The Americans: Burn baby burn

In “The Summit”, the nearly perfect eighth episode of the final season (perfection would have included Oleg), Elizabeth finally puts humanity ahead of mission. The build-up has been going on for a while. The suspense was in wondering whether the writers could pull it off. Would we buy Elizabeth’s change of heart?

We’ve all been watching Stan, wondering whether or not he’ll figure it out, (spoiler alert: yes, he will) while the writers have been setting up Elizabeth’s epiphany. Watching her “get it” in the EST-ian sense was a marvel to behold. Like the Hemingway misquote, it happened slowly, and then all at once. Would someone hand Keri Russell, her husband, and the writers their Emmys, please?

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We open with Philip in a state of dread. And why not? He’s waiting for Elizabeth to come home so he can finally blurt out that he’s been seeing some guy from Russia behind her back. When she finds out her husband has been spying on her, like she was a common Martha, she’s more than miffed.

Sure, she used to report on him, but that was before they were real married.

He says he tried to tell her, many times. She calls bullshit and reminds him, once again, how he loves to talk, and would’ve found a way to say the words. This leads to Philip’s other confession, that he wanted to get her to think, and to finally become a human being. And that leads her to walk out before her head explodes. At least she didn’t kill him… yet.

Maybe she just didn’t have time because she has an important lunch with the Riffifi kid who has a name, but let’s just call him the Movie Goer because it sounds European and arty. As Wendy Gallagher, she’s dangling that job offer and so much more, and all she needs is a detailed report about everything he’s seen and heard at the internship to show off his observational skills, and don’t worry because everyone who reads it has top level clearance.

Over at the FBI, they’re bringing in the priest, and they aren’t forgetting about Oleg either. If someone mentions him again, will he appear like Candyman? Unfortunately, not in this episode.

Elizabeth tells Claudia she’s planning to put a listening device in Glen’s briefcase, but when she gets to his house, things are too quiet. She heads upstairs where she finds him with Erica, who’s unconscious but moaning. He gave her all her morphine but she’s not dead, and he doesn’t know what to do. She tells him to say goodbye to her and get out. Nurse Stephanie is going to take care of it. With Glen out of the room, she takes a look around. It’s not going to be the suicide pill, which after all would get everyone in big trouble if there were an autopsy. Instead, she kisses Erica’s forehead, and sticks a paintbrush down Erica’s throat. There’s some thrashing. It’s not an easy scene to watch, but she gets the job done. Afterwards, she tells Glen to spend some time with Erica, as it’s the last time they’ll be together. Downstairs, she snaps some photos of his briefcase, but it doesn’t matter. He’s not going to any more meetings.

Meanwhile at the FBI, they’ve got sketches from years of cases. Is there an army of illegals or are they all same people? Dennis still doesn’t know.

Over at the Haskerts’, Glen tells Stephanie to take a painting. She demurs. He insists, and her eyes make the decision, going to the large canvas we’ve seen her staring at all season. We know she’s going to destroy it, and we hate her for it. But something surprising happens. First she can’t bring herself to burn the painting. She takes the canvas off the frame, and folds it up to hide it, but then she takes it out again. Too risky. When she burns it, it’s a ritual, a ceremony. There’s alchemy to it, and respect.

She never has this problem when it comes to destroying people.

And then she’s back in Wendy drag because it’s time to seduce the Movie Goer, and even though he tells us he’s 21, it’s even ickier than watching Jimmy and Kimmie.

Stan is staring at a photo of the Jennings when Renee comes home from work. Hey, guess what! She has a job interview in personnel at the FBI. Stan tells her not to worry. All they need to know is if she’s a loyal American and can keep a secret. Heh heh. They’re just playing with us at this point, right? What are they going to do, make her a Mossad agent who tackles Elizabeth to keep her from getting away? While that might be spectacular, it would only work on the Shonda Rhimes version of the show.

The next morning, Wendy asks her alleged boytoy for a favor, and it’s not more sexy times, thank god. She needs to drop off some papers for a client at the State Department, but doesn’t have time. Could he just leave this box in a room. The Movie Goer does as he’s told.

Philip is alone and lonely in his office which looks like a little cave. He tries calling Henry, but he’s maybe at hockey practice, and ineffectual dad is so ineffectual that Philip has to ask before the person who answers the phone even bothers to look for him. Maybe Henry is right there, refusing to pick up, because his dad is such a drag.

Stan is in a Roy Rogers not in Franconia. He meets Curtis, who was one of Gregory’s guys, but not a spy, and made a deal long ago with the FBI man. He shows Curtis a photo of Elizabeth and asks if she could have been the white woman who Gregory used to hang with. Curtis says it could be her or it could not be her. Stan asks him what he remembers exactly. He remembers she was beautiful and had great hair, which is maybe a little too on the nose meta.

Maybe Stan should have used this photo.

Then Curtis mentions another detail. She smoked like a chimney. Stan’s face: priceless.

This is as close to Hank on the toilet seat reading Leaves of Grass as we’re going to get.

Wendy calls the Movie Goer and tells him that her client’s meeting was canceled after all, so could she just pick up that box again and bring it to her? She’s outside. She’ll be waiting in her car.

Philip has left his office, and decides to call on Stavros so he can tell him how bad he feels about firing him. Here’s a clue, Philip: Stavros probably feels worse about not having a job than you do about letting him go, especially given that the stock market crashed in October, and nobody is going on those stupid tours anymore. Philip makes it seem like he was dong Stavros a favor because the business might close soon anyway. Stavros tells him not to worry because he’s not going to go to the police about the stuff going on in the backroom. He was raised to be loyal.

Fortunately, Philip doesn’t kill Stavros, but we haven’t seen him look this surprised since he found out Henry was a whiz kid. And stuff like this has to make you wonder how exactly Elizabeth and Philip survived this whole time. Stavros’s knowing something wasn’t 100% kosher should come as no surprise to anyone although he probably just thought they were smuggling drugs.

Prior to the Stavros visit, Philip gets fitted for a tailored suit. What’s this about? Theories are welcome, mine  is a Death of a Salesman type suicide. He’d do it for an insurance policy to keep Paige in college and let Henry finish up in boarding school. An American tragedy, indeed.

The Movie Goer gets into the car with Elizabeth. Big mistake! He looks terrified. To begin with, he saw the room schedule and knows there was no canceled meeting. Also, he looked in the box and found a recording device.

That moment in the nightmare when you realize the beautiful lady is a monster.

Elizabeth drives him to a deserted location, and tries to explain that’s just the way things work in the real world. Her client couldn’t be at the meeting, and needed the information. Perfectly normal! He doesn’t think so, and might maybe call his dad because he’s pretty sure that’s not how his dad does business. She digs her claw into his arm and tells him not to mention it to his father or anybody and to tell her he understands. But he tells her that he doesn’t understand. After a very long moment of calculation, she tells him to enjoy his last semester, and go into the paving business. Her company isn’t the right fit for him. She lets him leave and live.

Yes, she has let people go before who she thought were too terrified to talk, but this kid is too dumb not to talk, and sure she was wearing a wig, but he had an intimate view of her. We’ve never seen her take this big a chance.

She listens to the tape of the meeting between Nesterenko and some of the negotiators. He’s telling them that Gorbachev’s dream is total elimination of nuclear weapons on both sides. Dead Hand isn’t mentioned. She reports to Claudia, telling her that Nesterenko didn’t say anything suspicious. Claudia tells her it doesn’t matter. She needs to “take care of him” and soon. Elizabeth looks like she’s going to do it. She has an opportunity to Markov the guy, but she walks right past him instead.

Whaaaa? That’s two people she should have killed!

Philip gets into disguise in order to go to a bookstore in a neighboring town (like how Elizabeth advised Paige to do) so he can buy a Russian movie. At home, he pops it into the video player, and let’s hope Stan doesn’t stop by for a brewski!

Could this be the last time we’ll see Philip in disguise?

Elizabeth tells Claudia she didn’t kill Nesterenko because he seems “like a decent man.” Well, if that’s her criteria, she’s got a lot of explaining to do! She tells Claudia that this time she needs to know why. This leads to a big fat confession from Claudia. Seems she knows exactly what Elizabeth has been doing and more about the why than Elizabeth does. There’s a plot a-brewing. Some people back home at the Center and in the military aren’t too thrilled about the new guy (Gorbachev) with his openness and all. The plan is to alter Elizabeth’s reports, and make it look like Gorbachev was ready to give away the franchise, and then to send that report to certain sympathetic members of the Central Committee, so that Gorbachev can be removed.

Elizabeth says no to being a part of a communist plot against communists, and she’s super angry that Claudia has been lying to her. Sure, Philip was lying to her, but he did it out of love, and it sounds like his guy had it right. It was never about “Dead Hand.”

History doesn’t record this plot, but is it believable? Your humble recapper will tell now you a story: Long, long ago, my mother’s cousin from the Old Country (the USSR) paid us a couple of visits. The first time, we expected her to kiss the ground and defect, but no. She loved her life in Soviet Union. A few years later, maybe 1988, my father told me that they’d gotten a letter from her brother. She’d died. I asked what of. “Perestroika,” my father replied.

So yes, this is a pretty credible story line.

Quick shot of Stan obsessively making like Mrs. Kravitz, looking at the house across the street, as Elizabeth pulls in. Renee appears to be oblivious, and is trying to coax her husband into bed. (Or is she?)

Elizabeth tells Philip she needs to talk to his guy AKA Oleg. Philip wants to know why, not because he’s a busy body or anything, but she might want to kill him. Elizabeth isn’t interested in giving him a long explanation. She’s still mad at him, but she’s madder at Claudia. She gives a Philip a message for Oleg. What he’s worried about is happening, and she tells Philip the details. Philip has to go to the dead drop because she’s got to go and protect Nesterenko.

We’re going into the final two with a hell of a set up. Will Philip and Elizabeth be able to save Gorbachev and the treaty? (History says yes.) Looks from the previews like Oleg is going to be answering some questions at FBI headquarters. Will Philip get the message to him in time? Will Oleg have a chance to pass the information to Arkady? And what role will Stan play?

Next week’s episode is entitled “Jennings, Elizabeth”. Wouldn’t it be ironic and sad if Elizabeth took a bullet (or a poisoned umbrella tip) from one of her own? Yes, it would, but that might be coming. Then again, there are still an infinite number of ways this show could end, and we’ll know soon enough.

Marion Stein

Marion writes television recaps and reviews for the Agony Booth, and books you can find over at Amazon.

TV Show: The Americans

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