The Americans: Four wigs and no funerals

Welcome to another week of dread, close calls, and the longest long game on television. Can Elizabeth Jennings, the hardest working spy in Spytown, keep dodging bullets forever, literally? With only six remaining episodes, we’ll know soon enough.

Gone is the carefree linedancing Philip of last week. He watches the wife he’s now spying on having yet another cigarette. Is this the morning after the night before, or has it been going on like this for weeks, months, or years?

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Guess who’s back! It’s Mail Robot, making a special guest appearance at FBI headquarters. Mail Robot seems like an apt symbol for so much about the show and the time period. Like Philip’s travel agency, Mail Robot will soon be obsolete thanks to technological advances, and while the show was inspired by real “illegals” caught in 2011, the cold war spy v. spy stuff was dead, or so we thought.

Not the only blast from the past in this episode.

Not a lot of staff are around at the FBI because of the SUMMIT, which will be referred to constantly throughout the episode. Dennis tells Stan that Oleg is in town, with a tourist visa, for a class in transportation systems. Stan will maybe pay him a visit. Will Oleg punch him out for ratting him out to the CIA? Or will they be bros again? Looks like we’re not going to know until next week!

Elizabeth, wearing the first of four wigs, runs into Patrick, an older man who thinks she works, as he does, at the State Department. He’s working on the SUMMIT and he’s a blabbermouth. Granted, he thinks he’s talking to a colleague, or at least a low-level staffer, but he just won’t shut up. She gets him to agree to lunch, but he insists on meeting in the State Department cafeteria, as he’s super-pressed for time. That’s going to take another wig, isn’t it?

Wig #1: The “mentee”.

Stan meets “Teacup” AKA Gedenny. Three years into his marriage with Sofia, and he’s aged ten. She wants a divorce. Is his code name a reference to his drinking? And worst of all, Stan is his only friend, and the only one he can turn to for help. Geez, they got Sofia a dentist; can’t they get this couple a marriage counselor?

Is this show not sad and fatalistic enough without bringing in a terminally ill person? In in her role as home health aide, Elizabeth finds out that Glen has been stockpiling morphine for his wife Erica, and planning to use it when things get intolerable. Elizabeth as Stephanie tells him that’s a bad idea, and volunteers to help do the deed. Is she actually being merciful? And planning to use her talent for death for good? Nope, we’ll learn later in a conversation with Claudia that she needs to keep Erica alive at least through the SUMMIT. Elizabeth confesses to Claudia that she doesn’t get Erica’s art thing. Glen may be working for her mortal enemy, but at least he’s “doing something.” Are they trying to make Elizabeth so unlikable we won’t care if she dies?

Wig #2: The “frump”.

In this week in babushka-ing Soviet-style, Claudia plays Tchaikovsky for Paige and explains that the composer’s mother died when he was young (foreshadowing, much?) and he led a lonely life. She doesn’t mention he was gay, so therefore had to keep things hidden back in the 19th century, and also would have had to do so in the 20th as well, when the Soviet Union considered homosexuality a disorder caused by capitalism.

Claudia has a new assignment for Elizabeth, and probably no one else left to give it to. Elizabeth has to get a lithium-based radiation sensor. Don’t ask Claudia why, because it’s another one of those tippy-top secret things they aren’t telling her about, and don’t think she doesn’t resent it. Speaking of that tough new assignment, the one involving the suicide pill, Elizabeth tells Claudia that if anything happens to her she should finish training Paige—whom she isn’t worried about at all because presumably she’ll just have a nice desk job at the State Department or CIA that won’t involve any honey trapping, or stuffing bodies into suitcases. Sure, keep telling yourself it’s going to all work out!

Stan is now listening to the “she said” part of the he said/she said between Teacup and Cupcake. Sounds like Sofia may already have husband number three lined up. She wants a D-I-V-O-R-C-E.

There’s another scene at Casa Jennings, where Elizabeth is smoking in the yard. They talk about the night before, and it seems like we are referring to last week’s episode when Elizabeth killed the guy that had Paige’s fake ID. She tells him that Paige forgot someone’s name, and then she goes inside. Philip still has nothing. Maybe he needs to honey-trap her, and pillow talk it out of her.

Philip might need some enhanced interrogation to crack this.

Elizabeth in wig number three meets with General Rennhull of the US Air Force. Back in season one, he was a colonel who met with Philip because he thought the “Star Wars” program was a fantasy and people in his government were deluded, but now Elizabeth is the crazy ex-girlfriend refusing to be ignored. She wants him to get her the MacGuffin lithium-based sensor, and she’s not taking no for an answer. He has to meet her at the specified time and place or else.

Wig #3: “All business.”

In today’s Spycraft 101, we watch how Gedanny’s carrier pack gets x-rayed from the next stall as he pretends to be using the shitter at the airport. Mightn’t his partner get a tad suspicious that he always has to go boom-boom before and/or after a flight, and there’s always someone in the next stall?

In a fourth wig, Elizabeth is blending in with a group of tourists visiting the State Department. Who knew they had tours? She sneaks away because no one will notice, except the tour guide totally does, and gives a description.

Wig #4: The “blendy”. Probably doesn’t work the way it should. Even from the back, with the tan overcoat, she’s still the one we notice.

After a quick change in the ladies room, she makes it to the cafeteria back in her “Maggie” wig and glasses and meets with Patrick, only she spots some military personnel checking IDs, and convinces Patrick to grab his tray and go outside. That was close! What bit of juicy gossip does he have about the SUMMIT? Not much directly on that, but he does mention that those closest to Reagan think he’s been forgetful, not focused, almost a different person, maybe even senile.

Elizabeth can’t wait to tell Claudia! This seems to make things even more tense because as tough as Reagan is, those around him may be even worse.

Paige tells her mom she picked up a book and it mentions how Russian spies are always sexing people up and Elizabeth wouldn’t happen to know anyone who does that, would she? Elizabeth handles this by telling her that never happens, than backtracking slightly and admitting that maybe “some people” cross the line. Then it’s time to meet the General, while Paige hangs back somewhere.

The General has decided not to cooperate. Elizabeth tells him that once he retires, she’ll have no reason to ever bother him again, and wouldn’t he rather retire than spend the next few decades in prison? She gives him a new date and time to meet her and goes on her merry way.

Over at Erica’s, Elizabeth snaps some photos of papers on Glen’s desk, and in a shout-out to ye olde laundry room at her home, pretends she was just bringing Erica some clean clothes. It’s amazing how “Stephanie” doesn’t even pretend to be impressed by Erica’s drawings. Erica decides it’s time for an impromptu lesson and demands that Elizabeth draw a mug, but just the dark parts. Wouldn’t that be something, if art proved her undoing? A pencil as the blade to melt that icy cold heart?

It’s time for our minute of Henry! Henry and Philip have a very normal phone conversation about the travel agency. Philip lost a long-term client that he’d passed along to an underling. Henry points out that he never should have passed him on. The scene seems like fluff, but nothing is wasted on this show. You have to wonder about Henry, who somehow missed a lot of the darkness going on in his own family. He sees his dad as a travel agent, and appears to have blocked out all those times his parents were mysteriously absent, or just plain strange. Perhaps it’s not having to maintain their cover in front of the children that’s further accelerating the breakdown of the marriage. Maybe that’s why so many parents break up after the kids are out of the house.

Paige is waiting by the car doing whatever partners do while Elizabeth goes to meet the General. Of course it’s nighttime by a lonely trail-head. The General hasn’t brought the special whatsit this time either, but he has a gun, and he’s going to use it. Suddenly, she’s crouching and pleading that she’s a mother of two. While we know this to be factually true, the emotion seems fake. She’s buying time.

“But I haven’t finished training my daughter to do this yet!”

What happens next is a little unclear. He shoots, and she lunges. Did he miss? Did she instinctually lunge before he shot? Was she faster than a speeding bullet? She’s alive, and they struggle, so he probably didn’t shoot himself, but then he winds up dead and she winds up with General brains on her face, and Paige who heard the bullets comes running, and Elizabeth yells at her to “Follow the plan” and get back to the car.

Next week’s episode is named for the transit seminar Oleg is allegedly taking, so at least we’ll get to see him. Let’s hope he doesn’t end up dead or in prison.

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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