After last week’s fast, fantastic opener, it’s time to slow down. The stakes are set, we’re caught up on the changes of the time skip, and now we can get into The Americans proper. In short, that means wonderful character development in the everyday life of this amazing cast. Don’t worry, skeptics. You still get plenty of spy action. No need to scream about how much things suck now.
Well, unless you’re Elizabeth Jennings. That poor woman has a lot to scream about right now.
Elizabeth on the Edge
Philip’s retirement meant one unavoidable thing would happen in Elizabeth’s life; more assignments. More assignments means more pressure and more danger. It means more burden. Add Paige’s inclusion into the mix? Yeah, Elizabeth’s not having a good time this season. She has too much on her plate and every episode just adds more.
Both episodes this season have put so much on her shoulders. She’s doing the work of both her and Philip by herself since his retirement. She has her daughter working for her. Paige has started working under her, and apparently not too well. A hardline faction of the Soviet government has her running a secret op. The woman barely has a moment to breathe, and she spends that time smoking. Everything is wearing her down.
Besides her actions, you can see the burden on Elizabeth’s face during every scene. She has always been the better of her marriage at keeping a poker face during stressful moments. Now she can’t even manage to appear calm during routine conversations with her targets. Keri Russell is knocking this role out of the park this season. She’s excelling at keeping the harmful effects of the pressure Elizabeth faces on her face at all times. Even better, she’s excelling at portraying someone trying and failing to hide that burden.
The sloppiness caused by this burden really showed in “Tchaikovsky”. Take note; that’s two weeks in a row Elizabeth has had to kill someone during what should have been a routine assignment. She clearly took the wrong approach with the general and ended up in a situation she normally wouldn’t. Plus she had inadequate backup. Why did she wear a disguise on the State Department tour that was so similar to the disguise she used for her meeting there? That’s the kind of detail you overlook when you’re overworked.
(Also consider she has a talented artist with dozens of drawings of Elizabeth sitting around the house, and Elizabeth doesn’t consider the potential harm of it.)
Every scene with Elizabeth feels like she’s on the verge of breaking. Adding another body to her conscience won’t help. Neither will the inevitable consequences of Paige seeing her mother covered in blood and brains.
Without Philip, it feels like Elizabeth has no one to talk to, and therefore no way to truly unload her concerns. I guess Claudia tries (notice the heavy therapist vibe when Elizabeth was laying back on the couch talking to her) but she will never serve as a substitute to Philip facing the spy burden alongside his wife. Paige could eventually replace her father, but she’s still new and Elizabeth still hides the truly burdening aspects of the job from her.
This is not going to end well. Someone will pay the price for Elizabeth cracking under this pressure. The unfortunate truth is that it may not be Elizabeth herself. It might be Paige, or Philip, or some innocent person caught in a moment, or maybe multiple people at once. It might be her entire family. One thing seems inevitable, though. Someone will suffer and likely lose their life for Elizabeth’s sloppiness.
One thing is clear; she can’t keep this up. I’m not even sure she can keep it up one more episode. Next time she drops a body, it might be the one taking everything down.
Trying and Failing to Move On
Elizabeth isn’t the only one struggling these days. The rest of “Tchaikovsky” focused on Philip and Stan, and how the two friends are handling moving on from their pre-time skip lives. Unsurprisingly, they’re not handling it well. Turns out you can’t spend years investing your entire life into some goal and then easily move on from said goal. Who knew?
This was our first look at Stan’s professional life these days, and I think it speaks volumes that she spent so much time in his old division rather than his new one. It speaks to his own burdens developed over the years and the importance of relationships in the espionage game. Sofia and Gennady can’t just be handed over to another FBI contact without risking their involvement entirely because he was the one who turned them. It’s Stan they trust.
I also don’t get the impression that Stan truly wants to leave counterintelligence behind. I get the impression he only did so for his girlfriend (wife?) Renee. If he truly wanted to leave it behind, he could. Maybe he still gives old friends his opinions when asked, but he could have found a way to avoid direct involvement after three years. He certainly wouldn’t have to personally run operations like he does with Gennady at the airport. I feel like he doesn’t want to avoid direct involvement.
Philip seems to be going through the same thing. Where he looked so happy in the premiere, this week Philip looked a bit worse for wear. Learning what he did from Oleg plays a role in that, for sure. However, he probably has the same problem Stan does. He spent so long and invested so much of himself in a mission that he can’t just leave those old habits behind.
Obviously part of this is worry about the risk to his family, but I also think there’s a distaste over loss of control at play here. Philip has always leaned towards a need to control everything. You can see it with the travel agency client in this episode. He gave up control and suffered for it. He’s also always had that bit of “male pride” where he feels like the burden should be his to protect his womenfolk. Now both Elizabeth and Paige are at risk while he’s off running a travel agency and line dancing.
With the information Oleg gave Philip about Elizabeth’s new secret affiliation, there’s no way he avoids directly involvement for long. I think he was fine before this. Certainly harboring worries about Elizabeth, but glad to be out of the game. I don’t expect he’ll remain so with his wife and daughter in direct, real danger like this. Once he finds out how badly Elizabeth is messing up lately, he will be back.
There’s no way the endgame for The Americans goes down without the direct involvement of Philip and Stan. Stan has to find out about the Jennings family at some point, and Philip obviously will return to espionage. “Tchaikovsky” was a necessary step towards that end. Both are trying to move on with their life and failing.
It’s all leading towards the inevitable moment where the Jennings are exposed. I think we’re seeing the elements of how falling into place. Elizabeth is making mistakes because of the burden on her shoulders. These mistakes will bring her back to the attention of counterintelligence. Stan won’t be able to avoid involving himself. The wife of a target has dozens of drawings of Elizabeth.
It’s all going bad and this time they won’t be able to bribe, threaten, or murder their way out of it.
- Last week we saw how the Soviet Union was divided over the disarmament negotiations. This week we saw the United States with the same divide.
- Dennis Aderholdt is running counterintelligence now! I’m happy for him. He’s a good guy.
- With Philip working regularly now, does Elizabeth’s absence seem even more suspicious to the travel agency? Or is Philip still trying to maintain kind of the same schedule to avoid that? These are the questions you ask yourself yet know The Americans probably doesn’t think about too much. I also still wonder whether any of their employees know about their bosses.
- It’s interesting to see Ronald Reagan’s Alzheimer’s brought up. People saw it at the time but no one would say so publicly. It makes me consider America’s current president…
- Claudia’s really laying on the Gabriel persona for Elizabeth and Paige now. This has to be a look at what Gabriel did with a younger Elizabeth and Philip to cultivate the “kind grandpa” persona.
- Even in her current state, Elizabeth was stone-cold while staring down a gun. That woman is a killing machine.
- So many things might get Elizabeth and Philip caught right now, but what happens if Paige does something that will get them caught? I feel like all these mistakes will lead to a moment where the Centre wants Paige eliminated to cover up a mistake. Can either of her parents even consider killing her?
Images Courtesy of FX