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Television

Everything Goes Wrong on The Americans

We all have those times where literally nothing goes right. It doesn’t necessarily mean it’s your fault, either. Things entirely out of your control just refuse to go how they need to. One crucial thing doesn’t pan out. A woman vomits in the middle of the party, right before someone spills potentially valuable information. You know, your typical bad luck. There was a lot of bad luck this week for just about everyone on The Americans.

The Bullet’s Loaded in the Chamber…

If anyone had doubts about the bad places Philip and Elizabeth are in right now, “Mr. and Mrs. Teacup” drove it home. We’ve seen things go bad for Elizabeth all season. Just check her murder count (which increased by 3 this week). She’s overburdened, alone, and losing her edge. Both her missions this week fail. Despite the body count, she once again fails to get her hands on the radiation sensor. A pretty perfect opportunity arrives in the form of the World Series party, but she loses it when the sick woman she cares for empties her stomach in the middle of the party.  Nothing went right for her. Really nothing has gone right yet for Elizabeth.

Philip isn’t much better off. His financial troubles hit fully this week, to the point he informed Henry about his inability to pay tuition to his school. He’s in much the same place as Elizabeth; alone, overburdened, and with nothing going right. This episode had a few moments where a character talks about themselves or a persona of Philip or Elizabeth that clearly described one of those two. When Kimmy describes “Jim” as stuck in place, it’s clear it applies to Philip’s life since retirement.

(While we’re on the subject, Kimmy remains the one spy-related assignment Philip is responsible for and even that goes bad this week.)

I think The Americans wants to make a clear point about the Jennings here. Philip and Elizabeth spent decades becoming probably the best Soviet spy assets in America because they were together. When one fell to a moment of weakness, the other was there. They shared burdens. They covered the other’s mistakes. Problems in their personal life were handled together.

Without each other, they stand alone to fail, both as people and in their missions.

While it was clear how distant the two were before now, this episode really drove it home. Philip and Elizabeth have separated their lives to the point they split parenting duty. The way Elizabeth says “Henry is your department” was just shockingly cold. You could already sense the truth of it in the previous three episodes. To have them flat out confirm it, like parenting has become a solo mission, disturbed the hell out of me.

They’ve never been as far apart as they are right now. Not even in those early years when their marriage was a sham. Back then, at least, they were taking on missions together and in tune professionally. Now they are professionally separate, personally separated, and suffering for it. Absolutely nothing is going right for them. They are both absolutely miserable. Even their one moment of attempted intimacy feels entirely forced and ends in rejection. Not one part of their life is happy or successful anymore.

They have absolutely no one who they can truly relate to anymore. Elizabeth has no one who really knows what she goes through. She goes on missions with Paige, but hides the full truth of them. She can speak some of her concerns to Claudia, but not all of them since full disclosure could have her labeled a concern to deal with. Without the spy work, Philip has become your typical American suburban dad, the kind Elizabeth despises and actively fights against. Obviously Philip can’t confide fully in her anymore. Paige has been turned, and Henry is still unaware of his parents’ espionage. So he can only confide in bits and pieces to a few select people like Elizabeth and Stan.

I talked about the divide established between Philip and Elizabeth back in my review for the premiere, and now that divide has crystalized. It’s more than an ideological conflict. Philip actively informed on Elizabeth to Oleg. They’re officially on opposing sides of a conflict. A conflict that could turn physically violent. When will they find out? How will they react?

Right now this might be the central question of the final season. What happens when Philip and Elizabeth find out just how far apart they are? What happens when their lives are at risk and they have to choose their futures? Do they reflect on their depression and find common ground? Do they turn on each other permanently? What about their kids? I can’t imagine they last much longer as is. It’s just too dark.

…But When Will The Americans Fire It?

“Mr. and Mrs. Teacup” certainly pushed us closer to that moment. It pushed a lot of things closer to the edge. I continue to be impressed by how closely tied the storylines remain this season. Everything plot point is feeding into the others in some way.

The thing is, when are they going to explode?

Conflict seems inevitable right now. Elizabeth has been tuned in to Gennady and Sofia and basically received orders to execute them if necessary. Stan remains the only confidante those two will trust or listen to. I also wouldn’t be surprised if Stan ends up tailing Oleg on his own, which could lead him to discovering Philip. And of course there’s the issue of Philip spying on Elizabeth and what happens when she finds out.

With the final season hitting the halfway point next week, I just hope The Americans stops loading rounds into the gun and fires the damn thing.

I’m not suggesting nothing happened this week. Certainly not. Paige sleeping with a potential source was an event big enough for an entire segment of this review; not just because of the effect on her psyche or Elizabeth’s rather explicit orders not to do it, but for what this moment represents for her character.

Think of how badly she reacted to her meager attempts to use her relationship with Matthew Beeman as a source of information. Sure, 3 years and a lot of training has happened since then, but this is also a much bigger step than dating the neighbor boy with mostly innocent intentions. Like she was told before, sex leads to emotions, and emotions lead to vulnerability. Vulnerability is dangerous in this line of work, which probably ranks as a key reason Elizabeth wants to groom Paige for something besides frontline spy work.

If Paige is going to take this step on her own, how will she handle it? Can she handle it? Whatever brainwashing Claudia has managed, Paige is still the same person she was last season. Can she handle the guilt of stringing someone innocent along in this manner? What does it say about her, her mother, and this whole training process if she can? Paige may be losing a vital part of her soul. Potentially even worse, that part of her soul may be yet another brick falling from the wall that tears life apart for her family.

That this was not immediately the biggest moment in the episode does speak to how much really happened. Between Elizabeth and Philip, Stan/Gennady/Sofi, the summit, spying on the diplomats involved, Paige, Henry, Kimmy, the murders, Oleg, the impending Soviet downfall…there’s so much going on. What’s more, any single one of the plotlines involving any of these characters can lead to the others falling apart. That’s how closely tied and precarious all these storylines are.

I just want to see all these juggling balls drop already. While I loved season 5, there is an element of expectation in my acceptance of it, that it was going to lead to more this season. And it has, to an extent. But we need THE moment. We need the gun to fire that breaks everything down. The moment where Hank realizes Walt was Heisenberg. We need that episode where Stan finds out about his neighbors. The time has to arrive where the cover is blown and the Jennings family finds itself on the run.

There’s also the issue of just how much further into this dark, depressing calm The Americans can go before it is unsustainable. Damn near everyone is steeped in hard times or will be soon. Philip and Elizabeth are the catalyst causing everything to fall apart, the cancer breaking down everything around them. Or rather, the conflict between the Soviet Union and the United States is the cancer, and with its end we’re seeing the death throes of people who only know this way of life and fight to maintain it.

Thing is, they can’t. And The Americans as a show cannot keep stringing them along like this, no more than the circumstances around them can. I think this was the episode making it clear to the characters and the audience that these people cannot continue as they always have. Change is coming. Now it’s time to see how everyone will react to it.

It’s time for The Americans to fire the gun.

Other Thoughts:

  • It just hit me during the “previously on” that the “you haven’t talked to anyone back home in 20 years, neither have you” exchange was after both had done so and formed their current beliefs on said conversations.
  • I understand why the warehouse break-in was so dark, but I had no idea what was happening. The scene reminded me of Game of Thrones at its worst. You have to be able to see what’s happening in scenes like those. I didn’t know if Elizabeth succeeded or not in finding the sensor.
  • If all these murders don’t come back to haunt Elizabeth, I will be disappointed. This is a lot of bodies. Important bodies, too. You can’t have dead generals and dead military guards so close to one another without a considerable investigation.
  • I’m curious whether this final season will move far enough ahead in time for Henry to move back home. Assuming Philip doesn’t find a way to pay his tuition, that is.
  • Interesting how Philip is the one who always thinks back on his life back home. Is this because Elizabeth typically doesn’t (because she’s not quite so conflicted about it) or because The Americans only wants to show these reflective moments for Philip?

Images courtesy of FX

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  • Bo

    Bo relaxes after long days of staring at computers by staring at computers some more, and feels slightly guilty over his love for Villanelle.

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