A review of tonight’s The Americans coming up just as soon as I have hair like a Vidal Sassoon ad…
“You don’t think I’m a human being?” -Elizabeth
Elizabeth Jennings has always put the mission first. She cares about her kids to varying degrees (Paige more than Henry), but she only had them because the Centre told her to. She fell in love with Philip, but only after years of being together, and she fought the idea for as long as she could because it could — and did — compromise operations. Everyone she meets is a tool to further the cause. She may genuinely come to like a Young-Hee, but that doesn’t stop her from wrecking Young-Hee’s marriage. The old woman at the robot factory, the warehouse employee whose girlfriend happened to work in security, the poor guy who was just tuning up his car in his own garage — none of them deserved to be murdered by Elizabeth Jennings, but all were standing between her and completing a mission, so murdered they were.
But two seemingly contradictory things have been happening with Elizabeth in this final season. On the one hand, she’s more ruthless (and/or sloppier) than she ever was when she worked alongside Philip, to the point where it’s almost startling when an episode doesn’t end with her having killed someone during an operation gone wrong. But on the other, she’s such a raw, exposed nerve now that she’s more vulnerable to Philip and Erica Haskard’s separate attempts to reach past the automaton and remind her of her own humanity.
At the start of the episode — during the pause Elizabeth takes after Philip tells her what he’s been doing with Oleg, which seems to last for 11 weeks — the idea of the human overcoming her programming appears impossible. But by the end, somewhat amazingly — and conveyed beautifully through the way Keri Rusell modulates her performance — the human seems to be finally winning.
Glenn Haskard botches Erica’s euthanasia, and even though Elizabeth could possibly keep her alive and manipulate him into staying with the summit, she opts to play angel of mercy and put her skill for murdering people in undetectable ways to a more altruistic purpose.(*) The kiss she places on Erica’s forehead before jamming the paintbrush down her throat, and the protracted internal struggle she goes through before following protocol and burning Erica’s painting (which, if found in the garage, could link her to the Haskards), convey just how much this woman and her work — which Elizabeth didn’t initially understand, and practically looked on with contempt — has come to mean to her.
(*) Mercy is not always pretty, and while Erica’s dark sense of humor might have appreciated the idea of being asphyxiated with the object she used to create her art, in the moment she’s so far gone that all that remains are her body’s basic physical responses, and that body fights tooth and nail to save itself before Elizabeth can finish the job. It’s a kind thing Elizabeth is doing, but it’s among the most unpleasant deaths the show has ever depicted.
When Jackson finds the recording device she tricked him into placing in a room at State, he seems to be talking himself into a bullet. Instead, shaken by what Philip has told her and by the death of Erica, Elizabeth lets him live, even though he’s clearly going to tell someone about her. And when she listens to the recordings and realizes both that Nesterenko isn’t the traitor she’s been promised and that Gorbachev’s disarmament agenda is something she can support, the robot finally shuts down altogether, and the human opts to not only refuse to kill Nesterenko, but to tell Philip about the mission and then head out into the night to protect this stranger from whomever the Centre next assigns to his death.