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A Harvest Fails on The Americans

Come on, like that mission was going to go well! I’m sure some of us had hope after Elizabeth’s unspoken plea brought Philip into the mix. Unfortunately, this is the final season of The Americans. I doubt anything goes well from here. “Harvest” continued moving things towards the end, and the tragedy feels inevitable now. I just wanted everyone to be happy, somehow.

Mission: Impossible

Last week’s episode made clear the difficulty of extracting the exposed agent in Chicago. He had the full attention of the FBI, with 24-hour surveillance watching his every move. Elizabeth wasn’t sure it was possible to even pull off without Philip. Even with him, they end up with a 30-second window to retrieve their target unseen and no way of actually hiding the retrieval once it’s done.

I admit I was a little disappointed at how easily they accomplished the actual retrieval. For a moment I thought all the build-up would ring hollow and this would be easy. And then suddenly it wasn’t at all.

The Americans has always been good at this type of sudden failure, where things go smoothly until they don’t. Missions can devolve into gruesomeness with a shocking abruptness. One moment Philip’s working a longtime contact, the next he’s stuffing her corpse in a suitcase. Elizabeth is your best friend one second, the next she’s putting a bullet in your head. Time and time again we see how quickly an operation falls apart.

Make no mistake, this was a disaster. The target dies, Marilyn with him, and a group of hired workers can identify Philip and Elizabeth. In disguise, of course, but they still give the FBI sketches to work with. Two FBI agents died as well, and you know the bureau won’t let that go. The Chicago mission not only failed, it failed in a way exposing Philip and Elizabeth in a way they haven’t had to deal with since the first season.

Of course, all of these criminal implications might pale in comparison to the personal implications for the Jennings family.

Fans have always speculated about the eventual fates of this family. While we certainly ponder the possibility of death, we tend not to talk as if we don’t expect it. We lean towards endings where they end up in witness protection as turned informants, or go on the run, or end up back in Russia. We think about Philip and Elizabeth splitting because they disagree on staying in America. When we discuss their deaths, we think of them going out in a blaze of glory like Gregory did back in season 1.

In truth they’re more likely to go out like Marilyn or their target did here; dumped in a parking garage and their identifying parts removed with a fire axe.

In the end, who are Philip and Elizabeth to their superiors except a pair of expendable agents? They may be particularly exceptional agents, but they’re just agents all the same. I doubt the KGB will make a priority of their survival in the likelihood of their discovery. Best case scenario, they send an agent for a retrieval like we saw here. And, well, you see how that went.

I think the Chicago mission reaffirmed this truth to both Philip and Elizabeth. Elizabeth immediately makes an effort to push Paige into a cushier undercover job interning at the State Department. Philip looks like he’s on the verge of a breakdown. It wasn’t just the brutal disposal of Marilyn, but the way Harvest died after taking his poison pill. They both saw Elizabeth’s possible future with her own poison pill. I think the hard truth of their disposability hit them.

It’s easy to forget just how disposable Philip and Elizabeth are. Understandably, they’re the protagonists. You know they’re going to make it to the end. Well, now it’s the end. Their long careers are coming to a forced end. They need to fully understand how expendable they are, and we as an audience need to know it as well. Having them personally carry out the thankless end of two people in the spy profession was a skillful way to make the stakes clear to everyone.

Considering how badly this mission went, I think they both know they’re screwed. The walls have closed in on them. You can’t just kill two FBI agents while extracting a Soviet spy and get away with it. Not when it goes down this messily.

That and the fact Stan Beeman either knows the truth, or will soon.

Good Old Neighborly Snooping

There was considerable debate over the past week about whether Stan suspected the Jennings. I’d say the debate is over.

Now I don’t think Stan knows. Not for sure. If he did, he would bring down the full brunt of the FBI on Philip and Elizabeth. However, he clearly suspects them. He would not have broken into their house otherwise. Something recent has clearly awoken his old suspicions about his neighbors. Or rather, multiple somethings.

I doubt that this particular trip out of town suddenly raised Stan’s suspicions in some way the others failed to. Rather, I think it was the final straw after months, if not years of suspicious behavior. He is Philip’s best friend. As he says in this episode, he’s good at reading when something’s up with a person and when he’s being lied to. You know he has seen the fracturing of the Jennings’ marriage, and for longer than we as an audience have.

Considering how sloppy Elizabeth has been in her missions, I suspect her home behavior has been just as sloppy. Has she really tried to maintain a normal schedule warding off suspicion? I doubt it. She takes off at all hours at the drop of a hat. Stan very likely noticed this. For her to take off now, on Thanksgiving, at a time when the FBI has a Soviet spy nailed down, is suspicious enough. For an operation to free the spy being carried out right after she leaves? It seems to have triggered all Stan’s alarm bells.

You also have to wonder if Philip miscalculated in the excuses he gave Stan about his stress, as well as the hug afterwards. Why not explain that he might not be able to pay Henry’s tuition? Why not offer a lie based in truth about his marriage with Elizabeth facing hard times? Surely a failing business is cause enough for significant stress, but Philip is usually better about reading people, and he should have seen how those excuses were failing with Stan. He should have offered that bit more about what’s going on.

It’s too late now. Stan clearly thinks the Jennings’s are spies. He dug up an old case file thinking he can connect it to the botched Chicago operation. The hunt is on, and this time the FBI knows the tricks of the trade they need to catch their targets.

I suppose some people may wonder why Stan doesn’t just tell Aderholt now. I think it’s because this is his career coming to an end. He’s very much in the same position Hank Schrader was in the final season of Breaking Bad. Namely, once it comes out that he was this close to the target he hunted for so long, Stan’s career is done. He won’t survive this. He was too close for too long to survive the professional embarrassment.

He’ll want to be damn sure he can prove Philip and Elizabeth’s guilt before he reports his suspicions. After all, this is probably it for him. Until he can do that, he’ll use the Chicago investigation and the old Philadelphia one to try and make the connection.

Considering there are only three episodes left, I expect he’ll make the connection soon. I was sure he would know for sure by the end of this episode, and he probably does. If he goes beyond next week without some evidence to bring to the FBI, I’d be surprised. We should probably get at least one episode centered on the FBI hunting Philip and Elizabeth, and one (likely the finale) focused on the aftermath. At least, I hope that’s how it goes down. If The Americans tries to shove all this into one episode, it might be too rushed to reach the dramatic potential developed over the 5+ seasons so far.

Of course, maybe I’m wrong about that. After all, as “Harvest” proved yet again, The Americans is a master of sudden consequences. Joe Weisberg and crew know how to bring characters to the brink of victory and rip it away in a heartbeat. Maybe they’ll do so again here. After all, once things fall apart here it won’t take long. It should be sudden, unexpected, and destroy the Jennings family immediately.

You also can’t help but wonder how all the various plotlines will factor in and possibly give Stan clues. With the Summit happening in next week’s episode, it seems like the right time for everything to come to its head, the climax moment after the rising action and preceding the fall. From the summit. Get it? Ha, I like to pretend I’m smart.

Whatever the case, I’ve never been so simultaneously prepared and unprepared to see how a show ends. It continues to be a real pleasure losing myself in these characters.

Other Thoughts:

  • Did Elizabeth realize how those paintings resemble her? Maybe I’m seeing things, but I feel like there was some moment of sudden clarity in the way she looked around the room.
  • Seeing Henry so resigned to his parents’ disappearances was depressing. This poor kid basically doesn’t have a family.
  • Aderholt’s newfound nihilism really hurts. He’s always been so collected and calm. The chaos of this Chicago mission even got to him.
  • I doubt Paige will actually listen to her mother’s requests for an internship in the State Department. Or if she does, she’ll still insist on continuing on missions. Claudia and Elizabeth radicalized her too well.
  • The senior disguises definitely rank among the best disguises on the show. Philip and Elizabeth should have worn those during the extraction attempt. Even after all this time, that one would probably have thrown me for a loop as far as recognizing them.

Images courtesy of FX

 

Bo
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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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