What a gut punch.
From the start, The Americans has been hinting at a tragic ending, particularly with the way it keeps testing Philip Jennings. So while it was shocking to see the wheat plot come to a devastating conclusion this early on in the season, it’s also tremendously satisfying to see its long-lasting effects on the characters. Philip is naturally horrified that because they were misinformed (thanks, KGB), he and Elizabeth had to kill the innocent guy from the lab a few weeks back. Top that with the fact that Gabriel and Claudia prevented Mischa from meeting his father—a secret that Philip will undoubtedly uncover soon enough—plus the Paige drama recently, and you can feel the detachment he is starting to have from the Centre. Philip is reaching his breaking point, and I have a feeling he’s going to defect next season, putting him and Elizabeth at crossroads again.
The rest of the hour is just as heart-wrenching. I never thought I would care about a character we barely knew, but Gabriel telling Mischa that he cannot see his father was incredibly devastating. Frank Langella does some of his finest work yet in that scene; the way he phrases his words to shatter this innocent, young man’s dreams is remarkable. Kudos to writer Joshua Brand for bringing such a difficult scene to life, but it comes as no surprise as Brand has written some of my favorite episodes before, including my all-time favorite Do Mail Robots Dream of Electric Sheep?.
Director Noah Emmerich (Stan), who’s helmed two other episodes before, also does an impeccable job this week, particularly in the way some of the sex scenes are framed to make us feel the indifference Philip and Elizabeth are feeling with their ‘marks’. Also, if you look close enough during Paige and Mathew’s scene in the bedroom, you can see her doing the technique with her hand. What a brilliant little detail.
If I had any complaints about this episode, it’s Oleg’s subplot. I can understand the show wanting to be less serious sometimes, but I had mixed feelings about his blind dinner dates. It was an unusual blend of horrifying and hilarious, and it didn’t seem to advance the plot nor add much to the character. I might sound like a broken record, but I iterate the need to have Martha and Oleg cross paths already. Please make this happen, writers!
Bits in Disguise
– The gloomy Philip flashback during his tasteless sex scene was harrowing.
– I have mixed feelings about the show’s opening sequence. The various colors with the Russian credits are unsettling, but the music kind of irritates me for some reason.
– The funniest moment I’ve seen all year: the looks on Philip and Elizabeth’s faces when the teacher tells them Henry is actually great at math. What a hilariously strange subplot.
– Sneaky Renee asking Stan to tell her about his day at work just to make viewers even more suspicious: nice move, writers.
– Disturbing moment as Philip plays ball with his spy son, followed by getting him a McDonald’s meal later in the episode. Poor Henry!
– Heartbreaking moment between Philip and Paige as the latter says maybe she’s meant to be alone.
– God I love Margo Martindale, regardless of the limited screen-time she’s receiving.
– Was that EST instructor the same person tailing Stan earlier?
– Brenda might be my favorite Elizabeth disguise so far. Keri Russell just looks gorgeous all the time.
– There’s no way we followed Mischa’s boring subplot for the past five episodes only to have it end like this. Right?
– Perfect final shot of Elizabeth and Philip as they sit together at their fake home with their fake son upstairs, punctuated by Philip’s final line about the two of them being in this together. Chills, anyone?
Quips from the Motherland
Claudia: How do you think the people at the Centre are going to feel about a meeting between Philip and his wayward son?
Gabriel: Shouldn’t that be Philip’s decision to make?
EST Instructor: Old patterns between parents and children, they create barriers. They keep us from seeing what’s really there. And what is really there? Love. It’s all around us. But because we can’t see it, can’t experience it, it seems like it must be very far away. You can’t experience the love your parents had for you or you for your children when old habits and belief systems, all the things your mind is telling you about who they are, who you are, stand in the way.
Elizabeth: Look, when we know this kind of thing is coming up, maybe it can be just me.
Philip: No. No, it’s us, Elizabeth. It’s us.
An emotional, nerve-racking and near-perfect episode.