The Americans: The coldest war is in the bedroom

In “Mr. and Mrs Teacup”, the fourth of the final 8 episodes of The Americans, the distance between Elizabeth and Philip continues to grow. Also growing? The weekly body count, as our death march to the inevitably tragic conclusion trudges on.

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We open with Oleg warning Philip they won’t be able to meet in person again. He lays it out: There are people supporting Gorbachev’s reforms, and there are those who are afraid of the “openness.” Unfortunately, the people running the Center are among the latter, and are trying to get rid of the new leader, and scuttle the negotiations. Philip tells him that Elizabeth would never do anything to hurt “our country.” But Oleg tells him she could be used, and while Philip doesn’t know what the audience knows, he knows to whom he’s married.

Fans may have hoped for a longer conversation, but this feels right.

Philip returns to the house where Elizabeth is once again out in the yard, furiously smoking. She comes in and they stand on opposite sides of the kitchen, barely speaking.

On another night—or is it later the same one?—Elizabeth is cutting a fence. Paige, Marilyn, and some new guy are in cars keeping a lookout. Elizabeth is at the company that the guy she murdered last week worked at. She’s still trying to get that damn MacGuffin sensor. An alarm goes off and she shoots out the lights. But her gun has a silencer, so it’s just a pop. The thingamajig is wrapped so tightly in plastic she can’t get to it. She hears guard’s voices; they’re coming. She shoots another, and then another, and then another? From a distance, she hears sirens and escapes without what she came for, so the body count is probably still going to rise.

Philip may be out of the business, but he’s still working Kimmie even though she’s away at college in Michigan most of the time. Doesn’t she think he’s creepy by now? Also, how come she never wants to meet someplace else? And doesn’t his having to go upstairs to use the bathroom every single time he stops by ever seem suspicious? Does he purposely take a monster dump to smell up the place so she never comes upstairs?

Sure she’s outgrown him, but he still brings her primo weed.

His meeting with Kimmie is bittersweet because she’s in college like Paige, but unlike his daughter, she has a life. She’s going to Greece with friends over Thanksgiving.

Paige is hanging with Elizabeth at Casa Jennings, talking missions when Philip comes home. He doesn’t hide his bitterness or anger that his daughter and his wife are “right back into it” so soon after the general’s “suicide.”  That was so last week. Besides, she tells him, “he was troubled,” and “Mom tried to stop him.” When he pointedly asks Elizabeth why the general “killed himself,” it’s Paige who offers the answer that she must have heard from her mother and/or Granny Claudia, “Sometimes bad things happen.” She has no idea.

Dad is interrupting their mother-daughter bonding.

He leaves them to debrief. Elizabeth tells Paige how proud she is of her, but also warns her not to try to “go after a resource”, by which she means sleep with Brian, a congressional intern who likes her, in order to get intel. Elizabeth tells her she’s not ready, and reminds her the goal is to work at State or even the CIA. Parents set such high standards for their kids! Does this mean Elizabeth will try to Mrs. Robinson him instead? Just kidding; that could lead to awkward humor, and this show mostly avoids funny.

Reality check: Sure, Claudia and Elizabeth are making with the propaganda, but won’t the security guard massacre be reported in the papers? With maybe a mention of the death or disappearance of the quality assurance guy? And what about the naval officer that Elizabeth slaughtered? Wouldn’t his mugging or otherwise mysterious death garner a headline? Would any of this even make a difference to Paige at this point?

Later, Elizabeth tells Philip that he was “out of line” with Paige. Elizabeth is also not satisfied with his Kimmie work. This Greece trip will not do! They need to get into Kimmie’s house before Christmas. Tune in next week (per the promos) to pick up on this thread.

Oleg’s dad calls him and they discuss the seminar in such detail that anyone listening in will fall asleep, but that’s part of the plan. It’s code. Later, Burov the Older meets with Arkady to hand over the notes. Burov tells Arkady that Oleg said he could trust him completely, and Arkady tells Burov that Oleg is trying to do something important. These guys are just so decent, it’s heartbreaking.

The real heroes.

Claudia and Elizabeth meet up. Elizabeth’s been listening to the tape from Kimmie’s. The CIA has an inside source on the negotiations, but Elizabeth doesn’t know who or even where. Claudia tells her that Stan’s remaining counterintelligence case could be the recently defected courier and his wife. The courier “has to be dealt with” before he can become a propaganda tool for the USA. Also, they’ll probably have to do another film night for Paige, but Elizabeth is looking forward to that.

Remember when these two didn’t get along?

Philip has an awkward phone call with Henry about St. Edwards. They may not have the dough to pay for senior year. Can’t Philip use some spycraft to steal some money? Surely he has transferable skills? Henry looks so seriously bummed out that it’s worrisome.

Henry is bummed!

Philip and Elizabeth are in bed. He confesses that the business isn’t going too great, and tells her about Henry’s tuition. She tells him that’s his department. Elizabeth might want to remember how tough it was having to constantly run the sink and sneak around her own house to keep Henry from overhearing something that would make her have to kill him. Philip kisses his wife, but she tells him she’s too tired, and turns away. Next time he wants to get laid, he might not want to start by talking about their financial problems. Then again, that’s probably the least of their worries.

The Jennings bed of death. Think he misses Martha?

Elizabeth has the team tailing Stan to get to Gedany, and everyone except for Julie/Paige, because if Elizabeth had to take out Mr. Beeman, that would be awkward.

And as if the show weren’t bleak enough, we go over to Erica’s House of Dying. Erica is now regretting all that time painting, and wishes she had just spent those hours with Glen. There’s an irony that Elizabeth is not close to seeing, because she too has devoted her life to an abstraction. Glen mentions going to watch the game at his coworker’s house, and how the Russian will be there. Of course he doesn’t want to leave her. Elizabeth/Stephanie speaks up. They can all go, and she’ll help with Erica’s meds. It looks like Elizabeth is finally catching a break and can find out what Nesterenko (the Soviet target she was given the secret order to spy on) is up to.

Stan meets Dennis in the vault. Apparently, he’s got Teacup and Cupcake back together, but they’re giving everybody in “relocation” a headache and demanding to see Stan, so would he please help Dennis out and talk to them? Oh boy! Given this show’s penchant for misdirection, it’s easy to imagine something going horribly wrong, like Elizabeth trying to take out Gedany and hitting Stan instead, which frankly she wouldn’t lose any sleep over, but Philip might have a problem with that.

“Yeah, I agree it’s funny they want you as a marriage counselor, given your track record and that you’re probably married to a spy and all.”

So with all this financial pressure, plus being married to Elizabeth, what’s a guy to do? Philip puts on his cowboy boots and goes line dancing with his staff, because sometimes you’ve got to live in the moment. Also, it’s the American thing to do, which we can tell by the large flag.

Even with that Dad Bod, he could put that dancing talent to use for cash performing at bridal showers and the like.

Despite Elizabeth’s advice, Paige sleeps with Brian the intern. We see her in bed the next morning, checking out his stuff, including his intern badge. Look at little Paige, all growed up!

It’s time for the World Series, and Elizabeth had a bug sown into Glen’s special baseball-watching jacket. She spots Glen talking to Nesterenko, and you can see that little bit of relief on her face. Finally, something is going right, but then Erica gets sick and starts projectile vomiting. Nesterenko comes over, just because he’s a nice guy and wants to help. He’s close enough for Elizabeth to take him out right then and there and stop his crazy quest for world peace, but she’s distracted by some puke landing on her, and so the three of them leave. Later, we see her listening to the tape. He’s mostly telling Glen how sorry he is about his wife, and then it sounds like he’s about to say something important, but they’re interrupted by Erica, so they run to the kitchen.

She’s taking off her health aide drag while listening. She knows how to multi-task.

Philip is eating chips and still trying to balance his accounts. He looks at a sandwich he’s not even eating and has a childhood flashback to devouring the scrapings off pots in the old country.

That’s the end of the episode, but where is this going? While Elizabeth continues her murder spree, no major character has died yet. There’s less a sense of suspense than overwhelming dread. Death is coming and probably to a character or two we care about. Will it be Henry, seemingly out of the blue, killing himself because he feels the future he was promised has been snatched away? Or Paige, when she realizes who and what her mother really is? Could Philip decide to make the ultimate sacrifice for Henry and arrange his own accidental death to pay for that final year’s tuition? We haven’t seen that suicide pill recently, but since we were shown the pill in the season opener, doesn’t someone have to take it?

Over the seven years in which this show takes place, we’ve only seen Elizabeth harden. Is it possible in the short time left she could begin to change? The show has played with the idea of redemption, but never for her. Opportunist Nina sacrificed herself to help Anton. Patriotic Oleg “betrayed” his country to try to save her, and later to try to save the world. Paige was hot for Jesus, before she was hot for Marx, and Philip made his own journey thanks in part to EST. Is it possible that Erica’s paintings, or maybe even the common decency of Glen and Nesterenko, could begin to soften Elizabeth? Or get her to doubt her orders?

There have been hints. Elizabeth tells Claudia she’s getting something out of the movie nights. She tells Erica she liked one of her paintings, and she might not have been lying. And there’s that moment when Nesterenko is standing near her, and maybe she sees him as a person trying to make the world a better place, or at least as a human, and not as an enemy. Then again, this is Elizabeth, the woman who’s killed innocents before and has never doubted her own righteousness.

Pulling off such an enormous change at the last minute would be quite a trick, but one the writers might need to risk. Erica’s paintings start with the dark places, but even they have light. The monochromatic darkness of Elizabeth’s world is a black hole sucking the life out of the story. We need something; a moment, even one that might lead to her death or the death of someone she loves. Maybe there will be a doubt, or a moment she hesitates before pulling the trigger. It might not be a happy ending, but it would at least be closure.

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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