A Bad Night On ‘The Americans’ Leads To A Big Decision For Elizabeth

Senior Television Writer
05.16.17 50 Comments


A review of tonight’s The Americans coming up just as soon as I say unkind things about Mail Robot…

“I want to get out of here. We should just go. I mean it. Let’s go home.” –Elizabeth

Those four sentences could be the most consequential uttered in the history of this series. Or they could amount to almost nothing. It depends on both what Elizabeth actually means, and what she can actually do about it.

It’s been clear for a long time — arguably from the very first episode of season one — that Philip hates this job and would defect in a heartbeat if Elizabeth were willing to come with him and the kids. But Elizabeth was a true believer in the cause, and has continued to be. For that reason, all of the many periods when Philip has been close to burn-out have been almost irrelevant to the dramatic arc of the series as a whole — stunningly acted and amazing to watch, but irrelevant overall, since he had already had enough of this s–t from the moment we met him. For anything major to change, Elizabeth has to be the one to change. That was true over the course of the first two seasons, as she gradually embraced the idea of treating their fake marriage as something emotionally real, and it’s true now, when she is the one pushing harder for Paige to become a spy, and when she is the one who has the ability to say whether they stay or go in this job.

So what exactly is she saying to Philip in the wake of a depressing evening in Boston, where she executes two elderly people who pose no threat whatsoever to the current Soviet state, all because 40 years ago, one of them was placed in an impossible situation by the Nazis and chose not to die alongside all her friends and family? Is she saying she wants to belatedly take Gabriel up on his suggestion that they go back to Russia? If so, would they drag the kids there against their wills? Is she saying she wants to get out of the spy business altogether, but stay in America by going fugitive, or — Lenin forbid — defecting? Or is she just saying that she wants to go home to Falls Church, to see the kids, and to try to forget about the terrible night she just had?

The force of Keri Russell’s delivery of those lines suggest something more than just a snuggle party with Paige and Henry, but that in turn raises another question: what exactly will the Centre let them get away with? Gabriel may have though it in their best interests to go home in the aftermath of William’s arrest, but nothing has happened since to suggest the FBI is onto them, and the Centre has been placing more and more responsibility on their weary shoulders. Would they be allowed retirement at this stage? Or would they, like William, be goaded into one last job — or even a series of one last jobs (“Just give us four more years in Topeka…”) — before it was even a consideration?

And if they don’t, then how would Elizabeth feel about switching sides?

I’m writing this without having watched the screeners of the season’s final episodes, and I’m hopeful that Elizabeth is ready to make some kind of huge move, if only because the muted nature of this year all but begs for a big narrative/emotional explosion as a payoff. And the groundwork’s been laid for her to have some kind of crisis of faith — not as powerful as Philip’s, because he was always more vulnerable to begin with, but enough to move us into wherever the final arc of the series is taking us — as she and her husband have become painfully aware of their superiors’ many failings. When Claudia tells them that the Centre did, indeed, weaponize the virus and unleash it in Afghanistan, it shakes both of them to their core. It’s not a coincidence that the very next scene is the two of them realizing that the best possible thing they can do for Henry is to let him enroll at St. Edwards and get as far as possible — physically, emotionally, spiritually, professionally — from the work that they do, and the impact that it’s had on Paige. And when you couple that with the discovery about the wheat, and then with the visit to John and Natalie Granholm — where Natalie eventually reveals herself to be the woman the KGB is hunting, but perhaps not so vicious a war criminal as Claudia has described — well, can you blame Elizabeth for seeming fed up, even for just a moment in the bloody aftermath?

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