Title: The Committee on Human Rights
Episode M.V.P.: Holly Taylor
The Americans is a show that delights in the details, and nowhere is that more evident than in the performances its cast delivers each episode. Just the smallest change in facial expressions or body language can signal huge changes in a character arc if you’re paying attention. And that has certainly been true of Paige’s journey over the last few seasons. Holly Taylor has clearly learned from the example set by the brilliant actors around her, and she has become a beautifully nuanced actor in her own right. Her work in this episode especially was filled with tiny touches that revealed big things about where Paige’s mind and heart are at this point in her story.
Paige is at a crossroads, and this episode showed her both being drawn deeper into her parents’ world while also struggling with the weight of what it means to follow in their footsteps—to sacrifice for what she believes is the greater good. I loved the gentle, tentative warmth between her and Gabriel in the opening scene. Taylor’s small, sincere smile when Gabriel said Paige had courage made me happy and also broke my heart because she made it so clear that this is all Paige wanted to hear—that it’s taking courage for her to get through every day now that she knows her parents’ secret. I loved the way Taylor played Paige’s acceptance of Gabriel as the closest thing she’ll ever have to an extended family—with a complex but believable mixture of happiness and hesitation, a desire to know more about this person who clearly cares about her but also a touch of sadness that even her stuffed tiger’s origins were something she was lied to about for years.
As the episode went on, it became clear that introducing Paige to Gabriel worked as far as deepening her connection to her family and their work was concerned. All Paige has ever wanted was to feel like she was part of something that could affect positive change in the world, and Gabriel helped her believe that her parents do that in their own way. That hunger that’s always been part of Paige is something Taylor plays so well, and it came through in such a powerful way when she was asking her parents about the wheat, even though it kills me to think about what’s going to happen when Paige finds out the truth.
The way Taylor allowed us to see Paige processing all this new information about her parents, Gabriel, and the work they do made her decision to break up with Matthew believable. Paige thinks it’s her turn to sacrifice, and it broke my heart to watch her break up with Matthew, effectively walking away from any hope of a normal, teenage life. Taylor was phenomenal in that scene; she has a gift for projecting an honest vulnerability that is rare in young actors. Every beat of that scene was like a dagger in my Paige-loving heart, but the part that made me actually cry was her reaction to pushing him away using what she learned from her mother. The aftermath of that moment was when Taylor’s gift for subtle, expressive movement and physical details was used to its fullest. Watching her physically curl in on herself, holding her hands as if unsure what to do with them was devastating. And the total anguish in her voice when she apologized gutted me. In that moment, Paige gave up any hope of happiness in the service of something greater (made clear in the next scene when her eyes landed on the copy of Marx on her bookshelf), and Taylor made that moment feel deeply, profoundly sad.
No character on television right now ignites my protective instincts like Paige Jennings, and so much of that is because of the believable openness Taylor brings to the character. Unlike the other characters on the show, Paige is an open book; she wears her heart on her sleeve, which has left it far more beaten and bruised than any teenager’s heart should be. Watching Paige slowly close that book and hide her heart away has been hard to watch, but Taylor has done such a fantastic job with this part of Paige’s story that I can’t look away—no matter how much it hurts.
Favorite Scene: “Not for me.”
There were some incredible scenes in “The Committee on Human Rights”—from Gabriel’s farewells to both Philip and Elizabeth to Paige’s breakup with Matthew. But when given the chance to talk about Elizabeth’s emotions and her relationship to them, I will always choose that option. So for me, there was no more important or powerful scene than Philip telling Elizabeth it was okay to care and Elizabeth replying that it’s not okay—not for her.
That’s the entire heart of The Americans summed up in one perfect exchange. It’s the question that gets to the soul of the show: What happens when you allow yourself to care? The answer typically is: Nothing good. Elizabeth knows this; she knows that, in their line of work, caring is dangerous. It makes you worse at your job, it makes it harder to keep going, it makes your superiors question you, and, at worst, it can get you killed. (Look at Nina’s fate if you need more proof of that.)
Philip cares; that’s who he is. From the start of the series, that’s been his defining character trait: He cares—he cares about his wife, his kids, and (in an increasing number) the people he hurts because of his job—and it’s making it harder every day for him to keep doing what he’s done for most of his life. He can’t shut that part of himself off anymore. But Elizabeth isn’t Philip. She can’t let herself care. She did that once with Young Hee, and it’s still haunting her. Caring means facing the things she does and the things that have been done to her for the sake of the cause, and that’s not something she can do. Elizabeth’s need to compartmentalize seems to be a recurring theme this season, but I don’t fault her for bristling when her husband tells her it’s okay to emotionally connect with her mark—especially not after everything that happened with Martha last season. Elizabeth knows the Center is watching Philip and senses weakness in him; she has to keep her emotions in check for both of their sakes.
But I also think it’s important to note that Elizabeth qualifies her statement about it not being okay to care. If she would have just ended it there, it would have been seen as an indictment of Philip, which is probably what she would have done in Season One. However, she continues now to add that it’s not okay for her. She knows Philip cares, but she doesn’t scold him for it or think less of him for it anymore. She’s accepted that about him, even though she doesn’t feel she can be that way herself. Their relationship is balanced in that way, and I love that it flips the gender roles in their partnership—with the male character being the more openly and easily caring one while the female character struggles with that side of herself.
• If this episode is the last we see of Frank Langella (which I don’t think it will be), it was a great way to exit the show. He was by turns warm and kind with Paige and Elizabeth and brutally honest and open with Philip. His speech to Philip about the awful things he did when he was younger was delivered perfectly, but nothing will haunt me as much as his parting words did. Telling Philip with such sadness in his voice that he was right about Paige being kept far away from this life just about ruined me. It was at once an act of unimaginable cruelty—What can Philip do about it now?—and the result of incredible guilt—Gabriel has already caused pain for one of Philip’s children, and he’s tired of hurting the innocent for the cause. (But why then did he tell Elizabeth that Paige would be okay? Any theories?)
• Matthew Rhys’s face upon hearing Gabriel’s parting words was the very definition of haunting: I had a nightmare about it immediately after watching. Rhys is ridiculously good at silently reacting to horrifying information, and I’m waiting with bated breath to see how those words affect Philip’s downward spiral.
• I liked the parallel of Oleg, Philip, and Paige all seeking more information about where they came from and who their parents really are. This has been an incredibly cohesive season in that way.
• Elizabeth’s reaction to seeing Ben with another woman and Philip’s reaction to her reaction was comedic gold by Rhys and Keri Russell. Another surprisingly funny moment: Deirdre asking Philip if he wanted to have sex while they were in the middle of talking about him being too needy. It seems both Philip and Elizabeth are having trouble keeping their honeytrap victims satisfied.
• I loved that Stan’s honest words to the Russian woman he and Aderholt are working were clearly informed by what happened to Nina. It’s nice to know she may be gone, but she’s clearly not forgotten.
• I know Gabriel said Philip was losing it because he asked about Renee being a spy, but I remain convinced she’s spying on Stan for someone—even if it’s not the KGB. With the CIA wanting him removed from counterintelligence work, I’m still leaning toward the idea of them spying on him.
• Why does Rhys keep directing episodes that force Taylor to go through emotional turmoil? Any time you see his name as a director, know that Paige is going to cry.
• This episode was full of too many lovely little beats to name, but I’ll try to single out my favorites: Elizabeth and Philip’s pointed eye contact and avoidance of eye contact during various part of Gabriel’s speech to Paige; Elizabeth pulling Paige’s feet into her lap; Philip’s affectionate “Hey!” when he came home to Elizabeth and Paige; Gabriel and Elizabeth holding hands in the warm light of his home (versus he and Philip sitting across from each other in the darkness); and Philip laying next to Paige on the bed after she said to tell Gabriel goodbye from her, so filled with love for his daughter with a heart even bigger than his own but so unsure of how to tell her that.
• After doing some research, it seems the title of the episode (and the file Elizabeth retrieves) refers to a group of people in the USSR who opposed Soviet rule and documented human rights violations by the Soviets, including improper psychiatric practices. Any theories on how that will come into play this season? Will Philip’s son be mentioned as someone who was improperly deemed insane and placed in a mental ward, and will he see it?