The Americans: Moving parts

In an effort to save his marriage, if not his country, Philip joins Elizabeth’s mission to rescue an illegal who the FBI has codenamed “Harvest”. Henry confides in his “Uncle” Stan, which rhymes with Sam. And somebody needs to tell Paige that yes, it’s the 1980s, but shoulder pads are not a good look for her.

We open with Henry at Stan’s waiting for Philip to come over so they can all watch the big game or movie, but Philip has to explain to his son that there’s been another travel agent emergency and he’s going off to Houston to help Elizabeth, and he won’t be back in time to drive him up to school, so maybe he should hitch a ride or something like the kids do.

Bye kid. We’ll always have that Thanksgiving dinner your mom didn’t even bother showing up for.

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Outside of the house, Stan talks to Phil, asking him if something is “going on”. Philip tells him a truth, just not the truth. The business is dying, and he’s been too embarrassed to even talk about it. Then he approaches Stan for a hug, which is sure to confuse a manly man like Stan and get him into a homosexual panic, thus throwing him off the scent.

Philip thinking, “Oh shit! I really don’t have time to kill Stan right now. Better just hug him.”

Philip arrives in Chicago, where Elizabeth is surprised he actually showed up. At first it’s hard for them to even speak, but slowly they get back in the groove with each other, and while they don’t have the sexy times (that we know of) they do get in bed next to each other at the same time and she touches him, like the way couples do when they’ve been with each other forever.

The next day, they discuss the logistics, and she opens up more, admitting that she feels better about their chances with Philip there. She even shows him the suicide pill. He tells her to flush it down the toilet. She won’t. Nor will she tell him more about the mission. He asks her why she even told him about it. She tells him he’s always asking her to tell him things. That’s Elizabeth logic for you.

Stan is dropping Henry off at the home of one of his more well-heeled classmates. How could the KGB have missed out on this particular opportunity for the Jennings to make friends with all kinds of rich and powerful Americanski families that go there? No wonder those mokes lost the Cold War! (Or did they?)

Are Stan and Henry just chatting, or is Stan interrogating him? Or is there a difference when you’ve been at it as long as Stan? Henry mentions how it’s been like this since he was a kid, with his parents getting a call from work, and taking off in the middle of the night. Stan asks if they ever stayed with family, and Henry tells him it was mostly just him and Paige. Stan mentions that time they went to stay with their mother’s aunt after she had a stroke, and it’s clear now to us that he’s working Henry. Henry barely remembers “Aunt Helen” who he just met that one time, and is surprised Stan remembers it at all. Stan tells him he remembers because he was working crazy hours on a case, and when he finished they were all gone.

“Right, Aunt Helen, whom we never saw or heard mentioned again. I wonder whatever happened to good ol’ Aunt Helen.”

Viewers can probably remember even more strange childhood events. Paige and Henry were alone constantly, and sometimes in great danger, like that time when Henry saved both their lives by breaking a bottle over the head of a creep who’d given them a ride. Has Henry blocked this out? Or does he understand there are just some things you don’t even mention to “Uncle” Stan?

In a show that’s gotten so much right in terms of plotting, have they majorly screwed up by not having Stan figure this out several seasons ago, especially given how he was suspicious from day one?

The ill-fated mission that is the centerpiece of the episode is directed spectacularly well, and with more than a nod to Hitchcock. Like everything else this season, it manages to echo previous episodes, specifically other missions in which something, but not everything goes wrong. There are lots of moving parts here… in the form of vehicles. The plan also involves Norm, the man of a thousand faces, none of which anyone ever remembers, as well as Marilyn, plus a lot of Mexican day laborers AKA real “illegals” brought in as a faux construction crew.

But things don’t go as planned, and after two FBI agents and both Harvest and Marilyn are fatally wounded, we get a sequence that’s even yuckier than that time they stuffed Annalise’s body in a suitcase. In a parking lot, Philip cracks open the glass to grab a emergency fire ax and chops off Marilyn’s head and hands. No words are exchanged between Philip and Elizabeth, only gestures and nods. A woman walks through to get her car, as Elizabeth and Philip have a silent discussion about how to handle things. Possibly Philip is yelling telepathically, “Just wait! Don’t kill her.” They don’t need to. She doesn’t see anything, and drives away. Philip continues with the chopping. They pack up a bag that includes wigs, clothes, hands, head, and Harvest’s empty suicide locket.

In an elegiac scene perfectly scored to Patti Smith’s “Broken Flag”, they drive to the lake where Elizabeth stuffs a brick in the bag and throws it into the water. Philip behind the wheel just looks sad.

Over at the FBI, Dennis breaks the news to Stan. Two FBI dead. No illegal. They’re waiting for sketches (from the Mexicans) and more information. Dennis has lost that “can-do” spirit, and now believes everything that has to do with the Russians will turn to shit. It’s Stan’s turn to encourage him to continue the fight.

Stan pulls into his driveway, and looks at the still empty Jennings home. He does a quick break in and finds nothing, not even in places where we’ve seen them leave things. He gets so tantalizingly close, including looking at the circuit breakers and the light socket in the laundry room, and the dryer. Ah good times! But he doesn’t look behind the dryer or remove the panel at the circuit breaker.

So close!

He looks at a photo, and seems to zero in on Elizabeth. Is he wondering if she could be the headless woman they found? And than we get special guest star Dylan Baker as William in a flashback, from when he was delirious and dying in the hospital and mentioned the other illegal, the “lucky” one with a couple of kids and a pretty wife, living the American dream.

Given that the FBI has been sitting on that particular tidbit for the past three years, couldn’t they have gotten a little further along in their investigation? What about at the end of last season when they found the bug in Mail Robot and Dennis was looking to investigate Betty’s death?

In fresh wigs on the plane back, Elizabeth is sketching the airplane window, and explains to Philip, “Someone is making me learn.” They get home, and just for a second Elizabeth pauses in the hallway and you think her spidey-sense might kick in and she’ll say, “Stan was here!” but she doesn’t. Philip calls Henry, who apparently has better things to do than talk to his loser dad. And then Elizabeth tells him she’s leaving for work again, and won’t be back till the following night if she’s lucky, which she hasn’t been once this season. She leaves with no kiss, but she touches his face.

Erica isn’t thrilled by the new sketch that Stephanie shows her. She’s in a ton of pain, and doesn’t want morphine because she knows she’s running out of time, and she needs to keep sketching. What is Elizabeth getting out of these art lessons? Something is shifting, and while she still doesn’t understand what Erica is talking about when she talks about “seeing,” Elizabeth now seems to have a glimmering of awareness that she’s been missing something.

Over at the FBI, Dennis looks exhausted, but Stan is here to help. Maybe he’s shopping for a new bestie, since he’s realizing the one he has may not be the guy he thought he was. Stan has an old box of files about the case six years ago when an illegal in Philly was killed, and his wife “disappeared right in front of us.” Ah! Another one of those missions that involved a lot of moving parts from way back in the first season. It was also a mission that didn’t end well for either side, and perhaps another portent of doom.

Elizabeth drops by the insurance agency, just to check in because she knows Philip is in bad shape. She actually notices Staves is gone. Then she goes to meet Paige. Does Paige actually wear the worst 1980s clothes ever made? Are they worse than Elizabeth’s clothes? Or does everything just hang better on Elizabeth?

Paige’s cover could be blown if she’s arrested by the fashion police.

Elizabeth tells her about Marilyn, leaving out the gory details. Then she tells Paige she really does have a choice and could back out of this, but if she commits she commits for life because when you’re KGB you’re KGB all the way, from your first honeypot till they throw your head over a bridge loaded down with bricks. Paige commits because she really doesn’t have much else going for her, and also she wants to “make a difference” and has completely bought into the propaganda fed to her by Claudia and her mother.

There’s still room for Elizabeth to talk her out of it, something you may or may not scream at the TV depending on whether or not you care if Paige survives the season. It’s startling that there’s no maternal there there when Paige confesses that she has no friends, or that she only hopes to meet someone who could share her spy life so she won’t be so lonely.

Elizabeth is the only one who could persuade Paige to choose another path, and that there’s more than one way to “make a difference,” but it would mean seeing the emptiness of her own existence, the waste it’s been, and admitting she’s only made things worse. If Elizabeth could see outside of herself, the way Erica keeps pushing her to, it would drive her mad. It’s already ruined Philip.

So mom supports her daughter’s decision to keep going, and treats her the way she’d treat any other asset or junior spy in training. She tells her that it’s time for her to go get an internship in the state department. But won’t it take a while to do that? Could this be a trick? A way to get Paige away from the day to day dirt, and just give her some busy work? Let’s hope so for Paige’s sake.

Meantime, Philip sits alone in Casa Jennings recalling that time three years ago when they were about to return to Russia, and he got Father Asset to marry them for realsies. Looks like the marriage thing is no hedge against loneliness. Elizabeth might have mentioned that one to Paige.

The American nightmare.

Three more episodes left. What do the titles tell us? Next week is “The Summit,” followed by “Jennings, Elizabeth,” and “START.” The Americans is way too clever a show to kill off Elizabeth in an episode named for her, so I’m going to speculate (again) that she’s not the one who dies. Furthermore, “START” is the name of a nuclear arms reduction treaty, not signed until 1991. Could we be in for another time jump? And maybe a prisoner exchange? The marriage ceremony flashback is leading me to double-down on my previous stated theory that one of them “gets to Moscow first” like the priest said and registers the marriage.

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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