The Americans: Season 2 Episode 12 - Operation Chronicle
May 14, 2014, 10:00 p.m. (EST), FX
This season of The Americans has been largely about the relationships between parents and their children and the way Philip and Elizabeth are coming up against the limits of how much they can protect their kids. Mostly, this has played out ideologically, as Paige becomes involved with the Church and Henry becomes more obsessed with American culture and the materialism that accompanies it. But there has also been a constant physical threat. Someone killed Emmett and Leanne, and killed their daughter as well. There are threats out there, Larrick most obviously, who would not pause before killing Paige and Henry to get to their parents. That threat has been more in the back of their minds over the last several weeks, but as Elizabeth preps Jared for exfiltration, it is hard for her not to consider what would happen to her children if something went south in her day to day life. The picture is not pretty.
Why, exactly, Larrick is after Jared is murky at this point (especially because he did not kill their parents, unless the show is waiting a very long time to pull a 180 on that front), but he is after him with a vengeance. Everything around Jared is a bit of a question mark right now—why would Kate appear to him sans disguise? Why would the Centre tell him about his parents? Is he going to live in Switzerland or Australia?—but what’s clear is that, for the moment at least, Larrick wants him even more than he wants Philip and Elizabeth. In order to “Get Jared out,” Elizabeth has to leave Paige behind, and while this is underlined by Paige needing help packing for her trip, the point would have been just as clear otherwise—The Jennings’ kids need them, and they will not always be there to help. Sometimes they’ll be gone overnight. Sometimes they may be gone for weeks. Some day they may be gone forever.
This is, at bottom, every parent’s fear. Pretty much every parent has to spend some time away from their kids, during which any number of things could happen to either party. Most parents go to work every day. Many parents have to travel for work sometimes. And every parent will die, someday, whether it is while their children are still young and in the house, or once they have great-grand children coming to visit them. The threats that face Philip and Elizabeth as parents are relatable ones, but the stakes are raised much, much higher by the fact of their work. You could get hit by a bus on your way to work, but when you get to the office, you aren’t infiltrating military bases and murdering soldiers, engaging in firefights with enemy agents, or looking over your shoulder for the military-trained psychopath who’d really rather you were dead. Being a parent is always about anxiety over protecting your children and worries about when you will no longer be able to. These things are just in starker relief when someone is likely to try to kill you that day at the office.
At the end of the day, Jared is in danger for the same reasons Paige and Henry would be (are) in danger: because of the line of work their parents have chosen. It is one thing to try to protect your kids from the dark things in the world—from violence, cruelty, or ideologies you fundamentally oppose—but it is quite another when you beckon the darkness into your life at every turn. Every parent compromises their children in some ways (usually these are small, like an aversion to particular foods, or a hatred of a musical group), but Philip and Elizabeth compromise their children’s safety by the simple fact that they are alive and in the business they are in. They leave psychological scars (Paige feels like she doesn’t even know her parents at all), but the real threat remains the physical scars they could leave on their children.
Meanwhile, Stan is forced to make a tough decision when Arkady shows up at the safe house, presenting a bloodied Nina and telling Stan that if he doesn’t give them Echo, Nina will be sent to Moscow and executed. Arkady is actually not bluffing, but Stan doesn’t even stop to consider whether he is being played. He immediately sets a plan in motion to get close to Echo. We have watched him be positioned over the course of this season into a place where he might betray his country. We’ve watched him step closer and closer to the edge. It is still shocking, though, how small a push it takes to throw him over the precipice. This is all cemented when Stan goes home to see a son that barely interacts with him and a wife who is moving out. Stan and Sandy don’t raise their voices; he doesn’t try to stop her from leaving. He has drifted so far from the things he thought he was fighting for, it’s easy to see how he could become completely unmoored. The game of intelligence and counter-intelligence is all about the personalities involved, and though Stan has excelled at his job, he was still vulnerable in ways his enemies could exploit. Manipulation is the main weapon in espionage, and Stan allowed himself to be manipulated. Stan has nothing left but Nina, and Nina is the easiest weakness in the world for the Soviets to exploit.
“Operation Chronicle” also returns us, again, to the idea that Paige is suspicious of her parents. When Elizabeth says she has to run to the office for a work emergency, Paige reasonably asks “Why, did a plane full of your clients crash?” and when Elizabeth calls Philip, Paige is listening in. Philip and Elizabeth’s strategy of basically yelling at Paige to respect their privacy and leave them alone and then telling her nothing about anything is pretty clearly a mistake, and one that leads to Paige wanting to snoop into her parents’ life far more than she would if they took the time to dispel her suspicions. But this is the sort of thing that can fall through the cracks as a parent. You get busy with work, with your marriage, with the struggle to make sure your kid is eating right and doing their homework, and something, somewhere, has to give. Philip and Elizabeth are far from model parents, but their failings, just like their fears, are reflective of those every parent faces every day. Your kids will grow up. You won’t always be there for them. They will develop autonomy, the ability to think, feel, and believe on their own. You won’t always like what they decide on. Your kids will be in danger. You won’t always be able to protect them. It’s a big, bad, complicated, dangerous world out there. And there’s only so much any parent can do. You can only keep the monsters from the door for so long before one gets by you and worms its way into your house. And then there’s no telling what effect it may have on the children you’ll never truly be finished forming.
- -“Well, another day another no-dollar.” Oh, Henry. At least you’ll be surprised by Wrath of Khan’s quality…
- -“All I know is I don’t believe a word that comes out of their mouths anymore.” “Being a parent is hard. But so is having parents.”
- -“Once I’m there, I might be able to wander onto the floor. Say I’m lost. Budget guys are always getting lost.”
- -“Is he a good guy?” “He’s…able to be in the flow of things.”
- -“One day, its coming. You know it is.” “Take it easy, ok, because nobody really knows anything. So just take it easy.”
Philip and Elizabeth are far from model parents, but their failings, just like their fears, are reflective of those every parent faces every day.