What We Learned From Last Night’s Crazy Episode Of FX’s ‘The Americans’

What a difference an episode makes. Hell, a scene. No, a line. Last week, I groused that what The Americans was missing — what keeps it from being more than simply a good drama instead of a great one — is a bad ass character and a little bit of crazy. The show has been too sterile. Too grim. Too expected. But last night, we saw some crazy, and we saw a taste of the bad ass, and it’s been in a character who has been on the show all along. It wasn’t Claudia, either, who did deliver some pure evil nastiness. It’s Elizabeth, who is coming unhinged, and in doing so, is beginning to become the character that the show has been missing.

We saw a glimpse of it, of course, several episodes ago when Elizabeth bashed Claudia’s face in. But the teeth came out fully last night. That line — that delicious, f*** you line — was the perfect cap to the episode. I’ve watched that scene four times already, because it feels so good: “This isn’t going to go well for you, old lady.”

That line was a goddamn religious experience, people. It also sets what up what should a killer final two episodes.

In fact, all the interweaving subplots simmered to a boil last night. First off, there was still some backstory kicking around. Elizabeth’s mentor, Zhukov, was killed by the CIA in retaliation for killing Chris and the scientists. We find out, via flashback over the course of the episode, how much Zhukov meant to Elizabeth, too, and thus, we understand why she wants so badly to kill Patterson, the architect behind the killing. MOTIVATION. Against the wishes of Phillip, Elizabeth and he arrange to have him killed, but after a bout of crazy, Elizabeth changes her mind. She realizes that Patterson is not the reason that Zhukov was killed; he’s just one of many bureaucrats following orders, the Cold War having taken on a mind of its own through inertia.

What was more interesting in that realization was that Elizabeth also realized that she was one of many bureaucrats simply following orders, and in fact, was fulfilling the mission that Claudia wanted her to fulfill. That’s what made that f*** you line so satisfying, because we know that Claudia is not really on her side. What we don’t know is what Claudia’s intentions were. Was she Zhukov’s lover, and using Elizabeth to have Patterson killed because she’s not good enough to do it herself? Or is it possible that Claudia actually did set it up so that Elizabeth would defy orders and find herself shipped back to Russia? Is Claudia really that Machiavellian?

God, I hope so.

But what that subplot also did was to bring Stan Beeman closer, again, to the Jennings. Thanks to the interview with Patterson, who was spared by Elizabeth, they now know that it’s a husband and wife team. Patterson also knows what Elizabeth looks like (did that wig really disguise her?). It was not Elizabeth’s smartest move to keep Patterson alive, because he can link her — and Phillip — to the KGB, which would mean an eventual confrontation between Beeman and the Jennings.

But there’s some slick stuff going on in Stan and Nina’s relationship, too. Nina received a promotion at the Russian embassy, and for the first time this season, the idea that Nina is playing Stan was introduced. She wants information from Stan; Stan wants information from her. Neither one of them are supplying it. We know Stan has it, but do we know that Nina doesn’t? Meanwhile, Nina still seems to be playing both sides with her body. It may be that she’s given up the possibility that she’d be removed and put into Witness Protection, and is instead using Stan to climb her own ladder. That’s intriguing.

There were also a few other subplots that seem to be coming to a head. Stan’s wife gave him the Trudy Campbell treatment, telling him off after she wised up to the fact that he’s been sleeping around on her. Meanwhile. I don’t know what the hell is going on with Phillip and Martha, but Phillip has met Martha’s parents. The closer those two get, the more likely that Martha is going to find herself at the bottom of a river.

Finally, Phillip and Elizabeth’s schizophrenic marriage remains schizophrenic. Elizabeth all but confessed that she wanted Phillip back, but Phillip rented himself an apartment, which basically forestalled that inevitable reconciliation.

The important to take home from this episode, however, is this: “This isn’t going to go well for you, old lady.” It’s a promise I do believe that Elizabeth means to follow through on. With two episodes to go, Martha and Claudia are in the crosshairs. My question is: Does Stan survive? Either he is killed and they start the season with a new antagonist, or the inevitable confrontation with Claudia results in Phillip and Elizabeth’s defection.

That’s my guess, anyway.