The Americans Review: “Born Again” (Season 3, Episode 6)


Katja Herbers in The Americans

Paige is reborn in a blanket of red at the beginning of the hour (her dunk directly recalling Elizabeth’s from the start of the season), but the fabric is of Jesus’ robe, not a Soviet flag. Linked to both the faith Paige has adopted, and the one Elizabeth wants for her, red is used to signify both end goals, and change. The red light used to develop surveillance photos in the basement appears in a scene where Elizabeth’s feelings about Philip’s situation continue to evolve, now that he has to meet Kimberly weekly to replace monitoring tapes. The red sweater Paige is last seen wearing is both a reminder of the faith she chooses to start with in “Born Again,” and the one Elizabeth wants her to change toward by coming clean.

Overtop, though, is a jacket that’s pink, a colour more prominently featured in three other scenes without Paige or Elizabeth. When Stan and Tori head back to his place, her pink bra contrasts heavily with vanilla Stan, just as Kimberly’s pink sweater clashes with Philip’s Jim disguise, and Evi’s jacket brightens up a dungeon. All three scenes play on guilt in the face of naiveté, with Stan embracing it, Philip doing everything he can to fight it, and Nina choosing to ignore it. No matter how ready Elizabeth might hope Paige is, a part of her still sees the innocence in her daughter that the truth will almost certainly destroy.

Elizabeth is not without misgivings about what she’s about to do, but it’s the white of Paige’s vest that’s partially responsible for her deciding to move forward. When Elizabeth is caught smoking in the garage, the thin hint of pink in her otherwise plain dress matches precisely with the colour of the walls. Elizabeth is practically a disembodied floating head because of how well the rest of her blends into the background. She’s exposed for more than just her bad habit, but the ensuing conversation with Paige reveals to Elizabeth just how mature her daughter has become. Paige presented herself before God in a white robe because her faith embraces transparency. Even if Elizabeth wasn’t being completely honest with Paige in the garage (hence the slight coloration), she knows that pure, white-as-snow truth is what Paige desires. Unfortunately, that would mean exposing her to the full spectrum of the lies her parents have been living, posing the question of just how much truth Paige can really handle.

This leads us to the smallest, but most important splash of colour in Paige’s look: the blue earrings. The choice of jewelry makes for a clever link to the gift Philip contrives to give Kimberly as a surprise (how great is the cut-eye from the wire woman Philip gets them from?), but the colour itself harkens back to Elizabeth’s season-long power colour. Like any good spy trying to fit in, Elizabeth has adopted the hue of her enemy like war paint. In the same scene where Paige thinks she sees her mother for who she is, Elizabeth sees Paige in a blue sweater, and it’s like looking into a mirror. Is this a sign that Paige is finally ready to be her mother’s daughter?

Of course not, at least, not for Elizabeth. She doesn’t believe in guidance through a higher power, let alone matching outfits. Trying to find meaning in matters of red vs. blue, black vs. white can be just as reductive to political ideology as it is to art. You have to take it all as part of a spectrum of inputs that defines a person, or a position, or an episode of TV. Like a paper fortuneteller, Paige’s four different choices of colour are only part of what will determine her future. By ending “Born Again” on the cliffhanger it does, The Americans gives us a week to to consider what we believe Paige’s reaction will be, and whether her faith belongs to a greater power, or the greater good.

  • Stray Thoughts

-Despite the continued awfulness of Philip’s predicament, there are many laugh-out-loud moments that spawn from it, whether it’s his partner sneaking out of Kimberly’s house, or his infectious, giddy laughter after sharing a joint with Elizabeth. The show knows how to use dramatic irony well, but the absurdity of its premise allows that irony to also be really funny; just watching the Jennings squirm at the baptism is a ridiculous sort of hoot.

-It’s also both hilarious, and intriguing to see Philip use Jim’s newly found faith to keep Kimberly at bay. By guiding her towards prayer, maybe he can fill the parental absence in her life that Paige found in the church. If nothing else, the change to a blue sweater in her last scene may suggest a turn towards more mature behaviour.

-Gabriel continues to interfere with the Jennings under the assumption he knows what’s best for them. “Revealing” to Philip that he has a son (Misha, after his father) in the army is a ruthless means of keeping him focused on solving the Afghanistan problem by any means necessary. He even puts pressure on Elizabeth to finally make a move on Paige. It’s a small touch, but the separate rooms he dines in with each Jennings is a big indicator of his willingness to divide them.

-Taking Paige to Gregory’s neighbourhood suggests to me that Elizabeth will slow-play her coming out to Paige, presenting her parents as political radicals, not outright foreign spies. In an hour where the spectre of South African apartheid starts to make itself known, it’s fitting that Paige should be brought to a part of Washington that’s kept separate from her comfortable white middle-class existence.

-Love the Yazz-influenced scoring used in those final two scenes, a weird mash-up of The Americans’ musical stylings at their most intimate, and most tense.

-Jim’s first surprise for Kimberly during the hour is a Pink Floyd tape. Just saying.

-Better inanimate supporting player this season: the crack in the gulag wall, or mail robot? It’s too hard to choose at this point.

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