SEASON 5, EPISODE 13: THE SOVIET DIVISION
I’m tired of feeling shitty. – Stan Beeman
I’ll be curious to see the consensus on the fifth season finale of The Americans, because in terms of hitting hard with the last scene, it both did and didn’t. The information and implications were big, to say the least, but the action was non-existent. If you’ve paid attention to finales in previous years, you’ll notice The Americans usually likes to push the problems of the future and reaffirm the dread coefficient, after briefly tidying up the past with some positive developments.
We got just a little of the good as Martha laid eyes upon her new adopted daughter, or placed daughter, or mail order daughter, or whatever it is that’s going to put that soccer ball in her living room. That’s the first hint of a smile from Alison Wright, so it was an uplifting moment, although her existence doesn’t afford much time for optimism.
Paige has learned to defend herself, even though she got her lip busted open when mom got a little froggy during training. When we see her walking the streets to her car, we hear Elton John’s “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road,” which certainly fits the mood and the on-screen activity. Oz was a beautiful place, despite real emptiness and superficiality, but eventually it’s time to go back to Kansas. Here, Paige doesn’t realize she might be leaving a magical land, but if you take the song and also add to it the shots of Elizabeth looking at her consumerist lifestyle, it makes much more sense.
Elizabeth backs away from her closet and stares at the plethora of outfits on coat hangers, and the multitude of shoes on the shelf. Downstairs, she looks at the family television, then slides her pupils to the kitchen, clean and modern, with amenities galore. As she considers leaving the United States, she’s also leaving the Yellow Brick Road. Whether she knows she’s leaving luxury for misery is unclear, but she obviously knows what she has now, she won’t have next year if the family moves to Russia.
Stan Beeman wants out of his professional life, with the Sofia Kovalenko situation being the final straw, but not the first. He wants an escape from “feeling shitty,” which might be the single most apropos sentence in the history of The Americans. Everybody’s circling the toilet bowl on this series, and poor Stan might not have found his soulmate. Joe Weisberg and Joel Fields wanted to insinuate, without outright admitting to it, that Renee is a Center plant, which would make Philip’s suspicions correct. Her reaction to him pouring out his heart to her about wanting to do something different within the FBI, to leave counterintelligence and move away from Cold War concerns, is telling.
Or it’s completely innocent, except this is The Americans, and we know it’s not. Renee isn’t who she purports to be, probably busted her own water pipe, and is now ramping up the proximity to Beeman for information extraction purposes. I feel for Stan, but at least he’s getting what he believes now to be meaningful sex with her. Later, it will be meaningless, but the feelings were there during the acts. Sadly, however, it’s going to leave him lonely and depressed again, and his buddy Henry may or may not be eating borscht in a dimly lit Russian home or crushing some uppity confection at St. Edwards.
Philip Jennings and Oleg Burov have been the two big stories this year, with other concepts spiraling out from their gaze. Burov wasn’t shown at all in the finale, because much of the immediate conclusion to his story came last week. There’s more to tell there, but there’s also a final season with time to fill, so they’re spacing things out a bit. As for Philip, they didn’t have that luxury.
We should have known Russia wasn’t happening the minute he mentioned Japan at Kimmy Breland’s get together. Of course Isaac got promoted to head the CIA’s Soviet Division, because it’s the one piece of information that would make it basically impossible for Philip to exit stage left as he desperately wishes to do. Now that Breland is in that role, and Philip is entrenched with a girl that loves him, he’s got no choice but to continue.
Elizabeth knows it as soon as he says it, and she realizes what it means. She’s watched her husband go through the trials, tribulations, reactions, and rehabilitations of Est, she’s seen him deal with murders he could only sometimes justify, and she’s watched him struggle with the lack of freedom in his family. As he talks to Paige, he tells her what she deserved, but never received.
You know, this life that your mom and I have, it’s not easy, and I’m sorry. I’m sorry you didn’t get to grow up with all the regular stuff like just a dog, or a boyfriend who lives across the street. You should’ve had that. – Philip Jennings
He doesn’t verbalize it, and probably has never fully thought of it, but Philip deserved that kind of life as well, as did Elizabeth, as did Oleg, as did Gabriel, as did Claudia, as did every solitary person trapped underneath the authoritarian, Communist Soviet regime. They may never have “wanted” it, because they didn’t know it was an option, but this series has illustrated time and time again the failure and fallacy of the Marxist utopian vision. Reality isn’t as simple as Karl would have liked it, yet he called religion the “opiate of the masses” and pointed to the collective as the salvation of all mankind.
He was wrong.
That ideology has led to more deaths, more suffering, more starvation, more pain than any in history. Look it up, it’s not hard to find. Watching the lives of these people, on this extremely smart drama, it puts things into perspective for it. I don’t weep for Elizabeth losing her closet full of blouses, skirts, and dresses, but I weep for the paradigm that makes it okay to wipe out any possibility she ever could have had it.
Yet, America isn’t blameless, as the lives of men like Stan Beeman and Dennis Aderholt are also precarious; teetering on the brink of sanity and security. All Stan really wants is a wife he can love, a child that respects him, a cold beer at the end of a hard day of work, and maybe a movie or a game on the television. That’s it. This isn’t a man who wants Rodeo Drive or Park Avenue. His American dream is a simple life filled with family and friends.
Yet, we know he’s not going to get that ending. It won’t just be Renee either, because once you’re in at the level he’s in, how does he simply walk away? I pray The Americans doesn’t end with Stan in a coffin, but it’s certainly not out of the realm of what’s available to the writing team. If Stan were to find out about his neighbors, and still side with them as they sided with him outside the Center and the FBI purview, that would provide some of the most compelling stuff this show, or any show for that matter, has ever even attempted. It’s more likely to happen with the two guys than Stan and Elizabeth, but The Americans isn’t beyond a surprise here and there.
Stan is tired of feeling shitty, as is everybody else. Elizabeth and Philip feel shitty every single day, not just for what they do, but for what they know they have to do to protect their children. Martha feels shitty because her life was taken from her as part of a con. Gabriel feels shitty because he’s got nothing left to do with his time, and he doesn’t really have friends. Paige feels shitty because she had to deceive Pastor Tim, had to lie to Matthew Beeman, and is amidst the worst non-criminal (sort of) teenage run in American history. Claudia feels shitty because how could she not?
And then there’s Oleg, who feels shitty because with each passing day, he grows more disillusioned with the Soviet cause, its mission, and the treatment of its own people. He feels shitty because he worked for these pricks, helped them oppress innocent citizens, and spread fear. He feels shitty because he lost Nina, not to mention another woman in his life. He feels shitty because he doesn’t want to take his parents down for his mistakes in the United States. And he feels shitty because everything in his life basically sucks.
That’s where we leave The Americans in its penultimate year. The decision to leave and return to Moscow may be out of Philip’s hands, and it’s tearing Elizabeth up inside.
You need me, Elizabeth. – Philip Jennings
Not for this. I’m making you stay, and it just keeps getting worse for you. I don’t want to see you like this anymore. – Elizabeth Jennings
Philip tells his wife they should be allowed to have lives, that she’s having a difficult time right along with him, and it extends to Paige and Henry, but they both know the stakes involved in the Breland operation. They’re stuck, unless they try something drastic, which could put all their lives in jeopardy. That is, if psychopath, pure evil, unhinged Tuan doesn’t just kill them all out of principle. Good lord, that kid is terrifying.
But the dangerous mission to try and get out from underneath someone’s thumb sounds an awful lot like a plot line for a final season, doesn’t it? It may not be where things are going, but if you’ve watched this season, you’ve seen the main characters lose trust, faith, and respect in the organizations that employ them. Did you happen to watch Philip as he emphatically asked Claudia if, after nearly killing Pasha, they would have to destroy the family further? He’s not just upset; he’s disgusted. That’s a major sea change, and Elizabeth wasn’t far off from the same opinion. All of these people may be ready to make a break for it, and if that’s the case, perhaps that’s the actual lasting goal of the show, or its plan.
Maybe it’s about gathering knowledge, and then using the newfound intellectual maturity and clarity to rationalize an escape in order to have a fulfilling life. It would explain so many sides of this series, and the reason we’ve seen the degradation of its most important characters.
Or maybe it’s not, and maybe it wouldn’t. We’ll know in 2018. This was still very good television, but it was probably my least favorite season. Before Season 6, I’m planning to rewatch everything again, without notes, without work, and simply experience it all. It should offer more clarity and more of a sense of where this world was five years ago and where it is today. It’s still one of the century’s great television triumphs, and I do believe the final season is going to be a knockout. I’d say this season was a B-, because there was still so much quality, even if it was inconsistent.
I look forward to one more trip to Washington next year. Until then, comrades…
I’m @JMartOutkick. My self-defense teacher got a little carried away.