A review of tonight’s The Americans coming up just as soon as I need a really good deal on the Bahamas…
“I hate it, Philip.” -Elizabeth
Last week, I noted that an abbreviated final season didn’t necessarily seem like it should be devoting much time to the story of Sofia and Gennadi, who were not among the more memorable parts of the show’s least memorable season. It’s unclear whether we’ll see them again going forward, or if Stan and Aderholt’s decision to pull them and Sofia’s child out of their lives and into some form of witness protection is the conclusion to their tale. If it’s the latter, the revisiting of this subplot does serve a purpose, in suggesting one of many possible tragic endings for the Jennings family.
The FBI agents wind up having to pull the plug on the operation because Sofia was telling a colleague at TASS about it, and she was only doing that because her marriage to Gennadi was falling apart and she needed a confidante. And as a result of this, Gennadi will not only never get to go home again to Russia to see his other friends and family, but he’ll likely be located far away from wherever Sofia and Ilya are placed: a man without a country, or loved ones.
It’s a lousy fate to befall even as minor and uninteresting a character as Gennadi, but it unnervingly parallels what’s going on with Philip and Elizabeth throughout this episode, where they’re at odds about everything, from counseling Paige in the aftermath of seeing Rennhull’s death to Elizabeth’s white-hot loathing for the country where they’ve spent most of their lives and blind faith in the one she hasn’t seen in over two decades. By the end of the hour, Philip realizes he and his wife are seeing things so differently that he has no choice but to team up with Oleg to report on whatever it is she’s up to.
This could very easily end with some combination of death or arrest — at this point, there are even forces in the Soviet government who might want to throw one Jennings or the other into a gulag — but there remains the possibility that Philip and Elizabeth could end up with the Gennadi/Sofia scenario: stuck in America forever (admittedly, a bigger punishment for Elizabeth than Philip), but kept apart, one never seeing the other or the kids. Would that be more tragic for them than Philip getting shot or Elizabeth receiving multiple death sentences? It all depends on how it plays out over the remaining seven episodes, but given how much of the series has been about the Jennings marriage and how it’s ebbed and flowed through various times of crisis, the idea that both could survive and remain free but separate might just be the most appropriately dark ending the series could present.
And make no mistake: the marriage is in a very bad place right now. The premiere suggested that Philip was living it up as a genuine, line-dancing American travel agent, but we’ve seen since how much it’s wearing on him to be disconnected from the work his wife and daughter are doing, to be relegated to secondary parent status at all times because he no longer has the security clearance to hear about everything that Paige is doing. This plays out in darkly comic fashion in the immediate aftermath of Rennhull’s death, as Philip advises Paige to confront her feelings directly, only to be loudly and completely contradicted by the arrival of Elizabeth, who only wants their daughter to bottle this up the way Elizabeth has her whole life, then scolds Paige for breaking mission protocol to be at that location at all. After, Philip complains that he had just promised Paige that she’d have her mother to talk to, to which a fiery, oblivious Elizabeth hilariously replies, “What do you think I was just doing?!?!!”
From there, the two attempt to go back to their now very separate lives: Philip trying to lift the fortunes of what turns out to be a very overextended travel agency, Elizabeth running a half-dozen operations at once — the last of which boosts her final season body count when one of her interview subjects has the bad luck to be dating someone who would see right through Elizabeth’s cover story — rarely interacting or being open with one another about what they’re doing. When they finally reconnect late in the hour — Elizabeth trying to bring a taste of Russia into the house(*), only to discover that Philip already ate Chinese takeout — there’s finally some candor, but of the sort that reminds Philip of how great the divide is between them. He has learned to love America, even if he might miss home, while she still despises this country with every fiber of her being, and refuses to consider the idea that life in Russia might be very different now from how she last saw it in the ’60s. Glasnost fills her with contempt because it’s turning Russia into something resembling this place she finds so odious, where to Philip, a blending of the two countries sounds just about right. And while he doesn’t know what we do about how dire things were for the average Soviet citizen by 1987, he’s being, as usual, more willing to consider nuance and Russian fallibility than his wife has ever been.
(*) This is at least as much a protocol breach as what Paige did during the Rennhull op, but Elizabeth Jennings is far from the first mother from any nation to adopt a “Do as I say, not as I do” attitude with their children.
They’re seeing things so differently at this stage — and Elizabeth is so clearly articulating the anti-Gorbachev point of view that Oleg warned Philip about back in the premiere — that it’s no wonder Philip dons his Members Only disguise again to rejoin the spy game, this time treating his own wife as the target. He doesn’t look happy about it — and the return of the Sad Philip face feels like even more of a slap after he looked so happy at the start of the year — but he knows he has to do it.
And it’s hard to imagine any kind of good ending for the marriage after this.
Some other thoughts:
* Stan and Oleg’s reunion took an episode longer than I was expecting, but it was worth the wait, as the two hashed out all the old business — Nina, Stan trying to stop the CIA from blackmailing Oleg, etc. — with the appropriate level of emotional weight you’d expect given their shared history. And while they will never be anything close to friends, there remains enough respect, maybe even affection, for Stan to try to warn Oleg from doing whatever he’s in America to do — even though the two of them are basically on the same side of the current geopolitical landscape. Stan’s warning suggests a terrible end for Oleg, too, doesn’t it?
* The agency being overextended, and Philip having to plead for an extension to pay Henry’s private school tuition, is a reminder that this business stuff doesn’t come naturally to him, but it does lead to the kind of scene I’ve wanted to see for the entire run of the show, as Philip has to give a motivational speech to the whole staff (inspired by W. Clement Stone’s Positive Mental Attitude) to encourage them to make more deals for their client. As we discussed last time with budget travel, the whole industry is doomed, but it’s entertaining watching Philip rearrange deck chairs before the Internet iceberg hits.
* Time once again to play Spy/Not A Spy with Stan’s wife, as Renee proposes joining the FBI, even though she’s older than the age limit for new recruits (and also has no professional or educational background that we know of for the job). On the one hand, this ridiculous proposal seems like the kind of Hail Mary pass a deep cover operative would throw upon realizing that her target was unlikely to get back into the kind of work that brought them together in the first place. On the other, it’s just so dumb, so unlikely to succeed, and so likely to trigger Stan’s suspicions, that it seems like the only kind of person who would even suggest it would either be someone who wasn’t a spy at all, or someone who was really bad at her job.
* Among the assets Elizabeth checks in on this week is Father Andrei, who performed the secret marriage ceremony for her and Philip in season five’s “Darkroom.”
* Only one song this week, but it’s a good one: “Dance Me to the End of Love” by Leonard Cohen, which plays as Elizabeth is murdering poor Evan. Cohen’s “Hallelujah” has been wildly overused in movies and television; this one has itself been featured in a few dozen soundtracks, but that feels like scarcity compared to “Hallelujah.”
What did everybody else think?