Sunday, June 23, 2024

A Canary Sings on The Americans

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You had to expect the moment would come for The Americans when someone tipped the FBI off, willingly or not. Some new piece of information has to eventually expose the Jennings family. While the actual exposure has yet to come, we now know the method. A method informative enough to scare Elizabeth into saying goodbye and Philip into one last mission. One I highly doubt will go well.

Just When I Think I’m Out…

Fans of The Americans have theorized for years about the moment responsible for putting the FBI back on the Jenningses trail. Would Stan see something suspicious? Would one of the kids accidentally spill the beans? Maybe a mission goes bad. To be honest, I never thought about the idea of someone almost entirely unconnected ruining everything.

So of course that’s what happened.

Make no mistake, this Chicago development is a huge deal. It shines a light into the shadows ruining the game for everyone. The hardest part of breaking up the Soviet espionage operation has always been figuring out where to look. Now the FBI knows and then some. It was downright scary to hear them ticking off all these checkboxes. Checkboxes we know will lead them to Philip and Elizabeth. This Chicago illegal has given the FBI everything they need to know.

All of Elizabeth’s missions this season have reeked of a desperate attempt to curtail impending failure. Considering the Soviet Union stands on the brink of collapse, it makes sense. Forces within the government see this collapse coming and are trying everything they can to stop it. Elizabeth’s missions to retrieve the radiation sensor have come close to exposing her multiple times now, and she’s the best. I love that what ultimately exposed the Soviet spies was someone else on the same mission. It shows the same desperation on the part of these staunch anti-American forces facing defeat.

So of course Elizabeth is heading right into the fire to rescue the exposed spy. And of course Philip is going with her.

I can’t imagine any way this goes well. Best case scenario, they rescue him and ultimately change nothing. The FBI has already learned enough to expose Soviet spies all over the United States and the Jenningses are screwed anyway. That’s the absolute best that can come from this new mission. It’s far more likely they expose themselves directly. They won’t die. It’s too early in the final season for that. But no matter what happens, it’s bad news for our “heroes.”

I guess it fits right in with everything else Elizabeth has done this season. Every one of her missions in this final season has been an abject failure. A hopeless attempt to delay or prevent the inevitable. And yet, she jumped without hesitation into this new hopeless mission.

What surprised me more was Philip’s near-immediate insistence to help. Should I be surprised, though? Whatever problems they have, Philip has always loved Elizabeth and understood her. Time and separation clearly hasn’t changed that. Right away, he recognized Elizabeth’s phone call to Henry for what it was: a goodbye. Her phone call was Elizabeth acknowledging the futility of her mission and accepting the likely mortal outcome.

Whatever their problems, Philip’s not letting her go out like that. As always, Philip is jumping into the fire out of loyalty to Elizabeth. She has always been his motivation for keeping the secrets he does and facing the consequences of them. His loyalty to the Soviet Union basically vanished in the first season. He’s not going to Chicago to help her mission. He’s going to help Elizabeth, and I would put money on the chances that he ruins their chances to succeed in order to get Elizabeth out safe.

Just like Elizabeth has her futile mission to save the Soviet Union, Philip has his futile mission to save their marriage. He has always cared more about the marriage than the mission. He clearly doesn’t care about Elizabeth’s success or saving the Soviet Union. This episode saw him transition from half-hearted reports for Oleg to full-fledged rooting through Elizabeth’s belongings. However, I don’t question his love for Elizabeth or his desire to stay married to her. He just foolishly thinks he can both crush Elizabeth’s fighting spirit while somehow making a loving marriage afterwards.

It’s too late for both. Philip and Elizabeth have fundamentally different goals in life. There is no salvaging this marriage. At best, they end up forced to stay together and hate each other. Again, the best case salvages nothing. They’re doomed, just like this rescue mission, and just like the Soviet Union they fought for.

Stan has his list, and judging by the looks he gave Philip during Thanksgiving dinner, he may already have suspicions. The FBI has their methods, and it’s only a matter of time now before investigating those methods leads them to Philip and Elizabeth. The end is coming and everyone will have to answer the question of what comes next.

the americans elizabeth

A Study in Isolation

This season has been a rough one for Elizabeth Jennings. I feel like I dedicate some portion of my reviews every week to the ongoing train wreck that is her character arc this season. Make no mistake, it has been a train wreck. One inevitably leading to this moment, where she’s heading into a doomed mission accepting the high chance she doesn’t make it out. This final season is the loneliest we’ve seen Elizabeth at any point in The Americans.

At some point she has always had someone. Her children, Philip, even Gregory in the first season. No matter what she went through, she had someone she could talk to, someone who understood and related. Now she has nothing. Philip’s retirement has created a professional and personal distance, destroying their marriage. They now sleep in separate rooms. Paige’s involvement in the “family business” has created this weird distance between them as Elizabeth manages half-truths and omitting the ugly truth. She has no contact like Gregory or even Young-Hee.

This loneliness was no more apparent than during her conversation with Henry. This is her son, yet she spoke to him as if she barely knew who he was. As mentioned earlier, Henry was Philip’s “department,” and she’s barely had contact with Henry as a result. It sadly felt like she barely cares. Just look at her first interaction with Henry after he returns home. She doesn’t even want to talk to her son, who has been off at school for months. You’d think she would have asked those phone questions then.

Elizabeth really has no one at all. Her whole life is her mission, a mission that’s doomed. She has lost even the most basic human connection. It’s even affected the mission she cares about so much, as seen by her reaction to one of her assets in Chicago who had formed an intimate connection with the artist they pose as caretakers for. Elizabeth also failed to work the Senate intern she approached this week.

Add on the burden of her inevitably failing mission, and she doesn’t have much to latch on to. The Soviet Union is about to fail. Her marriage has failed. Her family will probably follow soon. She has been reduced to a lonely, emotionally crippled shell of a person. It’s no wonder she walked into a suicide mission, one she knows is a suicide mission.

I honestly don’t want to imagine how she’ll react when she finds out Philip is working against her. And you know she will. I wouldn’t be surprised if Philip admits it to her during this Chicago debacle. What happens then? You have a deadly, capable, vengeful hard-line Soviet believer who may want nothing more than to cause as much damage as she can before someone stops her.

Or maybe it breaks her and she meekly accepts failure. Though I highly doubt it.

Whatever the case, it’s always felt like Elizabeth was headed for the worst fate of anyone on The Americans. Philip will willingly cut a deal in a heartbeat. Paige is unaware of the worst aspects of the business and is probably young enough to avoid the worst consequences. Henry is completely clueless. Stan may lose his career for not knowing his neighbors were spies, but he’ll make good of his life afterwards.

Elizabeth has nothing else. She is a true believer, and one that either won’t accept failure or will be broken by it. I’m not sure I’m ready for either scenario. I also really hope I’m wrong about her.

Other Thoughts

  • Correct me if I’m wrong, but were Elizabeth and Philip’s “fucks” the first time The Americans has ever aired the word? I love that FX has dropped the ban on it. Atlanta says “fuck” all the time, and other shows have used it as well. It’s just a word, and this is a cable channel airing many of the best mature dramas on TV.
  • Poor Henry just makes things even more awkward now that everyone in the family is a Soviet spy.
  • Hooray for the mail robot! That thing remains one of the weirdest and most wonderful parts of the show.
  • It speaks to Elizabeth’s bad luck that Gennady’s informant adventures turned up nothing until the very last time, and then it turns up something bringing the FBI closer to Elizabeth.
  • 3 dollars for a movie ticket. Damn. Reminds me of 90 cent gas. I’m getting old.
  • Elizabeth’s couldn’t even keep her kill-streak alive this week. Let’s all have a moment of silence for her record, 5 straight episodes of murder, and the victims resulting from it.

Images Courtesy of FX

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