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The Americans 6.09 “Jennings, Elizabeth” Review: Topsy-Turvy

24 May

Elizabeth Jennings made a monumental decision last week on The Americans. She went against a direct order. In the penultimate episode she goes one step further, not only does she defy her superior, but she actively prevents someone else from completing this particular mission.

After a season of botched operations and high body count, Elizabeth steps in to prevent another person from losing their life. People have been dying around her for as long as she can remember, in this particular case she can’t let another comrade die on the streets. And finally an operation of hers goes according to plan. It is a victory that comes with at a huge cost.The reason why Elizabeth has been such a good soldier is she will do whatever it takes to get it done. The vows she took for country mean something to her. We have spent six seasons watching Elizabeth as the more hard line of this spy duo, we know exactly who she is. She is a disappointment to Claudia, but she has never lost sight of her integrity. In a serious of flashbacks we see Elizabeth in training back home. When she comes upon an accident involving a motorbike and a horse, instead of helping the injured man she takes a different route. She is acting as if she is already in the U.S. where such activity could draw unwanted attention. She is later reprimanded because “You don’t leave a comrade, on the street, to die in Moscow.” She was following orders, but in this moment she could have improvised to save a life.

As she fights off exhaustion from staying awake to make sure nothing happens to Nesterenko, these thoughts swirl because it is the first time she is actively going against her orders. Elizabeth does stop the would-be assassin—who also happens to be Tatiana, even the Centre improvises from time to time—from doing the deed, she heads straight to Claudia’s to tell her. It is hard to view events in this episode without thinking of it in terms of this being the penultimate ever episode.

There is a chance that Margo Martindale could appear in the finale, but this very much feels like the last conversation between this pair. It is incredibly charged, Elizabeth doesn’t pound her face in as she did way back when, the animosity that once existed is no more. In fact there are a lot of hurt feelings, even if neither woman is willing to show too much emotion. This is not who they are.Claudia’s words are like a knife to the heart as she effectively tells Elizabeth that this one decision has undone everything good she has done. The Paige training now means nothing. Claudia compares Elizabeth to the women she fought with during WWII,* the highest of compliments. All before dismissing her belief system. Claudia doesn’t think Elizabeth really knows what she is fighting for; she says she thought she knew her. But if Claudia really knew Elizabeth—as Elizabeth herself points out—then she would know going behind her back and using her as a tool for the overall agenda is the greatest betrayal. And last week alone she found out that pretty much everyone she has put her faith in lied to her.

*I recently read “The Unwomanly Face of War” by Svetlana Alexievich, which documents the experiences of many Russian women that fought in WWII. The things these women did on the front line is incredible, their stories deserve to be told. I would highly recommend this book if you have an interest on this topic. It also goes a long way in explaining a character like Claudia.

What makes this scene truly great is how measured this conversation is. Neither woman screams at the other, there is no violence. And more importantly there is still a level of care layered with some contempt. Elizabeth asks where Claudia will go, home of course. But what will become of Elizabeth? The sneer levels from Margo Martindale when she asks “What’s left for you now? Your house? Your American kids? Philip?” Oh the disdain when she says his name.  They look at each other for a moment and Claudia calmly eats the food she has just prepared. Little does Elizabeth know that one of those things is about to get taken away. The family home is the heart of this unit, but now it has been compromised. A home we are now saying goodbye to. The kitchen and the island within continues to be used in such an effective visual way. This scene between Paige and Elizabeth mirrors their big fight from season four, when the world was first introduced to Keri Russell’s forehead vein. This time it has multiplied. Now Paige is revealing just how much she knows about the methods her mother uses to get information. Seeing people die wasn’t Philip’s number one fear way back when it was first floated that Paige she join the family biz. Nope he was worried about her ending up in a suitcase a la Annalise.

Sex has been a topic that has been broached on a number of occasions this year as Elizabeth has been trying to dissuade Paige from sleeping with someone for information. Paige has been doing her own research, she is not stupid. Though she doesn’t get the idea of having sex with someone you’re not attracted to. When she heard the story about Jackson she put the pieces together, she is appalled. Appalled because her mother slept with someone so much younger, appalled because it confirms some of her worst suspicions. She calls her mother a whore, which goes down about as well as you can expect—I need that “excuse me” gif to add to the season one classic. Time for another life lesson Paige.

Elizabeth has done everything in this lifelong fight for her country. Sex is part of this. It doesn’t mean anything in this context. Paige has invoked Philip as a person that can’t stand to be in the same room as her mother because of these kind of activities. If only Paige knew exactly what her father did as a spy, the other wife he had, the girl her age he just fucked. Elizabeth notes that “Nobody cared. Including your father.” Philip is no saint, even if he has quit the spy world. He does not get absolution in this.

Speaking of which, his meeting with Father Andrei starts off with pleasant enough. They talk about his marriage. The vows he just broke. Philip mentions Elizabeth is not someone that trusts easily, Father Andrei responds that something has got her to stay with him. This has not completely broken them as a couple. When Elizabeth grabs their go bag with all the money, passports, license plates and weapons she also grabs their real wedding bands. These vows, this marriage. It is important. Philip, these American kids. They are all she has left now and it matters. Tension has been building all season, it explodes the moment Father Andrei mentions the FBI. Philip realizes they are compromised, the way he looks at every person in the park like they could be an agent. He walks calmly before breaking into a run. It is genuinely one of the most nerve-wracking sequences this show has done as it feels like Philip could get caught here.

The panic on his face as he surveys his escape options in the basketball court, the way the camera spins around him. It is a close call, the closest maybe even. Things at work are “topsy-turvy,” clearly their code word for everything has gone to shit.Meanwhile Stan is picking at that scab. The one that is six years in the making. The episode gets its title from Stan searching the FBI database, first for Elizabeth, then his BFF, followed by Dupont Circle Travel. He then drops by unannounced to see Philip at work. Philip’s reason for Elizabeth not being there isn’t a lie; they have had a fight about their business. Just not the travel industry.This doesn’t make Stan feel certain either way so he floats his theory to Aderholt. Starting at the beginning with Timoshev to the hair/smoking comments. Aderholt thinks it is ridiculous, but the camera stays on him long enough for him to wonder “what if?”

Oleg is picked up when he retrieves Philip’s very important message. A message he wants Stan to decode. In another excellent one-on-one scene, everything that Oleg is fighting for is laid out. If he has to sacrifice himself, he will. He is not giving up his source, even when Stan shows him a photo and says they can make a deal. What Oleg wants is exactly what Stan does; peace, food on the table for his family. Oleg underscores how important Gorbachev is in making this happen. It is something that remains unresolved, but I can see Stan helping Oleg out. There is a mutual respect. They are alike in more ways than having loved the same woman. It wouldn’t be the first time Stan went outside the lines.There isn’t much time. There is only one episode left. So far this final season of The Americans has been incredible. What happens next will only help cement its legacy. Part of me really wants the Jennings family to ride off into the sunset, but I know that is unlikely and will probably not be the most satisfying end to the story. Soon we will know.

No stitches requiredPastor Tim ain’t no snitch. Even if he did look like he wanted to throw up during this entire conversation. Good to see Kelly AuCoin again and he justifies why it was a good thing Philip and Elizabeth never made it to EPCOT.

Also it looks like there is a chance a different man of God could bring them down. One who has seen their faces, he knows their real names. The irony that a Communist is found out because of a religious man.

I get excited when places I have stayed are on TVI was momentarily distracted during this opening scene while Elizabeth surveys Nesterenko wondering if indeed this is the Roosevelt Hotel in New York City. I am pretty certain it is. I have stayed here twice and it has been used for a number of films/TV shows including Nora Durst’s stay in the iconic Leftovers episode “Guest.”

Fun fact, it was also used in Wall Street. A movie that was released one day after the Washington Summit in December 1987.

Earring Watch I have always been fond of Elizabeth’s choice of disguise earrings, but as I mentioned a few weeks ago, I have recently had my ears pierced so I’m paying even more attention. These are amazing.

Height differenceObviously Stan is not really there to offer a loan to Philip. Philip at this point is unaware of Stan’s suspicion. A very tense and awkward scene not only because Philip is put in a very shitty feeling position. Matthew Rhys looks tiny next to Noah Emmerich. Also this is definitely the last time they are together without Stan truly knowing who Philip is.

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