When you name your show The Americans, you’re signing yourself up for at least one scene in a diner. It only makes sense that diners are symbols for everything American. They’re uncomfortably bright and shiny, always open, welcoming of all demographics, and wickedly unhealthy.
Of course, a diner is where Soviet defector and fascinated America observer Zinaida wants to eat the most. Zinaida seems to belong in the strange sterile but cheerful environment of a diner more than her escort and dinner companion, Stan. Stan harbors suspicions that Zinaida may be a double agent, going so far as to return to the diner late at night and tear the bathroom apart looking for any signs of espionage. But Zinaida just cheerfully inquires about tuna melts and pushes for details about Stan’s personal life. When she finds out that he is separated from his wife but not yet ready to commit to a divorce, she recites the fact that the Soviet Union has the second highest divorce rate in the world. The United States has the first.
Stan is right. There is something off about Zinaida. Maybe she’s a spy. Or maybe she’s just more self-aware than Stan is accustomed to dealing with. Maybe she’s the kind of person who can talk about the two Cold War combatants having the highest divorce rates and infer that there’s a cause, not just a correlation. Maybe she’s outside the grand conspiratorial game Stan, Philip, and Elizabeth are all playing and is merely the happier for it.
The Americans has played wonderfully with its own characters’ varying levels of awareness in season four, and “Dimebag” is another excellent entrant. Stan’s marriage is ruined and he is only just now able to admit to his affair and apologize for it, not realizing just how too late it is. Philip and Elizabeth’s marriage is at its weakest point since season one, and the ongoing Paige arguments finally lead to an explosive screaming match. If Stan, Elizabeth, or Philip are able to realize that their dedication to their respective causes are tearing apart their families, no one is willing to say it out loud.
That’s not entirely fair. Philip and Elizabeth do share some words in “Dimebag”…they’re just combative and damn near violent. There has been an undercurrent of dissatisfaction between Philip and Elizabeth through the first quarter of the season. Philip suspects strongly that Elizabeth wants to honor Center’s wishes and bring Paige into this life of theirs. Elizabeth makes this crystal clear just before Paige’s birthday dinner with Pastor Tim and his wife.
Elizabeth is upset that Philip has bought Paige the new Yaz album (which he knew to buy through his interactions with the head of the CIA’s Afghan Group’s daughter. More on that grossness later). They agreed not to get her any gifts per her request, and Elizabeth sees the pop music as a subtle recruitment of Paige into Philip’s peaceful plan for her.
“Just because you want to do nothing does not make it alright,” Elizabeth finally tells him. “I am doing it. With or without you.”
Fascinatingly, Paige, like any other teenager, is making decisions that both baffle and encourage her parents. Her insistence that Pastor Tim come to her birthday dinner turns out to be a set up for her to ask her parents permission to be baptized – to wash her old life away and start a new one with the Church. Obviously, neither Elizabeth nor Philip is happy with the Western religion aspect of Paige’s life. But Philip has to be at least a little encouraged by Paige’s dedication to pacifism, and likewise Elizabeth has to be at least a little encouraged by Paige’s ability to lay such an effective trap for her parents.
“Dimebag” finally draws the battle line between Philip and Elizabeth for Paige’s future. That’s not unexpected. What is unexpected, however, is just how fair a fight it seems like it will be. Paige is a toss up.
Philip is having a rough time with the women in his life. He’s losing his wife, he may be losing his daughter’s innocence, and even Martha is slowly wearing Clark down in the battle for children. “Who wears the pants in that family?” Elizabeth taunts him.
Even when Philip is able to secure a “win,” with a woman in his life, it just serves to tear him apart further. Through their surveillance, Elizabeth and Philip have identified the 18-year-old daughter of the head of the CIA’s Afghan Group as someone they can infiltrate and influence. Naturally, handsome dude that he is, Philip must shoulder the uncomfortable task of seducing the young girl.
He poses as Jim, a lawyer and alcohol lobbyist who knows a guy at the DMV who can get Kimberly (who asks Jim to call her “Kimmy” * shudder *) and her friends realistic fake IDs. Philip does his job and he does it well. He gives Kimmy his number, but it’s clear there’s a large part of him that prays Kimmy won’t be silly enough to call him back
Sadly, she is taken by the mysterious Jim, and Philip spends the night of Paige’s birthday dinner rolling a joint with a girl his daughter’s age as they get closer and listen to the same album he bought for Paige. It’s almost as uncomfortable as the scene two episodes earlier where Philip had to break Annelise’s bones to fit into a suitcase. And by the look on Philip’s face he’d rather be back in that hotel room again than right here, right now. His eyes may as well be asking “Dear God Leinin, can’t I even have THIS? Can’t I just have Yaz with my daughter?”
He can’t. As Zinaida knows and as Nina comes to know through her new assignment of exposing her cellmate, Evi, when you say you’ll sacrifice anything for your cause, surprise: sometimes the cause actually expects you to follow through.