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SEASON 5, EPISODE 12: THE WORLD COUNCIL OF CHURCHES
It’s good when things can work out for everyone. – Elizabeth Jennings
It wasn’t the quote that was intentionally supposed to reflect the entire episode, and in large part the entire season, but that’s what it was. On this week’s The Americans, Elizabeth tells her daughter that Pastor Tim taking the position in Buenos Aires is a positive development, and helps smooth out that portion of their lives. I want to take those nine words and apply to them to everyone that matters this season, looking back to some characters and looking directly at those with a role in the penultimate episode of the 2017 Americans campaign.
It’s certainly good when things can work out, but have they worked out for everyone? Have they worked out for anyone? For Pastor Tim, he and his wife aren’t strapped to a guillotine or shoved in a suitcase, so you could reasonably answer “yes” to the question. However, he’s also uprooting his family from everything they know, and he’s been manipulated out of the way because he’s a nuisance and an obstacle to the Center. It’s too soon to tell if it will “work out,” because he could be walking into a nightmare.
What if Argentina leads him to illness, or any number of other fates? What if something happens to his child, or to the love of his life? These are possibilities anyone could ask about any other one after any decision, but for simplicity’s sake, let’s put Tim in the yes column. By Americans standards, he’s in decent shape…I think.
Are things working out for Philip and Elizabeth Jennings? They have a nice house and two great kids, although they’ve completely warped the brain of one and have been occasionally negligent of the other. Their work existence is one of pain and hardship, not joy and accomplishment. While the goals might be laudable in their own minds, with each passing week, neither is quite as sure of Russia’s “white hat” quotient. Philip tortures himself thinking of his past, of the son he’s never met, and of whether he’s destroyed the future of his children. Elizabeth is beginning to crack, and the two confide in Claudia of their increasing desire to end their tour in the United States.
The Jennings parents also sit down with Tim and ask for his advice on the biggest decision they have ever, or will ever make, at least since joining the KGB. It’s a difficult choice, and Tim hears them out as a counselor, but one that knows many of the secrets no one else does. He points to Paige and Henry, wondering how the shift and transition would impact them. He also says something very intelligent. If there’s a time to do it, it’s right now, because soon, they’ll be 18, and then there’s no guarantee they’ll leave the country when asked. Tim doesn’t realize the Center would just kill them both if it came to that, because he doesn’t fully grasp how close he’s been to a Soviet-ordered death on multiple occasions.
How are things “working out” for Paige at this stage? Well, she’s developing into quite the little fighter, taking that punching bag to task in the garage. She’s had to report back to her parents on Pastor Tim and the happenings within the church. Her grades aren’t bad, but she’s been supplanted by her younger brother, who is on the verge of being Doogie Howser.
Here’s the one thing we haven’t seen Paige Jennings do in quite some time, and this is what ensures she gets the ultimate “no” response. How many of her friends have we met? How many times has she gone to a movie, or had a slumber party, or done much of anything but study Karl Marx in a dimly lit bedroom? I don’t need to give you the number. The point is made. Her one outlet was Matthew, and she felt she had to end the romance, despite being in love with him.
Oleg Burov is yet another character where things aren’t even in the vicinity of “working out.” I’ve been waiting for him to hang himself for half of the season. He knows he’s going after people attempting to feed a nation controlled by tyranny and rations. He fights for Ekaterina Rykova, and does so successfully. He and Ruslan did great work during the operation, but he fears his time in America, particularly his interactions with Stan Beeman, will be his downfall. He begs his father not to save him when the time comes, that his parents have nothing to do with the mistakes he made. His dad simply says he knows his son is good, and he will do whatever it takes to protect the boy of whom he’s so proud.
By the way, notice Burov goes to the supermarket to make sure Rykova is back at work. He doesn’t take his supervisors or, by proxy, his country, at their word. He offers a slight grin when he sees her in the store, because he then knows she’s not in Siberia or a shallow grave. But – and I had a reader write to me last week to offer this idea – the food storyline’s true purpose may have been to show that nobody buys Moscow’s shit anymore, even those working for them. It’s the difference between that world and the one stateside, where despite opinions on Reagan’s administration, people have the advantages of individual choice and personal freedom.
As for the other kids on the show, Mischa is doing better now than he was the last time we saw him, but have things “worked out” for him? He’s got a job, and his uncle has taken him in and given him a glimpse of the family he’s never seen, but the goal of finding and speaking with his own father eludes him. His life isn’t easy, he doesn’t make much money, and in similar fashion to Paige, he seemingly has no relationships.
Henry is hanging out with the lovely Kris and planning a future at St. Edwards, but he has no idea his parents are close to taking him to Moscow on a permanent basis. Tuan is almost a sociopath, and his worldview is filled with rage and singular focus. He convinces the other child, Pasha, to slit his wrists in such a way that he ALMOST dies, simply to convince a reticent mother to take him out of the country. To call that cold blooded (no pun intended) would be a massive understatement. “I didn’t realize that Pasha was the priority here.” Damn player, that’s savage and uncaring in the worst possible way.
Let’s flash back to both Gabriel and Martha, who spend much of their lives scowling and brooding in empty apartments. How have things “worked out” for them? First off, they’re EMPTY apartments in a suicidally dark Moscow. Martha had a life. She no longer does. Secondly, they scrounge for the same food as everyone else, and then cook them over dated stoves. Potatoes aren’t a meal. Notice the lack of meat on the plates. It all illustrates a horrific reality and a day-to-day life experience that is nearly untenable. One can survive it, but that one isn’t going to be singing or celebrating any successes.
Finally, there’s Stan, who may or may not be in a fake relationship with a smokeshow blonde, and whose operation with Sofia has now gone sideways. This poor girl is so innocent and just wants good things for her son. She’s fallen for the hockey player, but that conversation went oh so badly. He ends up asking the FBI for more money, offering his own services, and while he continually speaks about how much he cares for Sofia and her child, and how the two are engaged, he’s also talking like a threat, not an asset. So, what’s “working out” for Sofia today may not be tomorrow, and if the op goes south, Stan’s job could also be on the line. Then, he wouldn’t be “working” at all.
This wasn’t the penultimate Americans episode with death and complete despair, though it was a somber hour. This show is so negative that even some of the harsher moments blend into a larger dread-filled plot. Next week, perhaps we find out whether Elizabeth and Philip are allowed to leave and whether Stan or Burov are out of a job, or perhaps worse in one case.
We may learn whether Sofia’s openness has cost her a dangerous gig, but a lucrative one among two agents we know she can trust. We might even find Mischa figuring out along with his uncle a way to get in contact with Philip in clandestine fashion, outside of the Center’s purview. We may learn whether Henry’s headed to boarding school or a bread line. And, lest we forget, Tim, Alice, and Claire Louise are not out of the country yet, and until that happens, they’re still at risk.
The season hasn’t been stellar (in comparison to its predecessors), but the stakes are high, even if the heart-pounding nature of it all has decreased down the stretch. The episode ends with “Brad” walking with a purpose to try and save Pasha, even though it could expose his identity. He and “Dee” are now married for real, but Elizabeth isn’t ready for Philip’s beeline for the House of Alexi.
We’re one week away from answering some questions and probably asking some new ones. But, I posit again to you whether Elizabeth’s statement results in a “yes” for any (maybe sans one) of those we’ve come to know over the past five years of The Americans.
Yeah…not so much.
I’m @JMartOutkick. Enjoy this signed photo of my national hockey team. We all autographed it. You’re welcome.