The Americans: Who does Elizabeth kill this week?
“Urban Transport Planning”, the third episode of the final season is named for the seminar Oleg Burov is in DC to attend. When Oleg explains his post-KGB duties to Stan, he could be describing the writers’ task as they wind down the series. How do you coordinate and successfully converge all those separate lines? But while Oleg’s goal is to keep the trains running, the writers are manipulating the rails like Gomez Addams, trying to create the perfect accident.
We open with Elizabeth cleaning general guts off her face, Philip tries to comfort Paige (who thinks it was a suicide).
Philip uses words of wisdom he learned in “that group” he sometimes attends. Paige looks at him skeptically and says, “EST?” in a weary tone channeled from her mother. Philip persists, trying to get her to talk, but they’re interrupted by Elizabeth, who enters yelling at Paige for leaving her position. Then there’s a late night phone call from Henry, with news about the game. Philip goes into supportive dad mode, while Elizabeth continues to glare at her daughter. Paige wants to spend the night, as college kids sometimes do when they need a little coddling from their parents. Philip says yes, but Elizabeth says no. And we all know who wears the bryuki in the household. Just as the season premiere opened with a montage that told us all we needed to know about a marriage, episode three opens with a scene telling us everything we need to know about the Jennings’s family dynamics.
Once Paige is gone, Philip works Elizabeth, and she says more than she should, mentioning the general’s name, the sensor, and “problems” with Gorbachev, before finally telling Philip, “I can’t,” and walking away. Let’s hope she doesn’t decide he knows too much and has to die.
The next day, she puts in a brief appearance at the travel agency where she allegedly works. Once she’s gone, Philip calls Henry’s school and uses his considerable powers of persuasion to get an extension on his bill.
Looks like he might be a wee bit overextended, what with his glasnosting the office space. Time to grab a self-help book and have an impromptu pep rally/sales seminar with his employees. Cult of personality, much?
Elizabeth meets Paige, and at least she’s no longer yelling. Elizabeth talks of the danger of her work,which she tells Paige she’ll never have to face. Elizabeth also tells her daughter how she’s not afraid to die. We’ve been hearing way too much about Elizabeth’s imminent death to believe it’ll happen. We’ve also heard her mention several times that it’ll be easier for Paige. Elizabeth has gotten things wrong before. What if it’s Paige who pays the ultimate price for her parents’ lifestyle?
Stan meets with the world’s most annoying asset Sofia, who still wants a divorce, and casually drops that she’s been confiding in a male coworker whom she “trusts.”
Stan talks to Dennis about the need to extract the whole family due to Sofia’s running her big mouth. Stan is also concerned that maybe sending Genady to the shitter at the airport every single time won’t fool his partner forever, as was pointed out in last week’s recap! Dennis mentions the General’s “suicide.” We get a recap of what happened in season one: The then-colonel shot a guy who accused him of being a spy, leading to Stan’s questioning him, but back then, everyone thought the guy he shot was a lunatic. Now this. Dennis reminds Stan he really should look up his old pal Oleg.
Remember Father Whatever-his-unpronounceable-name-is? Elizabeth meets him in a cemetery, which seems to symbolize something. He wants to know how her husband is doing, and asks her to bring him next time. Maybe for some counseling, as Elizabeth is probably telling him more than she means to about the state of her marriage. Why this particular blast from the past, given that he doesn’t tell her anything that seems relevant to the current mission? Let’s theorize: When he married them in “Dark Room”, he told them that the first one back in Moscow could register the marriage. Anyone else imagining a final scene where one of them is doing that, while the other will either be dead or stuck in the US?
Paige is back on the job with her mom. When does this girl have time for classes, let alone any of the normal things college kids do? Elizabeth in a black wig sneaks into a pizza place where a group of Russian and American negotiators are having a delicious lunch. One of the lunchers is Glen, who of course doesn’t recognize her in a different wig and no glasses, but isn’t this risky? Her back is to the group, but it still feels like another example of the recklessness that comes from not having a partner.
The American negotiators are offering a tutorial on pizza, which is the first of several food related discussions, and then they switch to sports, which causes Glen to mention his wife, so someone changes the subject before he breaks down in tears. An American invites the Russians to watch the World Series at his house. One of the older Russians insists that’s not possible, but a younger one full of glasnost would love to join. I wonder if he’ll get sent home soon or meet with an unfortunate accident. And this is possibly the guy she’s supposed to stop from trading Dead Hand. It doesn’t sound like she’s getting much relevant intel, but she looks like she could use a good meal, so at least there’s that.
Stan finally drops by Oleg’s room. He explains how when the CIA was pressuring (blackmailing) Oleg in Moscow, he threatened to expose secrets to stop him. Oleg still doesn’t trust him, or tell him the real reason he’s back. Then Oleg asks if he ever thinks of “her”, and it’s clear Oleg is still in love with Nina, and that it’s a wound that will never heal. He can’t even bring himself to say her name. They bond over the loss, but it’s not enough to bridge the wall between them. Stan warns him that he doesn’t have diplomatic immunity, and shouldn’t do whatever he came here to do. But we know Oleg came to save the world, and will probably die trying. If only they trusted each other.
Over at Claudia’s school of Russian culture, it’s time for a cooking class. Beef stew! Which doesn’t seem to impress Paige all that much, but Elizabeth is clearly moved by this taste of home. She takes some for Philip, even though it’s against the rules because yeah, that would be the one suspicious thing about them. Philip has just had Chinese takeout and really isn’t hungry, but he takes a bite. Elizabeth immediately dumps the rest, which feels more passive aggressive and withholding than security conscious. She talks about how at Claudia’s they cook and watch movies, and it all reminds her of home, and then when she leaves, she’s in this American hell that she hates so much. Philip talks to her about how things are changing in Russia, but that only riles her up. She doesn’t want Russia to be more like the US. Philip points out that she hasn’t been home in over twenty years and doesn’t really know what people want. She tells him bitterly that he doesn’t either.
And now we’ll be teased again by Renee. Is she or isn’t she a spy? And if so, for whom? If she is, she’s really bad at her job. Stan isn’t even in counterintelligence except a tiny bit, and he never tells her anything. She announces that she’s bored with her job and wants to join the FBI because sure, that’s a great mid-career choice for someone not in law enforcement. Besides, isn’t it cool how the Elizabeth and Philip work together… at the travel agency? Stan tells her she’s past the cutoff age. She asks if he could help her with that. He can’t. What was the point of any of this conversation? Here’s a theory: What if Renee isn’t a spy, but as a bored, wannabe-FBI agent she sleuths something about the neighbors that she mentions to Stan (maybe frozen blintzes in the freezer) and it’s that hint that helps him put it all together?
Philip looks at a sleeping Elizabeth. There’s pain on his face, and a lump in his throat. Next time we see him, he’s in disguise, parking a car. Then there’s a cool fake-out. We think he’s knocking on Oleg’s door because we see someone in a similar jacket knocking on a door, but it’s not Philip. It’s Elizabeth’s target, some schlub who works in quality assurance for the company that makes the MacGuffin sensor. Elizabeth as “Tracy Huffs”, who’s conducting a top-secret security audit, answers the door.
Genady, Sofia, and her son all get scooped up to safety by the feds. Stan has to deliver the bad news to Genady that this is happening because Sofia gabbed. They’ll be in separate locations because Sofia wants a divorce, and he won’t even get to see his stepson again. Genady begs Stan to talk to her, because otherwise he’ll be “alone.” And if we’ve learned one thing from this entire series, it’s that being alone is even worse than being in a lousy fake marriage. Stan says he’ll try. Who knows? Maybe now that Sofia won’t have a shot at her office-husband, she’ll give the husband she does have a reprieve?
Back over at the hotel suite, Elizabeth is conducting the audit. She’s told the weak points in the transfer of the sensors, exactly where unauthorized people might get in. She thanks the schlub, and just when you think he’s going to live through this, he mentions he has a girlfriend who works in security—maybe she knows her?—and that’s enough to earn him an immediate execution. Won’t this be a bit problematic? He’s a big guy, not someone she can just stuff in a suitcase and wheel out of the room. Who’s she gonna call?
We end with Philip finally meeting again with Oleg, which is huge now that Philip knows about the sensor, and if Oleg does wind up giving that little bit of intel to Stan, and someone finds the schlub’s body and begins to put things together, could this be the beginning of the end?