“Salang Pass” was a quietly powerful episode of The Americans that has started to bring together some of the most difficult and unruly threads in Philip’s life. Over the years, the show has included many allusions to Philip’s conscience (and how it seems more developed than Elizabeth’s), but he’s always chosen the mission over the mark. In this season, Annelise was a great example of someone Philip tried to help and save, but ended up stuffing inside of a suitcase. The Paige issue, though, coupled with Martha’s “baby fever,” as Gabriel put it, and having to “work” at 15-year-old girl is really starting to get to him, though.
The most astounding moments of “Salang Pass” were its final few, when a stoned Philip recalls parts of his training. In a few fractured flashbacks, he recalls parts of the sexual encounters he was forced to have in order to learn how to “make it real,” not just with a beautiful young woman, but with a grandmother, or even an old man. This subset of KGB spies had to be able to sell a manufactured reality to whomever they were working as marks. Then Elizabeth asks him in this quiet moment whether or not he has ever had to “make it real” with her. “Sometimes,” he answers honestly. “But not now.”
Hang on, I’m going to need a minute.
With that exchange, The Americans bolstered itself to new heights and tragic depths of honesty. Philip had admitted he supposes he makes it real with Martha, and that he will probably have to do the same thing with Kimberly. But his relationship with Elizabeth is also a cover identity, and a manufactured pairing. The show has never shied away from exploring that complicated reality with a lot of depth, difficulty, and compassion. Here, when Philip admits this truth to Elizabeth, they kiss, but her eyes remain open. Then finally, she relents and closes them. Did she realize that while she maybe loves Philip now more than ever, she’s had to “make it real” with him in the past, too? Like when she had Gregory, or when they were first a couple?
The Americans always comes back to themes of identity. Philip now is trying to figure out who he is as a father and as a husband and as a spy, and how all of that plays into his relationship with Martha, Kimberly, and other assets. I loved how Philip had a fun shopping trip with Paige (with whom he has a true and real relationship), and then advised Stan to try to reestablish his relationship with Matthew (making an interesting comment about getting the kid away from the other parent, “away from that other influence.”)
His relationship with Kimberly is a weird mix of parental and friendly. When she admitted her pent-up feelings about her father and her step-mother, and how if her father had another family she wouldn’t even be surprised (they’re both gone all of the time, and she has no idea he’s in the CIA, and maybe so is the step-mother). Did Philip imagine Paige saying something similar to someone else about him and Elizabeth? Later, the popcorn fight they had and the Philip taking her up to bed felt parental, but then she kissed him, and he had to dart out of the house “like a teenager.” Things are weird.
“Salang Pass” touched up career versus family in a few ways regarding sacrifice, like when Stan discussed his sadness at how Matthew wasn’t that thrilled to see him after he was away undercover for three years. Oleg is at odds with his family because he loves the United States, and wants to stay. Kimberly’s father has no idea that his absence and lack of a relationship with her now has opened a door for the KGB to make a move. But worse, that the whole operation may end up really, really hurting his daughter. And on top of all of this, Martha is really pushing to bring a foster child into the mix — yet another young person who Philip will be responsible for, and who he will probably ultimately hurt. And all of that is really starting to take its toll.
Episode Rating: ★★★★★ Excellent
Musings and Miscellanea:
— I think this is the first time I’ve gone to a full 5 stars, but Matthew Rhys is killin’ it. Philip has always been my favorite character on the series, and I love where the show is taking him and challenging him this year.
— I can’t believe we’re only halfway through the season, it feels like things are marching towards something really big. FX told critics that screeners won’t be coming now until just before the new episodes air, which seems to confirm that hunch.
— I haven’t talked at all about The Americans‘ really beautiful portrayal of Christianity but, it’s really, really interesting.
— Philip: “Paige was so graceful …” Elizabeth: “No she wasn’t!” Philip: “Oh yeah, that was the summer of skinned knees.” That whole exchange was so normal.
— Speaking of normal/natural, I hope that Philip spitting out that hot popcorn wasn’t scripted, because it was hilarious and seemed like a goof (that worked perfectly).
— Great exchange between Yusef and Philip about fundamentalist influence moving to Pakistan, and Philip advising him to “say 10 next time.”
— I loved Henry and Stan bonding at the dinner table, and then remembered it’s because Henry is all about Sandra. (Another tip to weird relationships).
— Elizabeth is really swimming along in her relationship with Lisa, including how she totally assassinated that poor guy in his own driveway under his car so that Lisa could take his job. I also like seeing Elizabeth as Michelle, feels like a totally new character for her — the fun, flirty, swingin’ single!
— “Conscience can be dangerous” – Gabriel.