It’s January 1982 and it’s morning in America. This episode starts with breakfast—a notably American breakfast, of bacon, eggs, orange juice and toast. Philip Jennings, in his disguise as Clark, has made breakfast for his oblivious wife, Martha, whom he married just to get information about her boss in the FBI counterintelligence division, Agent Gaad. The television set is on, with news of the murder of a couple, and their daughter, in an Alexandria hotel room. Philip knows that the murdered couple was another pair of KGB agents posing as Americans; the late Emmet and Leanne were colleagues and friends.
Meanwhile, back at the Jenninges’ house, Paige and Henry watch the same newscast as they eat their breakfast. “They were killed in a hotel room in Alexandria,” Paige says. “We were probably, like, a few blocks away when it happened.” Anyone who watched last week’s epic season premiere knows just how close Paige and Henry were to the whole bungled operation. And, Elizabeth, who is newly aware of her occupation’s hazards to her kids, is still shaken.
Later, at the travel agency they run as a cover business, Philip tells Elizabeth that the FBI doesn’t yet know that Leanne and Emmet were KGB. (Philip only sees his fake wife, Martha, when he needs the scoop on Agent Gaad and his team.) A moment later Stan, who works for Agent Gaad, drops by the travel agency to get Philip and Elizabeth to book a colleague’s bachelor party. Ah, a bachelor party! A hopeful event, on the brink of a new marriage. “Second marriage,” Stan’s FBI colleague explains. “Gonna do this one right.” Philip’s second marriage, to Martha, is fake. But perhaps Stan is dreaming of a real honeymoon of his own. His marriage is shaky, and he’s falling in love with Nina Sergeevna, the double agent with whom he canoodles in a safe house.
At the Soviet embassy, secret meetings are underway, as the KGB agents try to get to the bottom of Leanne and Emmet’s murder. Was their contact turned? Who gave them up? Meanwhile, the rezidentura’s newest employee, Oleg Igorevich, is pestering Nina Sergeevna. Oleg got this plum foreign posting thanks to nepotism, and seems more interested in having fun than anything else. But he is the head of Line X, the science and technology division, and despite his easygoing demeanor, his determination to find out what their boss, Arkady, is doing suggests that he knows more than he lets on. When Nina reminds him of the chain of command in the office, he replies, “I’m a feminist. I only work for Mother Russia.”
Mother Russia demands much of her sons. A ponytailed Philip, dressed as a telephone repairman (in a navy jumpsuit that wouldn’t be out of place in contemporary Greenpoint, Brooklyn), is sent to Chesapeake, VA, to find out if Emmet’s agent, Fred, has been turned. His investigation of Fred’s apartment yields a booby trap: Philip is shocked into unconsciousness and wakes to find that he’s been bound. Fred, we learn, has not been turned; he remains loyal to Mother Russia, too. But he doesn’t recognize Philip from the previous week’s brush pass in Alexandria, and Philip has to persuade him that they are, in fact, on the same side in the Cold War. He also has to give him the sad news of Emmet and Leanne’s death. (To Fred, Emmet was “Paul.” Fred never met Emmet out of disguise. With so many false identities at play, even grief wears masks.)
The big news back at the Soviet embassy is a walk-in: A man who comes in off the street promising information. By episode’s end, the Soviets, along with the FBI, who have Nina’s intel, know that the walk-in is an employee of the World Bank. (Full disclosure: my mother worked for the World Bank. At the time this episode is set, I was an 8-year-old resident of Washington, D.C.) What are his motives? Is he acting alone? We won’t know until next week.
The lovely Nina Seergeevna (Annet Mahendru) is fast becoming the show’s most fascinating character. Stan has no idea she’s a double agent; he trusts her as a source. And although she dutifully types up thorough reports of her trysts with Stan for Arkady, she seems to have real feelings for Stan. But then, on “The Americans,” nothing is ever as it seems.