Pastor Tim’s Diary – The Most Powerful Weapon in The Americans?
A little bit of context. It’s been a few months since the Jennings have told Paige their true identities. They are not in witness protection. They are not gone all the time because they are having affairs. They are Soviet spies. They have gone through training every bit as complicated at U.S. Navy fighter jet pilots (though dramatically different skill sets) and have been living as Americans for some 20 years.
I wrote about the role of Pastor Tim in The Americans in a previous post The Long Shadow of Pastor Tim
Who is Paige Jennings?
Paige is about as close to ideal as a believable teenage girl could be. She has dutifully taken care of her brother in her parent’s absence. She is doing well in school. Unlike Kimmy (Philip’s underage target), Paige is not drinking, smoking pot, and partying. She is curious and strong-willed (recall she skipped school to take the bus to Pennsylvania to investigate ‘Aunt Helen’). She’s independent and has made informed decisions for herself. She has grown up in a atheist household, but explores Christianity and through the spiritual guidance of Pastor Tim, grows in her faith.
Much to the horror of her parents – who have a visceral hatred for all things Jesus, prayerful, and to their mind, make believe. And don’t get Elizabeth started on the singing, poster-making, and pot lucks!
Paige Jennings, Parishioner
Paige found something in Christianity, specifically through Pastor Tim. Though we’ve not seen very much of any sort of teaching or catechism in Paige’s spiritual development, I believe that Pastor Tim must be the best of Pastors, in that he walks the talk, that through his example, the very best of Christianity has been on display for Paige to witness.
This example, Pastor Tim’s powerful example, has led Paige to read the Bible* (even though her parents loathe the idea), attend church regularly, participate in social justice demonstrations (No more Nukes), and feed the poor.
(*Remember the horrific scene a couple seasons ago where Philip is screaming at Paige and ripping up her Bible?)
Cognitive dissonance in the extreme
Paige is brutally conflicted after Elizabeth and Philip reveal their secret. In a past episode there is moment where hearing her classmates reciting the Pledge of Allegiance causes Paige to pause outside the classroom. She leans against the wall and closes her eyes – so much must be churning inside of her.
Paige wants to please her parents and to see them in the best possible light. Philip and Elizabeth oblige by lavishly sugar-coating what they do. There’s no mention of torture, cold-blooded murder, multiple honey trap assignments, agitating murderous mujahideen, stuffing a dead operative in a suitcase, or shooting the latest trainee in the back of the head.
Paige is willing to try to give her parents the benefit of the doubt. It’s a Herculean effort. And she experiences the strain. When she and Elizabeth return from West Germany, she has a moment just outside the airport where confesses that she “can’t do this” – “this” being lying all the time. Elizabeth’s motherly (joking) response is, “Everybody lies.”
So, Paige is left alone with her uncertainty, doubts and the impossible task of seeing her parents in a positive light. She is trying to find her way through the most stressful and anguishing maze – and she’s doing it alone. Philip and Elizabeth have burdened her with an enormous secret and are “helping” her rationalize and live in denial.
Which brings us to Pastor Tim’s Diary
A few episodes ago, Paige discovers Pastor Tim’s diary while babysitting for Tim and Alice. In Darkroom, Paige tells Philip and Elizabeth that she’s photographed the pages of the diary. The famous Jennings laundry room, is quickly transformed into a darkroom, where the photos Paige has taken are developed and hung up to dry.
And, there among the pages is an entry that should spiritually convict the Jennings:
“Are they monsters? I don’t know. But what they did to their daughter I’d have to call monstrous. I’ve seen sexual abuse. I’ve seen affairs, but nothing I’ve seen compares to what P.J. has been through.”
How will they live with this? Will they live with this? A few scenes earlier, Elizabeth asks Philip why he is so bothered by Renee (the possibility that she is a honey trap for Stan and not a fun-loving gal from Indiana). Philip responds that he doesn’t want to see Stan end up like Martha. (And it’s at this point that I’m screaming at the TV – don’t you want to prevent Paige from ending up like Martha? And, let’s face it, Paige is going to end up in a much worse place than Martha.)
Which brings me to some speculation about Pastor Tim’s Diary
I believe it is quite possible that Pastor Tim and/or Alice have figured out the Paige has been reading the diary in their absence. Did Pastor Tim write what he wrote about Paige, knowing that she would read it?
I don’t believe that he would envision Paige photographing the pages of the diary – however, maybe he wrote down his true thoughts for her to find and process on her own. If he were to share those thoughts in a discussion with Paige, she’d probably feel the need to defend her parents.
If Pastor Tim is unaware of Paige reading the diary, then it is remarkable and subtle plot device of having God work through Pastor Tim.
Here’s another thought, did Paige photograph the diary so that her parents would read Pastor Tim’s assessment. Has he eloquently summarized what she’s been feeling but hasn’t been able to articulate? Has Pastor Tim succeeded in dropping the most spectacular ‘truth bomb’ into Philip and Elizabeth’s life?
The scene between Paige and Pastor Tim in the episode is a smart and tender one. He shifts her attention to her independence (soul) and strength (faith). He knows what is going on with her and is smart enough not to tell her what to do (vis a vis her parents) but how to decide what to do (pray, look to God). He is serving as the North Star for her troubled soul. He is inviting her into the light. He is allowing her to decide for herself rather than manipulating her.
I hope that the rest of this Season of The Americans is not ‘dead man walking’ for Pastor Tim.
I hope that Pastor’s pen is mightier than the sword. Mightier than the denial. Mightier than whatever sense of loyalty is left within Philip and Elizabeth.
I hope that Pastor Tim is not just a hero, but a conquering hero in this story.
Frivolous side note: back a few episodes, when Pastor Tim’s diary is mentioned for the first time, I sent our friends Chip and Sara at WatchingTheAmericans.com an email for their feedback section – I was having a little bit of fun with what kind of entries might be in the diary. I wrote:
So, I’ve been completely intrigued by Pastor Tim’s diary.
I’ve got to believe that – even at Pastor Tim’s progressive seminary – diaries were frowned up and counseled against. What good could come of that documented dynamite – sure to blow any house of God apart?
Would do you think Pastor Tim would write about in his diary?
“Dear Diary, tonight I looked up from my sermon notes and saw PJ lurking in the doorway. I wonder if he has eczema? He was wearing gloves… I will pray for his speedy healing.”
“Dear Diary, I think I really knocked it out of the park this Sunday.”
“Dear Diary, I was unable to link the Old Testament with the New Testament reading this week as effectively as I would have liked to – but with EJ and PJ giving me dagger eyes, it was hard to get into a groove.”
“Dear Diary, got a really great deal on airfare for our mission from PJ. No need for a second collection this Sunday!”
“Dear Diary, I understand that we are all God’s children…but I have this irrational hatred of Missouri Synod Lutherans.”
“Dear Diary, Alice’s hormones have manifested at least a dozen different, hostile, personalities in her. She threatened to smash my Jesus Christ Superstar soundtrack if I didn’t stop with the fried onions. I had no idea she didn’t like fried onions! Carrying my baby or not, there’s simply no reason to get ugly and threaten Andrew Lloyd Webster’s masterpiece!”
“Dear Diary, a young parishioner told me her parents were Soviet spies. Still having her babysit – as sitters are impossible to find on short notice. Plus, Alice needs to get out of the house. I get nervous every time she walks by my vinyl.”
Other reviews of The Americans by TV Eskimo:
The Americans characters and cast include:
Pastor Tim – Kelly AuCoin (House of Cards, The Kingdom, Billions, TURN: Washington’s Spies, The Slap)
Elizabeth Jennings – Keri Russell (Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Felicity, August Rush, Mission: Impossible III, Dark Skies, Austenland, Leaves of Grass, Waitress)
Philip Jennings – Matthew Rhys (Brothers & Sisters, Titus, Love and Other Disasters, Death Comes to Pemberley, The Edge of Love)
Henry Jennings – Keidrich Sellati
Paige Jennings – Holly Taylor