The Americans Makes An Important Point About Rape

Photo: Courtesy of FX.
Elizabeth Jennings (Keri Russell), the talented Soviet spy on The Americans, is a rape survivor. That's not her defining quality, but also not irrelevant to her personality. Since the pilot, the show continues to remind viewers that Elizabeth lives with that experience.

In this week's episode, Elizabeth discovers her daughter Paige's secret. Paige (Holly Taylor) told her pastor, Tim (Kelly AuCoin), that her parents are spies. Elizabeth quickly resolves to kill Pastor Tim, despite the concerns of her husband, Philip (Matthew Rhys). But even though she seems to think that murder is the only option, Elizabeth's subconscious troubles her. She dreams that Paige visits the retreat where Elizabeth and Philip will commit the act and finds Pastor Tim dead in his bed. As Paige screams, Pastor Tim turns into Timoshev (David Vadim), Elizabeth's rapist. Timoshev grabs Paige, and the last thing we hear before Elizabeth wakes up is the sound of him ripping her daughter's pants off. It's the same sound the audience heard when Timoshev raped Elizabeth.

Here we see Elizabeth's steely determination punctured. Yes, killing Pastor Tim is an easy solution that will prevent their cover from being blown, but now she's considering the damage it would do to Paige. Learning her confidant and mentor is dead would be the defining trauma of Paige's youth in the way rape was for Elizabeth.

The Americans
audience learned Elizabeth was raped almost as soon as she was introduced. In the pilot, the Jennings capture Timoshev, a defector. A flashback revealed him as Elizabeth's captain and tormenter in the Soviet Union. He raped her, in full view of another person, when she was a cadet.

A lesser show may have just used the scene for shock value, but not The Americans. Being a survivor is a part of Elizabeth's identity; not an experience she dwells on, but one with which she continues to contend. This came up again during the second season, when she told a source about being raped. She wasn't exactly telling her own story (she was in disguise, after all), but discussing a similar scenario drew her into a state of emotional turmoil that manifested in the field and in her sexual relationship with Philip. Now, it's impacting how she deals with a crisis that could not only blow her cover, but forever damage her already strained relationship with her daughter.

The way Elizabeth processes her rape offers viewers a window into her sometimes obscure psyche. Elizabeth is an ideologue dedicated to her cause, the KGB. Her attitude defies all stereotypes of a nurturing mother — not that she had one of those herself. Her mother, who she and Paige visited at the end of last season, sent her away to become a soldier. And in last night's episode, after her dream, Elizabeth learns that her mother died. Her handler, Gabriel (Frank Langella), says her mother "wanted to send a message that she loved you." Elizabeth's response: "Did she?"

Elizabeth doesn't end up killing Pastor Tim — at least not yet. However, Paige comes forward and confesses that she told him about her parents' actual identities. This gives Elizabeth an out. As Philip remarks, if they kill Tim now, Paige would certainly know the extent of their treachery. But Elizabeth seems to doubt her intent. She doesn't want her daughter to suffer as she has.

The show acknowledges that rape is something a woman, even one as resolute as Elizabeth, doesn't just get over. It doesn't matter how tough a woman is, or how easily she murders people for her country. Rape lingers, even for someone as capable, confident, and controlled as Elizabeth Jennings.

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