The Americans Review: “Walter Taffet” (Season 3, Episode 7)

Noah Emmerich in The Americans

Paige might respect her parents more now that she “knows” they were involved in the civil rights movement, and it’s Elizabeth’s hope that said appreciation will extend to more radical actions with time. Philip’s fear for his children’s innocence is understandable, but he’s forgetting the long view benefit of kids becoming people. It’s usually only when we’re older that we fully learn to appreciate the mundane ways our parents were amazing, whether that’s supporting a family financially through thick and thin, or simply making sure you got to practice on time. Our parents are some of the strongest people we’ll ever know in our lives, but that only becomes clear once you see them for actual people, instead of just caregivers.

“Do your kids have any idea what a badass woman their mom is?” ANC bait Reuben (Dwayne Alistair Thomas) asks Elizabeth, who chuckles at the question, but kind of wishes she could say yes. The final scene of “Walter Taffet,” set to Fleetwood Mac’s “The Chain,” sees the Jennings pull off the daring kidnapping of a Nationalist assassin. It’s a callback to the very first scene of The Americans, and if Hans’ astonished expression is a reminder of anything, it’s that the Jennings we’ve known have always been badasses. There’s a big part of Elizabeth, and even Philip that would take heart in their children knowing the struggles and triumphs they’ve experienced.

Yet, there are secrets even transparent people can’t share with those most important in their lives. “It’s for their own protection,” we tell ourselves, the same sort of rationale used to buttress political divides meant to keep the peace. Stan not only opens up to his son in “Walter Taffet,” but also exposes how his time undercover in a white power movement may be subtlety informing his outlook now. When describing to Philip what “bugs” him about Agent Aderholt, he specifically mentions that Aderholt is black. In trying to make a convincing argument out of a limp one, he reflexively counts on his, and Philip’s own skin color to affirm Aderholt’s otherness.

I don’t think Stan is a racist at heart, but while 1982 America wasn’t segregated the way South Africa was at the time, it can be tempting, even instinctive to use the bones of old injustices to support your own position. That’s why Martha’s retreat to the ladies’ room – Agent Gaad having just discovered the bug in his office – has a subversive undercurrent to it. For a scene mostly about watching poor Martha barely keep it together, there’s slyness to how her minority position in a male-dominated office gives her the space she needs to deactivate a recording device in secret.

That’s maybe why the bathroom has such surprising dramatic power in The Americans, and TV as a whole: it closes us off from the rest of the world, thereby making that world seem simpler, and more sensible. To watch this sacred space be thrown into chaos by conflicting opinions, like Philip and Elizabeth’s, or have its rules broken, like when Mike Ehrmantraut buys a sanitary napkin in this week’s Better Call Saul, is to witness a violation. And it’s only after our comfortable understanding of the world is transgressed against that we feel the need to question everything else in it. There’s nary a character on The Americans who isn’t shaken out of complacency by some revelation or offense tonight. With safe zones disappearing and half a season to go, it’s unlikely anyone will make it out of the next few weeks as who they were tonight.

  • Stray Thoughts

-The episode’s title is owed to a new character played by Jefferson Mays. He looks a bit like Barton Fink and enjoys a good mole hunt. Martha better watch out.

-I love the budding co-dependency between Philip and Stan, as it leaves me unsure of how often the former is just keeping tabs on the latter, or is actually in need of a buddy. I also love that you can tell that Stan is getting better at pronouncing the name Zinaida Preobrazhenskaya, not that I blame him for having difficulties to begin with.

-Anyone catch the name of the book on Stan’s kitchen table? I could have sworn it was a Tom Clancy novel, but considering he didn’t publish his first book until 1984, that could be problematic.

-Even with a rough-cut screener, I must say that Noah Emmerich did quite a bang-up job in his first time behind the camera. The overhead shot of Stan, Aderholt, and Gaad leaning in over the bug was gut-bustingly funny, and the action at hour’s end is executed cleanly.

-Philip’s last disguise: more Alice Cooper or Mötley Crüe?

-“I felt for him, and his kids, fighting this brutal, horrendous war. I mean, it’s horrible, but it’s admirable in a way. It’s brave.” Elizabeth’s own romantic notions of The Cause are starting to rival Philip’s Americanization for who can be more self-deluded.

-I am glad we took a break from the Kimberly plot for a week, if for no other reason than because watching all of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt this weekend has removed some of the ick The Americans has saddled onto the name “Kimmy.”