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THE AMERICANS: SEASON 6, EPISODE 5: THE GREAT PATRIOTIC WAR
Something’s wrong with you. – Kimmy Breland
I know, but I’m trying my best. Kimmy, when you’re in Greece, if somebody tries to get you to go to a communist country with them, don’t, okay? Don’t go with them. Go to Greece, stay in Greece, and then come home. You hear me? Goodbye, Kimmy. – Philip Jennings
Holy moly, was this episode ever dramatic. The Americans has always been known for its slow motion dread, and while nothing will ever match Martha’s relocation or Nina’s execution, in terms of memorable moments, “The Great Patriotic War” has to sit near the top of most lists. Here, we see Joe Weisberg and Joel Fields holding nothing back and advancing this final stanza of their story more rapidly than we’ve grown accustomed to expect.
The ending sequence, with Philip Jennings’ conscience winning a battle over his sense of responsibility or loyalty to either country or his wife, is one of the most telling scenes in the history of the show. It wasn’t just effective because of the words he chose, but also because as he spoke them into that pay phone, we watched PHILIP JENNINGS talk to Kimmy Breland, not Jim Baxter. There was no pretense of anything other than protecting this innocent young lady and saving her bright future and potentially her life, regardless of what it might cost him or cost the cause for which he worked for his entire life.
Matthew Rhys and Julia Garner were both pitch perfect here, as the former sold misery, guilt, and regret holding the phone, and the latter cried without tears and was able to elicit the quiet shock that comes when a heart is first shattered. It was in this moment that we witnessed the culmination of Philip’s evolution as a human being. Even with his allegiances, his past, his family, and the memories of the bread lines and scraping the pots in a back alley to get whatever morsel of food might be left behind, he recognized that this was just a girl.
She did nothing wrong. She just happened to be the daughter of someone who had the worst possible job at the worst possible time, at least from the Russian perspective. As Claudia laments World War II and the tens of millions of her comrades that died, as she warps the history from the Soviet perspective, the question arises as to when enough is enough. It also leads to the same question about the United States and its intelligence operations, and the example of Oleg Burov from Season 5 is just one of many that showcase how easy it can be for an ideology to supplant humanity. The Americans can be complex, but there’s usually a common thread between what’s occurring on all sides that allows the audience to view events from multiple perspectives, regardless of the inherent bias we all have through the knowledge of history.
Elizabeth tells Philip she hasn’t asked him for much, but “I need this one.” She did it the day after she and her husband made love for the first time in a long time. From the second she walked into that bedroom, sex was on her mind. As she romanced and seduced him, I immediately wondered if there was more to it, and based on how quickly it went from a night of bliss to asking for a favor, it’s fair to reason whether Philip also considered that possibility.
Mrs. Jennings was busy to say the least in this episode, and she was also vicious. Not only did she stab Gennadi in the front of the neck in his safe house kitchen, she also basically sliced Sofia’s back open and then slit her throat about ten feet away from the woman’s child. This was an intense spot to say the least, and it was executed with a grisly, uncomfortable, nasty focus. Thomas Schlamme is a tremendous director regardless of the show, and though he may be best known for his work with Aaron Sorkin, he certainly nailed “The Great Patriotic War” just as expected.
While Mrs. Jennings was in rare form, Ms. Jennings was insufferable all hour long. I imagine it was by design, but it definitely makes me think my prediction that she’s either going to die or lead her parents, her brother, Claudia, or who knows who else to their deaths is accurate. The nerve of her to condescend to her father as if he doesn’t understand the life she chose all of three years ago – the same life he was forced into basically from birth – was incredible.
When Philip showed up at her place and challenged her to spar with him, embarrassed her, showed her how little she knows, and then simply walked out, I was ready to applaud. Paige is DUMB, impulsive, and dangerous. That move in the bar, regardless of the circumstances, is the kind of thing that gets people killed, exposed, or incarcerated. She acts with reckless abandon, and even though she’s enthusiastic and believes herself to be committed to the cause, we realize she has no idea what she’s doing.
Holly Taylor was great, because she made me hope for her own character’s demise on The Americans before the series ends. I softened by the end of the episode, but Paige Jennings needs to be taught an actual lesson, not just drinking a ton of vodka after coating her stomach with olive oil and not just trying to sleep with an intern to get access to confidential documents. Consider what she was doing, against her mother’s orders, and the look on Philip’s face as he has sex with Kimmy, knowing how objectionable and manipulative it is to this impressionable, but bright girl.
I’ve said it before. Paige Jennings is still basically “playing” spy, but she doesn’t even recognize her mom killed Renhall. She’s sparring, but what happens when she’s asked to murder an innocent victim after obtaining intelligence that person had and didn’t understand was treacherous? Something bad needs to happen to her to wake her up from the slumber. She’s in a dream world, but has yet to discover her eyes are closed in a nightmare, not a fantasy land. I don’t wish permanent ill will, but let’s be honest here, she was obnoxious and naive to an extent I rolled my eyes every time she popped on screen. She needs not just to hear, but to believe her dad when he says, “Oh, well there aren’t really pads in the real world.”
That was a pretty frosty meeting between Tatiana and Oleg at “school” wasn’t it? She doesn’t trust him, blames him for costing her the rezident gig, and also believes he’s working in opposition to the Center. Well, she’s right about most of it, and the excuse as to why he’s here taking classes is relatively flimsy. When you imagine the quality of lies these people are used to both telling and hearing in their line of work, you have to think Burov himself knows it’s a tough sell to anybody with a brain working in security or espionage.
If anything was a stage setter without much development in this otherwise stellar episode, it was Burov-Tatiana. We’re getting there, but here we just took a baby step rather than the giant leaps we saw elsewhere. It has to be that way, and there was nothing wrong with spending less time or less energy on this side of the story, because the emphasis needed to be centered exactly where it was this week. But, it was the weakest part of “The Great Patriotic War.”
Renee might not be anything more than an attractive, affable, driven future wife for Stan Beeman. I still have doubts that we’ve seen all she has to offer, because she’s been around and Elizabeth and Philip in particular continue to question her motives or whether she’s who she says she is. However, we’re at the midway point of the ten episode final season and we haven’t gotten anywhere. Stan just had a horrible day, drinks a beer with Philip, who as he hears the story of Sofia and Gennadi’s death (and so soon after the hockey game) and the orphan left behind, psychologically breaks, leading to his phone call to Kimmy.
One final observation this week again comes from Erica, who unknowingly continues to sum up episodes of The Americans while lying in her death bed. She’s going to pass away soon, as she looks basically dead right now, but she instructs Elizabeth on drawing the vase and says, “You got to try. There’s someone in there that knows how to see, but you’ve got to put in the time. That’s what the time is for. Nobody understands that.”
Elizabeth and Philip Jennings, Oleg Burov, Stan Beeman, Dennis Aderholt, Tatiana, Claudia, and those we’ve lost The Americans all put in the time, and each of them now views the world somewhat differently. Some were told what the vase looked like and never stopped to observe it themselves, while others had the same experience but then snuck a peek and didn’t care for the difference between what they were told and what they saw. All of them can draw it by memory, and most of them can draw it by keeping their gaze on the object rather than the page.
Paige hasn’t put in the time, but thinks she knows what’s in the vase, how it was crafted, and what its destiny is. She’s clueless, just as Kimmy Breland is, but one girl is living her life and the other is living a lie.
Regardless of which character you choose, or if you apply it to your own life, think of Erica’s statement, specifically the back half of it. “You got to put in the time. That’s what the time is for.” How much life has been effectively used and how much has been wasted on the wrong things? Not only does practice make perfect, but practice dictates future. What we spend our energy on often comes to define us. It takes strength to find balance.
Philip Jennings has slowly advanced to that state of equilibrium. We don’t yet know how it will conclude for the Jennings family, for Stan, for Oleg, or for anyone else still on The Americans, but we found out tonight what free will looks like, and we saw how powerful conscience and decency can be against even the strongest of foes. That final scene was as important and moving as anything we’ve ever seen on this show, and will be one of my fondest memories of the series. It was perfect, even if it was merely a temporary refuge from the sadness yet to come.
That…my friends, was a tremendous and emotionally resonant hour of television. It was brilliant.
I’m @JMartOutkick. I don’t have much free time.