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