Synopsis of The Americans 3.05 “Salang Pass” from the FX network’s Website: Philip juggles the many women in his life while Elizabeth takes drastic measures to complete a mission. Stan asserts a plan to save Nina with an unlikely ally. The title of this episode of The Americans (“Salang Pass”) seems to be a few weeks late. Three weeks earlier, in “Baggage” (3.02), we saw TV news reports of Leonid Brezhnev’s death—an event that occurred on November 10, 1982. However, the fire in the tunnel at Salang Pass in Afghanistan—which may have killed as many as 700 Soviet troops and up to 2000 of their Afghan allies—occurred a week earlier on November 3, 1982. Thus, I would have thought an episode titled “Salang Pass” might have been used a week before an episode that reported Brezhnev’s death. To further complicate the problem, there is a scene in this episode in which Philip is listening to a BBC radio broadcast about the Salang Pass tunnel fire—an “incident” that was caused by either a Mujahedeen attack or a Soviet Army accident (depending on which side of the story you believe). If that BBC broadcast was live, then it means this episode takes place one week before the episode that was shown three weeks earlier. However, there are other scenes in this episode that obviously occur after events in “Baggage.” Such temporal anomalies could only indicate one thing—The Americans takes place in a parallel universe in which Leonid Brezhnev died in October of 1982 rather than on November 10, 1982. On the other hand, there is another possible explanation for the apparent problem in the chronology of the episodes. Rather than listening to a live BBC broadcast of the Salang Pass disaster, Philip may have been listening to a cassette tape of the BBC broadcast (the radio also had a cassette tape deck). If he was listening to a recording of the BBC broadcast, then the date for the events in this episode is early- to mid-December. The question then is: Why is Philip listening to a cassette tape of a tragic fire that occurred in Afghanistan one month earlier? Regardless of the chronological order of events, the larger disaster of the Soviet Union’s war in Afghanistan is the core concern (either directly or indirectly) for almost all of the subplots that are weaving together this season—and the “Salang Pass” episode further develops most of this season’s subplots. As the synopsis at the top of this review hints, Philip plays a large part in this episode’s various subplots as he “juggles the many women in his life.” One of those women is Philip’s wife, Elizabeth, who previously announced that she’s going to develop their daughter, Paige, into a second-generation, fully American KGB agent despite Philip’s concerns about doing so. Thus, the relationship between Philip and Elizabeth has recently been going through one of its tense periods. This tension between Philip and Elizabeth becomes more taut when Paige announces she wants to buy a new dress for her upcoming baptism at her non-denominational church—a religious ceremony that both of her secular humanist parents (being Marxists) are against. However, Elizabeth is more Marxist than Philip is, as she also views spending money on frivolous items as an example of capitalism’s wasteful excess. Thus, she is also against the idea of a new dress for the baptism even though Paige indicated she would buy it with her own money—she just needs someone to drive her to the department store. Philip, desiring to spend more time with his daughter, volunteers to take Paige shopping—which evokes an icy stare from Elizabeth. However, at the store, Philip initially shows how little he knows about 14-year-old girls and their tastes as he selects dresses that Paige quickly rejects. Conversely, Paige selected an item that has too high of a hemline for a father’s liking, so Philip vetoes that dress. Finally, being the great father he is, Philip finds the perfect dress that both father and daughter can agree upon—but it’s out of Paige’s price range, so the “great father” buys it for her (an action that will evoke more iciness from Elizabeth later). Philip’s inability to understand his 14-year-old daughter’s views and attitudes factors into his latest KGB assignment of developing 15-year-old Kimmy as one of his espionage assets. Philip realizes he may end up having to have sex with Kimmy—a girl who is only one year older than his own daughter. In fact, sex between Philip and Kimmy seems to be where the plot is heading,* as she arranges to have “Jim” (the cover identity Philip is using with Kimmy) pick her up at a party her high school classmates are having in an open field with bon fires. As they talk about leaving the high school party to spend time alone together, two of Kimmy’s male high school friends** confront “Jim” (Philip) because they seem to be jealous that Kimmy is spending time with some old guy. That minor confrontation causes Philip to question Kimmy about their relationship—partly as an aspect of his plot to develop Kimmy as an espionage asset, but partly in earnest as he is opposed to developing a 15-year-old girl as a sexualized asset. One of the things I like so much about The Americans is the writers’ ability to develop characters slowly through subtle actions and nuanced dialog—and Kimmy’s reaction to Philip’s concerns about the difference in their ages is a good example. For instance, being the naïve 15-year-old, Kimmy mistakenly believes “Jim” is worried that he’s too old for her—that she won’t be attracted to someone his age. To alleviate the fear she believes he has, Kimmy says, “You’re not old.” Of course, Philip’s real concern is about Kimmy’s age, not his own—she’s too young for him to be seen with in public. Once Kimmy comes to understand that “Jim” is concerned about dating an underage high school sophomore she says, “Age is just a number.” Both of Kimmy’s clichéd responses are appropriate, as she thinks in terms of an immature person who repeats trite views she has observed being used in the “adult” world. She then arranges for “Jim” to spend the night at her parents’ house while they are out. A few days later, “Jim” and Kimmy spend the evening (the 11th***) at Kimmy’s house. They don’t have sex, but they do smoke a lot of premium Afghan pot that Philip got through his KGB connections. They also have a food fight with popcorn before Kimmy falls asleep on the couch, which allows Philip to look through her CIA father’s office and briefcase. The evening ends with Philip putting Kimmy to bed, and then kissing passionately until—like the deus ex machina of Greek drama or the cavalry riding to the rescue in American westerns—Kimmy’s father arrives home and Philp hurriedly leaves through the backdoor like a high school kid sneaking out of his girlfriend’s house just ahead of her shotgun-toting father. However, it was an earlier scene on the porch of the house that resonates the most in this episode. Kimmy explained to “Jim” what her life at this house was like when her biological mother was still alive, and how much things have changed since her widowed father remarried. She mentions (as a type of subconscious complaint) how much her father and stepmother are absent from the home and how her older siblings have moved out—leaving her mostly alone to raise herself. Kimmy doesn’t know her father works for the CIA; she thinks he works for the government in the agriculture department. Due to how often she seems to be absent, we also have to wonder if Kimmy’s stepmother is also in either the CIA or another government espionage agency. It’s clear, though, that Philip sees Kimmy’s situation as somewhat analogous to Paige’s situation—with Paige’s parents as KGB agents, of course—and the analogy between Kimmy’s parents and Paige’s parents is made all the more evident when Kimmy says about her father, “You know, if you told me that he had another family . . . somewhere, I would say ‘okay, yeah, great, that explains it.’” Of course, as a KGB agent, Philip does have another family—or, more specifically, another wife, Martha, who wants to start a family with “Clark” (Philip’s cover identity with Martha). After learning in a previous season that “Clark” is infertile (I think that’s the reason he gave for why they can’t have children of their own), Martha’s plan for starting a family involves bringing in a foster child—with an obvious eye towards adopting a child at some point in the future. To that end, Martha took Clark to a foster childcare facility where they watched children through a one-way mirrored window. His reply to it all was, “We’re not buying one today.” Nevertheless, despite his flippant attitude, Philip was obviously conflicted. He clearly does not want to establish a family with Martha, who is nothing more than an asset to him due to her job at the FBI. However, he also seems to sense that being a father to a younger child would allow him a second chance at getting things right between himself and his “child.” By the end of the episode, Philip has successfully completed his juggling act, as he winds up in bed with Elizabeth at the end of a difficult day. During their pillow talk, he tells her about being trained in the Soviet Union to “make it real” when he has sex with assets from whom he needs to get information (he needs to fake that the sex is real–that it’s about love and passion rather than duty). Elizabeth asks if that’s what it’s like with Martha, to which Philip answers, “I guess.” She then asks how he feels about Kimmy and he tells her that he feels “sorry for Kimberly” but that they haven’t had sex. She then asks, “Do you have to make it real with me?” He replies, “Sometimes. Not now.” Making it real is what this series does so well. I enjoy other shows more than I do The Americans—specifically Game of Thrones. However, in terms of specific characterization through nuanced dialog, no contemporary show does it better than The Americans. * While the plot seems to be heading that way, I doubt the series will end up taking the plot there. A basic cable TV network is not likely to have a story that involves a protagonist (albeit a KGB agent) having sex with a 15-year-old girl. Oh, and I just used the word albeit in this footnote! That word is used in this episode as Henry Jennings and Stan Beeman discuss how stupid the word is and wonder what type of person would actually use the word albeit. I’m the type of person who uses it! ** Kimmy’s male high school friends are jocks who are wearing lettermen jackets, and Philip remarks to Kimmy that they are “Wheatley High School” lettermen jackets. However, there is no Wheatley High School in the Washington, DC area. This series does a good job of referring to actual DC-area places in the stories, so I was surprised that they used a fictitious high school. However, there is a Wheaton High School in the area, and Kimmy’s family seems to live in the Bethesda area. In real life, Wheaton High School is in the Bethesda area, so I’m thinking “Wheatley” is supposed to be “Wheaton” but the show didn’t want to bring undue attention to the real high school by mentioning it by name—so I’ll do it instead since not too many people are likely to read this review and my big Wheaton High School reveal. Oh, and 2015 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee Joan Jett attended Wheaton High School! A few years ago, when I had a different job, I used to drive past Wheaton High on my way to and from work on days when traffic on Interstate 270 was too heavy. *** Kimmy’s date of the 11th is problematic if Philip was listening to a live BBC broadcast of the Salang Pass tunnel fire a day earlier (see my opening comments in this review). If the BBC broadcast was live, then Kimmy’s reference to “the 11th” would mean November 11, 1982—eight days after the Salang Pass fire (and also eight days after the high school party with the jocks in the lettermen jackets). However, news of Leonid Brezhnev’s death was being reported in the “Baggage” episode (3.02)—so, unless The Americans takes place in a parallel universe in which Brezhnev died a few weeks earlier than he did in our universe, Philip had to have been listening to a month-old recording of the BBC broadcast—December 11, 1982 rather than November 11, 1982. That date would match up with the chronology of events this season, but it raises the question of why Philip was listening to a month-old radio broadcast (and why Elizabeth didn’t ask, “Why are you listening to a month-old radio broadcast?” when she entered the room). There is a possible explanation for why Philip would be listening to a recording; he had just met with Yousaf Rana, the Pakistani ISI officer that Philip has been using for information on CIA movements in Pakistan and Afghanistan. During their conversation, the topic of how Soviet troops are suffering in the war against the Mujahedeen in Afghanistan was mentioned—and Yousaf tells Philip how earlier that day 10 Soviet soldiers were found skinned alive. So many Soviet soldiers were skinned by the Mujahedeen that it’s difficult tracking down a specific date through Google for the incident Yousaf mentions. However, the gruesome report may have caused Philip to replay the month-old incident of the Salang Pass disaster. Still, it’s anyone’s guess why Elizabeth didn’t then ask him about it. Share this:TweetShare on TumblrLike this:Like Loading... Related Leave a Reply Cancel ReplyYou must be logged in to post a comment.