If last night’s opening scene of The Americans was the first time a bathtub had been prominently featured this season, it would be easy to take the events of the scene at face value. After all, Paige (Holly Taylor) had lobbied hard and received permission from her parents to become baptized by Pastor Tim (Kelly AuCoin). But in a season that has had more bathtubs than an ‘80s Prince video, it’s reasonable to assume that the creators had something more in mind. Sure enough, right after Paige takes the plunge for Jesus, she emerges in a manner that cinematically recalls a shot from earlier in the season when Elizabeth (Keri Russell), also taking a bath, comes up for air. This similarity gives a more ominous element to last week’s scene of Elizabeth furiously scrubbing the Jennings’ tub. Is she cleaning it, not for herself, but for Paige, in preparation for another type of conversion? By the end of the “Born Again,” it appears that this is indeed the case. Paige is on the path to be transformed, only it’s not in Jesus’s image as she originally expected, but in her mother’s.
Before Elizabeth makes her move on Paige, Philip (Matthew Rhys) tries his best to warn Paige of what’s coming (as Paige distractedly replaces her Rick Springfield poster for one of Paris. One can’t help but wonder if this is foreshadowing of the eventual spinoff, The Americans in Paris. Get it? Okay, moving on.) by telling her to stay true to herself, even if the people pressuring her have her best interest at heart. Philip’s counsel is not only appropriate for Paige (though she is understandably confused by his crypticness) but for other characters in “Born Again,” as well, many who find themselves being subtly manipulated by those close to them.
Though Philip is unsuccessful at pushing the right buttons with Paige, he is a master when it comes to Kimberly (Julia Garner). The Kimberly and Paige storylines continue to roll down parallel tracks when Kimberly asks Philip to—wait for it—take a bath with her! (after “Born Again,” it might be time to start letting these two plots diverge a little bit before we all get run over by symbolic, parallel trains). Philip declines the invitation, and also the ensuing proposition Kimberly makes. Julia Garner’s reaction to Philip’s rejection, “Did I do something wrong?,” captures all the awkwardness, insecurity, and confusion of being an adolescent (even a rebellious one). Philip’s response, to let her down easy by telling her that she is perfect, is equally tender, and only one that the father of a teenage girl could conjure. Their final scene together, praying over James/Philip’s son, is equally touching and offers a surprising potential twist. The decision to pray is not out of the blue, as prayer is referenced earlier by Paige and Elizabeth on the other train track. Though Philip was using it as a tool to hold off Kimberly’s advances, he seems genuinely moved. Perhaps it will be Philip, who we know “has a conscience,” that will eventually find religion.
While Philip and Kimberly pray, Elizabeth—at Gabriel’s (Frank Langella) prompting—brings Paige to her holy ground, D.C.’s inner city, in order to begin prepping her for the second-generation illegals program. Those of us expecting Elizabeth to abruptly reveal their family secret to Paige were disappointed. It turns out that Elizabeth is a master manipulator herself, and that Paige’s initiation will be of the boiling frog variety (yes, more water metaphors). I’m not sure if this technique will be more or less painful to watch as a viewer, as Paige’s transformation will become a brainwashing instead of a conscious decision, but it does seem more likely to be successful. Elizabeth has learned well from Gabriel.
Nina (Annet Mahendru) is another character given a new life, only hers is brought on by her manipulation of Evi. By sharing intimate details of her life, Nina gets Evi (Katja Herbers) to admit that she knew what was in the package her boyfriend had her deliver. If only Evi could have heard Philip’s advice not to trust those who seem to have your best interest at heart she might not have been taken away (though where they are taking her that is worse than her current lodging I can’t imagine). Nina, feeling guilty about what she’s done, can’t look as Evi is dragged off. But let’s not judge Nina too quickly. I give the writers credit for asking, in the starkest of terms, what would you do to survive?
Finally, it seems that Stan (Noah Emmerich) might also be given a rebirth with Sandra (Susan Misner), when the death of an old friend brings them together. Matthew’s (Danny Flaherty) hopeful look watching them bond tells you he’s rooting for them, too. Don’t screw this up, Stan, like I know you subconsciously want to!
Other notable events from “Born Again”:
The Hans (Peter Mark Kendall) storyline advances, setting up a new operation inside the anti-apartheid movement.
I never knew a Scrabble game could be so tension-filled, but every Gabriel conversation is soaked in subterfuge (that’s a 16 point play, 28 with the Double Word).
Tori (Callie Thorne) tells Henry about how EST has helped her recover from a rough childhood. Though she doesn’t say it, I assume she’s also recovering from a rough marriage to this guy.
Martha (Alison Wright) and Agent Aderholt (Brandon J. Dirden) continue their sizzling flirtation over interoffice correspondence.
Now, for the big decision: a bath or Dark Side of the Moon? Why not both?
Read all of Court Haslett's posts for Criminal Element.