FX TV’s The Americans has an ingenious premise. Elizabeth and Phil Jennings are two Soviet spies embedded in the Virginia suburbs during the Reagan years. Much of the show is standard spy shenanigans: there are kidnappings, surveillance missions, and many lethal confrontations. That part is done well and provides suspense. But the difference for the program is the depiction of what it’s like to hide in plain sight in the suburbs. Thus the Jennings dine with neighbors, become close “friends” with the FBI agent who lives across the street, run a travel agency, and go about raising their two children.
It’s the subplot about the children that interests me here. Phil and Elizabeth’s fourteen-year-old daughter Paige is invited by some peers to a church youth group. She loves the companionship, and soon she’s reading the Bible clandestinely. Of course, the kids don’t know that their parents are Soviet spies. They think they’re just part of an ordinary American family. It’s not said that the Jennings have raised their children as atheists, but somehow Paige senses that her parents won’t be happy with her newfound religious enthusiasm. There’s a great scene where Elizabeth catches Paige huddled up with a Bible in her bedroom.
Soon Elizabeth is raging to Phil about how Paige is being brainwashed. You can hear Marx shouting about the opiate of the masses as a subtext. Here the viewer’s placement in 2015 and the show’s setting in the 1970s contributes to a nice irony. As we (the viewers) know, the Soviet eschatology petered out. Who looks the most brainwashed now?
Paige insists that the church gives her meaning, and something bigger to live for. The church she’s attending is a socially activist Protestant congregation. Paige participates with the church in a protest at a nuclear manufacturing plant. It’s not long before she wants to be baptized.
It’s a dilemma for the two committed crypto-Soviets. What to do when you’re raising a daughter who’s a Christian? The Jennings complain to one another, but eventually roll with their daughter’s desire to be baptized. After all, they may be spies, but they want to be good parents. They even invite the pastor over for dinner.
The subplot about Paige’s Christianity is still unfolding on the show. We’ll see how it turns out.
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