Dec 24, 2019
The Americans: Breathing room
This week’s penultimate episode offers more smiles than have ever been seen before on The Americans. There are even some happy surprises, but it ends with the proverbial ticking time bomb and we won’t know till next week whether there will be a big boom or a little pfft.
We open outside of church where Pastor Tim tells his fav parishioner that he, Alice, and baby Claire “Sing Out” Louise will soon be leaving for his new gig what suddenly popped up in beautiful Buenos Aires. He mentions his time in Ecuador (which Paige knew about from his diary) and how happy he is about the job, and the chance for their daughter to grow up bilingual because that’s the kind of granola-eating stooge of the commies Christian that he is (the kind that hates America so much that English-only isn’t good enough). Paige acts surprised because like her mom, she’s naturally good at the phony baloney stuff.
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At home, where nobody even bothers asking “Where’s Henry?” since even if he is home he probably has headphones on and is busy playing war games with a military supercomputer he hacked into, Paige tells her parents the news. She then takes off her cross and tries to dump it in the garbage, but Elizabeth tells her that will have to wait till after Pastor Tim is actually gone.
Well she’s sure not wasting time, but did we miss something? Wasn’t it three episodes ago she was still referencing her baptism as the most important day of her life? What caused her to go full on commie atheist? Was it the break up with Matthew? Reading Tim’s take on her in the diary? Believing that her parents stopped the evil-USA from poisoning Soviet wheat? All of the above?
Oleg is being interrogated by that oh so slick agent that led the search of his room. When asked about Tatiana, Oleg quickly offers the information that they had “an intimate relationship,” but he denies she ever told him anything about what she was working on. He also states, probably truthfully, that he isn’t familiar with the name Vitaly Sorokin or William Crandell. As for Stan Beeman, no they really weren’t planning to open a private detective agency in a buddy spin off after the Cold War ended. Comrade Slick points to the little problem they have with Oleg’s being a link to both Stan and Tati, and someone gave Stan the intel. Oleg points out that Stan was in counterintelligence so it’s not unlikely he’d be in on a big operation, but the intel didn’t come from him. It looks like a stalemate. They can’t find the evidence, and he’s smart enough not to offer it to them. Also maybe they have to tread lightly given the fact that his dad is a big shot.
Sofia Kovalenko stops by to visit her two bachelor uncles Stan and Aderholt, only she has a surprise. Meet Gdeny her new fiance, the courier.
The FBI guys can’t actually keep the poker face together. Gdeny tells his new friends that he’s “Not political” and totes cool with what his girlfriend is doing, but she should be getting more money for risking her life and all, and oh yeah, he could help too. Also he gives them autographed team photos! Go Russia!
The Jennings tell Claudia about Pastor Tim, and mention they might be heading toward retirement. Claudia assures them that after a period of adjustment, the children will lead “interesting lives” and people don’t usually regret “coming home” (don’t go by her experience). She suggests not telling Henry until they’re there. Perhaps the Center could provide some medication for him or a suitcase to pack him in? Isn’t that EXACTLY what they couldn’t believe that rotten stinking Alexei did when he came to America? But if they do it, it’s totally different.
Oleg finds out that Ektarina, the first witness he spoke with, the manageress of the well-run store where Martha shops, has been arrested. He pleads with the Colonel that they offered her immunity if she cooperated, which she did, and she just got caught up in something. He tells Oleg it’s the prosecutor’s call, and that they’re also going to arrest Fomina and her boss. Poor Dmitri (the guy what sat in a cell and finally cracked) is looking at fifteen years.
Dee/Elizabeth is hanging with Pasha’s mom when Pasha comes home with a black eye. Dee encourages her to take charge because “fathers don’t always know what’s right,” but Pasha’s mom says it’s helpless. Alexei won’t admit that coming to the US was a mistake.
Elizabeth then tells Tuan they’re going to have rethink the plan because Pasha’s mom is so helpless. She briefly references her own son. Tuan asks her about her kids. It takes a moment of calculation for her to admit she has kids (even though she just referenced having them). Then he tells her “We’ll figure out Pasha.” And she let’s it go. So now she’s taking advice from a teenager? One whom she doesn’t trust enough to readily admit she has children? One whose screw up already almost blew the mission? Is she having an off day or has she really been doing this way too long?
In the vault, Aderholt, Munchkin and Stan discuss the Kovalenko situation. Is she blown and being used? Is she in on a deception? (Aderholt’s gut says no.) Could this too-good-to-be-true break be for real? Munchkin says time will tell.
Oleg asks his mother about the camp. Is this because he’s imagining his own life in jail? Not to worry, it’ll be a pretty short life if he’s convicted of high treason. His mother confesses it wasn’t bad. All she had to do was sex up the doctor whenever he wanted it. She had food, shoes and a thick blanket. Oleg dies a little.
The Jennings drop by to see Pastor Tim, or are these sessions he still forces them to attend as part of his deal to keep their secret? They give him a compass as a going away present so he won’t get lost like that time in Africa when Alice almost ratted them out. Probably the Center’s idea, as that level of irony seems beyond the Jennings.
Then they actually ask him for advice, which is pretty amazing given how they talk about him behind his back. They tell him they may be going home, and ask him about taking Paige and Henry. He tells them that putting off the hard decisions is another way of making them. They won’t be able to decide for their kids in a few years, but he also tells them he can’t really advise them. What if he had actually done what a competent counselor would have done and listened more? Asked hem probing questions instead of acting like he was supposed to be the guy with the answers? What if he had asked them: “Have you on your job come across a situation where a parent kept something that big from a kid and then suddenly moved him or her to another country? How did that work out?”
When they get home, Henry and Chris have made dinner for them. Henry wanted to thank them for being so cool about the St. Andrews thing. Uh oh.
Meantime in the USSR, Mischa meets his father’s brother. How did those two get together? Could it have been the intervention of the angel Gabriel?
At some later point, when Henry is once again absent, Paige tells her parents she is happy. She slept through the night for the first time in forever, but she’s also got questions about the whole Pastor Tim thing. Her parents must seem like the most powerful people in the world. They can secretly save lives and get rid of inconvenient people in a way where it all works out! What adolescent wouldn’t want that kind of control? No wonder she’s trading in Jesus. She asks them how they got their names. They tell her that the Center worked it out. They belonged to dead people. They don’t explain whether they were long ago dead, or whether they were semi-random people the Center killed because they were the right ages and didn’t come from big nosy families.
The Colonel tells Oleg and Peter Lorre that the prosecutor decided to let Ektarina go. It sounds like the Colonel asked him to, and Oleg is properly grateful. Then the Colonel breaks the news that Fomina’s boss isn’t being arrested. The prosecutor told him he was told by a high-up general type who got it from the Central Committee to let him go. So what was all this for?
Oleg returns to Ektarina’s semi-full market where she is back on the job. He doesn’t approach her, but you can see he’s relieved she really has returned, and no we don’t get another glimpse of Martha in a kerchief.
Back home, he and Dad sit down together. They talk frankly but even behind closed doors in slightly muffled tones about the political situation. Oleg tells his father he wants to go for the middle because that’s where you can get things done. He tells him about his little victory with Ektarina – of course with no details. He tells his father that the higher-ups, present company excepted, are “just shit.” Dad is like “You just worked that out?” But even the snark is laced with affection and admiration. His father knows real insider things and tells him the corruption is even worse, more entrenched than he imagined. His father sees no way to change it, but he has some power and he’ll crush anyone who comes after his son. Oleg tells him the men who searched the room weren’t there because of the investigation, but because of “something else” which he doesn’t tell him about. His father says he doesn’t care. He’s still his son. Oleg firmly again, tells him to leave it. Then he takes a look at his mother in the kitchen, and he goes out in to the night.
Is he’s going again to see if he can meet with the CIA guys who never show up. Does this mean he now wants to work for the CIA? That he thinks the only way to save his country is to betray it? Or is he so at peace with himself that he’s not even trying to save his own skin? Oleg has become the one pure soul, the moral center of the show. He’s Peter Quinn. He’s Jesse Pinkman. Let’s hope he doesn’t share the fate of either of them.
In a much more modest apartment, Mischa Jr. is having dinner with his uncle, his uncle’s wife, and his eight year old cousin. Junior’s uncle tells him how smart his dad was and that if he’s anything like him, that’s pretty great. Mischa, like his distant half-sister, gets a moment to breathe.
Elizabeth and Philip in their flight attendant and pilot drag are sitting in a car discussing taking the kids to Moscow. Even they get a tender moment in this very special episode chuck full of them. They discuss giving the kids Philip’s real last name, and then Elizabeth nods and slightly melts when Philip asks her if she’ll also be known as the missus.
Paige meantime hangs a laundry bag in the garage and starts punching it.
Tuan is already in the house, and when his faux-parents arrive he tells them it’s done. Pasha will be slitting his wrist at seven PM. Here’s the ticking time-bomb we’ve been waiting for all season. We even hear a clock tick and get a brief glimpse of the time – about a minute to. No worries. Tuan told him how to cut his veins, not his arteries, and his parents will be home by 7:15 the latest so he won’t bleed out – probably. Then his mom will take him to Russia for sure. Or if he dies, she’ll probably leave her husband and go back on account of the note blaming his parents for everything.
Elizabeth and Philip actually need to take a minute to discuss this because they are terrible people. Then Elizabeth hands Tuan the phone and firmly takes the role of “adult in the room” telling him to call Pasha and call him off. Tuan snarks at them, “Oh I didn’t know Pasha was the priority here.”
She dials for him, but nobody answers, at which point, Philip puts on his coat and walks out the door. Elizabeth and Tuan follow, but Tuan warns them the car that is always watching, is watching, and Elizabeth tries to call “Greg” back. He keeps going and eventually they all fall into line as though they are just stopping by the neighbors.
The only reason we have to believe Pasha won’t be dead next week is that the last few episodes seemed to be leading inevitably toward his suicide, and this show doesn’t (usually) do obvious. Speaking of red-herrings, we haven’t seen Renee in a while. And wasn’t that something, having Gdeny, the really big fish, just fall into the FBI’s lap? What a short strange season it’s been! Drab enough that every episode could have been called Darkroom. We started by being stuck in a grave, and every time we feel like we may be getting out, we fall back in — and just like poor Hans, we may be falling on something sharp and deadly. So many disparate plot threads! Yet, this is a show that’s as meticulously plotted as those long-game cons Elizabeth and Philip are so good at, and it’s beginning to seem like this entire season has been one long set up for the next year’s final ten episodes. Will the season finale begin to the process of tying everything together? Or will we be left with the threads scattering in the wind? Feel free to speculate in the comments below. Like Pastor Tim, I don’t have any answers for you.