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The Americans: Season Five, Episode 4

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

I don’t know what to say. He’s nice. He likes birds, hiking…he’s funny. I have to sit there with him while he makes his jokes. The guy’s laughing while he’s trying to starve an entire country. – Elizabeth Jennings

No, the answer to the above question isn’t “Bill Self.” Just wanted to clear that up before we proceed. It’s also not his toupee, though that’s probably closer to the truth.

The Americans is a very good television show. I think we’ve covered that opinion repeatedly throughout the course of my reviews these past few years. With that said, last night’s episode wasn’t one of the series highlights. It’s not that nothing interesting was there, but it was spooned out so slowly, and so sparingly that in the 44 minutes, more than half was infinitely forgettable.

Coming from last season, which had so many indelible moments, Season 5 has been a bit of a disappointment. It’s somewhat to be expected, as although the final season will have quite a bit to accomplish, this isn’t that season. We’re spending time in Oklahoma City and Topeka on assignments with Philip and Elizabeth, we’re hiding under a blanket in Yugoslavia and now walking in JFK Airport with Mischa, we’re in Hades with Burov, and back to the case of Kansas, neither husband nor wife was interested in actually being there or taking part. Gabriel didn’t care a bit. Dude has no chill.

It’s never not fun to watch those two play other characters, especially when trying to seduce a mark, and both Gus Alexander and Brenda Neal are working their magic yet again. Gus is trying to break down the “I’m a workaholic” walls of Deirdre Kemp, and he’s making a few in-roads, even though the exercise bike didn’t get him all that far. She’s not exactly Martha, but it’s almost assured she’s going to fall hard for him, because she doesn’t do it very often, if ever. As for Brenda, Ben has a penis, and thus he’s interested, and willing to be hiking, health food expert guy in order to slide between the sheets with her and do the horizontal Agricorp.

Liz had more game than Phil, even if the targets had been equally open. Philip went for the conversation, Elizabeth played the ditz and did so in a charming, alluring way. Ben had no chance. Deirdre doesn’t either, but at least she’s making her guy earn it a bit more. Cutting Ben off before the deed was another smart move, but the show wants you to see Elizabeth as an uninterested party to the sex. She’s doing a job. Early in the episode, we see Philip ask about the interaction and look sad when he hears a few details. It’s deliberate to paint these two as a captive group, dating back to trying to get out of the assignment in the pre-credits sequence. “You think we’re going to get fired?”

Here we have Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys at their best, and as many times as we’ve seen the con in action, it remains one of the most rewarding aspects of The Americans as a whole.

Henry is acting like a brat, which is amazing mainly for the fact Henry is ACTING at all. That’s not a dig at Keidrich Sellati’s work, but his character’s screen time. He was actually on the show this week, and was acting like an ordinary, rebellious, sarcastic asshole teenager. It’s possible he’s feeling neglected by his parents, because we all know he is. He might be canoodling with Kira or Wendy, two young ladies we have yet to meet, and based on past depth with the Jennings’ youngest child, we may never lay eyes on them. He’s also a big fan of Apple Jacks. Who knew?

How about Stan Beeman? First off, Renee’s smoking hot, and she also has a personality. She made conversation at dinner, had some jokes, stories, was able to relate to Elizabeth and Philip and inquire about their lives. He might have snagged a keeper, and for his sake I hope so. Losing Susan Misner was tough enough, but it’s been an uphill battle for ole’ Miller High Life for far too long. His social life has been drinking with Philip in a kitchen and hanging out with Paige, Matthew, and Henry for crying out loud.

Back at work, Stan is strong arming the CIA and his superiors in the intelligence community in an attempt to try and free Oleg Burov from hardships in Moscow. All the while, Burov thinks his former cohort is behind the blackmail attempt, but Beeman, both for self-preservation as well as an increased respect for the man Oleg is behind his job, steps out and basically dares the CIA to use the tape. That was a sack-filled move, admitting his pivotal role in a controversial shooting and threatening to take it public if Burov isn’t left alone. I have never rooted harder for Noah Emmerich than I did in that brief conversation last night.

Unfortunately for Stan, he’s in Washington, and has no idea the tape has already been used. That information will come to light, but by the time it does, Burov may well have put himself in more trouble, or he may have killed somebody. His mom told him “do what you have to do,” and that might include murder in order to keep himself out of jail or protect his family. Or, at the very least, some kind of criminal activity that might put Oleg in Nina’s shoes, or the back of his head exactly where hers was before her eyes closed for the final time.

Burov is “hanging out” with Ruslan, an interrogator that somehow has less chill than Gabriel. This dude went AFTER Ekaterina Petrovna in the store, and got his name. Oleg tries to play it soft with the Colonel, saying there are other ways to get to the ultimate goal without using the man’s son as bait. The boy is fighting in Afghanistan. Colonel and Ruslan don’t see exploiting the weak point as anything outrageous, and it does make Burov come off suspicious to them. Soviet agents don’t operate this way, and usually check their emotions at the door.

After listening to Aderholt tell him about past blackmail operations he’s seen or heard about in his time with the FBI, Stan leaps to the accurate conclusion about Burov in Moscow. He may actually suspect the tape is in play, but still might be able to put a stop to any further action. Probably not, as Oleg and Stan are destined to be put through the wringer until their dying breath. But again, Stan’s got a squeeze, so he’s better today than he was two weeks ago. Not making macaroni for the neighbor kids in favor of dinner with a beautiful, vibrant woman is very much a step in the right direction.

Babysitter Paige starts snooping at Dollar Bill Stearn’s house. Sorry, wrong show. It’s Pastor Tim and Alice’s home, and I still can’t believe Kelly AuCoin is playing both those characters. Tim has Marx books in his home, and suggests Paige read one of them to help understand her parents. I’d love to say I’m surprised that an activist minister might be more than a little intrigued by communism, but I’m not. Paige was less interested in Karl than Tim’s diary, as she’s now making moves that would make her parents proud, if they didn’t fear for both her safety and their cover. She’s a little reckless, this one.

Mischa is in the United States, and right now I simply don’t care. I will at some point, but there are other things more pressing and more interesting. His portion of lasting relevance is just beginning. His role in the final season could be enormous, and will most definitely cause Philip and the Jennings family a great deal of problems. I’m starting to consider when or if Stan is going to figure out who his neighbors truly are. The comparison is Hank Schrader on Breaking Bad. Will The Americans script its own moment in the bathroom with the Whitman book, or will the show end more quietly as it relates to the prime confrontation? It seems awfully unlikely to finish clean, and it’s a little too soon to speculate. It’s going to be THE question though, if it isn’t already.

Wednesday’s wasn’t the most eventful episode, but it did set the stage for what’s to come. Next week, hopefully we’ll get more of what makes the series great. This installment was near the bottom of the list in terms of entertainment value from The Americans, which still puts it high on the list against almost any other show, just not across the ring from its own best hours.

I’m @JMartOutkick. I shot him…once…in the back of the head. I will go public. 

Written by Jason Martin