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THE AMERICANS: SEASON 6, EPISODE 8: THE SUMMIT
The work never ends. – Claudia
The work never ends. – Elizabeth Jennings
Moments after putting Erica out of her misery, Elizabeth Jennings has to both console her widower and also get him away from his briefcase in order to photograph important Summit-related documents. At two separate times during the episode, the quote I chose to lead this review was stated, and it backs up the theme of much of this season and indeed The Americans as a series.
Regardless of the costs and immaterial of the sacrifices or the skulduggery, there’s always another job to do. For the fourth consecutive week, Joe Weisberg and Joel Fields have put on a show for us with their seminal period drama. “The Summit” was brilliantly written and paced by Joshua Brand and solidly and somberly approached from a direction standpoint by Sylvain White.
Unsurprisingly, with each passing episode of this final season, things have gotten bleaker, but clarity is arising on all sides. This week, it was Elizabeth’s turn to have her entire world turned upside down with Philip’s revelation off the top and Claudia’s admissions about overthrowing Gorbachev for trying to change things rather than continue the numbskull status quo. What we saw in “The Summit” was The Americans pulling the wool down from Elizabeth’s eyes and challenging her to start thinking for herself. Brand allows Philip to say those words, and by the end of the episode, it appears as if she might.
What’s amazing about this seismic shift is that Stan is oh so close to a hunch becoming a legitimate evidentially-backed accusation about his neighbors, but by the time he actually gets to his conclusion, they may both have recognized the inherent fallacy of the cause they’ve wasted their lives defending. It’s possible Philip and Elizabeth go to jail after making changes, but those situations being too late. It’s also possible Stan shows some level of compassion for them when he sees it for himself.
But it’s more likely it ends poorly. This is The Americans, and even a new, sympathetic Jennings household still has far too much blood on its hands. There won’t be any “Promise you won’t do it again” moments. They’re either dead, incarcerated, or somehow escape the country and go back home. The only reason I can see why that would be written into the finale would be to give Philip an opportunity to truly apologize to Martha. I think it’s unlikely, but it’s an option to consider.
The episode begins and ends with Philip on the family sofa, first lost in thought mere seconds after the conclusion of last week, and then watching “The Garage,” which he rented/checked out in a previous scene in the episode. In both instances, Elizabeth comes home and the two speak. The initial talk becomes a confession designed to try and get her to understand why Philip did what he did and why she needs to pay attention to what’s happening. The latter is Elizabeth asking to get a message to Burov that the worst suspicions about the Centre are indeed accurate. It’s frosty between husband and wife in that finishing sequence, but it’s downright ugly in the first.
What stands out about the differences between the two is the meat and cheese in between those two pieces of bread. A great deal happened to Elizabeth Jennings between finding out Philip had effectively betrayed her and then deciding to pass sensitive intel to Oleg. She can’t bring herself to admit her husband is entirely correct about everything he’s said and done, not yet, but it feels like that might be coming. Unless, that is, her allegiance falls back into tradition and she pulls Philip back out of the locker the way she did Erica’s painting and set it ablaze.
That scene was maybe the most important of the episode, because it illustrated the internal conflict of Elizabeth Jennings, and it reminded us that whatever we think she’s going to do, we must always remember how indoctrinated she truly is. She could easily side with the Centre, although Weisberg and Fields obviously want us to believe she’s changing course and she’s going to help Burov and work to actually bring peace. The most probable outcome is she will take one side in the penultimate episode next week, but that won’t necessarily be the last twist in her activity.
However, this is The Americans. It isn’t a show that relies on gimmicks. Thus, what’s logical might prove true to the bitter end.
She spared Jackson’s life when the Elizabeth Jennings of years previous (or weeks previous) would have murdered him once he asked too many questions. She also allowed Nesterenko to escape when she had him dead to rights. She’s showing mercy, because for the first time, she’s questioning the individuals giving the orders. Claudia tells her, “It needs to be done. It needs to be done whether you’re convinced or not.” Again, there’s no freedom here. That’s her job. When we say kill that guy, even if he’s a totally innocent patsy and not a traitor, you slit his throat. If you have to do it with his child in the next room, you do it. You don’t ask questions.
Philip wants her to ask questions of her instructions and also of her mind, her heart, and her conscience. And, both reluctantly and against everything she’s ever been trained to do, she’s about to start doing just that. What her conclusions turn out to be will be my main fascination next week alongside Stan assuredly getting what he needs to feel sure his neighbors are REALLY bad people.
Also, “The Summit” was far more about the key three than anything else. We barely laid eyes on Paige, Henry didn’t come to the phone, and even though Renee is getting her interview with the FBI, she still hasn’t rounded into much as of yet. Back to Elizabeth, “Stephanie” putting Erica out of her misery and how she handled Glenn Haskert was a study in the work not ending, but it now being impossible for this woman to turn off her humanity anymore.
Interestingly, it was glaring just how much she cared for Erica, and also somewhat for Glenn. During this assignment, she met two decent people, one deathly ill and the other with a sensitive job, but we never saw Haskard cheating on his wife or even flirting with anyone else, and we saw a marriage between two loving participants. Between the painting and the government and the tears and the morphine was a vibrant partnership that Elizabeth couldn’t help but notice, and perhaps even envy. She feels deeply for Philip, and throughout much of her time with the Haskard couple, he was barely a part of her life.
Just after we see her pull the painting back out of the locker and set it on fire, knowing she couldn’t keep it as much as she wanted to and as much as it meant to her, we see her as Wendy. She seduces Jackson and “accidentally” cleans up the sofa and “embarrassingly” discovers and remarks about a sexy green pair of panties she didn’t know was there. We again see both sides of her personality, but mainly we see that “the work never ends,” no matter what the toll was just before the commercial break. Even a body needs a day or two off from the gym. Imagine what this spy’s mind needs simply to rest and recalibrate itself. She barely ever gets a chance to exhale.
Stan gets himself a surprise free meal from Curtis at Roy Rogers, and although he doesn’t get much from the photo of Elizabeth he cropped from his own family album, he does get, “She smoked like a chimney.” That, in addition to remarks about her Vidal Sassoon hair and her beauty are an awfully good start. It makes more sense why we saw Beeman stop and peer into the planter last week and observe all the cigarette butts. These are all small things that lead to a larger thing.
The FBI sketches aren’t particularly helpful either, but they do reveal the level of disguise the two suspects had used. One image in particular resembled Elizabeth quite well, but it’s mixed within others that aren’t nearly as successful, and thus those leads aren’t going to work, until the disguises are found, if indeed that’s part of the next two weeks of the season.
Claudia tells Elizabeth that Nesterenko must be eliminated so he can be set up. After listening to the recording Jackson unwittingly helped her acquire from the meeting at the State Department, she discovers he’s innocent and is by no means a traitor. “Back home, we have a leader who has no sense of our history, no sense of our ideals, no sense of how we’ve sacrificed to build a great nation and the price we’ve paid.” Elizabeth hears how Gorbachev is committed to working with the United States and trying to end the reign of terror back in the Soviet Union. The Centre can’t stand for that, and neither can she. It’s astonishing how deeply she believes the crap exiting her mouth, and even Elizabeth can’t rationalize the words anymore.
Remember, she had a cyanide pill hanging around her neck for this, and now she realizes it’s going to be a sham to keep communism in its present form in Russia. She isn’t fully threatened when she states to Claudia that she wouldn’t help with this operation, but she’s warned to stay quiet and not to ruin decades of her own work. “Don’t throw it all away now.”
Elizabeth drives home to give Philip a message for Burov. She tells him everything, from the purpose of Mexico to the potential falsified reports to Nesterenko to the plot against Gorbachev and the meaning behind it. It was just as integral a list as Philip laid out to her at the top of the episode when he tells her he provided information on everything she’d been doing for the past few months.
And then he mentions the communication from Father Andre that arrived while Elizabeth was out. She can’t go because she actually feels compelled to go protect Nesterenko from other possible attempts on his life, so she suggests Philip do it instead. “Maybe he’ll give you absolution.” But we know there’s more here. Remember Dennis mentioning to Stan that they had uncovered a promoted priest that moved up the chain quickly enough that the CIA said it had to be approved from “back home?” What do you think the chances are that Father Andre isn’t really close to said priest?
We have two episodes remaining in The Americans. With no hyperbole, this is one of the great final seasons we’ll ever witness. This four episode stretch has been truly remarkable, and there’s no reason to doubt the penultimate and finale won’t be stellar. If they are, you can argue this is a better finish than Breaking Bad, which many believe should have ended in the desert with Hank (Ozymandias is as good as TV gets) and not with a smiling Walter White dead in his lab. I could see it either way.
But, The Americans still has much to achieve and much to accomplish, so these next two episodes are necessary.
It hasn’t felt rushed, but we’ve gotten to our destination efficiently over this last bundle of episodic installments. Fat has been trimmed, and some story aspects have been neglected, or in some cases (Philip’s son for instance) dropped. The character study and evolution of Elizabeth, Philip, and the persistence of Stan Beeman have been expertly handled. Aderholt is a terrific secondary character, and I’m still not sure if we’re done with Renee.
The biggest remaining question mark from a character perspective is Paige. I have no idea what role she will play in the final act of The Americans. Will Claudia ask her to off her mama and her papa? Will she die? My predictions from weeks past may still be the case. I find it probable there will be a major death of the big four, which excludes Henry and adds Stan Beeman. Perhaps those close to them will be caught up in the firestorm. Aderholt is the one I’d put money on to be killed, and if Renee isn’t dirty, she jumps to the top of the list. Remember what I wrote years ago: Stan Beeman can’t have nice things.
Regardless of what’s to come, I trust Weisberg and Fields, and this season has only strengthened my faith in their capabilities. I’m ready for them to show me the end to their story, and I’m convinced it’s going to be memorable, devastating, and lasting in its impact and emotional power.
We’re almost there.
Until next week, comrades.
I’m @JMartOutkick. Whatever was going on in the back room, I never called the police, I never said anything to anyone, and I never will.