Guilt is nothing new for Philip Jennings. It’s practically his defining characteristic. Guilt weighs heavily on his mind at all times, building and building until he bursts at those around him. If you ever needed proof that Paige takes after her father, the guilt is the link between the two. The Americans did nothing to help his conscience this week.
Let’s take a look at what awful circumstances will now haunt him moving forward.
Spoilers for 5×03 “The Midges” below
The Americans starts this week with family bowling night! Not with the Jennings family, though, that would require Philip and Elizabeth spending time with their actual children. Instead the “Eckerts” go bowling with Pasha’s family. Pasha’s father tells a story about a bowling alley in Russia that went to hell over time. His wife argues with him, and we learn that she and Pasha did not know about their defection until it began.
Morozov apologizes to the Eckerts and tells them about his father’s imprisonment, which sparks his hatred for the Soviet Union. Tuan talks more crap about Pasha and his family on the car ride home.
Afterwards, Philip and Elizabeth remove their disguises (complete with contacts) in a safehouse. They wonder how they would do what Morozov did. They also compliment Tuan. Aw, they love their fake son. Philip brings up Paige and his doubts about her. He wants to tell her about the work with Pasha’s family. He thinks it will help.
They arrive home to find Paige watching TV and do as Philip wanted. For the first time she learns about their disguises. When Philip gets ready for bed that night, he reminisces about his childhood in the USSR.
Meanwhile, current USSR resident Oleg investigates a grocery and talks to its boss. She refuses to answer any questions about how she obtains fresher food. Oleg turns down a “bribe” of fresh fruit. When he leaves we get a glimpse of…Martha! She seems okay while she shops. I’m both very happy and somewhat sad about this brief appearance.
Next we see Tuan informing the Jennings’s about recent surveillance schedules and Pasha. More insults about Pasha ensue, and Philip tries to relate to him about facing starvation. Elsewhere, Stan and Aderholt approach a man who works for an organization they’re investigating. He walks away from them.
Gabriel informs Philip and Elizabeth about the bugs Elizabeth saw. Turns out they’re a type of midge that destroys grain. A paper trail shows the bugs were sent from Cambodia to a lab in Oklahoma. The Jennings’s also inform Gabriel they told Paige about their work this season. Paige tries her best not to tell Matthew about it on a date. She uses the technique her parents showed her, though she doesn’t do a great job.
After the date, she tells her mother about it. Elizabeth tells her about Oklahoma. Paige feels awful about lying and being fake the rest of her life, despite Elizabeth’s attempts to reassure her.
Hey, remember Mischa? It’s been a couple weeks, and we catch up with him in Yugoslavia. He goes to an address looking for someone to help smuggle him. Turns out this person was arrested and a different man comes to help him, but at increased cost.
Meanwhile his father and Elizabeth are in Oklahoma and dressed for the part. They rent a motel room, where Philip wonders why Russia can’t grow grain like they see in Oklahoma. Elizabeth plays up the cowgirl role to try and make him feel better. Too bad Stan and Aderholt can’t do the same. They try and fail with another person working for the organization they’re investigating.
Oleg’s life is not going any better. Another American approaches him and slips something in his pocket after he missed the meeting set up last week. Oleg goes home and finds a map for another meeting as well as a tape of him telling Stan about the fake defector from season 3.
Philip and Elizabeth fare a bit better than either Oleg or Stan when they break into the Oklahoma lab. They find a bunch of different bugs and animals supposedly from various projects. The midges are among them. A lab tech spoils the party and they squeeze him for information, of which he has little. The lab breeds the bugs, they do kill grain, and they send them to the contractor.
Once they know all he does, they kill the poor guy. They take the body out to their car to dispose of, and check on one of their lookouts to make sure she’s okay with what happened.
Well, scratch another bloody mark down on Philip Jennings’s conscience. Sometimes The Americans lets you forget just how brutal and awful Philip and Elizabeth are. Then something like this happens and it all comes rushing back.
The difference being that their increasing death toll takes a lot more of a toll on Philip than it does Elizabeth.
I talked a bit about this last week. Elizabeth is stone-cold hardcore committed to the bone. She will do just about anything her superiors ask her. Where Philip refused to consider Paige for the second-generation program, Elizabeth was always open to the idea and began training her in subtle ways. She takes lives without the same burden on her soul Philip lives with.
That’s not to say she is heartless. Just look at how Gregory’s death still ate at her last season. Elizabeth is able to justify each death, though. She truly believes in taking lives for the good of the cause. Just take a look at Hans in the premiere.
Philip, on the other hand, cannot justify death the same way. Every single life he takes breaks off more of his resolve. Guilt piles atop guilt. Guilt led him to the EST program. He believes in his work, but not like Elizabeth does. There will be a death too far for him. He is not capable of taking lives indiscriminately for the rest of his own life.
This conflict between them has always existed and only grows stronger with every season, even as their marriage has also grown stronger. You could see it in Philip’s reminiscing about his childhood. He did not enjoy life in the USSR and does not want to go back.
Now Morozov’s hate of the poor state of the USSR has begun to wear on Philip’s resolve yet again. He remembers life there and knows how much better life is in America. He does not love America, for sure. They’re still the evil empire oppressing his homeland, and does not hesitate to fight them every day. However, The Americans has already shown that under the proper circumstances, Philip will consider defecting. And Elizabeth knows this.
Her conversation with Paige about holding thing back in relationships was meant to show her continued mindset towards Philip. She knows full well that his commitment does not match her own. Philip remains loyal for her, and she knows it, as evident by the motel room scene. Elizabeth distracted him from his doubts by playing on his love for her.
That’s not to suggest Elizabeth does not love Philip or is using him, per se. This is her life, and how she understands love. She did not tell Paige that lying and hiding is part of relationships only to make her feel better. Every relationship Elizabeth we have seen her in required lies and hiding. She could never be fully open with Gregory because he was her underling. She struggles to be open with Philip because of the relative freshness of their relationship.
Elizabeth was raised and trained to suppress her emotions, and after so many years of depending on that suppression, she is emotionally ill-equipped to help her family. She can only try ineffectively in the limited ways she knows.
Last week saw how Morozov was entirely alone at that Bennigan’s when he ranted about the Soviet Union. This week saw something of an inverse happening with Elizabeth. She continues to mock and dismiss the very real issues Morozov brings up. Meanwhile Philip has begun to listen, and Tuan again appeared increasingly American compared to the week before. Paige continues to resist attempts to demonize America. Elizabeth was surprisingly alone this week.
Everyone but her seems to see the end coming for the Soviet Union.
All of this, everything they’ve been through over 5 seasons now, will assumingly lead to the break moment where Philip and Elizabeth are compromised. Maybe this lab tech’s death will lead to that moment; the lookout in the car certainly wasn’t okay with what happened. Maybe investigation into the mugger Elizabeth killed last year will do it.
Or perhaps some combination of circumstantial evidence breaks the case wide open. Whatever happens, the moment will come when the Jennings cover is blown. What will they do in that moment?
It’s the question hanging over them since episode 1, and the question driving this excellent show.
- Martha! I’m so glad to see she is okay. And she looked okay, maybe? I’m sure the adjustment has been hard for her, but she seemed in calm, good spirits.
- The grocery boss clearly wanted to help Oleg, but was scared. I can’t blame her. Fighting against a system of corruption requires a commitment and danger she may not be capable of.
- Speaking of Oleg…poor guy. I hope he doesn’t think Stan set up the blackmail.
- If anything can tell you how excellently made The Americans is, the fact it made me like “More than This” by Roxy Music and “Old Flame” by Alabama says it all. There’s literally no music I dislike more than glam rock and country, yet I loved the use of both songs in this episode.