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The Americans Deals in Fear As Disaster Looms Above

Danger always looms over everyone and everything on The Americans. You would expect no less of a show involving Russian spies in America and those trying to catch them. As we quickly approach the halfway point of the next-to-last season, we’ll soon see the final moves placing these characters in their final dangers. This week The Americans began to do just that. Things are quickly approaching the point of no return.

Spoilers of 5×04 “What’s the Matter with Kansas?” below

Recap

As expected, Philip and Elizabeth immediately filled in Gabriel after the events of last week. He gives them information on a man and woman connected to the company the midges were sent to. Philip and Elizabeth ask if someone else can do this job since they have so much going on. Gabriel harshly dismisses their problems. Philip jokes with Elizabeth afterwards about them being fired.

Neither of them thought it very funny. Then, in a shocking turn of events, they actually interact with Henry! I know, what the hell, right? He complains about breakfast and it turns out his math teacher called about something. He claims to have no idea. Meanwhile, Oleg meets an interrogator who will go back to the grocery with him.

Whatever fatherly opportunities might have existed for Philip don’t come to pass as he ends up on a plane to Topeka. He makes contact with the woman Gabriel mentioned, named Deidre.  Rather bluntly by his standards, too. While he lies, Oleg decides to tell the truth to his mother about the blackmail tape. She reacts badly.

Mischa continues a successful journey out of the USSR while Philip returns home from Topeka. He finds out Henry’s school wants to meet them in person and informs Elizabeth about meeting Deidre. Her turn to travel comes the next day. She makes contact with the man Gabriel told them about. She is much better at it than Philip was. Oleg and his interrogator also visit a grocery, where the interrogator uses threats against the grocery head from before and her family to find out her contact.

Meanwhile, Philip hits a bar with Morozov. He predictably complains about the Soviet Union, though he does say a nice thing about their beer. Philip tells him the Mr. Eckert backstory about becoming a pilot. When the kids come up, Morozov harshly complains about them. This leads to him giving Philip vague details about his job and farmland in the USSR.

Elizabeth returns home later and they talk about life and her assignment. They have a lot more fun going on a double date with Stan and Renee, though.  That woman talks up a storm.

Oleg and the interrogator report to their boss about the name they were given, which was confirmed with other grocers. He objects to using family as leverage. His boss thinks he is soft. But he misses Stan. Stan certainly hasn’t forgotten about him, as apparently the blackmail has bothered Stan enough that Aderholt uses another example to try and make him feel better.

Did you miss Pastor Tim? I’m one of the few that likes him, I know. Paige babysits for his new baby and we find out she’s still volunteering at the food bank with Elizabeth. Tim gives her a book by Karl Marx to read, thinking it will help her. Cue a thousand renewed “Pastor Tim is a KGB spy” theories.

Me too, Paige. Me, too.

Okay, time for Jennings jealousy! Philip sets up one with Deidre while Elizabeth goes on a hiking date with Ben. I find out woodpeckers wrap long tongues around their skulls and squirm very uncomfortably. While her mother puts off Ben’s advances, Paige decides to snoop around Pastor Tim’s house. She finds and reads a journal.

Back at FBI HQ, Stan stunningly comes clean to the deputy AG about killing Vladimir in season 1. He threatens to go public if the operation blackmailing Oleg does not stop. While he kills his career, Elizabeth and Paige talk about Henry’s recent whereabouts. They also talk about Elizabeth’s recent trips to Topeka and it turns out Paige snooped around Pastor Tim’s for info about the tape his wife claimed to hide. Paige rebukes her mother’s warnings.

Oleg shows a little more respect to his mother than Paige. She tells him about being taken to a camp before he was born as leverage against her husband. She gives implied consent to give in to the CIA blackmail. Mischa might be looking for a little blackmail of his own as he has finally arrived in America.  Yeah, was not expecting that already.

Meanwhile, Philip and Elizabeth talk about Paige and Pastor Tim. Unsurprisingly, Elizabeth is open to Paige’s snooping. The episode ends with Philip’s jealousy about Elizabeth’s new squeeze in Topeka.

Review

I have a feeling this one will go down as the tremors before the earthquake hits. It’s not just for the obvious plot movement. Yes, Mischa arriving in America means he’ll be on the Jennings’s doorstep soon. Yes, Stan just self-destructed his career to help Oleg. This feels like a very important episode for reasons beyond any singular moment. The Americans seems poised to destruct everything, and soon.

You could sense this foreboding feeling in both Philip and Elizabeth’s hesitance in the opening scene towards their new assignment, and The Americans never let up afterwards. Everyone seemed to take steps towards irreversible change.

Philip and Elizabeth’s reticence was perfectly timed and will probably worsen from here on out. Let’s not forget the reason for the break they received in season 4. Both of them were on the brink. The stress of everything happening had pushed Philip and Elizabeth to their limits to handle the job. The break may have helped reduce their stress, but it did nothing to address the root cause. Now they’re right back where they were before.

Plainly, these two have been doing this for a long time. I focused a lot on this last week, how Philip’s conscience would be affected by his latest murder. Don’t mistake my thoughts on Elizabeth as meaning she’s not affected. You could see this week how the spy life and her evolving relationship with Philip have worn her down as well. Season 1 Philip and Elizabeth would never have hesitated to seduce the two targets Gabriel gave them.

They have hesitated in recent seasons, and here we saw them not want to accept the assignment at all. Who can blame them? Besides their changed relationship, the workload has returned in spades. They listed it all for us; between Morozov, Paige, Henry’s sudden reintroduction, and the Beemans, they have too much going on to fly around the country every couple of days. A similar workload ground them down last season. It will do so again now.

(Suspiciously missing from the list of goings on was Philip’s assignment with Kimmy. I don’t remember anyone confirming his weekly visits were over, but it’s been a while since we’ve heard about her.)

Besides the emotional and physical toll, the Topeka assignment is plain dangerous. It would be difficult when Philip and Elizabeth were at their best. I’d say a long time has passed since they were at their best. They know it, too. Philip’s increasingly listening to Morozov’s hatred for the USSR. Elizabeth’s heart has not been in the seduction game for a couple seasons now, and the cruel manipulation of Young-Hee and her family definitely broke a crucial piece of her dedication to such schemes. They’re weary and worried, and now Mischa is mere hours away.

I can’t believe he is here already!

Weary and worried would be a good way to describe many of the characters this week. Fear especially played a large role in the stories of our two Russians characters, Mischa and Oleg. The Americans has usually avoided demonization of the Soviet Union, but season 5 has gone drastically in the opposite direction. Mischa’s journey to America has been nonstop fear. He worried every step of the way that the smugglers would give him up. The smugglers worried that he was a trap. Soviet corruption and fear colored every interaction.

Oleg’s new job gave him his first taste of the system responsible for that fear. His bosses only know fear to get their way. It is the Soviet way. If you need something, you use loved ones as a threat. Oleg’s father experienced this with Oleg’s mother. Oleg returned to the USSR for his mother’s sake, but you have to wonder just how long he can last, how long he will stay in this job until he cannot handle it and takes a drastic step away.

(His boss using a son fighting in Afghanistan as leverage would especially offend Oleg considering his brother’s fate.)

Considering Stan’s own disillusionment and his gambit this week, and the fact Oleg and Stan have paralleled each other so closely, I would expect Oleg to do something similar this season. The Americans is rapidly approaching its endpoint, and we are going to start seeing these characters move towards those endpoints.

Even Paige and Henry have begun these initial shifts towards their endgames. I’ve made as many Henry jokes as anyone, but this week finally saw The Americans start to deliver on Henry’s constant absence from the show. You don’t thrust a character back into the spotlight the way Henry was without it meaning something. In the end he will matter just as Paige does.

This was a typically strong week for a consistently terrific show. I have a feeling we’re going to look back on it and realize this was the nudge sending the boulder rolling downhill.

Literally my reaction to a Henry storyline seemingly beginning.

Other Thoughts

  • So, any bets on what is going to happen with Henry? Is he simply struggling from lack of parental guidance? Is he being stealth-recruited like Jared in season 2? Place your wagers now.
  • Looks like Morozov might be done pretending to love his family. I feel bad for everyone involved.
  • I really missed Tuan this week.
  • I admit the Karl Marx book briefly made me wonder about Pastor Tim and the KGB. Paige is going to find something, but I will stick by my consistent feeling all along that he’s just a pastor looking to do good.
  • Check in to our forum to keep the conversation going! There’s always plenty to talk about with The Americans.

Images Courtesy of FX

Bo
Written By

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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