Last week’s episode of The Americans, “Open House,” did a pretty good job of scaring the daylights out of us for a variety of reasons. In this week’s episode, “Dimebag,” we see that we were right to be scared. While Philip does everything he doesn’t want to do, Paige does something that pushes Elizabeth ever closer to dropping the truth bomb, and everyone needs a hug. And possibly a shower.
Elizabeth’s day involves watching a girl buy marijuana from her dealer; she goes home and tells Philip that “it seemed like she’d done it before.” Philip is visibly bothered, pointing out that “we’ve never used someone this young before.” It’s obvious that they’re talking about Kimberly Breland, the oversexed and apparently also drug-addicted daughter of CIA Afghan Group boss Isaac Breland.
As if on cue to exacerbate their moral dilemma, Paige gets home and so it’s time to discuss what she wants to do for her upcoming birthday; they offer to have some of her friends over to the house for dinner. However, when Philip said “friends,” he was decidedly not thinking of Pastor Tim. The forced smile he comes up with is unintentionally hilarious.
What’s not funny is prison, as in Nina is still there. She learns what she (and we) have suspected all along: that Evi (Katja Herbers) was put into her cell on purpose, as the powers that be want her to get Evi to talk about what she was or was not doing when they caught her leaving a dead drop. Nina is promised leniency if she can pull this off, but shows no reaction to the offer one way or another.
Philip tells Elizabeth about his last trip to Martha’s and the foster child discussion. “You don’t know her,” he quips, “I could show up one night and there could be a kid sitting there.” Elizabeth’s response is equally funny, asking her husband, “Who wears the pants in that family?”
Later on, Philip accompanies Stan to another EST session, which starts off with a woman in near-hysterics, played by the fantastic Callie Thorne (Necessary Roughness, Rescue Me). We’re not used to seeing her on this side of the therapy equation. Anyway, she plays Tori Rhodes, who eventually gets herself together enough to give Stan her number afterward. Stan’s still thinking of not yet ex-wife Sandra.
That evening is really when stuff starts to get thorny. Against every ounce of his judgment, Philip approaches Kimberly (Julia Garner) and her friends outside a club as a guy named Jim, who offers to help them get better fake ID’s. Meanwhile, Elizabeth calls on Lisa (Karen Pittman), the Northrop employee she befriended previously, claiming that she’s “messed up.”
And now for some actual parenting: Philip is quizzing Henry on the state capitals, while also trying to get information out of him regarding his sister and her involvement in the church. Unfortunately for him, Paige overhears him asking and would like to know why. He passes this off as wanting to know what to cook for her birthday dinner. It’s not much of a save, but it appears to do the trick.
Stan is still at the office, and approaches Agent Gaad expressing that something seems off about recent Soviet defector Zinaida. Of course, because he has no concrete proof, his boss is skeptical. This is followed by a great segue: Stan admitting that he doesn’t sleep much leading directly into a shot of a wide awake Nina back in her cell. She tries to strike up a conversation with Evi, but it fails.
Having stayed the night at Lisa’s house, Elizabeth meets her less than agreeable husband Maurice (Thaddeus Daniels) and realizes that there’s trouble when Lisa uses the phrase “We had a good marriage.” It seems Maurice is not just cranky; he’s unemployed and out of control enough that Lisa has sent their children to live with her sister.
Philip meets with Kimberly and her friends again, telling them that Jim is a lobbyist. He knows he has Kimberly on the hook when she tells him to call her Kimmie like her friends do. And in an unintentionally creepy moment, hearing the music she’s listening to prompts him to get the same album for Paige. This creates another argument between Philip and Elizabeth about their daughter’s future; when she tells him “I am doing it, with or without you,” someone’s sleeping on the couch tonight.
By the time we get to Paige’s birthday, things could not be more awkward. They’re always going to be awkward when your kid’s pastor comes to dinner, but it’s clear that Elizabeth and Philip are playing the happy couple for everyone else’s benefit. They’re then caught off guard when Paige announces that what she really wants for her special occasion is to get baptized. Lots of staring ensues.
Stan pays another late-night visit to Sandra. He now feels the need to officially confess that he had an affair “and I loved her.” It’s obvious he’s trying, but he’s trying in the wrong way, as Sandra is understandably hurt by this revelation and leaves him standing in her front yard.
Philip and Elizabeth realize that Paige only agreed to the birthday dinner as a way to broach the subject of baptism. “She set this whole thing up so we couldn’t say no,” Elizabeth says, considering it more evidence that they need to tell her who they actually are, while Philip continues to appear like he needs a hug through this entire episode.
But his night’s about to get worse, as he’s informed that Kimberly wants to meet Jim, this time by herself. And holy crap, her favorite Yaz song is the same one from Can’t Hardly Wait. Kimberly and Jim smoke a joint together, thankfully not ruining that movie for us.
Jokes about Ethan Embry films aside, The Americans makes a smart move this week, coming up with domestic drama involving Paige at the same time that it introduces the story about manipulating Breland’s daughter. That’s not a nice coincidence; that’s intentional storytelling.
Remember how Buffy the Vampire Slayer had monsters of the week that somehow related to whatever Buffy and her friends were going through at the time? It’s the same principle. The spy drama services the real heart of the piece, which is the family and the marriage. (Plus, we were pretty espionage-heavy last week, so there’s something to be said for balancing out the narrative.)
If you’ve been tracking the “Paige finds God” storyline since last season, you pretty much knew it was going to get here. She was ultimately either going to quit the church or go all the way, and she’s never shown any serious signs of wanting to quit, so it’s no surprise that she’s decided she’s all in.
It’s hard to imagine that Elizabeth will let her daughter go through with the baptism, not even as a pretense, considering how strongly she feels about it – but will that finally force a confrontation? One imagines she’d have to come up with a pretty good reason to tell Paige she can’t do it, and that’s before getting into how it would completely destroy the goodwill she’s built up with Paige. As Philip points out, the situation is a powder keg.
And Philip, the poor guy. This episode may wind up being about Paige, but it’s Philip who gets the most to do and who just suffers from the first frame to the last. Kudos to Matthew Rhys for playing everything from confused to disinterested to anger and self-loathing. Philip just gets beaten down at every turn, and it’s Rhys’s acting choices that really drive that home, whether it’s the facial expressions or those few moments’ pause before he assumes the Jim character. Given that we already saw Philip have a breakdown last season, it’ll be really interesting to see how he deals with facing something even more morally questionable. There’s a line that he won’t cross and we’re getting pretty damn close to it.
At the moment, it doesn’t seem like there’s any healthy personal relationship on The Americans. Philip and Elizabeth are fighting, and Stan continues to drive nails in the coffin of his marriage to Sandra no matter how hard he tries. (She’s living with someone who’s not you, dude. You’re already pretty well on the ropes.) Everyone is trying to hold onto their home life, and everyone just sucks at it.
But if “Open House” was about the toll these struggles take on those private lives, “Dimebag” poses the question of what you do in that moment. All of our characters are in disadvantageous positions personally, so we see them all recommit to their professional obligations, whether it’s Philip and Elizabeth carrying on their respective missions, Nina now doing the very thing she got in trouble for (getting close to somebody), or Stan now almost obsessively concerned about Zinaida (he may be right, too). They’re going back to what they know they can control. A mission has success or failure. A job has defined parameters. But you can’t hide like that forever. As Elizabeth indirectly points out, the clock is ticking.
There are a few little touches running throughout the script, too, which are nice. Notice how there’s a cut from Stan to Nina and later on, a cut from Nina to Stan. Notice the tiny bits of humor at the beginning, which deliberately help to offset how uncomfortable things get by the end. Notice how Lisa’s marriage is falling apart while Elizabeth’s isn’t doing that much better. The choice of “Only You,” when there are other perfectly good Yaz songs, is not a coincidence when you listen to the lyrics – particularly the ones that are actually playing during the episode.
And it’s also worth noticing, if you haven’t already, that Lev Gorn, Costa Ronin and Richard Thomas have all been given main cast billing this season, even if the first two aren’t actually in this episode. It’s well deserved, and not the only casting news of note: there’s no way this show hired Callie Thorne just to hit on Stan once. Expect to see more of her, and presumably she’s going to wind up testing how much Stan really wants Sandra back (as he appears thus far to be over Nina).
The kids are not all right. The adults are not all right, either. “Dimebag” ultimately seems to hint at a loss of control for all of these characters – and while this is where you normally have to take a deep breath, step back and get a hold of yourself, they’re not going to have that kind of time or space. They’re going to get in deeper before they can get out, and it will be truly intriguing to see how much pressure everyone can withstand.
Season three of The Americans continues next Wednesday at 10 PM ET/PT on FX. For more on season three, check out our previous recaps of episode one, episode two, and episode three.
(c)2015 Brittany Frederick. All rights reserved. No reproduction permitted. Visit my official website and follow me on Twitter at @tvbrittanyf.