REVIEW - The Americans: Season 5, Episode 11


You did this over and over again, we know. You know what you are? You're a monster. You want to know who we are? We are them. - Elizabeth Jennings

I want to get out of here. We should just go. I mean it. Let's go home. - Elizabeth Jennings (Ten minutes later)

I was all set to sit down and write about a rather forgettable episode of The Americans, and then the show gave me that last 15 minutes. Whether or not the story itself was one that moved you or not, the manner in which "Natalie" took her last breath was ultimately powerful. It was one of the most devastating scenes we've witnessed on the series since the Oklahoma City laboratory mishap, but there was an even more pronounced no win situation here.

In no way could Philip and Elizabeth walk away once they took the step to enter that home and pull weapons out against its inhabitants. Philip was far less certain of her identity, and even when it became more obvious, he wasn't the one that took the shot. His wife saw in his eyes a man unable, or perhaps unwilling, to do what had to be done in that situation. She's always been the one to take the most drastic action, or at least to lead the charge in that regard, and here, it plays into the larger theme of the season.

Philip Jennings isn't just unhappy with his position in life, he's progressed to a state of downright despondency. He loves his family, but that's basically where it ends for him. He wakes up in the morning, remembers how miserable he is, and then paint-by-numbers his way through his day. That time might be filled with stakeouts and investigations, sex with random women he's attempting to use as assets, or justified or questionable murders. We know that he's killed people without knowing the full truth about them.

How do we know this is so? Simple, because we're shown on a repeated basis that the Center isn't to be trusted. In this very episode, Claudia tells Philip and Elizabeth that she looked into the virus story in Afghanistan and found out the Soviets did indeed harvest and weaponize the last of William's sample. She then says they named it "V" for Vitaly, his Russian name. How sweet of them. What a tribute.

What Philip is regularly asked to do goes from nationalistic and patriotic straight to unfathomably awful, sometimes in the span of a handful of hours. It has taken its toll on him, and after the dual execution at the conclusion of "Dyatkovo," it's also broken Elizabeth. She loves her country and is far stronger in her convictions than her other half, but she shot a "monster" she didn't leave thinking was a beast.

And that's the point here. They had to murder this woman, but they also had to understand what a losing predicament she was in at age 16 when the Nazis arrived, killed her family, and put the worst imaginable fear into her psyche. What was she supposed to do? Die for her country and her people? She was a scared 16-year old girl with no understanding or comprehension of the world. Until that moment, she had never looked into the face of evil. When she was forced to do so, she flinched.

I've never stared into the eyes of pure evil either, but I can't say I'd react much better in that instance. Sure, I'd like to say what I would do, and I'd hope to be strong, but until it happens, the potential reaction is mere speculation. Consider an event like the horrific shootings in San Bernardino. If a terrorist with a gun walked up to me and asked if I was a Christian, I would be honest and say I was, and then I'd be shot dead, or worse. I do believe I would stand in that fire, not deny my faith, and accept the consequences.

But, that's easy for me to say as I write on this keyboard in the air conditioning, with a cold bottle of water next to me, and in no immediate danger. Until it happens, I can't be sure of it.

And I've been on this planet for 38 years.

Philip wants to be 100 percent sure of this woman's past, and of her identity, before he takes her life. He's already snapped an innocent man's neck this season, and he's still not over it. However, is it a reach to think he also just wanted to stall, because he didn't see this person as one that needed that degree of punishment? Three decades had passed, and she had a life with a loving husband. She wasn't working to destroy Russia or involved in intelligence in any form or fashion. She was in hiding, but that was her worst VOLUNTARY sin.

I can't snuff out this girl's existence for making a choice to stay alive, when she wasn't what any of us would classify as an adult. When she first confessed, I thought she was doing it to save her husband, which was true, but she did turn out to be who the KGB believed her to be, so the Center was correct this time. With that said, John said he knew his wife was a good woman, and Philip believed him. Elizabeth, somewhere deep in the recesses of her soul, might also buy that argument.

Luckily, almost half of the "Dyatkovo" running time was spent on this operation, because outside of it, there really wasn't much here, with the notable exception of the mail robot's triumphant return. One of the best lines of the entire series came from that brief few seconds with Stan and Henry in the FBI offices, as Beeman said "It's actually more trouble than it's worth." I'll say. The director should have cut immediately to a sobbing Martha peeling onions in darkness.

Sofia is a nice young woman, naive and innocent, and she's giving Stan and Dennis good information. She's in love with a Russian national hockey player and wants to offer her son the best life she can. It's going to be so sad when this goes south, because we all know it's coming. I don't know if it's going to be Yuri, her beau, or a mistake she makes at some point, but she's so sweet in all these scenes. The Americans doesn't do "sweet," at least not for very long. I'm worried about her, although this time is isn't concern for her life, but for her future.

Burov and Ruslan end up inside Fomina's office searching every nook and cranny, and it leads to the ledger discovery. Inside that book are names, numbers, and personal information of a wealth of contacts that might be pertinent to the investigation. However, when they bring it up to the secretary, she doesn't blink an eye. She doesn't give anything to them, instead saying the KGB has no idea what they're up against. These are dedicated people willing to do whatever it takes to save others. "This is how the whole country works. It's how people get fed. It isn't going to change."

I'm still not particularly invested in this storyline, but the arc does seem to be coming to a close, which is a positive. This isn't one I'd advise dragging out, and its sole purpose is to create rifts between Russia and Oleg Burov, and also to reach the heart of his family history. Both of those goals have been accomplished. The similarities between the day-t0-day lives of Oleg and Philip are intentional, but well-formulated. Both would love to simply be in a state of malaise, rather than sadness and emptiness.

One final quick point about Henry's glowing review of the FBI as a potential occupation. Stan says quite a bit after hearing the teen read those words. It's not the best job in the world, because one of its primary requirements is to lose the possibility of trust in anyone. "I can't explain it to you, Henry, because I can't trust you." Stan calls him the greatest kid in the world, but a person Beeman must treat as a spy. He couldn't even trust his own family, which helped lead to Sandra's exit from the marriage. "That sucks."

Yep. Sometimes the characters on screen say it better than any critic could, but if you apply Stan's sentiment to Elizabeth and Philip, to Gabriel and Claudia, to William, to Tuan, or to anyone else on THAT side of things, it fits just as well. The Americans has slowly, but surely, created a world where everyone we see on the show is living the same life and where the differences are more superficial than we may ever have expected at the outset of the series.

Two more episodes left this season, and both feature showrunners Joe Weisberg and Joel Fields as the credited writers. Expect heavy events, big choices, and of course, here comes the penultimate episode next Tuesday. That usually means something earth shattering and lasting, but we'll have to wait and see. This remains the least engaging Americans season, but that still places it in the upper echelon of television this year. The next two weeks are extremely important in building the anticipation for the final year of the show in 2018.

If I had to place a bet, I would bet on these guys and gals.

I'm @JMartOutkick. You work for the Post?