The Americans Review: Season Five, Episode 8

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THE AMERICANS — “Experimental Prototype City of Tomorrow” Episode 403 (Airs, Wednesday, March 30, 10:00 pm/ep) — Pictured: (l-r) Keri Russell as Elizabeth Jennings, Matthew Rhys as Philip Jennings. CR: Craig Blankenhorn/FX

Wouldn’t it be a nice world if nobody had to do this? – Elizabeth Jennings

I really want to start off by talking about Henry’s game and the other male friend cock blocking him during a Pole Position Atari session, and I admit I might be wrong on the game title. The reason I admit that is because I will assuredly receive multiple emails telling me I’m wrong about it, but at least it was right for the time. Henry seems to be just fine, and as we’ve seen Paige descend into depression and despair, the adage of ignorance being bliss appears true. He might be ignored, but he has no idea how lucky he is, especially with Stan there for him when his parents can’t be.

I really want to start off talking about those things, but I can’t, because bigger things happened that need to be discussed. Actually, I think I just started off talking about what I wanted to talk about, but that was just prologue.

Five seasons and 60 episodes into The Americans, we’ve never seen Philip Jennings in this condition. Within the confines of “Immersion,” he semi-snapped at his wife, fully snipped at Claudia, and threw shady looks at anyone in his orbit. He also asserted Gabriel didn’t care about his family the way he claimed to, and that he grew tired of the tedious nature of his work with them. That was a striking moment, but it created a bit of a rift with Elizabeth, who refused to buy into her husband’s cynicism.

Philip has gone through a mentally rigorous few weeks, beginning with the laboratory accident, but extending to include new information about his parents, who he discovered he never really knew. Similarly, Oleg Burov found out his mother was incarcerated in a prison camp for five years under a vague charge of sabotage. These two men are trying to figure out where they came from, but also are interested to know how the Russia they’ve worked for their entire lives fits into that past.

Elizabeth blames Est, believing they’ve pumped her husband full of wild ideas, most notably that his feelings are the most important thing in his life. He rejects the assertion, defending the seminars with the excuse that it’s only helped him consider and recognize a part of himself he never previously knew existed. That piece of Philip apparently made Deirdre put pants back over her unmentionables, which is the first time I can recall him failing in a seduction play.

However, as soon as he calls her and tells her he’s actually been cheating on his wife with her, revealing he’s a dirt bag, she immediately goes back to lingerie on the other end of the phone. All it took was Elizabeth telling him he was attractive and could get her back if he wanted her. “You might have to hurt someone’s feelings again,” was a clear reference to Martha, which of course was a much different animal than the ice cold logistics manager in Topeka. Deirdre likes the bad boy that treats her like a sex object.

Paige and Elizabeth are bonding, even if it’s largely over ugliness and sadness. The daughter broke up with a boy she really liked, because of the complications associated with her family and the Beeman clan in particular, while the mother told a story of being raped when she was 18. Paige handled the self-defense class well, but she immediately sprung to her mom’s side upon learning of the most traumatizing event a young woman can encounter. The end of the episode was a little odd, because it didn’t pack much of a punch, but it depicted a mother and daughter talking openly about their lives.

Contrast that relationship to Philip and Oleg’s with their parents, who hid much of their lives from their children. Though it would be the same story for Paige had she not been read into the truth, the reality is she can share in the actual events of her mother’s life. Elizabeth knows that story will help Paige understand that her fear isn’t weakness, and it can also be overcome with training and focus. Also, Paige saw how her mom handled herself late last season, and thus sees her as strong, so if Elizabeth found a way to deal with the terror of rape, certainly the daughter can do the same.

Maybe she should teach Paige Tai Chi. I hear it’s relaxing, apparently even more so when done in a nightgown. I’ve also been told it looks like slow motion kung fu.

I miss Gabriel, as much as I love Margo Martindale, because there was a friendly, almost fireside tone to his discussions with the Jennings family. With Claudia, Philip basically can’t stand her, Elizabeth doesn’t fully trust her, and she has even WORSE bedside manner than Mrs. Jennings, at least based on Paige’s half-joke, half-truth. Claudia curls her lip, reacts with all the emotion of a wooden board, and is the very definition of a handler. Watching her coarse, stoic demeanor should be enough to tell Philip that Gabriel was a little different. It’s not that Frank Langella was sobbing his eyes out, but there was heart behind his voice. It’s a soul, a feel completely nonexistent within Claudia’s words and actions.

Stan and Dennis have their source, and she’s REALLY happy they’re willing to help her get to the dentist. Sofia Kovalenko (Darya Ekamasova) is shaky and a little awkward, even though she remembered where to lie about her pizza. To call her a solid component in the investigation would also be a lie, as she scares both agents into looking at her path to meet them and how to simplify the process. That said, it’s progress that didn’t exist last week, and somehow Stan’s bad cop routine didn’t scare her off. The conversations between the three have been entertaining, and hopefully that will continue. Stan needs something to do between skydiving appointments with Renee.

Tuan’s new responsibility is to convince people he’s tight with at school to make Pasha’s life so miserable his mother will take him back to Moscow and leave the country. Nice work from Evgheniya (Irina Dvorovenko) to bang a high level officer on the side, in fact she’s snogging the man likely to become chief of the CIA’s Moscow station. Now Russia will have leverage on the guy, and once the two of them are gone, Alexi’s days could be numbered as well.

Directorate K tore up Oleg’s room and found nothing, and Burov had to skirt the facts in order to keep his father from inquiring as to the reason for the search. He’s trying to protect his dad from discovering things he’s better off not knowing, because they’re about the father’s connections to food distribution and other high end individuals currently out of favor with the Russian government. Since Burov also illegally asked for a file from the Archives, he’s also not entirely in the clear, though that’s a footnote for the time being.

That brings us to one significant problem. Last week, I talked about how the season had rounded into form. This week, I retract that statement. We’re spinning around in a circle right now. This is the penultimate season of The Americans, and Joe Weisberg and Joel Fields probably have a good idea of how the series will end. So, right now they have to buy some time and set the stage for the final act. Thus, we’re seeing a lot of filler, and some “B” stories thrown out as if they’re “A” plots. These are concepts that probably would have been small details and sideline content over the past three years, but are now front and center.

The food angle hasn’t played like Glanders did last year, and we don’t have a Nina or a Martha as sympathetic figures. Right now, we’re supposed to feel Paige’s pain, and in some respects we do, but generally we’re supposed to see Philip as a kindred spirit. That has worked well, but none of these episodes has been FULLY complete in the way we’ve seen in seasons past. It’s solely due to the expiration date on the show. The Americans hasn’t all of a sudden dropped in quality. The acting is still outstanding, the pacing remains patient, and these characters are great. It’s what they’re spending time doing that’s causing a bit of a dilemma.

If Gabriel runs into Martha in Moscow, that might be enough to jump start things again. The battery is running a little low. The car is idling and stuttering a bit, but the car is in no danger of turning off. Everything’s fine. It’s just we’ve grown used to everything being WAY more than fine. The show is good, but it’s often been great.

Right now, The Americans is in the number three slot behind The Leftovers and Fargo, and honestly Better Call Saul may also have trumped it this season. It’s still a special show, and I believe the last three episodes of the year will be tremendous, but we’ve definitely dealt with our share of the mundane this season. It’s to be expected. We’re just riding out a bit of a slump, and luckily we’re doing it around such a well-structured show, and amidst an all-time great stretch of returning dramas.

I’m @JMartOutkick. No 45 year old logistics manager will EVER kick me out of bed. I’m no Gus. They call me “big sex guy.” 

Written by Jason Martin