Title: Born Again
Episode M.V.P.: Holly Taylor
Paige Jennings could have been insufferable. Instead, Paige is complex, she’s interesting, and she’s important—not despite the fact that she’s a teenage girl who cares deeply about things but because of that. Part of the credit for that needs to go to the writers, who have created such a strong character in Paige. But part of the credit also needs to go to Taylor, who just had her finest hour in “Born Again.”
Yes, Paige rolls her eyes at her dad’s “be true to yourself” speeches, but the impressive thing about Paige is that she rolls her eyes because—at this point in her life—she doesn’t need that speech. Paige is driven by the courage of conviction that Taylor brought to life so beautifully in Paige’s two scenes with her mother in this episode. What was so impressive about what Taylor did in those scenes was her restraint and gentle touch. Like the cast of fantastic adult actors around her, Taylor didn’t reach for the dramatics. Instead, she played Paige’s faith and desire for her mother to understand her beliefs with a simple honesty and sincerity that reminded me how young this character really is.
This episode focused heavily on the similarities between Paige and Elizabeth—their passion, their belief in fighting for what matters to them, their desire to affect change—but it also focused on their differences. And one of the biggest differences is Paige’s innocence. Sometimes innocence can come off as annoying in the media, but Taylor has made Paige anything but annoying. In this episode, she showed Paige’s innocence through an openness fueled by belief. When she talked to Elizabeth about praying, there was no sense of preaching or moralizing, just a daughter sincerely trying to help her mother because she believes prayer genuinely helped her. And much like Philip with Kimberly, what makes Elizabeth’s development of Paige as an asset so troubling is the way she’s going to have to corrupt that innocence.
The final scene between Elizabeth and Paige was such a great showcase for Keri Russell, but Taylor matched her every step of the way. Taylor made me feel Paige’s confusion and hesitation to embrace what her mother was telling her—because no teenage girl wants to hear they’re just like their mom. Taylor played that scene perfectly because Paige has no idea that this means so much more to Elizabeth than just a walk down memory lane. To Paige, this is her mother telling her they’re a lot alike but she still knows what’s best because she did braver things for her beliefs. And to Paige, that hurts—just like we know it hurt Elizabeth to feel like Paige wasn’t accepting what she was trying to say.
In typical The Americans fashion, this moment relied heavily on the facial expressions of its actors in order to create emotional depth, and Taylor brought a depth to her work in this scene that proved to me she’s been taking lessons from Russell and Matthew Rhys—two of the best to watch and learn from—and the lessons are paying off.
Favorite Scene: Philip and Kimberly praying together
Paige and Kimberly were written as two sides of the same coin, and never was that clearer than in this episode’s closing scenes. Both Elizabeth and Philip attempted to establish emotional connections to Kimberly and Paige—on Gabriel’s orders—by revealing parts of their pasts to these young girls. However, Elizabeth didn’t get nearly as much out of Paige as she was hoping to, while Philip got more than he seemed to be expecting from Kimberly. And—for as beautiful as it was to see Elizabeth trying so hard to connect with her daughter on a deeper level—it was the unexpected reaction Kimberly had to praying with Philip that I’m still thinking about today.
I was so impressed with the way this show and Philip as a character managed to avoid sleeping with Kimberly for now while still creating the emotional connection necessary to get the job done. It was creative, smart, and a perfect blending of all the major themes of the season so far: religion, politics, sex, and parenthood. It was also a wonderful reflection of the theme of intimacy and sharing part of yourself with someone that you’ve never shared with anyone else before. No, Philip wasn’t telling Kimberly about his son with total honesty or without ulterior motives, but there was a certain intimacy in him telling her in some way about a secret he hasn’t even told Elizabeth.
Philip’s ability to talk to Kimberly about his son reminded me of Elizabeth telling that one young man about her rape last season. These character experience a kind of therapy in talking about the things that haunt them without having to use their real identities to do so. Philip might have used his story to bring Kimberly closer to him, but it also brought him closer to her, too.
When Philip started to pray, I was struck by how ironic it was that he was using prayer to get what he wanted—just not in the way most people pray in order to get what they want. This was a strategic, political move for him, which reminded me of the way religion is so often used and manipulated for political gain.
But then Kimberly turned the whole moment on its head by adding to his prayer. Like Taylor, Julia Garner manages to project innocence in a way that feels genuine and not forced, which isn’t easy, especially for the role she’s being asked to play. When Kimberly talked about “Jim” being an “awesome” dad, my heart broke—for this girl who was being absolutely sincere without any idea of the way she’s being used and for this man who hates himself for preying on the innocence that came through so powerfully in this scene. The honesty Garner brought to such a small moment turned it into the biggest moment in the episode for me in terms of emotional impact.
• My runner-up for favorite scene was the scene after Kimberly got out of the bath and tried to seduce Philip. There was a beat before he entered her bedroom where the camera lingered on her fidgeting hands, and I was struck by the reminder of just how young Kimberly is. Garner did such a beautiful job walking the line between showing how much Kimberly wants to do whatever it takes to hold onto this man who makes her feel important and showing how realistically insecure and nervous she is to navigate this relationship with an older man.
• When Philip told Kimberly she was perfect, Rhys put so much paternal affection into his voice that I’m not above saying I got tears in my eyes.
• “No one knows what’s better for you than you.” Well said, Philip.
• Was there anything more chilling on television this week than the sight of Nina’s roommate being dragged out of the cell and reaching for her while Nina showed no emotion?
• Nina’s storyline was another great example of characters telling partial truths in order to cultivate a sense of intimacy with someone for personal gain.
• I wonder if Nina really believes Stan and Oleg loved their respective countries more than her. I also found it interesting that she talked about being who they wanted her to be, because it reflects this show’s theme of honesty and real intimacy in relationships. Who knows the real Nina? Does anyone?
• The visual parallel between Elizabeth emerging from the bathtub in the season premiere and Paige’s baptism was striking.
• No more classified files on the mail robot?! What’s Clark going to do when Martha tells him?
• I will always get emotional at moments where Elizabeth shows how deeply she wants the people she loves to accept her for who she is. In this episode, it was the scene with Paige on the bench. Russell does such a great job of projecting a kind of subtle craving to be understood.
• I will never tire of seeing Frank Langella manipulate people with his perfect voice.
• I could have watched an entire hour of Philip and Elizabeth getting high together. Philip’s giggle was a thing of pure beauty, and I was once again moved by the fact that these two characters were still able to let their guards down with each other in the middle of everything that was going on. To see them in a rare moment of unguarded laughter and playfulness was wonderful. Also, there was an innocent quality to this brand of illicit activity that fit perfectly with the overall theme of the episode.