What We Learned From Season One’s Penultimate Episode Of ‘The Americans’

The past year has seen some of the best episodes of dramatic television arrive at the penultimate episode of a show’s respective season: Justified, Game of Thrones, Breaking Bad and The Walking Dead all, arguably, had their season’s best episodes arrive a week before the finale. You can imagine, then, my disappointment with the penultimate episode of the freshman season of The Americans. The episode, “The Oath,” was all about loyalty, and as we witnessed, “loyalty” doesn’t always make for the most exciting television. However, the episode did slowly push into place the pieces for the finale, although you could almost say too slowly, as I feel like there’s too much left to cover in 44 minutes next week, which either means we’ll be left with some hanging threads, or the episode will try to cram too much into too little time and come off as rushed.

That theme of loyalty pushed all the major plotlines in the episode, starting with the most dramatic one: Nina, after pledging oath to the Motherland, had a crisis of faith. Before sleeping with Stan, she rightly surmised that Stan was behind the death of Vlad, and despite his protestations, I suspect that it’s exactly what she still believes. She turned herself in to Directorate S and confessed, but instead of being shipped back to Moscow or killed, it appears that Nina will be a double agent, used by the Soviets to extract information out of Stan, who has been fairly tight-lipped with her up to this point.

It is VAGUELY possible, however, that Nina confessed and offered to be a double agent because she wanted to be able to wheedle more information out of Directorate S to take back to her lover, Stan, because she actually believed him when he said he didn’t kill Vlad. If that’s the case, the triple-agent’ing could get confusing in the finale. Assuming that she’s only a double agent, however, that means that Nina’s betrayal to Stan at least means that Stan won’t be able to get to the Jennings through her. But that’s OK, because Stan found another, unexpected route to the Jennings.

That’s because Viola, the Weinbergers’ maid, decided to come clean and reveal to the FBI that she had planted a bug in a clock in the Weiberger’s office on the Jennings’ behalf. (I wonder if the writers planned that ahead of time, or if they circled back around to it for the finale?) At any rate, because of those INCREDIBLY effective disguises, the sketch artist’s rendering of Phillip and Elizabeth from both Viola, and the guy that Elizabeth nearly killed last week, were terrible, inconclusive, and bore very little resemblance to the Jennings. Basically, Stan knows that they were a white couple in their late 30s/early 40s.

The one good break, however, is that now that the FBI knows that the Jennings are listening in, they can f*** with them and lead them somewhere so that the FBI can apprehend them. Somehow, this will come to a head when the Jennings attempt to make the $50,000 deal for the American intelligence that their operative has secured. I’m not sure how, exactly, yet.

However, there is a safety valve, and that is poor, poor Martha, who planted another bug in Gad’s office on Phillip’s behalf, but only after Phillip proposed marriage. Martha accepted, and then after some waffling about the secrecy of it, accepted again. Now there’s a bug in Gad’s office and Phillip is married to Martha, who is SO going to die next week. Her sweet doddering parents are going to be heartbroken. If she doesn’t die, however, I’m going to be heartbroken.

You know, I really want to give the episode more credit for sticking to its theme of loyalty throughout, and exploring how those loyalties — to religion, to country, and to one’s spouse — can transform the dynamics. But honestly, I was underwhelmed. I just wanted to see the death before the big death, or Elizabeth beat Claudia to a pulp, or for Martha to figure out Phillip’s game and try to kill him or anything, really, other than more piece shuffling. Hopefully, the finale will redeem a disappointing penultimate episode.