The Americans, Season 3 Episode 5: “Salang Pass”

When people’s lives intersect with our operations, it’s the operation that’s crucial… You have a conscience Phillip, there’s nothing wrong with that. But conscience can be dangerous – Gabriel

The Americans S3E5: Salang Pass

In the first two seasons of The Americans, there was a lot of focus on Elizabeth, and Kerri Russel attracted a lot of praise for her wonderful performance. Matthew Rhys is just as good as Russel, and he shows it this week, as Phillip has several missions going at once. Whatever he has going on with Kimberley, especially now that he discovers she’s the same age as his own daughter, is weighing on his mind. He’s decided to approve of Paige’s baptism request, which provokes further argument with Elizabeth, and Martha’s really insistent about adopting a child. Furthermore, we learn more about the training he was put through by the KGB, which informs his hesitation with both Kimberley and Paige.

Enough about Phillip for now, because I want to briefly discuss Elizabeth’s meeting with her AA friend, who also happens to work for the defence contractor Northrop. I spent last week and the start of this week wondering what her importance was, and now I know. Elizabeth moves Lisa and her children to a safe house, and Lisa tells Elizabeth that she applied for a transfer to a different location. In order to make sure this happens, Elizabeth finds another man at a similar level in Northrop and kills him by dropping his car on him while he’s working on it. These people are brutal. Despite having gone to church with Paige in order to try and recruit her, she’s not a particular fan of this baptism idea, which is the latest iteration of her argument with Phillip. Phillip has decided to support the baptism – I don’t know why, Phillip is a guarded person, but Elizabeth is a Communism zealot. The rise of the religious right as a political began in the United States in the 1980s as Reagan gained their support, and Paige’s faith is a concern to her mother, who was raised in a system that denounced religion because Communism is the true faith.

The most important thing we learn about Phillip this week is that in order to be approved for his mission, he went under extensive sex training, the way a prostitute would. We know that Elizabeth has been through this, and that she was also sexually assaulted, but the flashbacks to Phillip’s training were still shocking. He had to learn how to make the sex seem real, whether he was with a woman or a man, and even though we’ve seen our heroes sleep with several assets, as he asks Elizabeth whether he should sleep with Kimberley, we can put together that Paige is going to have to go through this kind of training as well. If I was Paige’s parent, I would rather my daughter get baptised than initiated into the KGB. Teenagers think they’re adults, but fifteen is incredibly young.

Meanwhile, Martha is really pushing Clarke for adoption. I have several questions about this, mainly how Martha thinks her sex life won’t be impacted, but then I remembered that she lives in a one bedroom apartment and would probably have to move if she adopted a child. Like with Paige and Kimberley, Phillip has moral questions about what he’s doing here. Of all the characters on the show, what Phillip and Elizabeth are doing to Martha is the cruellest thing so far. The decision to include this storyline is based on an actual KGB directive that encouraged undercover operatives to marry people in Martha’s position. Phillip gets back from his foster care visit with Martha and their innocence reminds him of his own children: “Remember when walking without falling on their faces was a big deal?” Phillip is so worn out by everything that he’s considering this thing just so Martha will stop asking. Phillip’s getting worn out, and both Elizabeth and Gabriel can tell.

This comes to a head when Phillip spends an evening hanging out with Kimberley, smoking pot, eating ice cream and making popcorn. Kimberley’s passed out from all the pot (which came from Afghanistan, just so we don’t forget it exists), so Phillip goes and checks out her father’s office and finds somewhere to plant a bug in his briefcase. Kimberley never seems so young as when she’s talking about the vegetable garden she used to have with her father – his cover is that he works for the State Department’s Agriculture division. She kisses Phillip just as her parents get home, and he has to bolt out the back door. If anything Phillip is relieved that he can stop there. He’s not sure whether he should sleep with her, and Elizabeth doesn’t know.

Over in FBI land (have we seen Martha at work this season? Where is the mail robot?), Stan is still suspicious about Zinaida, and brings his theory to Oleg. If she is a spy, Stan is fairly sure he can organise a prisoner swap with the KGB for Nina. So, Oleg goes to his superior and says something about Zinaida before he proposes a mission in which they have an agent defect. This would allow them into meetings with top clearance personnel. His superior raises her eyebrows and tells him to write a memo. I have no idea whether this would work on a practical level; Russian defectors are kept under quite tight security as we’ve seen with Zinaida (and it makes sense given the events of the pilot episode), and I have no idea how they’d be able to pass information back to the KGB. On a personal level, Stan is trying to move on with his life. Tori from EST called the FBI to get to Stan, and he’s going on a date with her. Phillip encourages Stan to spend more time with Matthew, but there’s a barrier there. Because Phillip spent three years undercover (also mentioned in the first season), there’s a lack of connection with his son, and he doesn’t know what to do. I really like the actress who plays Tori, so I’m willing to see where this goes. I just hope that Stan never has to worry about the possibility of sleeping with a fifteen year old girl.

Other thoughts:

  • Yusef from Afghanistan is still around. Apparently high ranking officials are being asked about how serious their faith is, on a scale from 1 to 10. Phillip tells him to say 10 next time.
  • Phillip takes Paige dress shopping for her baptism, and Pachelbel’s Canon in D, now known for being played at weddings, was playing in the dress shop. It’s an interesting choice, even if I don’t know why it was made.
  • No Pastor Tim or Nina this week, but they were both mentioned, directly and indirectly
  • The scene where Phillip carries Kimberley up to her bed underlines just how disturbing this storyline is.
  • I think Phillip and Elizabeth’s marriage is doing pretty well: “Do you have to make it real with me?” “Sometimes. Not now”
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