The Americans “Jennings, Elizabeth”

After my heart rate lowered I am able to sit here and somehow try to discuss the last couple episodes of The Americans. Last weeks, episode “The Summit” allowed us some breathing room from the harried Chicago mission that went topsy-turvy.

In last week’s episode Elizabeth uses poor, naive film enthusiast Jackson for his connections to the state department. She uses him to spy on the Summit meeting. In a very tense moment I was afraid that her body count was going to go up by one young intern, but she just issues a chilling warning to forget that he ever met her and to go back to the paving business in Marietta, Georgia. Elizabeth was tested in a lot of ways in this episode: she learns that Philip has been betraying her trust for the past two months to pass along information to “someone from back home”, he then insinuates that she feels less than human –– “you don’t think I’m a human being? –– she asks incredulously, she also has to end Erika’s life after Glenn fails to assist her suicide by morphine. Elizabeth can seem inhumanly cold, but in this moment the lines fully blur between being an angel or mercy or an agent of death.

Throughout this episode we say Elizabeth begin to questions the motives for her actions. “I was trying to get you to think”, says Philip as an excuse for his betrayal. And Elizabeth does seem to begin thinking for herself; she lets Jackson live (a highly reckless move), she determines that her target Nesterenko doesn’t deserve to die, and she almost keeps a piece of art that Erika had painted. She ends up burning the too-incriminating art, but as the flames eerily highlight Elizabeth’s exhausted, grim face we can tell she is beginning to question.

That questioning continues in the latest episode, “Jennings, Elizabeth.” The penultimate episode of The Americans was as anxiety-inducing as I had imagined. The title refers to the search that an increasingly suspicious Stan does on both Elizabeth and Philip in the FBI database. Nothing pops up, but his gut feeling remains. Even as Aderholt dismisses his theory, “Elizabeth and Philip Jennings are not spies,”

This episode was dealt first and foremost on Elizabeth. We saw flashbacks of her training in the Soviet Union and are able to understand more about her blind devotion, even as her eyes are being opened for the first time. Elizabeth confronts Claudia about Nesterenko, she thwarted his assassination by Tatiana. In a brilliant performance by the marvelous Margo Martingale, Claudia expresses her disappointment with a calmness and coldness that rivals anything that Elizabeth has ever done –– yes really. But Elizabeth is trying to determine who she is for the first time in well, maybe forever. This scene is foiled by a confrontation between Elizabeth and Paige about the intern Jackson.

Paige accuses Elizabeth of ruining Jackson by sleeping with him, calling her a not so nice name. Elizabeth quits denying her actions with an explosive scene that is electric with Russell’s righteous fury. She, like Claudia insinuated she had done for Elizabeth, was trying to protect Paige from the true, seedy nature of this line of work, but no more. “I wasn’t brought up like you were,” she says. “I had to fight. Always. For everything. People were killed. They died all around me. If I had to give everything so that my country would survive, so it would never happen again, I would do it gladly. We were proud to do whatever we could. Sex what is sex?”

She didn’t have the luxury of thinking of sex as special, it was just another tool. She knows it, Philip knows it – that is the only way their marriage works. That is why they understand each other. Throughout all the tense moments in this episode; the devastating scene between a captured Oleg and Stan, or Philip running from Father Adrian as he understands that he is being watched, they are still in it together. When Philip calls Elizabeth it is with a message of finality –– “I was hoping to make it home for dinner, but things are very topsy-turvy at the office.”

Elizabeth grabs the emergency bag of clothes, documents and money (giving serious Season 4 flashbacks) and shuts off the light for maybe the last time. Philip and Elizabeth are running for their lives, maybe till the death. Maybe they will keep some of those wedding vows after all, because things are very topsy-turvy indeed.

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