The Americans Season 2, Episode 3 “The Walk In”
Written by Stuart Zicherman
Directed by Constantine Makris
Airs Wednesday nights at 10pm ET on FX
As opposed to last season’s series of shorts sprints, the first three hours of The Americans’ second season have been a little more deliberately paced, clearly focused on longer, more nuanced character and story arcs for its major characters. This slight change in tambor is more visible in “The Walk In” than the first two episodes, absent of the shocking climax of “Comrades”, and the reverberations felt in “Cardinal” – the most exciting things events of “The Walk In” involve a crow bar (and a sniper rifle) that doesn’t get used, and a road trip with Paige, to put things in perspective.
But with less action, there’s more room for “The Walk In” to dig into its characters – which it does to fascinating effect, continuing to sow the seeds of doubt placed in many character’s heads over their loyalties in the first season. The most obvious of these to note is Elizabeth – her series of flashbacks reveal that she was never that excited about having children, until she realized (with Philip’s help) that the deadly, seemingly endless war they were fighting was never one that would fulfill them, and a family was really the only chance she might have at finding happiness in her life. However, children complicate lives – and in “The Walk In”, we begin learning what that means for the unknowing offspring of KGB officers currently fearing for their lives, trying to protect themselves from an enemy they have neither seen nor heard to this point. Paige continues poking around her mother’s stories and lineage, visiting an Aunt Helen in Harrisburg who is a lot sharper than she lets on when Paige so rudely enters her house when nobody answers.
That journey to Pennsylvania with Paige may not feel consequential in this episode, but paralleled with the events that precede and follow it, reveals one of the season (and show’s) most important themes: the power of doubt. Whether it’s Paige with her parents, Nina with her “mission” to turn Stan, or even Derek (the sniper Arkady sets up to be killed by the FBI), “The Walk In” is about characters questioning their assumed loyalties for various reasons. Nina is falling in love, Derek feels lied to by the people he gave his life to serve in Vietnam, and Paige knows her parents are lying to her; in every corner of “The Walk In”, there are characters losing faith in what they once knew, truths and situations they once believed in. Paige’s journey isn’t quite the most interesting of these, but its a solid attempt to add layers to a character that felt tangential in season one, at least making one half of the Jennings children (Henry keeps breaking his constellation guide, so he throws it out) an interesting entity moving forward.
The more interesting stories, however, get a little less attention in “The Walk In”; primarily with Nina, whose limited screen time so far this season (mostly limited to sitting in the Rezidentura and naked with Stan) hasn’t given her story a lot of room to breathe. There are certainly still rewarding moments in her scenes in “The Walk In” – like her attempting to contain a smile when writing about Stan saying the fateful three words Arkady’s been waiting to hear – but there isn’t a lot of room to explore her side of things, focusing more on Stan’s growing disillusion with his mission (after all, he finds himself protecting a bank by killing a Vietnam veteran in this episode), than her attempts to reconcile her feelings with her own mission, one she must complete to save her life.
Of course, the most attention is paid to Elizabeth – even Philip is given a bit of a back seat in this episode, save for the frightening scowl he wears while speaking to Paige after she returned from ‘Aunt’ Helen’s. As we’ve seen before, one of Elizabeth’s talents is manipulating her own emotions when she sees them in other people – and in “The Walk In”, that comes with threatening a factory worker with the murder of his youngest son. It’s both a terrific, decidely nasty way to coerce someone, a realization of how powerful parental instincts are, instincts she’s now fully aware of after coming face to face with the most devastating possible side effects of her job (she also visits Jared, the son of her dead comrades).
Like last week’s episode, “The Walk In” isn’t too concerned with the overall narrative of the show; there is little movement on the spy front, with Philip capturing important information about a grinding machine the Department of Defense is using, and Stan speaking the words that will catalyze the second phase of the KGB’s attempted conversion of him. Instead, “The Walk In” continues to focus in on a group of characters scrambling for answers they really don’t want to have. Sometimes, secrets are best left being buried – though as Elizabeth watches her comrade’s letter of truth burn, she must be wondering if her own deceptions are the flame that will eventually burn down the foundation of the family her and Philip have tried so hard to build.
– Paige makes a friend named Kelly on her road trip – part of me thinks this is the KGB operative sent to keep an eye on the Jennings children, though I’m probably reading way too far into things.
– In a way, “The Walk In” is about friendship; Oleg is trying to make friends (if not more) with Nina, Paige and Kelly, and Elizabeth and her friend in their flashbacks. Having friends is the best!
– Oleg gives Nina a quick lesson in scalping, a bit I found hilarious for some reason.