That was my reaction to the fifth episode – and halfway point – of the final season of The Americans, “The Great Patriotic War.”
It was without a doubt one of the shows best episodes, in a show that is one of the best out there!! That is quite a feat, and a very welcome change of pace in this final season. The season has been brilliant of course, but the plot has been a little slow as of yet. “The Great Patriotic War” changed all of that. This was just a master-class in what makes this show great: quiet explosive moments, parallel storylines, gripping character exploration and an understanding of letting moments play out in their own time.
Before I even begin discussing the episode I must point out that the running time for Wednesday’s episode was long, but every single second was used to its fullest potential. “The Great Patriotic War” focuses on the strength of loyalties, to family, to country, and ultimately to oneself.
The Jennings have a moment of intimacy between them, a welcome thaw in what has been an icy marriage this season. Elizabeth initiates the moment with a look that speaks volumes without a word between them. I was happy for that moment of love, and then the brilliant screen-writing let the other shoe fall. Elizabeth chooses that moment of bliss to bring up an impossible mission, an impossible mission that she needs help with.
What does she ask of her dear husband? Only to use his friendship with Kimmy to blackmail her well-connected father into thwarting the impending Summit. He would simply need to meet her on her trip to Greece and then have her arrested for drug trafficking in a Soviet friendly country. Elizabeth assures a hesitant Phillip that Kimmy will “be in jail for a few days, it won’t even leave an impression.” Right.
“She’s just a kid.”
That argument is the crux of this episode. Who isn’t a child anymore? Kimmy, the girl who has embraced Phillip (as his weed-smoking, vinyl playing guise Jim) as a surrogate father figure, or is it Paige who has embraced the lifestyle of a spy with idealized passion. The answer is not clear, nor is it meant to be.
Either way, Phillip has to reckon with his loyalties throughout this episode, and actions beyond his control may make his decision for him. After the shocking proposition from Elizabeth (maybe a proposition cushioned by her previous actions) Phillip moves on his plan to convince Kimmy they should meet up in Greece, in order to do that he seduces her in one of the toughest scenes thus far in the show. Does he owe Elizabeth to follow through with ruining Kimmy’s life? For a country he cannot recognize, and for a wife he see’s turn his daughter into a weapon?
Elizabeth has been indoctrinating Paige to further involve her into their cause, the meetings she has with Paige and Claudia are emotionally charged. Stating that compared to a mere 400,000 American lives lost in the Great War, while the Soviets lost 27 million. And yet the Americans are the heroes, while Claudia was forced to trade sex for food, and Elizabeth ate rats?A bleak picture is being painted, but for whose benefit? Paige, though still an American raised as an American, seems fully invested, sleeping with in-the-know congressional interns, beating the shit out of drunk, leering boys (empowering for her, exposing to Elizabeth), roughly sparring with Elizabeth as a show of self-awareness her parents believe she lacks. Phillip finds these actions disturbing telling Elizabeth that he doesn’t know that they did the right thing with Paige.
“You don’t think she can do it?”
“It isn’t about whether she can, it’s if she should.”
And Phillip really isn’t sure she should. In the episodes center-piece scene Phillip goes to Paige’s apartment and simply challenged her to spar with him. “I want to see what you’ve learned.” The fight is brutal, ruthless and hard to watch. Paige has never hit anyone except Elizabeth –– for practice she clarifies. Phillip deftly shows her how out of her depth she would be against a real opponent, not just two drunk punks at a bar. He puts her in a chokehold, one that she cannot break though she bites and scratches. With a muttered, “not bad” either ironic, or disdainful he walks out of her apartment. I held my breath that entire scene, its undercurrent of anger, tension, and fear was palpable and impressive.
Phillip was very intense in this episode, but the most chilling scene this episode belonged, of course, to Elizabeth. Claudia had told Elizabeth about Mr. and Mrs. Teacup, but this episode saw her in action. Elizabeth sneaks into Gennadi’s house to kill him, but imagine her surprise when Sofia has the misfortune to be visiting that night. In an impressive show of compassion she tries to leave and come back another night, but it was not meant to be, and in one of the most gruesome scenes this season she kills them both. As she stands to leave she sees Sofia’s son calmly watching television in the living room, the same living room that Stan had sat in and watched hockey with Gennadi. Elizabeth, though a soviet purist and doggedly loyal, thankfully draws the line at killing the boy. Although one could ask whether the trauma of finding his parents was really kinder?
The killing of his sources brought Stan back into the spotlight this episode. (it has been a while) The question of loyalties plays into Stan’s relationship to Sofia and Gennadi, to them they are informants, for Gennadi at least, Stan is a friend. When they are killed I wonder what sense of loyalty is sparked in Stan first –– friendship or country. At the very least it led to one of the most interesting interaction between him and Phillip. When he tell’s Phillip about the horrible deaths and the traumatized boy we alone can view Phillip’s face to see the internal horror that Elizabeth is the cause of this tragedy, in that moment we see Phillip choose his side.
The lines of loyalty were drawn in this episode: between husband and wife, parent and child, friendship and country, idealism and reality, hope of a brighter future or bitter revenge hardships of the past.
And as they told us –– the stakes are even higher.