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The Americans 5.11 “Dyatkovo” Review: Paying for the Past

17 May

You can’t escape the past and season 5 of The Americans has constantly been looking back to explain the present. History repeats and this impact is felt on both a micro and macro level; individuals and organizations are at risk and real change is hard to implement. Especially when authorities have a different face/name and yet continue with their shady shit. Corruption seeps down to every level.

Post-WWII turmoil in Russia has been alluded to with Philip learning the truth about his father’s profession, Oleg finding out about his mother’s imprisonment and Gabriel discussing the work he did. You can make a new life, get a new name and yet the scars run deep. Memories threaten to bubble to the surface and ruin the facade of perfection that has been constructed.A seemingly unconnected operation to everything Philip and Elizabeth have been doing brings everything to a head in an unexpected way. In a sequence that is reminiscent of the equally brilliant “Do Mail Robots Dream of Electric Sheep?” Philip and Elizabeth interrogate someone the KGB believes killed their people for the Nazis in the occupied town of Dyatkovo. As this is The Americans this is not a simple case of good versus evil and first they must determine whether they have the right person.

Philip has to be sure that this isn’t a case of mistaken identity and early on the evidence they have isn’t particularly conclusive. The photo could be her, but this isn’t enough and Philip reinforces his point by mentioning the conversation they had earlier this season. He can no longer shoot first only to find out that they were wrong. It seems like a good marker, to be honest and Elizabeth is aware that he is close to breaking point; which is why she does what she does later on.Paying for the past is a complicated business and after some back and forth with Natalie about whether she is really Anna, she confesses. At first I thought this was a fake confession as a way to save her husband, but it turns out that she really did all the things she was accused of. But these were far from the actions of someone who took pleasure in committing these atrocities. This is one of Irina Dubova’s first acting credits and she is incredible in this role delivering pain, guilt and fear.

Natalie’s confession takes place in front of her husband with horrific details such as watching her family get shot and being forced to dig their graves. She was saved and she doesn’t know why, “nothing made sense.” And after this she did what she had to in order to survive – echoing what Oleg’s mother told him about prison – which included killing her own people. The first time she did it she was so drunk she could barely stand and all of this began when she was just 16. Elizabeth was 17 when she joined the KGB. And now Paige is at this age too. Too young to be embroiled in all of this.

This is The Americans doing what it does best; hitting us in the gut with the lack of options available. Before this moment Elizabeth calls Natalie a monster throwing back the word that Pastor Tim questioned whether they are. As I already mentioned this episode is reminiscent of “Do Mail Robots Dream of Electric Sheep?” particularly the conversations Elizabeth has with Lois Smith’s Betty as she coerces her into taking too many pills. Betty also brings up this notion of Elizabeth being a bad person. In fact she calls her out on her “to make the world a better place” reasoning by saying that’s “what evil people tell themselves when they do evil things.”

This is the most Elizabeth has previously been effected by an on the job kill – I got super teary rewatching these scenes – and the whole thing with Natalie is enough for Elizabeth to make a huge decision; she wants to go home.When Philip hesitates in pulling the trigger, Elizabeth steps up as she said she would. It is an awful moment and even though it was clear they were never going to let them live – they’d seen their faces after all – there was part of me that hoped otherwise. It doesn’t matter that Natalie had made this new life where she was doing good, those actions of the past sealed her fate in the present. Even if she committed these war crimes in order to survive.

So what makes Elizabeth think they can just go home? Everything has been building to this point of quitting the spy biz in one way or another; it is getting too much for both of them. Philip is the one who has been showing the obvious signs of reaching his breaking point and despite his fractured psyche he’s in it for as long as Elizabeth is.

They don’t know the Soviet regime is also crumbling, but the misinformation regarding missions and how they keep pivoting away from doing good is having an impact. The virus sample they extracted, the sample that effectively killed both William and Hans has been weaponized and William’s legacy is having this version named after him. The exact opposite of what he would’ve wanted. They’re both fed up the honey traps and Pastor Tim’s scribblings have had an impact.Thankfully The Americans has never been concerned with the prestige TV trope of “we’re good people that did a bad thing” instead they are people who have done very bad things in the name of duty/country and feel conflict about it. It is why the wordless interactions between Philip and Elizabeth hold so much weight; everything is etched on their faces. Cue my “give Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys all the awards” broken record.

Philip right now is a giant exhale of sadness in human form and seemingly happy childhood memories are doing nothing to free him from the increasing worry lines on his face as they are tainted with the truth. Even something as mundane as watching TV and eating McDonalds with Tuan is far from freeing. He leaves his real son all preoccupied and happy to join his fake son only to have the past eat away at him. To him his father brought some light into his life and likely a lot of darkness and pain into others; is he getting a glimpse of how Henry will view memories of Philip in the future?

Processing other photos gives Philip reason to bring up Paige’s* motivation behind the whole diary reveal. They don’t come up with a definite answer, but Philip wonders if she wanted to see their reactions to reading what Pastor Tim had said about them.

*A Paige-less week, but you can read my thoughts on Paige and the use of horror on The Americans over at Collider

The lasting damage they are having on their children is hard to ignore and Philip has conceded in letting Henry go to boarding school if he gets in. This of course is all academic, if they do indeed decide to go home to Russia and there is no telling how either Paige or Henry will react to this bombshell. Because Paige sure as hell was not chill about the suggestion last season.Ah, Henry. Sweet, smart, oblivious Henry. Listening to his Walkman while doing homework, having a girlfriend and getting a guided tour at the FBI. The latter brings up another interesting point in Philip and Elizabeth’s basement convo about how Stan or the FBI is not getting Henry. They’re also pretty disparaging about Matthew. Way harsh, guys.

Henry does seem very interested in what Stan does at work and is fully delighted when he gets to meet Mail Robot. This is the appropriate reaction. Later on Henry reads Stan his paper that pretty and exclaims that working at the FBI sounds like the “best job in the world” and Stan is quick to inform him that this is far from the case. Way to crush young enthusiasm Stan, but he does his best to explain the big drawbacks and one of those is never being able to truly trust anyone. Not even your wife and kids. Across the street this is not the case and because Philip and Elizabeth have each other it makes this difficult world a tiny bit better. If only they could all retire to a secret island and live happily ever after.

Everyone is feeling the strain of their jobs, but Philip and Elizabeth have never been more in sync. Even when they don’t quite agree they have been finding middle ground recently. The secret wedding last week doubled down on their commitment to one another and maybe it really is time for this part of their life to be over. However, I can’t see the KGB agreeing to let some of their best deep cover operatives go without a fight. Especially when you factor in just how many operations they have in play right now.

And if they go on the run they could be the ones starring down the barrel of a gun in a few years time for being traitors. Talking of in sync and how they enter Natalie’s home ensnaring her in a terrifyingly efficient way; they catch their prey without a sound.Over in Russia, Oleg continues with his investigation and even though they find evidence against Lydia that could put her away for fifteen years she is steely as fuck when facing their questions. She notes that this is how their country runs and it is not going to change. She calls the KGB “high and mighty” and it is hard to have a good comeback when Oleg has his own fancy supermarket he gets to shop at because of who his father is.

Two episodes remain this season, twelve in total and with Elizabeth’s “I want to get out of here. We should just go. I mean it. Let’s go home” everything suddenly feels very much near the end. The sound you just heard was my stomach churning from dread and anticipation of what’s going to happen next.

Fun Spy Equipment The camera in the bag is a classic and I’m glad we got to see Elizabeth toting this tote.

Family Photos and Owl Lamps

Family pictures act of reminders and the Jennings house is littered with these happy memories. Once again I am so pleased they use photos that are neither photoshopped or production stills. Also that owl lamp always catches my eye in how perfect and pretty ugly it is. And thanks to Twin Peaks all I can think is this lamp is not what it seems.

Be sure to check out my essay over at Collider discussing the use of horror on The Americans including a deep dive into the Jennings House of Horrors and whether Paige is the ‘Final Girl.’

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