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

The love affairs of Philip J.
TV Recap: The Americans, Season 3, Episode 5, “Salang Pass”
These two would probably not be great adoptive parents. Photograph by Craig Blankenhorn via FX Networks.

All four iterations of Philip Jennings appear in the latest installment of The Americans‘s brutal, heartbreaking fourth season. There’s his slicked, hipster-glasses-wearing handler for Yousaf, the Pakistani agent helping him undermine Afghani rebels; there’s “Clark,” the nebbish unhappily married to FBI clerk Martha; “Jim,” the skeevy lawyer who sets up teenage girls with weed and fake IDs; and then there’s Philip himself, alone with his secrets and his dirty work.

Would the real Philip Jennings please speak up?

Of the four Philips, the latter two, especially “Jim,” get most of the screen time in “Salang Pass.” Kimberly, the rule-breaking daughter of the Jenningses’ current CIA mark, is plenty enthusiastic to spend her weekend home alone with a much older man who will ply her with drugs and witty banter. Kimberly is supposed to be the key to bugging the CIA target, but at her age—15—she continues to be a proxy for Philip’s relationship with Paige.

Paige is still on that baptism kick introduced last week, informing her parents she needs to pick out a dress for the big, dreaded day. Elizabeth, despite her disgruntled participation in Paige’s church group, has never seemed less interested in her first-born’s life than when she’s asked to help pick out a baptismal wardrobe. Philip volunteers instead.

Having Philip jump from dress-shopping with Paige to partying with Kimberly is an obvious narrative trick, but it’s an effective one. Philip’s daughter is saintly and bookish; this other girl is spirited and rebellious. But neither have any clue what their fathers actually do for a living. Of course Kimberly would fall for “Jim,” just as Paige embraced Pastor Tim last week. The sequence in Kimberly’s house—with her and “Jim” rolling joints, making snacks, playfully tossing popcorn at each other—is a long and uncomfortable seduction. When it’s time for “Jim” to go, Kimberly’s passed out on the couch, and the alter-ego drops away. Philip carries her upstairs the way he would his own child, but when she plants a kiss on him in the bedroom, only the well-timed arrival of her parents saves Philip.

How did it get to this for Philip? As he confesses to Elizabeth, he knows how to “make it real,” per his KGB training, revealed in grainy flashbacks as a series of encounters with all sorts of people—old women, flabby men, a freshly recruited Nadezhda. He makes it real with Martha, and he’s made it real with other targets, but even if he can be honest with Elizabeth in this episode’s tender bedroom coda, the Jenningses have never seemed more distant.

Field notes:

  • Stan has convinced himself that his Soviet defector Zinadia is actually a Soviet spy posing as a defector, and he’s enlisted Oleg in hopes of eventually making a prisoner exchange for Nina. This partnership will not end well.
  • Elizabeth spends most of the episode working her Alcoholics Anonymous friend Lisa, who’s up for a job at the Northrup plant that makes stealth bombers, if she can just get ahead of the competition. All it takes is Elizabeth dropping a car on some poor, unnamed schmuck’s head.
  • Henry Jennings status update: seen eating dinner with his family—and Stan, who is the only one laughing at the kid’s lame jokes.
  • Martha and “Clark” are thinking of taking in a foster child. There have to be better options for those kids.
  • Tonight’s synthpop or new wave music: A Flock of Seagulls’s “I Ran (So Far Away).” It was one of those “shut up and play the hits” weeks for the music department.

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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.