A review of tonight’s The Americans coming up just as soon as I get a better wingman…
“She’s just a kid.” -Philip
“The Great Patriotic War” takes us to the halfway point of season six, and to a point of no return for Philip Jennings. Over the course of the hour, he sees his daughter getting sucked even deeper into spy world, and is asked by Elizabeth — in the least appealing One Last Job pitch in the history of filmed entertainment — to do something unfathomably cruel to Kimmy for the sake of the mission. He could very easily let his wife get her way on both, just letting Paige learn about honeypots and the easiest way to kill a man, and taking Kimmy to Bulgaria so she can be thrown into jail as a blackmail tool against her father. It would be easy. Time and again, he has backed down to Elizabeth’s desires about their family, and about the mission. She thinks he’s not as strong as she is, doesn’t have the stomach to do what’s necessary for the cause of Mother Russia, and he has spent much of this season looking every bit as impotent and weak as his wife takes him for, flailing about in civilian business and wrestling with the question of what to do about Oleg’s requests. So I spent much of the episode screaming at the television for Philip to stand up and do something, rather than letting both these young women be emotionally ruined in service to a country he barely knows anymore — screaming as much because I feared he wouldn’t do something as because I needed him to.
But Philip Jennings isn’t weak. He just believes differently from Elizabeth, can see nuance where she’s never been able to, can understand the human cost of what they do. The weak thing here would be to stay silent and let the plans proceed, especially at a time when things are finally starting to look up in the marriage, when husband and wife share their first tender moment together in quite some time when he puts his calculator aside to have sex with her. Just buy into Elizabeth’s argument that Kimmy will only be locked up for a few days, and will be unaffected by the experience, and continue to do and say nothing about Paige’s training. That’s what the weak man would do.
(*) Brian Grubb suggests that this is Elizabeth working Philip, already knowing that she’s going to ask him to help her with Kimmy. I bought the scene as genuine, but mainly because I want some good things to happen to Philip before all the inevitable awful things start tearing him up.
Instead, Philip steps in and tries to help both women in the only warped way he can, given the circumstances and his relationship with each. Recognizing that his words will fall on deaf ears with Paige, especially given what a masterful job Elizabeth and Claudia have done of indoctrinating her to sympathize with Russia, he instead gives her a scare, challenging her to spar and easily dismantling and even hurting her to demonstrate just how unprepared she is when her opponents aren’t a couple of spoiled college boys at a bar. And, having already done the monstrous thing of sleeping with Kimmy to make her want to see him during her Greek vacation — the hardest Americans scene to watch since Annelise got packed into the suitcase, if not ever — he casts her aside like a man who has finally gotten what he wanted out of her and has no more use for her company — no doubt messing up all her future relationships in the process.
The Americans: a show where the most heroic character this week is the guy who beats up his daughter and has manipulative sex with a surrogate daughter figure!
That the show’s, and our, sympathy is so firmly with Philip is a reflection of what’s at stake for Paige and Kimmy, but also of just how far down the rabbit hole Elizabeth has gone working as a solo agent. Before the season, Fields and Weisberg told me that Philip and Elizabeth’s body counts were somehow equal through five seasons. With him mostly in retirement, she’s pulled out way ahead, as each episode has featured her killing at least one person, usually in a mission gone awry. Here, it was Sofia, who had the very bad timing to be spending the evening at Gennadi’s safehouse — with poor Ilya watching the “March of the Wooden Soldiers” sequence from Babes in Toyland in another room, destined to be more scarred than Paige and Kimmy combined — when Elizabeth broke in for the assassination. Elizabeth at least has the relative decency to try to leave and come back another night when she realizes Gennadi’s not alone, but it all goes wrong when Mr. and Mrs. Teacup each spot her as she’s trying to leave, and wind up butchered a a result.
Their murders seem destined to pull Stan back into the espionage game, as he takes the blame for what happened, but the gruesome crime also seems to play into Philip’s thinking with Kimmy. When Stan comes over for a beer after leaving the murder scene, you can see on Philip’s face that he’s wondering if his wife had something to do with this terrible crime his friend is describing. Is he really willing to let another child (or close to it, in Kimmy’s case) be destroyed in this game?
No, he’s not, and the way he ends the Kimmy call by overtly warning her to avoid going to any Communist country is perhaps the moment when the Jennings marriage becomes irreparable. Without that, he might be able to sell Elizabeth on the idea that he just failed: “Kimmy changed her mind, she didn’t want to see me. I guess I’m not as charming as I thought.” But when you very specifically tell a CIA division chief’s daughter to avoid going to a Communist country on a trip, you’re all but asking her to tell her father about the call, and to raise alarm bells so loud they can eventually be heard back in Moscow. We’ll see what’s coming, but Philip has finally decided to stand up for what he believes in — family over country, most of all — and if he has to pay a price for that, he’s strong enough to accept the consequences.
Again, thank God.
The final season to this point had been slow-playing the plot to a degree, but with “The Great Patriot War” — the rare super-sized drama episode that earns every extra minute, and never feels padded or self-indulgent, thanks to a marvelous and weighty script by Hilary Bettis and the usual precise direction from the great Tommy Schlamme — it’s clear the endgame is now in full swing, and things can only get uglier from here.
Some other thoughts:
* In a lighter, pre-massacre moment for Stan, he looks for a way to salvage the awkward conversation he had with Renee a while back about her desire to become an agent by offering to get her an administrative job in the Bureau — which may have been Renee’s plan all along if she’s a spy, and makes the earlier request feel less crazy than a necessary opening bid in a psychological negotiation. Instead of a Martha being recruited, she’s a Martha embedded. (And if she’s not a spy, then this feels awfully late in the game to be messing around with narrative red herrings.)
* Tatiana returns to try to sniff out Oleg’s real reason for being back in the States, and also to guilt him for the damage he did to her career when he told Stan about William and the virus. Whatever feelings Oleg had for her, that’s not a choice he seems to (or should) regret, and the later scene with Tatiana and her boss at the rezidentura suggest they’re both anti-Gorbachev hardliners from whom Oleg is very right to conceal his mission.
* Party Like It’s 1987: Paige’s gold broach in the scene where Claudia and Elizabeth tell her about Russia’s losses during WWII is among the most ’80s accessories anyone has ever worn on this show. While Stan and Gennadi are watching the hockey game, they see this Coors ad featuring Mark Harmon, who was a year removed from being named the Sexiest Man Alive by People after his stint as womanizing St. Elsewhere surgeon Bobby Caldwell. (1987 also saw the release of Harmon’s most enduring film, Summer School during the brief window where he got a shot to be a movie star before returning to TV and eventually playing Gibbs on NCIS.)
What did everybody else think?