S3E13 ‘March 8, 1983’ … or

05/05/2015: Apologies to subscribers, post uploaded in error, now deleted.

The Empire Strikes Out

An airport farewell offered the briefest of pre-credit sequences; E squeezed in a wry mother-in-law reference and Paige broke our hearts in a small way – she lied to Henry. Damn. Soon, the Jennings girl’s waved goodbye and off we all sped along the 47-minute season three runway. Fasten your senses.

We Are Family
Storytelling convention might have allowed scenes building to the big moment, we might ourselves have subconsciously anticipated the same, but this show willingly subverts norms and it did so here; there was no narrative lead-in: in the early morning E responds to a quiet knock, wordlessly an elderly woman is wheeled in. At least E is clued in because you, me and Paige are just a little unsure …

E kneels, they fold into each other. “Mummy …” “Oh my little one …”. I’d planned for this moment – deciding to face it unblinkingly like E undergoing ad hoc home dentistry – but when the moment came I dissolved hopelessly.

Of course they cry – quite what about is difficult to know, for us and perhaps for them. It was simple, unadorned by emotional manipulation or even sentiment – some might argue a statement of artistic confidence close to imposing on the narrative.

They know the truth but they lie “I had to let you go. Everything was at stake” … mmm, not really, Grandma. From earlier scenes, we know you gave Nadz to the state at 16 because you felt the family owed a huge debt of gratitude and honour (after her husband deserted the army and the family). Nadz has been repaying that debt for 25 years.

As Paige is drawn into the reunion we step back. Later, when P asks how it went, E pauses before saying matter-of-factly she is glad she went. She thanks her husband. That was a little cold.

But hey, on the bright side, given the last person who exited any room on wheels was Annalise, it went well with Granny.

The trip was also the right time for Mom and daughter to talk through the whole fake family/fake life thing: We are nowhere near a recruitment moment – at this point the issue was whether and how Paige can accept that most of her life has been a monumental lie.

Somewhere between arriving in West Germany and leaving, Elizabeth lost her daughter. Some key moments:

“I don’t get how she could let you leave like that. Basically forever?”
“I’m praying for your mother” (not ‘my grandmother’).
Back at the airport: “I don’t know if I can do this Mom. Go home and lie to Henry? About everything. All my friends. To lie for the rest of my life; that’s not who I am”

That looks to be where E got it catastrophically wrong. We know Paige is a newly baptised, bible class attending, mid teen suburban Christian. That’s her identity and her world. Answering her with “Everyone lies, Paige” seems insensitive and even dismissive.

Going back to Paige praying in the bathroom, E sat on the floor and looked at her daughter with kindness but they were worlds apart. Maybe religion is E’s blind spot.

After the taxi ride home, Paige will have to start constructing a whole new life: ‘Hi Henry. No, it was kind of boring’ ‘Thanks Mr Beeman, we had a nice time’. This is someone for whom verses like ‘thou shall not bare false witness’ are part of her identity.

Back home in leafy suburbia, Paige heads for her bedroom to sob, and to avoid Henry. Phil asks about Paige “She did good, really good. I think it was good for her”.

From overhead, we all see the prominent bedside phone. As Martha did last week, Paige reaches out – but to her Christian family. Alice answers, Pastor Tim takes over:

“Please, please help. They’re liars. They’re not who they say they are. They’re not Americans. I’m not supposed to tell anyone. You can’t tell anyone. They’re Russians”

Hey Pastor, ya still want that booking to Kenya?

As well as being asked to live a lie, Paige can’t contextualise this: Russians? Where are they on a scale with drug dealers and liars? Maybe she’s also still grieving for a family she thought was hers but never existed.

Next door, E reminds us she is still sharp and focused. P talks about dealing with “the Martha thing”. E instantly picks up the flaw in his plan of letting Martha find out from work (about the suicide of Gene). It’s the wrong approach. He concurs.

The stark contrast in E’s handling of Paige and her immediate grasp of Martha’s likely reaction seems to expose a particularly shapely Achilles heel.

Fwiw, I’ve added my own sentimental tosh about this in a flash forward (below)

It’s a busy couple of days for Phil while the girls are away; two guy talks (Yousef and Gabriel), two EST meetings, he kills someone who is Henry +12, and he fends off the emotionally unsettled Sandra Beeman. He does get around.

Visiting Gabriel, Phil starts strong “I told you I was going to take care of my wife and my family” ”I’m just getting done what I need to get done”. “Grow up”. No Scrabble today.

Later, at EST, we meet the delightful – and delighted – Jennifer who runs us past her last couple of days (“Just let me go down on you”). Philip and Sandra Beeman exchange awkward glances, and pleasantries after. But something he hears resonates:

“When you separate sex from intimacy it always goes wrong”.
“Trust your gut, listen to what your gut is saying, it’s more important.”
Is Phil remembering his earlier observation to Yousef that he “felt like shit all the time”?

After the second EST meeting – while the background overhead projection announces ‘Communicating About Sex is Communicating About You’ – Sandra wants to know why Phil is here; it’s a bit soon for that, lady.

But she gives it one more shot – this time an offer of emotional intimacy – but Phil’s gut is still telling him to work through whatever this is with his wife.

Back in their bedroom, the debrief continues. P talks about killing Gene the computer geek but soon stumbles and flounders through what is his first EST moment:

“It was hard Elizabeth, really hard”
“I almost feel like – when I do this stuff – if I don’t … I just feel like, from now on, I need to feel able to know what I’m doing better so I ….”

As he pauses for a deep chest and shoulder breath, E is distracted by Ronald Reagan. The moment is gone.

In Espionage Corner
Ollie meets Stan to update him on their latest fine mess. The Center is aware someone is running an operation on WILLOW and has shut down all the assassination fun. Stan tapes Ollie saying WILLOW is a Soviet asset. Bingo!

Ollie gets to sit on the naughty step with Maurice from the Northrop gig.

Stan knows that in presenting the evidence tape to Frank Gaad every item in his laundry bag will get waved around – he may as well admit the sexual relationship with Nina now, and does. And yep, I was running an operation with Ollie on Zinaida. Now put my socks down, please.

After asking again if he planted the bug, Gaad blusters to Stan his career is over before flouncing off to the Attorney General’s Office.

The AG and his Deputy read it differently and cast the Federal Bureau of Investigation as … bureaucrats (in the next season they may even be cast as Federal). Perhaps, in this administration, people like Stan are almost John Wayne figures, cutting through the red tape that’s holding America back!

Frank Gaad – now cast as unimaginative bureaucrat – read this as wrongly as Elizabeth read Paige.

Stan’s private life may feature playing board games with a kid but, professionally, he’s bagged an important spy and the opportunity to turn the son of the Minister for Railways. He’s done some shocking things but this is Stan’s best day since convicting the Arkansas supremacists. He doesn’t, though, get Nina.

Maurice and Ollie shuffle across to make room for Frank Gaad on the naughty step.

Martha and Gene
We met Gene the computer guy a few times around the FBI office, most recently talking to Martha about Walter Taffet (Gene was impressed with Taffet’s grasp of computer science).

Before Gene arrives home from work, a disguised P idly ponders, playing with Gene’s toys in his leather gloves. Again, we think back to P’s admission to Yousef in the first scene, and perhaps beyond that to Annalise. Add Kimmie to that list, also what’s happening with Paige … and now a harmless big kid who loves computers.

P leaves a suicide note for Gene on his Commodore 64. If he had to go, you feel he’d have liked that.

Later, we have, arguably, Martha’s biggest scene of the season – and she wasn’t there!

In their bedroom, when E is unpacking after the trip and they talk about Phil taking care of the Martha thing: “I think she should hear it from you first. A woman like that, with this on her conscience? I don’t think you’re seeing things clearly”. P responds that Martha is “absorbing everything”.

The implication is Martha and Clark have together identified someone at Martha’s work and Clark has explained that Gene will be framed in order to take the heat off her, though Clark probably didn’t go so far as to explain the swinging from his ceiling part. E says Martha needs to hear about that from him (before hearing about the suicide at work).

Putting that together, it means Martha is now an actively engaged asset. It also upgrades sweet Martha to a joint enterprise murderer.

Final thought on Martha: after all this time with Clark, is life getting better and better, or worse and worse …

Tea Trays and Tantrums
Nina is working her way through a range of ever tighter sweaters – and tea trays- in order to accumulate enough evidence to throw Anton down a salt mine. Anton knows her role is to offer comfort, he doesn’t necessarily know she is also a classic honey trap. Their two scenes are ambiguous. This is what we have:

First scene: Anton “They only have my body, you understand”
Second scene: Nina offers sex, Anton declines and shares his method for resisting control. We hear only “Firstly, you don’t have to do it their way …”. Nina uses those plate-sized eyes to make sure he gets to secondly and thirdly – after all, she’s there to find out if he’s working hard for the cause.

We leave them perched on Anton’s unraveling mattress and really hope he doesn’t say too much more.

My reading; Nina may have enough information to throw him down the aforementioned salt mine but must surely report back that Anton is working himself to the bone for the motherland: In doing that, I recognise she’s also played me. I don’t even care.

More widely, there seems scope to draw parallels over ‘body ownership’ between Nina, Anton, Philip and to some extent Elizabeth.

Sandra Beeman
Okay, bigger picture: Sandra was parachuted into the season finale – a place where every scene really matters – at the cost of relegating Martha’s conclusion to E12. Going forward into S4 this storyline must matter. How so?

Presumably, as the wall between Phil’s two worlds crumbles, Sandra is going to provide a little on going Glasnost.

At its core this is a show about an arranged marriage. Having spent three seasons observing that relationship through one-way glass – the stresses and strains, the ebb and flow of affections, occasional moments of heart rendering intimacy, anger, loyalty, honesty, empathy we again leave the Jennings’s.

We see the husband losing faith – circled by another woman. Both kids have developed substitute families or parental figures and the wife might be developing traits not unfamiliar to her own cold, hard, uncompromising mother.

We’re at the end. In quick-cut succession we see individual family members overlaid with the closing passage of the speech: on the beat of “evil empire” Elizabeth is open-mouthed and turns to Philip, who isn’t listening. Cut to Paige: “They’re … Russians”. To Reagan: “They are the focus of evil in the modern world”. Nadezhda stares at Reagan; as fierce and defiant as ever.

And close season.

Flash Forward
How come Elizabeth lost Paige? It could be that religion is her blind spot and that when Paige came looking for answers, E had nothing to offer.

Did the meeting with her mother have an effect; is E re-evaluating as we all do when a parent dies? It may not yet be happening on a conscious level but perhaps Elizabeth has looked hard at her daughters strengths and weakness, looked at her own life – perhaps in particular the sacrifices – and conceded another path lay ahead for Paige. After all, the family has long-since paid its debt.

When she comes to consider this on a conscious level, maybe E will see she and P have already achieved what they hoped for with their daughter, that Paige has already formed into the person they wanted her to be in the pilot episode. Their child wants a nuclear free world, she cares about justice and equality. Maybe she will, as Elizabeth suggested, work as a trade unionist.

What if this Paige Jennings went to college in late 1985 and graduated in 89 just months before the Berlin Wall came down. Maybe she majored in Russian and travelled the former Soviet Union at the time of Perestroika and Glasnost. A person with that skill set could contribute enormously in a rapidly changing world. She will be about 25 when Bill Clinton becomes President and just short of her mother’s current age when Obama does.

Perhaps she followed another path. When you stand back and look at the values already instilled in her, the way she cares for her brother, works, organises, thinks, understands, her determination to get the truth, maybe one day Philip and Elizabeth will come to be proud of the person Paige already was.

See you in 2016.

We should be used now to stories or characters appearing, concluding or veering off unexpectedly – challenging narrative conventions has quietly become a trademark of the show. Those who had worked that out already certainly weren’t disappointed here.

The showrunners now seem comfortable with their audience vising stories and characters at key moments and allowing other development to occur off screen – so not only is the narrative structure sometimes challenging but the audience is also being asked to work harder to fill in gaps. I guess if you don’t trust your audience by end of S3 …

So who’s got a number for the hilarious Jennifer from EST?

1980s Levis: even Mrs Beeman can’t make them look good

No idea who Anton Lazarevich is perhaps it’s a pet name Nina has for Anton?

Across the road, two guys needing substitute family figures play the non-electronic game i.e. Stan’s game not Henry’s
Montages: some will cite ‘Task’ as their favourite montage, others ‘Games Without Frontiers’. In this finale we had something pretty different: intercut with family members we started with some Twilight Zone meets Philip Glass electronica. Then, as the quick cuts continued, in came excerpts from the ‘evil empire’ speech. Felt powerful to me. Reaction quote: not as easy to dance to but maybe after a few EST meetings …

Incidentally, for these final 5 seconds of the season the director uses the famous Dolly Shot (or ‘Jaws shot’) technique.


S3E12 ‘I Am Abassin Zadran’

Initially it looked like this epi was all about two ladies who’d reached the end of their emotional tether, stand firm and refuse to be mollycoddled any longer.

Sure, the epi is mostly about Paige and Martha but, the more you step back, the more it seems this is also about a man taking back control of his family, for his family.

Midway, we get confirmation – validation – of that decision from the two people who best shade his light. We find Gabriel and Claudia convivially handling tea in a Greek diner. The two experts in tragedy trade ideas for how to proceed with P&E’s eldest child. To paraphrase: ‘Don’t worry about what happened before (with “the boy” killing his parents and then dying), they think you can pull this off. We want you to speed up the process. We’re all behind you big guy’.

The Center has sent a friend of 30 years to massage Gab’s ego and to deliver a pep talk: not a whole bunch of respect or sympathy from Claudia for boundaries, for the family, for what P&E have achieved in 20 years in the US. And zero talk of E’s mother.

P knows anyway; The Center can hammer its sickle up the Volga, Phil Jennings is doing what’s right by his.

Having last week left the Refusnik daughter feeling both frustrated and empathic towards her mother, we now find Paige in feisty teenage passive-aggressive mode (deciding to stay at the Pastor’s on a school night). With an embarrassing driveway standoff between real and substitute parents nimbly averted by Tim, the Jennings’ return home in familial silence (haven’t we all been there).

Once back in the privacy of their own vault-cum-garage, it restarts ‘we need to know we can trust you’ ‘how can I believe anything you say’; a sharper tone, a reminder of consequences, even a physical barrier. We know this isn’t wilful teenage angst. Instead, it’s valid entitlement, and her parents know it too.

The next night they go again. Paige accusingly waves the family photo album in which everyone who isn’t mom or dad or Henry is fake. She gets louder, it’s getting close to blackmail now – give me something real or I’ll make sure Henry knows.

E moves to put her hand over her daughter’s mouth. “Don’t touch me. DON’T touch me”. It’s an intense, confrontational family scenes that is usually about power but here is about identity.

Back in the USSR
Next; rapprochement. Dad knocks

He tries to soften her up. They reminisce; we spot the metaphor of Paige protecting Henry from a bear but then Paige says unprompted “He asked me to keep it a secret”. And so she did for 7-8 years until this moment. So why mention it now? It’s not a throwaway line.

My version: taken in the context of the reaction it draws (in the next scene) perhaps Paige is telling her father she kept secrets as a child but that was then. She understands grown up secrets have consequences way greater than a scared boy in a tent can imagine: I get it dad, trust me.

In the next scene, in the car, P to E “You should go and take her with you” “Look, if you don’t take her I will”. So P is making the call for his wife – and his daughter – that they can’t make. The Jennings’ are going rogue. Sort of, for a bit. Not even?

In the final scene mother knocks “Paige, I’m going to see my mother before she dies. In Russia. We think you should go with me. It will be the only chance you have to meet your grandmother.”

About bloody time: Nadz is coming home.

Agent Hanson
“Shogun: An English navigator becomes both a player and pawn in the complex political games in feudal Japan”. Stan’s read it, they’re both living it.

Agent Beeman decides to put the old fashioned squeeze on secretary Martha Hanson. She handles his unexpected visit well but soon turns to reflect on her marriage (again). She reaches out to her parents. Somewhere between that phone call home and Clark’s next visit, Martha decides two things, she is going to take a vacation (to visit her parents), and also that in order to withstand Walt Taffet, Stan Beeman and what she perceives people at work are saying, she will need one big change of her husband.

When Clark next comes home Martha is sitting on the marital bed, suitcase packed, in three-dimensional pink knitwear. Like the framed paintings, like the bedspread, like mostly everything, the knitwear is flowery: Clark tries to claw his own face off.

No wait, maybe not. Actually, he gets it; Stan is applying pressure and Martha’s reaction screams ‘guilty’. He can’t let her go on vacation (he also can’t let her spend time with her parents any more than Paige can stay with Tim).

Martha also needs that big change; in order to truly believe in her marriage, to make the pressure at work bearable, hubby has to drop all pretense – all vestiges of Clark have to go “I can’t take it” “ …. I can’t be here with you like this”.

In a scene that wouldn’t be out of place in the Twilight Zone a seemingly unworldly Clark purposefully removes the pins of his wig and then the hair piece itself. Martha is transfixed, staring open-mouthed at the transformation. All kinds of thoughts must flash through her discombobulated mind (‘Help, I Married a Reptile’) before Clark ruffles his full head of natural hair.

Phil’s huge call here – with Beeman so close, with Martha so fragile – is to not swap Martha for the contents of her burgeoning suitcase. All his training would have said wheel her out the door.

Instead, by the end, all that remains of Clark is a name. Sometimes, you have to wonder if Annalise’s demise left a lasting impression on Phil.

In Espionage Corner
We’re back to the Stinger storyline and in particular the back seat of a bogus CIA saloon where Abassin Zadran is sharing geo-political home truths and goat gutting techniques.

“Why is there no war here, in America. My country is always at war, and for what it has nothing?” ”All we want is to live on the land of our fathers in peace”. It looked instructive for P to see up close the nature of the people eager to kill his eldest son.

Zadran’s world comprises family, tribe, martyrs, traitors and infidels, and precious little else. Later, Zadran does the goat thing, helping out one superpower against another – the wrong one as far as he is concerned, if there was ever a right one.

On my count we now up to five characters fighting for family: P&E, Paige, Martha and Abassin Zadran.

Arkady Ivanovich
We find stoic but likable Arkady pacing the smoky transcription room like an expectant father. He’s not happy. Soon he is summoning Ollie and Tatiana to tell them he is cancelling Zephyr.

Around about now we remember we don’t know a whole lot about Tatiana except she runs WILLOW.

Why does she want Zephyr to keep running? Maybe it has to do with WILLOW but who knows. We’re left pondering if Arkady is being premature or whether Tatiana has created the impression Arkady is being premature. We just don’t know enough to … know.

What do you do with a Problem like Maurice?
Yay, Maurice has hit the big time!

For goodness sake would someone please take this guy to one side and explain he is all kinds of wrong: listen you great big lug, you’re about the wrong kind of spying. That’s right.

Anyway, under Maurice’s supervision, with filming practiced and the plan talked through, there is only the portentous matter of 5 milligrams of sedative. “Trust me” says E. Ouf.

We leave Maurice proclaiming “I’m dealing with this side of things now”. Good luck with that.

Stan and Dennis the Menace
Am I late to twig Agent Dennis Aderholt has been tasked (presumably by Gaad) to look into the Stan/Nina business? Dennis prods at Stan in the trained way Stan is prodding Martha: it’s about how they react “There was something going on between you and Nina, that much is clear to me” “Did you plant the bug?” exclaims Dennis while the mail robot is beep-beep-beeping within bugging distance.

Stan is on to Martha but Dennis is on to Stan – Stan’s future may depend on who gets there first.

Pre-credits; P&E arrive home from phone tampering and the first question is not how are you but “Where is your sister?” Henry exhales, pauses, gives a teenage look. Body language bad, no eye contact. No one notices, no one cares. “Lights out by 10, Henry” and they’re gone again.

Then, mirroring the scene between Stan and Dennis, we get an aural clue; against a silent soundscape Henry’s gadget also beeps three times. Is Henry like the Mail Robot picking up every conversation?

His family – and us – assume Henry is lost in his early teen male world of gadgets, silly impressions (“he’s crazy, that kid”) and unmentionable hormonal changes, that he doesn’t notice the too-and-froing between bedrooms, the hushed and increasingly not so hushed conversations in bedrooms, in the kitchen, in the garage. There is stuff happening with Henry folks, the clever stash warned us, playing Stan showed us, the pre-credits tonight told us: we have been clued in

It’s probably my decadent western mind but if a woman at work brought me a sausage wrapped in a pastry …

Even Hans has never seen P or E without their disguises. On Hans: I can’t but help fear for this guy in the final epi. It feels like the character might be set up for an unfortunate end of season.

The date for the 2 ½ hour series finale of MASH was Feb 28th 1983 – that’s the night Paige wanted to stay with the Pastor and his family. Still the highest rated (by percent) US TV audience ever.

Checking Wiki, it turns out the Stinger storyline fits the actual timeline; historically speaking, Stingers were deployed for the first time in late 1986, over three years from where we are in the show. In our world, P&E partly bought the delay.

In Vacation Corner: Okay, how about this; E and Paige go to Russia. Clark and Martha take a vacation – that could work except for what can they do with Henry …  it’s not like they have family.

It’s still snowing in DC metroland. Did we miss Christmas?

S3E11 ‘One Day in the Life of Anton Baklanov’ or …

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?

A lively start to breakfast from potential refusnik Paige; 8 questions in the time it takes Henry to stash the porn and get downstairs. She provokes a look from mom that says ‘if you don’t stop I am going to kill you’ – a fairly standard parenting technique though one that takes on extra dimension when employed by E.

Helpfully, with Paige’s rapid-fire questions, we’ve already got to the nub of this epi; how can she trust these people who have seemingly lied and lied her whole life (“Am I really your daughter?”). A few words in Russian, their real names – well one, it’s hardy handing over the farm. Why should she believe this version any more than the last?

It becomes starker, too, when E later joins Paige in the car – with Paige in the driving seat. E talks about her childhood, her parents; how granny and Paige have similar traits. Nice try mom but Paige cuts to the chase “How can I believe anything you say”. Okay, okay…

Then, slowly during this hour, a way becomes apparent.

Until now, it seemed a blend of politics and religion was the most likely means to bond the serious-minded Paige to Project Jennings. Stories like the chain-rattling nuclear disarmament demo or, reaching back, Reagan’s role in Central American (perhaps the Contra/Sandinista war in Nicaragua), maybe they’d provide a way in. Outside shot: Pastor Tim would rip off the scary mask and turn out to be just another Soviet agent.

That was about it: how else do you get an independently-minded 14-year old girl with a well-developed social conscience to emotionally invest in this craziness?

The Family Business
Turns out the answer was right in front of us all season. Well, right in front of us in Smolensk: Paige has to bond with granny – as in meet, hug, all that family thing.

But granny is dying – quite soon too, if Gabriel is correct – can she travel? Is Paige going to the Soviet Union?

Well, what we have for timescale is Gabriel saying “there may not be too many more packages”. That can mean a few months – let’s assume the old lady has cancer. Google ‘terminally ill travel insurance’. It’s a thing. So it is possible for granny to leave home, maybe to a third country, or maybe just somewhere in the US away from home turf.

Besides, this is a granny who hasn’t seen her daughter for 20 years, or her grandchildren ever. If your granny is anything like mine, in those circs she would travel: Grannies; they just kind of keep going.

Let’s work though the breadcrumb trail that I think leads to Smolensk:

• Gabriel tells E her mother is dying (in dramatic terms, the clock is ticking)

• E has previously said to Gabriel she doesn’t ask or expect favors for herself. Yet, as she sits in the car alone after being with the hotel manager, we see again the emotional price – through decades – she willingly pays for the cause: E has earned the right to see her mother one last time

• At the waterfront P raises the stakes with Gabriel. With two marriages, a 15-year old doper-nympho girlfriend and an FBI agent across the road, P feels entitled: E should be allowed to go back to see her mother – P is pretty close to calling an ultimatum

• The clincher: As confirmed in the garage (“How can I believe anything you say?”), Paige is having trouble accepting this new reality.  E can keep talking about what it was like growing up but there’s no traction: To be convinced, to buy into the reality Paige is going to need  a broader family context – like a grandmother

E deserves it, P thinks she deserves it and Paige needs it.

In the weeks closing scene Paige enters her parents bedroom (she knocked this time!). P tells her granny is dying, E confirms she can’t visit her; now, for the first time, we see on the daughters face very real empathy for her mother. THAT, folks, marks the exact moment Paige’s journey began

Also, family bonding aside, there is what E calls her ‘motherland’. Connecting Paige, in a literal, visceral and very human way to another country; it could work through this maternal, heroic survivor; Paige will touch, hear, see, smell her grandmotherland.

I have no clue where this will happen (wild guess: Cuba!), just that it must. And when it does there’s going to be a whole bunch of tears and messed up hair and wailing and crazy grinning – but that’s enough about me (hey, I’m invested!).

A twist?
How about they give Paige a fake granny instead? We all know who that might be: Claudia, the well-known wedding guest and grandmother.

Who me?

My opinion; I don’t think it can work. Paige would sense a fake and the Center can’t afford to alienate her. And anyway, you just cannot do that to E: It’s got to be the real granny.

The Jennings’ won’t be making up the spare room – even Stan would raise an eyebrow at Granny Motherland merrily chopping onions for dinner in national costume. Well, maybe he would. He might also reach in the fridge for a beer and stand around grinning.

Nina: One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich
Moving on … re the epi title: according to the Wikipedia entry, main themes of the novel by Aleksander Solzhenitsyn include “authoritative oppression and camp survival”. No, I haven’t got round to it, either.

However, if we’re talking about survival, computing comrade Anton Baklanov is going to get more than his numbers crunched by Nina Sergeevna; man, the girl is on a roll – here, she turns it all on: the vulnerability, the occasional defiant pout, the deferential downcast gaze, the fleetingly glimpsed sexual potential. She is scary good.

What Nina does best though is find the weakness: we’re in this together, we’ve both been traded, like a Stinger missile homing in on a hot Soviet helicopter pipe she explains how she loves the story Anton wrote for his son Jacob. She tells him to “be proud” and that “she won’t tell anyone”: Somewhere in a Siberian jail a betrayed Belgian girl screams a little louder.

Martha, Gaad and Taffet
In his one brief scene Gaad is listing names that may have been mentioned in his office while Stan, arguably his most likely successor, stands around and starts to realize what may lay ahead for them both. End of a season/era stuff.

Martha, on the other hand, is lapping up the spy world. First the new bug is in situ, presumably she is changing the tape, and now she responds convincingly to arch inquisitor Walt Taffet. Enthusiastically prepped by P – they are a team now, their tone’s have changed – she’s so convincing you almost felt divorced Walt edging towards a personal suggestion. No, that was probably me. At home, it’s almost like she and her Clark have a new hobby together. She doesn’t know what we know though; Stan’s going to shake her up.

Also, in a neat scripting association, the conversation with Taffet about past relationships reminds us Agent Amador was killed by hubby Clark.

Bulk Collection: foreshadowing the NSA
It’s in the show so let’s cover it: In the week John Oliver met Edward Snowden in Moscow, we have Arkady at the Rezidentura looking for ways to process all the information gathered by Operation Zepher – Martha’s bulk collection bug. Turns out the mail robot is like a water cooler; it mostly attracts people talking nonsense. Somewhere in the Utah desert, you sense hollow laughter ringing around vast NSA data centers.

Arkady resolves the problem in a way every office manager in every country across every culture understands: a straight face and delegation.

He also pairs Ollie with the lady running Agent Willow, which is very handy given the fine mess Stan and Ollie have dreamt up. Ollie tries his own bonding technique. This one involves strange noises rather than beers in parked cars. Give it time, you sense, and the lady might take the parked car.

High security clearance or not, oh man did Maurice and Lisa ever make a bad decision. There is no way back now, probably for either. Maybe it’ll get strung out until Lisa gets the photos but otherwise let’s take a vote: House fire? Car accident? Joint drug overdose?

By the way, with so much going on it was easy to miss a subtlety here; as I read it Maurice is thinking ‘industrial espionage’ (he’s attempting blackmail on the basis of a percentage of whatever). Oh dear.

In espionage corner
Invited into the back office, E finds the CIA/Mujahadin booking on the computer system while Hans (?) distracts the manger out front: room key copied, mission accomplished. Meanwhile Yousef returns from Pakistan with useful info. He meets P in an underground car park in Watergate style. “How can you do this job?” says our morose strangler without irony.

At the waterfront, P identifies a named target to Gabriel among the three Mujahideen. The hotel key is just for bugging, then. I was half hoping for big, end of season explosions.

Notes and Curiosities
Really low of subtext this week. It was mostly on the page and about Paige.

I don’t normally see or care too much for continuity things – and this wasn’t even an error. The family car was facing the doors when Paige was in the driver’s seat. That’s all I’m saying.

(Very belatedly added the 5 stars rating thing tonight (Sat, 11th April). Up top – please do use!)

S3E10 ‘Stingers’

Written by showrunners Joel Fields and Joe Weisberg – which was probably as big a hint as we needed.

Stuff relating to many arcs happened in S3E10 but, given we’ve been waiting pretty much an entire season for one particular conversation, let’s get to that first – later, we’ll double back like a well-trained South African for the rest.

Paige can’t take it any longer. With P rebuking Pastor Tim for his gentle intervention at the travel agency (“Paige … needs to be treated more like an adult than a child” “Do you have children?”) it’s now up to the shrewd daughter and, as you would expect of a Jennings, she catches her prey off guard and pounds and pounds:

“Do you love me”: BOOM!
“This isn’t normal. I need to know the truth”: BOOM!
“If you love me, really love me … “: BOOM!
Then the big-eyed pleading “Are you in the witness protection program, am I adopted … are we aliens”. The poker faces flinch. E checks, P nods – a fraction. Paige wins.

We settle down at the kitchen table for the mother and father of all parental/teenage conversations – not for this family the cautionary ‘be careful of boys’ chat. Each sitting at the kitchen table understands this is probably *the* life-changing moment for Paige. The language is slow, deliberate, precise:

Mom: “Your father and I …”
Pop: ” … were born in a different country”
Paige: “You’re spies?”
Mom: “ … we are here to help our people”


After years of obfuscation, outright lies and folding laundry in the middle of the night, it’s out!

The victor retires to her room, taking with her dad’s observations about prison and mom’s last words  “knowing the truth brings its own responsibilities” P takes the phone of the hook. They stand stunned. That makes at least three of us.

After the inevitable sleepless night, Paige needs a day alone. She wants someone to speak Russian – it’s a gloriously visceral moment. “Я очень тебя люблю”. ‘We love you very much’.

Out in the garage P&E discuss options. There aren’t any: “We go to work. We hold our breath”.

At the office, minutes seem like hours … while, at home, Paige continues to deal with the overload. She checks in with the Pastor: “I talked to them last night.” “Like you said.” “I think that they’re, I think … I just wanted you to know it happened.”

Now I don’t know about you guys but, in this situation, I always think the first person you choose to speak to is the test. We, at least *I*, read into the call that Paige understands the gravity, that there will be no emotional rush.

Later an FBI agent breezily comes over for a postponed dinner. In the middle of a normal midweek family dinner, Paige is utterly poleaxed; punch drunk, stunned, numb, at this moment unable to even walk. Senses are distorted beyond use, long-standing brain associations fuse, everything she knew just … wasn’t.

It’s going to take more than a little microfiche action at the library to sort this out.

Intuitively at first but later evidentially, Paige has been putting pieces together for some while – at least back to her comment to a disinterested Henry (when the family suddenly took a vacation in the middle of the night): “Does all this seem weird to you?”. Remember, she also took the bus to visit an elderly relative.

Distrusting her parents, Paige edged towards Pastor Tim. He became her confidante, her guide. Paige questioned her parents less, she watched more. Eventually, her confidante visits the travel agency, perhaps on a travel pretext perhaps not. His unspoken point: Paige knows something is out of whack, she’s more grown up than you can see, if there is another truth she needs to know’. Phil isn’t listening – he can barely keep from reaching for the leather gloves.

In a wider context, sure Paige had doubts but E brought this to a head herself by talking about Gregory and back in the day. That provided the catalyst: what Paige instinctively knew already, plus the civil rights activism, got us to this moment.

Moving forward, Paige doesn’t have to lie to Pastor Tim. He won’t ask for details but even if he does, she has already told him they’ve had that chat and it’s okay. He can choose to believe the witness protection story or not: his concern is with his parishioner and she is fine.

In the meantime, everyone else – from P&E to Gabriel and the Centre – have to keep “holding their breath”.

The swapped tape reveals a meeting between the CIA and the Mujahideen, and maybe even a particular meeting in history. We know there was a point when the CIA intervened in Afhganistan and turned the tide against the Soviets. It’s also depicted in the movie ‘Charlie Wilson’s War’:

Charlie Wilson: You mean to tell me that the U.S. strategy in Afghanistan is to have the Afghans keep walking into machine gun fire ’til the Russians run out of bullets?
Gust Avrakotos: That’s Harold Holt’s strategy, not U.S. strategy.
Charlie Wilson: What is U.S. strategy?
Gust Avrakotos: Most strictly speaking, we don’t have one. But we’re working on it.
Charlie Wilson: Who’s ‘we’?
Gust Avrakotos: Me and three other guys

That’s the point we’re at now in The Americans. The hotel meeting is about the US/CIA sending surface-to-air Stinger missiles to the Mujahideen fighters (including Osama bin Laden) via Pakistan.  That can’t be done without Yousef and the ISI. It’s of historic significance because, without total command of the air, the tide turned against the Soviet Union and they ended up losing the war at huge cost. Not too long later, Mikhail Gorbachev became leader and the world changed forever.

No wonder Gabriel seems agitated when P&E stop by: he recognises the stakes are huge.

Stan cannot bag a break; even two soviet spies don’t want him over for dinner. He ends up in his big ol’ lonely house hanging out with their pre-teen son – and all that kid wants to do is steal another photo of Mrs B. Sitting in the wreckage of his marriage with a kid looking to add to his porn stash, Stan doesn’t even know if he lives alone or with his son. At this rate he may as well head off back to Alabama to hang with the crazy people.

Yet professionally, he’s holding up – just about: he didn’t see Nina was playing him yet somehow he sniffed out Zinaida and maybe Martha. Those are big scores. Not so sharp on the neighbours though.

Zinaida? Well, there wouldn’t be much of a story if she wasn’t bogus. And we now know the new-ish woman back at Soviet HQ is there to run Willow.

On Kimmie: Couldn’t P break into this house at will or, even if we ignore that, get Kimmie’s keys cut while she’s flaking out to Pink Floyd or something? Okay, sure, in storytelling terms we do need the contrasts with Paige.

Is Oleg going to help get the photos for the plane? How do we get from Oleg to Northrop lady? Interesting that Nina mentioned how difficult it is to get photos, it takes “sometimes years” she says to moody computer genius.

Tootsie? I guess people presenting themselves as one thing but being something else.

Agent Anerholt is now … Dennis Anerholt: “Hey Dennis” says Stan. Hey and yay to Dennis the Menace!

Martha is away on family business. I suspect she isn’t but we’ll have to wait a week to find out what she’s been up to.

(Very belatedly added the 5 stars rating thing tonight (Sat, 11th April). Up top – please do use!)

S3E9 ‘Do Mail Robots Dream of Electric Sheep?’

Directorial debut on The Americans by Stephen Williams and the second of two consecutive writing credits for Joshua Brand.

“A toast to ‘turning the page’”
So let’s get this right; pre-credits (scene two) P is trusting Martha to not inform on him – not Clark, Clark is bogus. Instead, P is trusting Martha to not inform on … her husband. So he shows up for dinner and we’re straight away into a new paradigm.

The view in last week’s blog was that Martha was accepting Clark’s implicit offer to be an asset – it was the conclusion of a whole sub textual conversation that ended with Clark asking “Is that enough?” Now we get confirmation of that “Clark, it’s okay. It’s fine. I’m fine. I just needed to know and now I do”.

Over dinner – fully knowing what this now means – Martha matter-of-factly talks of her day at work. Effectively she is laying out the deal; no more talk of children (“It’s just not a good time”), ‘yes’ to being his asset, and actually ‘yes’ to being a willing informer.

Clark’s side of the deal? It’s unstated but we know he just has to be a part-time husband; hey, come home sometimes and enjoy the sauce. It’s a deal he can live with, and Martha can live by – literally. For now anyway.

And the deal she has made with herself? She’s in denial. She doesn’t want to be alone. Above all, she loves this man – whoever he is.

Inevitably, the Centre is keen to put P’s new asset to the test – is she real or is this an elaborate ploy to try and bag an entire Soviet cell? Martha’s debut task will be to switch tapes on a bug inside the abused robot. Walking with Gabriel, P instinctively senses danger for Martha and spells it out, E doesn’t miss a thing and notes the change in tone.

Later, while fetching water for Betty, E comments “It’s only natural you developed feelings for Martha”. Everyone seems pretty accepting of this new reality. Let’s hope the mail robot doesn’t kick up another fuss

“Where were you born?” “Russia”
If this were real estate, an enormous stretch of beach front would be afforded to E’s conversation with Betty Turner, a random elderly bookkeeper who is later invited to eat her own metaphorical gun. After an abrupt start in the repair shop office, the women soon get round to talking family; marriage, kids and, most importantly, husbands and The Other Woman.

There is, of course, no need for this – E isn’t in disguise and someone downstairs is tampering with equipment which belongs to the FBI. It can only end in a shortened pension for Betty so it looks like we’re here to serve a wider narrative purpose.

Betty talks about her husband, the family business and their lives together (he a machinist and WW2 vet, she a math teacher and mother): good, decent, hard-working people. We take a break from the office as E offers to fetch water for Betty – though she is really inquiring of P whether Betty needs to die. P’s view? “She picked a bad time”. The second half of the girls chat is more frank.

Once she grasps she is going to die, E allows Betty to choose between her medication or something messier. E still encourages conversation and we can perhaps link this to the taped conversations of her own mother, and maybe other experienced women: so what do we make of a woman so bereft of female companionship she postpones killing an elderly innocent for a few motherly moments …

Whilst the conversation offers titbits about marriage, children and family the obvious parallel between the two is Betty’s remarriage to Gill (after they divorced and he married another) – shades of Martha, of mistakes corrected, of long-term union, of putting The Other Woman in a context that you can live with. There is much here for Elizabeth to reflect on as Betty gulps her prescription and convulses. Never has E seemed so lonely. That looks to be the point here. Lonely in her marriage.

… meanwhile, is seething over a Scrabble board. First, The Center wants to recruit his daughter – and we all remember Jared. Second, by excluding him in the discussion with E (about Paige’s recruitment), P can no longer trust Gabriel. And now The Center want his other wife to take, what he thinks, are unnecessary risks (ask a janitor already!). Gabriel’s line “You should trust the organisation” seemed pretty close to a bitch slap.

In the closing scene it’s clear the trust has gone. Hell, P probably trusts Martha more than Gabriel and The Center (band name!). Sure, we’re only talking about a weekly cliffhanger and we’ll all get over it but what P is saying resonates … ‘Don’t take me for granted: I’m running two marriages, a 15-year old doper-nympho, a real smart FBI neighbor and you want to recruit my daughter without my permission? Show a little respect here’. He has a point.

The good news is 52 points for ‘Sphinx’: Go Sphinx!

Elsewhere …
Hans had a busy three scenes; sent away by E, then the wordless, visceral brutality of his amateurish murder of Todd, and finally a declaration to E that he (a) “will do whatever is needed of me for the cause” – pause – (b) “for you” (an apparent declaration of love for E).

He’s used that phrase before – “the cause” – and we now understand Hans is choosing to conflate his cause and E’s cause, which doesn’t work (Hans wants rid of the white supremacists governing South Africa, the Soviets and Americans are engaged in a clash-of-empires proxy war, also in Apartheid South Africa). If he’s not careful, Hans may end up dying for the wrong cause.

Stan and Ollie – sorry, Oleg – are hamming it up with some plan Stan hatched to trade Nina for Zinaida (the bogus defector – or is she?) and, frankly, who wouldn’t.

It’s a long shot, it’s costing Stan credibility at work (why didn’t he search the hotel room properly?) and they do make an unlikely odd couple; will The Minister for Railways tells Oleg Nina is working as a honey trap? Will he go off the rails? Is Stan becoming the bugging suspect? They crack a beer or two, and neither quite say ‘that’s another fine mess you got me into’. That’s detente for you.

Contrast of the week: Not only The Other Women (Helen and Martha) but also in the character of the two deaths.

Going back to the opening seconds of the episode, E is seriously pondering something while waiting for Hans in a derelict building. I suspect it was only while waiting she decided Hans’ potential outweighs the possible risk of him being alive … so she didn’t kill him.

Not often you get a full death rattle these days … yay Betty!

Paige had a single scene this week, but she was everywhere.

While it doesn’t quite feel convoluted P sure has a hell of a time downstairs in the repair shop with … something fiddly.

I’m not too hung up on Betty’s pre-death rattle observation “That’s what evil people tell themselves when they do evil things” Sorry Betty but it’s just not about you.

So we close this epi thumbing through dictionaries … ‘Geode’ … ‘Amatory’ (cf ‘wedlock’) … as if there’s not enough already.

(Very belatedly added the 5 stars rating thing tonight (Sat, 11th April). Up top – please do use!)

S3E8 ‘Divestment’

Dan Attias directs and Joshua Brand gets the first of consecutive writing credits.

Big choices are made: Venter to die, Martha to live, Nina freedom and Elizabeth chose life for Todd: even the mail robot has a Shawshank moment.

Pre-credits we’re into quick-fire scene setting: Phil’s offer to Nazi guy of $1m and a new life is rejected, Martha is summoned by Walt ‘smiling assassin’ Taffet and Nina picks up a get out of jail card. Okay, I’m in.

Post credits, we’re into the ANC/South African Intel storyline. Deal rejected, Phil and Venter know this must end badly and we move quickly to Venter’s 3rd act. His end is shocking because what was happening in SA was shocking. It felt appropriate that Reuben administered a ‘township necklace’ and the white supremacist ended his days defiantly shouting “kiffer communist” (South African slang for the ‘n’ word (it’s not the Muslim/Arabic usage)). Todd soon babbled the bomb plot. So would I.

Once explained, Reuben and Phil divided on Todd and E holds the casting vote: the whimpering Todd lived but he won’t be able to wear those pants again, or change a tire.

This story dominates into the second half of the episode before it ends in a parked car denouement; two guys sitting talking war, marriage and wives. There was a lot of that in 1982, as now: a poignant, understated, perceptive moment. The two soldiers – only briefly met – then go their separate, stoic way.



E taking Paige to the Projects – and her subsequent interest in Gregory – developed at the exact same time as Hans spotted the spy in his class: the story of Paige’s blossoming interest in civil rights via Gregory and the Apartheid bomb plot have been running side-by-side ever since, and it’s interesting to muse why that is.

Maybe the answer is in the conversation E had while Paige was eating breakfast cereal for dinner. About Gregory:

“He never stopped fighting for what was right”
“So, was he a criminal or wasn’t he?”
“Things aren’t that simple. You know that; you are already fighting against injustice …. Who are you fighting against: countries, governments, people who make laws … know what I mean?”

All of a sudden the ANC/SA bomb plot looks a lot like geo-political exposition for our benefit, while Paige gets to work with friend-of-the-family Gabriel’s civil rights story. Never mind Paige joining up the dots, maybetheidea is we all do …

Final thought here: are we beginning to look at the Reagan Administration’s policies through the eyes of a 14-year old?

Fwiw, the final episode on this season is titled ‘8th March 1983’, the date of Reagan’s “Evil Empire” speech. It might be interesting to see how everyone responds to that extraordinary moment, not least Paige.


And so to Martha, who quivered through all of this episode and was within a single word of meeting Clark The Terminator. WHAT an exchange:

Martha: “What have I done! Oh my God, what have I done!”
Clark: “I would do anything to protect you”. Is that enough …. Or do you need more than that?”

If it’s not “enough” Martha dies there and then. That stark. Somewhere in Martha’s head subtext speaks to subtext, Clark takes a step forward and … she accepts his embrace – it is ‘enough’. And breathe.

The great difficulty now for Martha is she knows she’s an asset, and she doesn’t even know who for…. But hey, at least she’s not lonely. Some really great acting from Alison Wright.


Elsewhere, Nina and Oleg had some developmental scenes. Similarly so Gaad, who is told straight up he was negligent. The mail robot has already asked for a transfer to Dr Who.


Huge contrast of the week: Venter chose to die for hatred and, whether she knew it or not, Martha chose to live, for love.

E visiting Gabriel, her angel, at the end was interesting; she doesn’t like asking for favors, she treated this like a business meeting not a friendly dinner. Her empathy for Philip was, again, touching. The things we do for love.

By the way, this all seemed to take place in one day; from after the diner/kidnapping scene to Clark lying in bed with Martha, with clenched hands. And you thought you’d had a bad one …

Fun fact: township necklaces, like the one used on Venter, may not have begun until the mid-80s (and we’re still in 1982)

Question: Does P really need this relationship with Kimmie? If it’s only purpose is to allow P to change the tape hidden in dad’s briefcase, are we really accepting P can’t find another way into the house to do that?

(Very belatedly added the 5 stars rating thing tonight (Sat, 11th April). Up top – please do use!)

S3E7 ‘Walter Taffet’

Directorial debut by Noah ‘Stan’ Emmerich and a writing debut for Lara Shapiro.


So we had the action stuff (the shooting, the fighting, the kidnapping) and something fresh; the arrival of Reuben (the ANC’s number 3 Most Wanted) as bait for Eugene Venter of SA Intel (or ‘Nazis’ for short).

In family news, Paige is now wading into civil rights history, Henry is maturing fast (last week asking Stan perceptive questions, this week expanding his vocab), a startled Stan got confirmation his wife has gone, gone (time to divorce, Sandra thinks) and, oh my, poor Martha’s world has fallen apart: on at least one occasion Phil even walked towards her in that Terminator mode he switches to … families, eh?

Book ending the episode was Phil & Elizabeth (P&E) having a ‘domestic’. The context was, of course, Paige (E unilaterally beginning Paige’s induction/education), P baulked, E remained resolute, P got hissy before they had another of those sweet intimate face-to-face chats lying in bed. I genuinely like those moments. What was special about this one was Keri Russell’s acting; no words, processing and acceptance was ALL communicated in three breathing inhalations. Just check it out.

What we didn’t have this week was Nina, the 15-year old doper or the Pastor. Those three really should get a room. Though probably not with the Pakistani Intel guy who has also gone missing but isn’t great in hotel rooms. We did, though, visit with the lady with Northrop – who popped by for a cheery restaurant scene (hi Lisa!). Hans, E’s youthful SA trainee, also got another couple of opportunities to look puppy-dog bewildered.


  1. Adrenalin rush 1: The discovery of Martha’s pen bug seems the most significant new thing – huge dilemma now for her: is she going to back her marriage, will ‘Walter Taffet from OPR’ schedule an interview (and what would Phil do about that if he knew in advance – yikes!)
  2. Adrenalin rush 2: The ANC/SA Intel arc; another great action montage. Did it feel to you like Reuben only spoke in one scene? Weird. Okay, we have kidnapped two nasty South Africans in a black van, now what?
  3. P&E made up! Nice 3-scene process:
    * The late night bed exchange (she apologised, he told her about his extra son)
    * The subsequent breakfast exchange signalled mutual acceptance
    * Great teamwork to pull off the kidnapping: They’re back on track: Yay Team!
  4. Stan has *officially* lost his wife, though has become closer to his son – hey, that’s good by Stan’s standards!
  5. Paige has been launched. Both the Pastor and her parents are seemingly now cut from the same political cloth and she’ll be linking all that up. She’s broadening from being issue led (Nukes, Apartheid) to a general philosophy … watch this space
  6. Han’s is either seriously impressed with P&E doing their murdering/kidnapping thing, or he really likes Fleetwood Mac montages



E wears a wig and stuff when meeting Hans but not when meeting Reuben (I guess he’s earned that) … P listens to the BBC World Service to get news on Afghanistan … key lyric from The Chain? Maybe ‘Running in the shadows’? Liked ‘God Bless America’ painted on the wall-end outside the diner as disguised P goes to do battle with Ventner.

About Stan’s ‘racist remark’ (mentioning the nosey new guy at work was black): (a) Stan spent years undercover gathering evidence against white supremacists – see the point? and (b) the reason Stan mentioned it was to suggest an explanation as to why the guy seemed so nosy. Given the world in 1982 the new guy might feel he has to make an impression. It was not a comment by the character on black people per se. Sigh.

And, of course, the really beautiful, distinctive thing about this show; again with contrasts: If someone could draw a distinction between the white supremacists Stan was undercover with and the white supremacists Ronald Reagan supported when they were running South Africa, I’d be interested.

Take away this week: ANC meets Shaft, John Shaft.

(Very belatedly added the 5 stars rating thing tonight (Sat, 11th April). Up top – please do use!)