WashingTelevision: The Americans Recap, Season Two, Episode Three, “The Walk-in”

Propellers, Peter Gabriel, and Paige on a mission.
WashingTelevision: The Americans Recap, Season Two, Episode Three, “The Walk-in”
This week in flashback hair: Elizabeth’s ’60s flip. Photograph by Patrick Harbron for FX.

Paige got so close this week. Playing hooky from school and baby-sitting, she took a day trip to that mysterious Pennsylvania address she found in Elizabeth’s planner last week, eventually stumbling upon old, kooky Aunt Helen. But in the Jennings family, one does not simply walk into Aunt Helen’s house.

Episode three’s title ostensibly refers to the continuing saga of Bruce Dameran, the nervous World Bank-affiliated guy who walked into the Rezidentura last week to defect. But a lot of characters are doing some walk-ins this week, no one less than Paige.

With Elizabeth and Philip assigned to a day trip to Newport News to get the intercept on the propeller mission on which they’ve picked up the slack from the late Emmett and Leanne, the kids have the day to themselves. While Paige is supposed to get home early to watch Henry, her younger brother seems occupied enough with his comic-book star chart that she can go on her mission.

Just as her parents switch between narratives with varying degrees of veracity, Paige—ever since walking in on that season-opening 69—is picking up the same habit. To Henry, she says she’s going to take an after-school trip to Georgetown to buy some jeans. She has Henry tell their parents she’s staying late to try out for the debate club. Only Paige’s new bus friend knows a hair of the truth: that she’s trying to track down the woman she believes is the only living member of her extended family.

Paige’s walk-in continues an emerging pattern on this season of The Americans of characters entering seemingly empty houses. She gets no response from the doorbell, so she goes in anyway.

Who is Aunt Helen, though? The frazzled old woman with Elizabeth’s picture on the wall mistakes Paige for her dead daughter—but is it dementia, or a failsafe Elizabeth and Philip laid years ago in the event that one of their kids ever took up the family business?

As for the Jenningses’ trip to the propeller factory, it feels like one of their lower-stakes missions, at least until Elizabeth, in the guise of a moving company adviser, waves that crowbar around the dock worker. Elizabeth has been panicky about her family’s safety ever since seeing Emmett, Leanne, and their daughter splayed out in that Alexandria hotel room. Maybe it’s because Emmett and Leanne are the only people the Jenningses could ever relate to, but more likely it’s that three episodes in, Elizabeth’s duty as a mother is becoming more important than her duty to the motherland. She’s ready to club the dock worker until he, sensing a threat, pulls out a photo of his own kids. What is she going to do with the photo she stole, though?

The prospect of a son losing a parent sparks flashbacks for Elizabeth, as far back as a post-assassination cleanup in a Silver Spring bathroom they did together in 1966. Leanne is extolling the value parenthood adds to the sleeper mission to Elizabeth, who’s rocking Peggy Olson’s hairdo and wardrobe circa season four of Mad Men. The bloody rinse pays off the earlier flashback in which Philip’s talk of the escalation of the Vietnam War convinces Elizabeth to fully commit to the cause.

But Elizabeth’s real mission this week isn’t to threaten burly dock workers with metal instruments. She needs to wrap up Jared, the son Emmett and Leanne left behind. What happens when the American-born child of deep-cover Soviet agents winds up an orphan? Apparently the parents leave behind a letter informing their kid of the truth and that Moscow Center will take care of their every need.

Elizabeth’s walk-in brings her to Emmett and Leanne’s empty house to retrieve the letter. But Jared has been taken in by a family he babysat for, and when Elizabeth arrives in social-worker mode, she’s stuck. Does she wreck the kid’s chance to cope or let him attempt to go on in peace?

With Peter Gabriel’s “Here Comes the Flood” scoring the season’s first pop-song montage, Elizabeth torches the letter. It’s either the most merciful or most cruel thing she’s ever done.

As for the titular walk-in, Bruce the defector is the one who gets walked in on by Stan, who after a bit of detective work figures him for a nutjob. Sure enough, Stan finds Bruce with a sniper rifle on a rooftop across the street from a hotel hosting a World Bank summit, because if Bruce can’t fink on the World Bank to the Russians, he’ll waste the global organization’s leaders himself.

Any last words, Bruce? “Ronald Reagan doesn’t care!”

Nina finally shows up halfway through the episode in bed with post-shootout Stan, who professes his love for her and her gracious tip-off about crazy Bruce. Maybe she let down her country by giving up a potential mole to a trigger-happy FBI agent, but Arkady seems more satisfied that Stan said those three magic words. Nina still has to go to work with Oleg, who is still annoying and this week tries to bribe her with Capitals tickets. (The Capitals were very bad in the 1981-82 season, and any home game would have required a haul out to the Capital Centre in Landover. Nina wisely passes.)

But the big takeaway in “The Walk-in” is the same one carried over from the season premiere. The Americans right now is not about whether Paige will figure out the big red truth about her parents, but when. At the episode’s end she is sneaking out of the house again. She’s going to hang out with her new friend from the bus, but no doubt she’ll have plenty more chances to incriminate her parents.

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Staff Writer

Benjamin Freed joined Washingtonian in August 2013 and covers politics, business, and media. He was previously the editor of DCist and has also written for Washington City Paper, the New York Times, the New Republic, Slate, and BuzzFeed. He lives in Adams Morgan.