“I am sorry we don’t have more of a family but your mother and I have worked hard to create this one,” Philip tells Paige late in “The Walk In.” He’s scolding her for lying and sneaking off but it also remarks upon the idea of this oddly created family. There was no fun courtship and honeymoon for Philip and Elizabeth and there is always going to be an unshakeable distance between them and their children, Paige and Henry, for reasons that the children may never know or understand. It’s a manufactured family, and Philip and Elizabeth sure did work hard to create it — to keep it together, to keep themselves together, to separate it from work (a task that’s getting harder and harder), to keep up these appearances and covers and backstories, and to keep their children in the dark but ultimately safe. Season 1 of The Americans was mostly about the struggling marriage between Philip and Elizabeth; season 2 is shaping out to be about the family unit as a whole.
The aftershocks of events in the premiere, the gruesome death of the Jennings’ colleagues (and character parallels) Leanne and Emmett (and their especially unfortunate daughter), are still rippling throughout this episode, particularly when it comes to Elizabeth. She is thoroughly rattled (and really, she has been since the season 1 finale) and has become paranoid when it comes to the safety of her children. This maternal instinct is in sharp contrast to the Elizabeth we knew last year (who appeared to have no qualms about leaving the children with Philip) and the Elizabeth that we see in flashbacks — the slight confusion about why Leanne would want to inform her children of her work, the cold and practical way Elizabeth talks to Philip about having their own children. It’s a calculated move, not a move out of love or want.
But now Elizabeth is paranoid, protective, increasingly worried about what will happen to Paige and Henry, and there is always the slight concern that it may bleed into her work life. At Derek’s, he appeals to her new maternal nature by showing photos of his three boys. For a second, it seems Elizabeth is softening but she remains steely enough, taking one of the photos as a threat and warning to Derek to not speak a word to anyone.
There is another great but devastating scene where Elizabeth poses as a worker for the “Child Advocacy Center” and goes to check-in on Jared, the son of Emmett and Leanne, who is battling some heavy guilt about going swimming after his mother told him not to, leaving him as the only surviving family member. Elizabeth is there to hand over the letter that Leanne gave her in the flashback, a letter that will explain Leanne and Emmett’s secret life and, hopefully, help Jared make sense of what occurred. But there isn’t a way to make sense of this sort of violence, especially to a college kid who is racked with survivor’s guilt and can’t even bring himself to take off a couple of days from school. Elizabeth notices this and can’t give him the letter. He isn’t ready or strong enough to know the truth and it’s possible that he never will be, so Elizabeth allows Jared to break down in her arms before she leaves and burns the letter.
Meanwhile, Paige is quickly becoming the most interesting character in The Americans — which is no easy feat considering the double agents, re-doubled agents, and murderers that populate this suburb. She is in the middle of that full-on teenage phase: skipping school, lying to her parents, sneaking out, temporarily running away, playing dumb, and talking back. But there is something more than just typical teen angst and boredom; she has grown suspicious of her parents and is sick of the secrets. Paige definitely knows something is going on and no longer wants to be in the dark. She thinks she is old enough to know the truth, whatever she thinks that is. She assumed that maybe one of her parents was having an affair (not the most farfetched theory) but she certainly isn’t ready to know what’s really going on. A visit to her Aunt Helen doesn’t provide any answers — and Helen has a quick cover, faking dementia and ratting Paige out to Philip — and Paige still doesn’t get any closer to the truth.
The scene where Philip scolds Paige, really scolds Paige, is chilling to watch because it’s the sort of anger that we usually see directed at his enemies, not his children. I assume it’s only going to get worse between these two, and between Paige and her mother, because it’s almost certain she’s going to find everything out. It’s going to completely fuck up this family dynamic and I can’t wait to see it go down.