabeth and Philip continue to spar over the Centre’s plans for Paige (Holly Taylor). After disposing of Annelise’s body, Philip senses an opening to make his case, telling Elizabeth that what happened to Annelise is exactly why he doesn’t want Paige involved in the family business. Elizabeth’s response, “What do you want, a guarantee that life is always gonna be easy?” is the first sign that Elizabeth’s formerly ambiguous stance on Paige’s future is changing. This change, while not surprising, seems to have occurred since Elizabeth began listening to the tapes from her dying mother, triggering fond memories about her mother’s devotion to the Soviet Union. Elizabeth finally makes her preference crystal clear to Philip in the final scene of the episode, when she tells Philip how her mother responded to the news that Elizabeth was joining the KGB and moving away forever. Her mother “ . . . didn’t blink. She told me to go and serve my country. When I was called, my mother didn’t hesitate.”
The utterly devastated look on Philip’s face after hearing Elizabeth’s recollection reveals that Philip now knows that not only is her mind made up, but that he has also lost the fight. What’s worse, he has lost it not because of what’s best for Paige (as Paige wisely observes, “You guys, you and dad, look after each other more than us.”), but because of the guilt Elizabeth feels about letting down her dying mother. Forget the suitcase she brought to the hotel, this is the real baggage Elizabeth is carrying.
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