Some shows you watch because they’re easy and fun. Jane The Virgin, for example, is not at all stupid (far from it — I think the word “brilliant” is in order). But it’s not a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma, which sends me down a research rabbit hole just to find out what the hell is going on. After last night’s Americans, I first spent an hour scrolling through The New York Times archives, reading about Soviet grain embargoes and EDB contamination, then somehow wound up on the Wikipedia page for Neuro-linguistic programming, before finally concluding with a Google Image search of Bennigan’s logos from the 1980s.
Here’s what I learned from all that intensive research: Don’t worry about it. You don’t need to figure it out. In fact, you’re supposed to be conflicted and confused. This is a show where the bad guys are the good guys and our alliance to the characters can shift by the minute. The historic events around which this story is built are just one layer to the show. If, like me, you enjoy a late-night history binge, then combing through 1980s news archives is like reading ahead for spoilers on the show (OMG, Chernobyl’s coming!). But you can also watch this like a normal person and trust that the show will eventually answer all your questions. Such as:
1. What’s up with all the flies?
The episode opens with Elizabeth and Philip meeting up with their handler, Gabriel, after slicing off that sample from William’s dead body — oh right, and murdering Hans. All in a night’s work for these two! Gabriel is slightly more sensitive about it, but basically, he’s like, Oh wow, sad! Um, anyway… There’s a new problem: The Soviet Union imports half of its grain from America and US allies, he says. “If they’re doing something to it — contaminating shipments, we don’t exactly know — people will starve.”
The premiere episode made it quite clear that food — and all the many ways it can be used as a weapon — would be a primary theme in this season. But with this news, Gabriel clarifies things further. This is why the Jennings’ are zeroing in on Alexei Morozov, a recent Russian ex-pat now working for the US Department of Agriculture. He loves America and hates Russia. Like I mean, he literally shouts, “I hate Russia!” in the middle of Bennigan’s when they’re all out to dinner one night.
Elizabeth tails Morozov and his colleagues on a visit to (what appears to be) a grain production site in Illinois. She watches them go into some sort of greenhouse and when the leave, hours later, breaks in to check it out herself. The crops look — well, like crops (sorry, I don’t know about crops and there’s only so much Googling time in the day). But all of a sudden, there’s a buzz. Then another. Elizabeth swats a pest away from her ankle and then all of a sudden the air is filled with a cloud of flies. She is swarmed in them, head to toe. I dare you not to itch yourself all over while watching this scene.
So, what’s up with the flies? Or moths or whatever they are? We don’t know and neither do the Jennings. For that reason, it seems, they’re going let Morozov live, for now, so they can find out what he may or may not be doing to the grain. (Side bar for the history fiends and spoiler seekers: You might want to check out this New York Times piece from January 11, 1984 — just a few months before the timeframe of this episode.)
2. What is Tuan’s deal?
Tuan’s backstory is coming out in bits and pieces: He was one of the Vietnamese refugees known as “boat people” who fled to the US in the late 1970s. We know he lived in foster care at some point, with well-meaning people, but he always sensed their smugness and pride at taking in a “boat person.” He is clearly allied with the Jennings, demonstrably more devoted and naturally capable at espionage even than Hans. He’s disgusted by Pasha for wishing to go back to his homeland.
“My whole family died ‘back home,’” Tuan says. “I was out with my grandma, when they bombed the village. My parents, brother and sister, aunts, uncles cousins. These kids have no idea. Family, more food than they can eat. All these clothes.”
He sounds like Elizabeth, bemoaning the glut of the American wealth, but unlike her, he’s clearly not yearning for the life he left behind. Still, it’s hard to tell just how and why he came to join her cause. As Tuan points out, if any FBI agents came sniffing around, they would never suspect him of siding with the communists. “Do you know what the communists did to my country?”
All I’m saying is, more Tuan, please.
3. Sooooo, Stan’s new girlfriend is totally a spy, right?
I mean, right?
4. Is Oleg going to die?
Because I kind of don’t want him to now. This character started off as a total sleaze, and I was so ready for the FBI to arrest and execute him just for being criminally obnoxious. But now that he’s back home, humbled by everything he’s lost, Oleg seems to have grown a conscience too big for him to handle. More than that, he just seems so disillusioned with the country and his role in it. He slumps around Moscow looking like a teen with senioritis. I’m pretty sure a reluctant KGB agent is a dead KGB agent, and now that the CIA is coming for him, Oleg is doubly screwed. Maybe Stan will manage to swoop in and save him in an epic move of bromance, but somehow I don’t see this ending well.
5. PAIGE AND MATTHEW ARE GONNA DO IT!
The only question here is when. This week, Matthew tries to make the move to second base. Paige pauses, startled for a second, but then she too starts getting handsy. That setup: the kiss, the hand, the girl saying, “Stop!” and then “No, don’t stop.” That’s TV code for imminent defloration. (We could spend another 6,000 words or so unpacking this trope and what it says about our cultural characterization of young women and teenage female sexuality, but I’m pretty sure there’s a PhD candidate out there that’ll do a way better job than I can.) All I’ll say is: Ohmygod, they’re totally gonna do it.
Elizabeth knows it too. “I’m sick of treating her like a goddamn kid,” she tells Philip. Elizabeth has never been a warm and fuzzy mom, but this season, she doesn’t even try to play nice. She’s teaching Paige to fight, physically. She’s pushing her, literally. Their dynamic is one of the most morally challenging to the viewer, because while it’s hard to watch her...well, yeah, actually hitting her child, it is also thrilling to see the two of them connect in this way. Paige has mettle and rage too, and no amount of church camp is going to squelch that. Plus, for once, she finally gets to punch back.
But, back to the sex.
“I don’t care if you have sex,” Elizabeth says with cold, flat, honesty. But she does want Paige to protect herself, and their family. So, she and Philip sit her down for The Talk.
“There’s something we can show you. A technique.” Philip sits down on Paige’s bed and there a terrible moment where we can’t help but remember those flashback scenes. We know the “techniques” he and Elizabeth were trained in, allowing them to use their bodies as sexual weaponry, thus numbing them to shame and intimacy both. They are the last people you want teaching a teenager about sex.
Thankfully, we don’t have to watch the worst birds-and-bees talk ever. Instead, Elizabeth sits down and holds up her hand, instructing Paige to do so as well. If ever things get overwhelming, she says, “rub your thumb and your forefinger together, and picture me and your father, to help remind yourself of who you are, and where you come from.”
It’s another moment that may have you itching to Google. Is this some secret psychology technique? Soviet magic? Just, don’t worry about it. The answer isn’t nearly as satisfying as this odd and tender scene. In a home where everything is way too complicated, this is a rare moment where the message is clear: Wherever Paige goes, there they are.
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