Just watched Salang Pass, which has always been a favorite of mine because it’s Philip-centric. But Philip-centric things are never straightforward. With Elizabeth you get her thinking about or saying or experiencing something where it’s pretty clear what’s going on, because that’s the type of person she is. But with Philip it’s usually buried pretty deep or you come at it from a different angle, and that’s especially true in this ep where we see Philip in practically all his current incarnations:
Clark – Scott – husband – Jim – Dad – friend – quasi son to Gabriel – Mischa.
There’s so few times where you can really see how much Stan relies on Philip as a friend instead of just hearing him announce he does so, and the scene in this ep does it really well. Stan seems genuinely open and vulnerable when he admits he doesn’t understand Matthew and expected him to be happier to see him after his time away.
Hearing it now you know that Philip is going to be leaving his son too, though we can be pretty sure that if Philip ever reunited with Henry he wouldn’t be so clueless as to think Henry would be simply happy to see him when they reconnected. It shows how he’s so stunted Stan sometimes is--and again, how hard it is to imagine him able to do undercover work. We also know now that Stan’s never going to put in the effort he needs to in order to really fix thing with Matthew, he’ll just distract himself with Henry instead.
There’s a lot of nostalgia for early childhood in this ep. Philip and Elizabeth remember tiny Henry and Paige, Stan reminisces about little Matthew, Martha tempts Clark with a fantasy of having a little kid and Kimmy remembers gardening with her father with her little rake. These kinds of memories are powerful, and yet another reason why no, Stan does not become Henry's "real father" by playing with him.
Philip’s reaction to Stan is perfect. He doesn’t make Stan feel stupid or get uncomfortably sympathetic, but offers to come along with Stan on his date (by opening his house for dinner) to make it easier for him. This is the first scene where I can really see why Stan would love Philip as a friend even over Adderholt that he works with all the time. Too bad there’s not more scenes like this. If there was I would buy Stan’s decision more, even if they want it to be about the whole family instead of just Philip.
I couldn’t help but wonder exactly why Kimmy asks Jim to meet her at the teen hang-out. She’s been claiming she’s a Georgetown student—did she not realize how obvious it would be here that she was in high school? Was it a passive way of revealing that to Jim. If so, why? Did she want to be liked as herself? Was she conflicted about whether she really wanted to go forward? Maybe she just didn’t think it through, because she’s not actually duplicitous and she really is very young and naive.
There's a great moment for her in that vein when she starts talking about her stepmother and dad never being home that she obviously relishes getting to vent about it, then catches herself and playfully accuses Jim of bogarting the joint she's not all that interested in. Some found her sexual aggressiveness reminiscent of someone who was sexually abused, but to me it seems like the opposite—it’s aggressive and innocent at the same time.
Jim, of course, plays this all perfectly, walking away from Kimmy when he “discovers” that she’s only 15, but then playing like she’s so charming he can’t do it! Kimmy laughs at the cowboy boots Jim/Philip for some reason chooses to wear, just like Paige did in the pilot. On one hand it links the two girls yet again, but it also kind of shows Philip bringing a bit of himself to this character, with whom he’ll come to have a relationship in S6 that's more like the one he has Henry than Paige. That is, she’ll be a kid who seems to have matured in such a way that she interacts with him like an adult with an adult relative.
Kimmy’s also the main connection to regular teenage life we have for most of the show, and it’s Philip who hangs out with her not any of the kid characters. It’s not uncommon for victims of abuse to only begin to understand how they were manipulated when looking at young people and seeing how vulnerable they are.
It occurred to me in this ep that Elizabeth just destroys families throughout the show (while Philip manages to bring a few together). Here she’s working on getting Lisa and her kids set up in a nice new place but we know Elizabeth isn’t going to think much about Lisa’s kids when she murders her. Also here you can see the pattern of Elizabeth being the go-to for shorter assignments—she’s moving Lisa into position really fast but she’ll burn her out fast too.
I wonder if she killed the dog she used after dropping the car on the guy. Can’t have any witnesses!
But Elizabeth is vulnerable in this ep too. She’s not happy with how not unhappy Philip is thinking about having a kid with Martha. In the last scene she’s dressed in uncharacteristic pale pink and sitting in the same chair where Philip was earlier brooding, her legs drawn up like a little kid. This is where Philip talks about learning to “make it real” with people in sex training. Elizabeth says the sex work must be different for a man, and certainly Philip’s approach is very different from hers. Elizabeth usually has contempt for the men she sleeps with to give herself power. When she has an unwanted physical reaction to a man, she gets very upset. She will eventually tell Philip she can’t like the people she works with that way. That’s why she goes to the opposite of extreme of Philip in S6 when she’s cracking. Elizabeth more often strangles her softer feelings, so no wonder she gets insecure about the idea that Philip does the opposite, opening himself to people he doesn’t love.
Another thing that seems more important now is Elizabeth’s reaction to the idea of Martha having a kid. It’s a big part of Elizabeth’s story that she didn't want children and she’s already starting to be aggressively haunted by that fact on the way back to Russia in START. I think she always has been since the kids were born. So Martha wanting children is already a threat, whether or not she has them.
But really, it’s Philip’s ep and there’s a lot going on with him. Again, he’s got children coming and going. His face visibly softens when Martha describes coming home to a young child the way he used to come home to his kids and softens again in response to Kimmy's story about the two rakes with her dad. He wistfully brings up the kids’ childhoods to Elizabeth. Btw, I think one reason he might remember Paige as graceful when she was a klutz is that he associates her so much with Elizabeth, just as Elizabeth sees Philip reflected in Henry and herself in Paige.
On first airing there was some discussion about why the ep is named after the recent but not current Salang Pass explosion in Afghanistan, but on re-watch it’s more clear. With all the kids dancing around in this ep, it’s the kid never mentioned who’s at the center: Mischa Jr. Philip actually listens to what Yousef is saying about Pakistan and Afghanistan, which Elizabeth really wouldn’t. That’s what sends him home to listen to the radio. The volcano documentary he watches with Kimmy also subtly reminds us of it—it’s the thing motivating Philip to be here. He just can’t say it. He hasn’t spoken of his maybe son since he saw Irina, but he's thought about him. (Another reflection of Stan.)
We see Philip dealing with one person after another: Martha, Yousef, Elizabeth, Paige, Stan, Gabriel, Kimmy, and with most of them—Elizabeth mostly excluded—he’s doing some form of caretaking and being the person somebody else needs him to be. He’s dragged to the foster care place by Martha, gets guilted by Gabriel, buys a dress to support Paige, helps Stan with his love life and befriends Kimmy. The only time he’s really being just himself is with Elizabeth.
Then there’s the last scene, memorable for Philip’s flashbacks to sex training. As Elizabeth says, it’s a different job for him. Where she can feel some control with sex work, Philip has to “find it in his mind somewhere” and “make it real,” training himself into be open to everyone. (He even comes home high, having needed to smoke with Kimmy.) His flashbacks even emphasize this in that the camera is over young Mischa/Philip’s shoulder, making him a faceless placeholder. What we see are the parade of people he’s with, starting with the first sex worker waiting inside the door and ending with the guy coming through a similar door where Mischa/Philip (or just Mischa at this point) is waiting, having switched places. Even in his flashbacks the audience gets only the impression of *their* faces and bodies, needs and reactions. When Baklanov told Philip that whoever he once was they trained out of him in The Deal, he meant he was a monster, but this is even more directly training the person he actually is out of him.
The ep ends with Philip ending his long day by confirming that there with Elizabeth he’s not making it real, he doesn’t have to.
I’ve always associated this ep with S2’s The Deal, not just because they’re both so Philip-centric but because being so, they emphasize similar things. Where The Deal showed that Philip had disassociated himself from his real memories, home and identity, Salang Pass shows how he lives instead through different characters created for other people. It’s going to take him a while to reconstruct who he actually is, but there’s a real logic to him needing to reach back to the past to do it. Elizabeth is, I think, a catalyst for his changing and remains a touchstone, but she’s not the center of his identity. In fact, she’s going to be learning on him when the foundations of her own identity start to crumble.