Babes in Toyland: The Americans Season 6, Episode 5: The Great Patriotic War
One of the most haunting scenes in an episode that had a half-dozen of them finds Elizabeth, fresh off killing Gennadi and Sofia, realizing that their son is still alive. She turns ever so slowly, so as not to reveal herself to him, which would mean she has to murder him, just in case he saw her face. Little Ilya is watching the scene from the Laurel and Hardy movie, Babes in Toyland, the part where the toymakers realize the giant soldiers they accidentally ordered can actually help them defeat the boogeymen. Grimly, carefully, Elizabeth jumps back out the window and into the night, leaving a catastrophe in her wake. When Stan arrives on the scene and sees Ilya, we realize this episode marks the fundamental shift we have all been waiting for: Stan is going to hunt for the Russians. He’s back on their trail.
And that wasn’t even the most consequential sequence of the hour.
The March of the Soldiers scene from Babes in Toyland is certainly a tipoff about the underlying themes of this sixth and final season. When the movie was released in 1934, it was heralded as entertainment aimed mostly at children. In the context of The Americans, the children are the toy soldiers, used as pawns in the Cold War.
We’ve talked a lot this season about characters who are mirrors to one another and this episode brought the Paige and Kimmy storylines to a boil. Philip has been in an uncomfortable “friendship” with Kimmy since season 3, when he became the cool older weed dealer so he could plant tape recorders in the house of her father, a prominent CIA analyst. That was also the season where Philip and Elizabeth faced off over the Center’s plans to turn Paige into a superspy. The crushing responsibility of the Kimmy assignment – befriending a teen girl, flirting with her, inducing her to have a massive crush, and then not having a physical relationship with her – was one of the reasons Philip eventually had to get out of the spy game. But one assignment remained – collecting that tape from Kimmy’s house once a month.
When Philip quit, he traded Paige’s well-being for his own. He agreed she could work for the Center. Here Paige continues to demonstrate that she has a lot of her mother’s temperament but not all of her judgment. She’s also continuing to get lessons in the misogyny and creepiness of men. The intern she slept with, who seems to genuinely like her, has a wingman who is a cruel jackass. He taunts Paige and grabs her on the way out of the bar. That makes two douchey dudes in Paige’s life this season. I don’t know if this is an intentional statement about what women deal with in this world, but it’s an effective one. Although we cheer when Paige makes mincemeat of him, this of course is not without consequence.
Paige’s explosion at her parents and the argument that ensues about her future as a spy and her sexual autonomy is pretty brilliant. Some people see Philip as a hero in this situation, since he goes bonkers over the fact that she had sex, but Elizabeth has the cooler head about her daughter’s sexuality. She’s pretty clear that Paige shouldn’t be having sex to get information, or having it at all unless she wants to. And she’s right on that.
Elizabeth does not tell Philip to have sex with Kimmy, but she does tell Philip to convince Kimmy to meet him in Greece, then hop to Bulgaria, where she will be arrested for drugs as leverage on her father. Philip does his duty and we all screamed at the horror of Philip actually having sex with a girl the same age as his daughter. Despite his decision later on to call off their relationship and warn her about traveling to a Communist country, this is in no way any kind of good deed.
Kimmy had grown up to be a confident college student, free of teen angst and ready to live her life. All of that is shattered after a confusing experience with a much older man, who has sex with her and then dumps her, also hinting that he has something to do with a foreign government.
Hooray for Philip?
Scenes from a Marriage
From our teen soldiers to our distressed couple, Philip and Elizabeth’s mess threatens to burn everything to the ground. The show gave us one intimate love scene, which they then shattered by Elizabeth using their night to convince Philip to participate in The Plot to Arrest Kimmy. Did she plan to trap him all along? It was ambiguous – Philip also hoped to get information from Elizabeth about her mission, and she was starting to share. He could’ve been planning to use the situation to coax more info out of her. She just beat him to the punch.
Add The Plot to Arrest Kimmy to Elizabeth’s streak of massively bad decisions in Season 6. Her desperation has set off a chain reaction of murders that are simply too messy not to leave clues about her identity. On the flip side, Philip’s reactions to Elizabeth have created a domino effect. Philip didn’t just break it off with Kimmy, he gave her enough information to perhaps get the CIA hot on his heels.
If Kimmy reveals that disturbing phone call, it won’t be good for the Jennings family. Philip knows this and went forward anyway. Does he have a plan in place for extracting the family from this situation? Or is he, like Elizabeth, groping forward in the dark?
The Great Patriotic War
Just this week (2018) Russia’s news organization, TASS, has renewed their efforts to explain how Russia won World War II and didn’t get the proper credit for it. The statistics quoted by Claudia are accurate. The Soviets lost around 2I times as many people as the U.S. in that war. The War, and the perception that they weren’t given credit, still loom large in the Russian psyche.
When Elizabeth tells Philip that she told Paige about the War, he asks how that went. “I think she got it,” Elizabeth said.
Paige did not get it, because she can’t. Paige connects to her Russian heritage, but she can’t experience that era because she did not live through it the way her parents did, the way Claudia did, or even Gabriel. She will never have the chip on her shoulder. Perhaps that is one reason why Gabriel warned them that this plan of using the children of Directorate-S was destined to fail.
The writers of The Americans do a brilliant job of showing the urgency of history and legacy, and how both are urgent factors which compel people to make life choices. These characters are not world leaders, but they are wrestling with the big questions. What kind of world and country will we leave our children is the question posed by Oleg. Did I make the best use of my time? what am I leaving behind in this world through my art, is the frantic question posed by Erica. Everyone seems to know that the reckoning is coming in a hurry.
A Few Shots of Olive Oil and Vodka…
- The telephone call where Philip draws a clean line in the sand by refusing to participate in The Plot to Arrest Kimmy and warns her, felt like the most consequential scene of the entire series, because it certainly appears as if Philip is ready to pick a side.
- Miriam Shor’s screen time has been short but memorable. Holy hell, that scene where she tells Elizabeth to focus on what she’s doing with her time, and frantically orders her to do her homework is amazing. Erica is running out of time, and so is Elizabeth.
- Does anyone else think Erica’s sketches of Elizabeth may be picked up by the FBI later on?
- Margo Martindale, national treasure. How great was the scene where the women drink vodka and talk about their early sexual experiences? “I had looks,” Claudia explained, discussing her tryst with a soldier. It was the rare moment of humor in this dark episode, but even then there is so much unsaid. As we saw in Season 1, Elizabeth was raped by a soldier of The Great Patriotic War.
- Glad to see Tatiana make an appearance. It’s such a pleasure to watch Vera Cherry and Costa Ronin act in Russian. Her ominous suggestion that they wire Moscow about Oleg being disloyal adds to the pile of evidence that poor Oleg is going to get killed.
- What. Is. The. Deal. With. Renee?