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The Americans Shoves Characters Towards Their Breaking Points

Another week brings us yet another excellent episode of The Americans. Throughout the course of this show we’ve seen the Jennings family go through a lot. Between their jobs, their aliases, their missions, and their various children both real and fake, Philip and Elizabeth have gone through some tough things in their lives. It has visibly worn on them.

After last week’s episode moved all the pieces in place to bring disaster upon the Jennings family, “Lotus 1-2-3” began clashing those pieces together. In the process we saw just how badly our two antiheroes are handling their mission these days.

Spoilers for 5×05 “Lotus 1-2-3” below

Is the Clark Kent look his go-to seduction disguise?

Recap

Philip starts off his week in disguise and on a date. He talks with Deidre about work. Elizabeth also starts off the week disguised as Mrs. Eckert. She and Pasha’s mother Evgeny talk about family and Evgeny’s potential new job at the Department of Agriculture. Pasha also looks much happier while hanging out with Tuan.

Philip does not look nearly so happy while having sex with Deidre. I suppose wandering off into daydreams about your childhood and parents don’t enhance the pleasure much. His buddy Stan isn’t much happier. He discusses frustrations over his failed approaches in recent weeks with his boss. Seems like the FBI is looking for another source into the Rezidentura.

Things go a little better when Philip and Elizabeth meet with Henry’s math teacher. They find out he’s doing so well in the class that the teacher wants him moved to an advanced course, much to their surprise. Elizabeth tells Philip about Evgeny’s new job. They discuss the potential opportunity. Stan and Renee offer a trip to the movies when they get home, and they decline.

Their attempt to be proud of Henry for doing so well goes badly, since he feels insulted by their surprise. He comes across as jealous of Paige. After the movie, Stan and Renee talk about their previous relationships and vaguely about his work frustrations. Philip spies on the house from across the street like a creep, though he can’t see anything. He suspects Renee as a KGB plant based on his reports to the Center.

He’s not alone.

Oleg and the interrogator put the squeeze on another grocery boss, and the interrogator threatens his son who’s fighting in Afghanistan. Another Afghan war veteran, Mischa, tries to make contact with Philip through the area’s KGB message taker. She gives him a time to call back.

Elizabeth goes back undercover in Kansas for dinner with her target. She has sex with Ben and can barely fake enjoying it. Meanwhile Philip plays catch with Tuan while he marks the surveillance cars driving by. Later, Philip eats dinner alone with Paige. She tells him how dating Matthew makes her miserable.

Alarmed by Mischa’s appearance, Gabriel and Claudia meet to discuss whether to let Philip meet him. Turns out the message Mischa left was his mother’s old emergency code to meet Philip. We also learn Mischa was in a psychiatric institution for speaking out against the Afghanistan war. Claudia convinces Gabriel not to let the meeting happen.

Oleg comes home for dinner to find three women his age joining them. He tells his father to stay out of his personal life. Philip’s love life is going a bit better than that. Elizabeth calls him from Kansas just to tell him she misses him. He tells her about the childhood flashbacks he’s been having. Meanwhile, Mischa gets a meeting time and place from the operator after calling back.

Stan’s love life is going pretty well, too. He drinks with Renee and Aderholt, seemingly as an introduction. Aderholt is a good bro and talks Stan up. When they leave, Philip and another agent tail Renee home. On the other hand, Paige’s relationship with Matthew has reached a bad point. They have a tough conversation while hanging out together.

Back in Kansas, Elizabeth finds out from Ben that his work involves developing resilient wheat, not using bugs to destroy wheat. That’s what the bugs and the greenhouse with the bugs were for. Back home, Philip attends an EST meeting about parent/child relationships. Mischa has a meeting of his own with Gabriel, who tells him he must go home and cannot meet his father. Oleg goes to his own scheduled meeting with the CIA and no one shows up.

Elizabeth returns home and tells Philip they were wrong about the bugs. Philip reacts badly because of the man they killed at the lab. He dons the Eckert disguise to meet with Tuan and finds out Evgeny got the job she interviewed for. Elizabeth also shows up in disguise. Tuan leaves them alone to talk.

The episode ends with Philip laying his emotional cards on the table for Elizabeth.

Chills.

Review

Remember a couple weeks ago when I talked about Philip’s conscience? This week’s events damn near broke it. He’s on the edge and it won’t take much to push him off it.

In an episode focusing considerably on the emotional toll the past 4+ seasons have taken on these characters, Philip’s difficulties took center stage. He had enough trouble dealing with the murder of the lab tech when he thought it necessary. Now that he killed an innocent man? Well, the end of the episode speaks for itself.

Philip seems like he just can’t handle it anymore. Every season has chipped away at his resolve. Season 5 is no longer chipping; it’s taking a sledgehammer and breaking away the foundations. Throughout this episode we see a Philip whose heart is not in the spy game at all. He can hardly fake interest with Deidre and has a consistently demure demeanor throughout the episode.

The Philip we see at the end is ready to break. Elizabeth has her work ahead of her to rebuild whatever pieces of his resolve she can. Will she? Is she even capable of doing so? She may not have the wavering commitment to her work that’s plaguing Philip, but she struggles with Ben. Where Elizabeth in previous seasons could easily fake interest, especially with someone she could genuinely come to like such as Ben, now she shows the same lack of interest Philip did.

You can feel the specters of their pasts hanging over them. How can Philip dive into yet another fake relationship with a woman after what happened with Martha? How can Elizabeth manipulate yet another person she likes after what happened with Young-hee’s family? Throw in the growing discomfort both have with sleeping with others due to their still-evolving bond with each other, and you end up with two spies increasingly reluctant to carry out their work.

As Philip and Elizabeth’s marriage grows increasingly closer and realer, their priorities have changed. They risk calling each other while on missions simply to talk. Their children grow more important. I think there’s a reason this Henry storyline started when it did and exists alongside Paige’s trouble keeping her parents’ secrets. Philip and Elizabeth are steadily reaching a point where they prioritize their family over the Soviet Union.

Philip is already there. Claudia may come across crueler than Gabriel regarding Mischa, but she’s absolutely right. Mischa appearing now, when Philip’s morale sits lower than it ever has, would be more than the nudge needed to throw Philip off the cliff. It would be the equivalent of a violent toss. And Elizabeth may soon go off the cliff right alongside him.

These evolving priorities are likely why this episode featured such a heavy focus on the various Jennings children. Each of them now approaches their own breaking points. Every new episode reveals Paige to be her father’s daughter to the core, as she can no more escape her own depression and guilt than he can. Henry has grown to resent his parents. Mischa has escaped the Soviet Union only for Gabriel to deny him the meeting with Philip and promise to return him home. Considering what he went through to reach America, Mischa most certainly won’t accept failure now.

Each of these kids will soon face their greatest decision. When they make those decisions, Philip and Elizabeth will be left with decisions of their own.

They are not alone, either. Everyone is reaching a moment of no return which will force life-altering decisions on them. Stan may have already made his with his confession last week, though I suspect his moment is yet to come (especially if Renee is KGB). Oleg will soon have to choose between his family and his country.

While The Americans usually tends to weave its various weekly stories in and out of each other in effective ways, this was one of those special episodes that managed to do so with every single scene and character. Each new scene picked up on a theme or characterization where the previous scene left off. They felt the same fears and doubts. They faced the same struggles. Most of them now deal with the same wavering mindsets.

Every single character is also seeing the very core beliefs they’ve lived by challenged in potentially irreversible fashion. Philip and Elizabeth’s view of America as a monster has been questioned by the truth of the grain investigation. Philip was already questioning this, and now both will face the truth of Soviet incompetence. Oleg is realizing the same.

Stan’s faith in the FBI and America has been shaken. Mischa has likely heard stories about his father and America from his mother which may now be shaken. Paige’s worldview has been shattered since season 3 and now life keeps stepping on the pieces. The source of Henry’s change may be because of something that’s already happened, and hopefully we’ll learn about that soon. Even minor characters like Tuan are seeing things change, either bit by bit or drastically.

One thing we know for sure, most if not all of these characters will see their lives changed forever before this magnificent show comes to an end.

Foreshadowing??? Probably not, but maybe.

Other Thoughts

  • I’m glad Pasha’s mother has a job which will keep the “Eckerts” around. Even if that job carries such potential misery moving forward for a family so miserable already.
  • Speaking of miserable…poor Matthew. Kid just wants a smart, interesting girlfriend.
  • Place your bets now! Was Renee’s story about a previous SO cheating on her real, or a well-crafted story based on Stan cheating on Sandra?
  • I’m always happy when Character Actress Margo Martindale shows up.
  • If Oleg wasn’t followed to that CIA meeting point, he will be in the future.

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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