"The Americans" (FX)

Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys star as a pair of Russian spies undercover in Washington, D.C. in "The Americans," now in its fourth season.

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Inevitably, every season of "The Americans" has moments where the characters' choices are limited to two: do something incredibly dangerous or face certain doom. Elizabeth (Keri Russell) and Paige (Holly Taylor) had a moment in last week's episode's final scene, in which Elizabeth, confronted by a pair of muggers who had something horrible in mind for Paige, had no choice but to attack them, killing one. Paige and Elizabeth re-enter their home in this episode safe but shaken up, Paige realizing for the first time just how dangerous her parents can be. "Did you have to do that?" she asks. The answer is "yes," of course, but "The Americans" thrives on grey areas where it's uncertain what the right answer actually is. That's something that William (Dylan Baker), Oleg (Costa Ronin) and others faced on "A Roy Rogers in Franconia," a superb penultimate episode to the season.

Philip (Matthew Rhys) and Elizabeth comfort their daughter, the more sensitive father kneeling in front of her, doing what he can before he has to go out and meet William. Elizabeth is left running her hands through Paige's hair, telling her upfront that she couldn't let the muggers hurt Paige. Paige asks questions ("How were you so calm?" "Have you done that before?" "How many times?" "Were you scared?") and gets answers, but they're not totally satisfying, ranging from admission from her mother that she doesn't know how many people she's killed and a dodge on the "calm" question. Even Elizabeth's nodded answer to "were you scared" isn't enough, so slight in movement and sphinxlike that there's a limit to how much comfort it'll give her.

Philip, meanwhile, meets with William, giving him the code to Level 4 to get the deadliest pathogen they've ever seen. Dylan Baker's bone-dry line readings have been a welcome, mordant sense of humor in an often grim show, but even he seems out of jokes as he relays the awfulness of the disease. "You basically dissolve inside and squirt yourself out of your anus," he says before breathing in and saying outright, "I can't do this one, Philip." William is many things — a grouch, a patriot, a cynic, a man with unexpected sensitivity in the right circumstances — but one thing he is not is irresponsible. He knows that if something goes wrong, he has blood on his hands, and he's not ready to do it even if having the pathogen would help his country. He has to make a choice, so he says no.

Oleg, too, gets a conscience and a clear-eyed view of how bad the biological weapons would be for the world as a whole. He doesn't know exactly what's going on, but he knows that Tatiana (Vera Cherny) is about to move to Nairobi, Kenya as the new Rezident following the apparent certain success of the Level 4 operation. She invites her boyfriend to join her in Kenya as his deputy, but he has to think about it. As he congratulates her for "whatever [she] did," she makes an offhanded comment about it going smoothly "as long as I don't wipe out half of the Eastern seaboard." Oleg has a look of deep concern on his face, which could be interpreted as pensive by Tatiana but looks far closer to fear to us. He calls his mother to tell her to "think good thoughts" and meets with Stan (Noah Emmerich) to tell him about it, admitting that the Soviet Union has the people but not the right technology to deal with something this dangerous. Oleg's doing what he has to do to sleep at night and say he did the right thing. If it goes well, tragedy could be avoided. If it goes poorly, people could die by the thousands, and he could be branded a traitor and given Nina's fate.

More likely, at the moment, that William will face something closer to that for being caught behind enemy lines. He and Philip meet with Gabriel (Frank Langella) to talk about the damage that can be caused, but he's convinced to go through with it after Gabriel makes him a promise: home, something he hasn't seen in ages. But odds are that he won't: the FBI are closing in on various moles, first finding out about a bug in the beloved Mail Robot (put in by a woman who was found at a Roy Rodgers in Franconia, hence the title), and with the information Oleg gives them, they're able to narrow the possible moles down to William. Matthew Beeman (Danny Flaherty) notes that the FBI has taught his dad patience, and it looks like Stan's patience is going to pay off in one way or another.

But for all of the difficult choices facing Oleg and William (and the simpler ones facing Stan and Tatiana), the episode will best be remembered as the one where Paige started asking more specific questions and demanding more specific answers from her parents. Elizabeth brings Paige cocoa the morning after the incident and sits on her bed, with her daughter asking if she knew her job would be dangerous. "I wanted to help my country" is Elizabeth's non-committal answer, but Paige doesn't drop it: "You never answer my questions." Elizabeth relates a long story about growing up in a bombed-out city after World War II, seeing how people worked together to rebuild. "I guess I always wanted to be like that, no matter what. To fight back. Dangerous didn't matter." This is coming from one of the least demonstrative and least open characters on the show, and it means the world to Paige, so much that director Chris Long focuses more on her listening than on Elizabeth telling the story. Where post-assault Paige was jittery, her eyes moving about, confession-hearing Paige takes on her mother's empathetic stillness. She's getting closer to understanding who her parents are now.

She's also getting closer to Matthew Beeman (how's that for a transition?). The teenage Beeman comes over in the guise of setting up Henry's computer game on the TV, but he's paying far more mind to Paige as they try to untangle cords together and Paige asks him a question that's more about herself: "Do you ever worry about [your dad's] job being dangerous?" Matthew's unconcerned, noting that chasing spies doesn't involve car chases and is more about figuring things out. Elizabeth notices the two together but sticks to making peanut butter sandwiches for the kids, listening in to both Matthew's reports about his father and his body language around Paige. The subplot ends sweetly, with the two sharing a nervous kiss at his dad's house the next day before Paige walks home next door...to her parents, who know something's going on.

To their credit, they're very understanding, with Philip showing good humor when he asks if something's going on and emphasizing that if she wants to see him, she can, and that she shouldn't expect them to ask her to get close to him for information about his father (she tells them that Stan hasn't been home in a few days, tipping them off that he's probably looking into something). But Paige challenges them, bringing up how they did exactly that to Pastor Tim and Alice. "You always say we'll get through this, but you never say how." As Long crosscuts between the FBI finding out William is the mole and Philip receiving a phone call to get the biological weapon from William, Paige demands to know exactly what it is her dad's up to, not just "it's for work." "Do you trust me or not?" The truth, that it's a weapon the army could use, is met with a sarcastic exhale worthy of William: "Great." Paige knows now that her parents are involved in some truly dangerous work, not just vague "make the world a better place" platitudes that they've given her. Now it's just a matter of what choices they and everyone else have, and what the fallout will be.

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Stray thoughts:

-Some fine direction from Long throughout, with carefully frames shots of Philip and William meeting in the park when the latter says he won't do the job: he's leaning away toward the left of the frame, Philip's leaning in to the right of his shot, pressuring William. When they're brought in sync for a two-shot, you see two men working each other one way or another as they try to figure out how to best deal with the worst thing they've ever worked with.

-Frank Langella gets another corker of a monologue after meeting with William, sitting down at the stairs and saying how he chose to be alone, thinking it would be better than having someone with him all the time while undercover. "But you go to s--- anyway, and you're still alone." Langella, a pro, doesn't overemphasize anything, saying it straight-out while underlining how much Elizabeth and Philip are there for each other.

-Elizabeth watches a bit of "General Hospital" with Paige and seems baffled by it. "It's not logical, it's emotional" says Paige. That's so far outside of how Elizabeth frequently operates that I couldn't help but laugh, especially as it underlines how emotion undermines logic in the decisions these characters are forced to make.

-Philip tries his hand at Henry's video game and he's really bad at it. Me too, dude.

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