Wednesday, May 25, 2016

REVIEW: 'The Americans' - Elizabeth Struggles to End Her Mission with Young Hee and Don in 'Dinner for Seven'

FX's The Americans - Episode 4.11 "Dinner for Seven"

Elizabeth completes the last steps of a very personal operation... but at what cost?

The threat of exposure has been so high for Philip and Elizabeth Jennings this season. They've had to carefully deal with Pastor Tim and Alice knowing their secret while still maintaining their missions and assets. It's been a very difficult year for them. The season is not letting up on them either even though they've had some time to step back and relax. Pastor Tim going missing in Ethiopia was all it took to stir up the threats once again. But their actions are also having major consequences throughout the world as well. They had absolutely nothing to do with Pastor Tim's disappearance. He is later found too. But they are still ruining other people's lives as well. In some cases, they do so willingly in order to move the mission along. But in other instances, they aren't involved whatsoever but a person still dies. This universe is only getting more and more lethal and precarious as the series goes along. The narrative is moving forward with purpose and an end date in sight - something the network confirmed earlier today by saying the series will end after two more seasons.

Despite all of this though, things are actually starting to look up with the Pastor Tim and Alice situation once again. Philip and Elizabeth chose not to have them killed in order to protect Paige. In turn, Paige has gone according to plan and kept being an active part of the church's social calendar. The Ethiopia misunderstanding threw all of this out of whack again. Alice had a very reasonable reaction to this horrifying news. But now that Tim is back, this dynamic has to start picking up the pieces once again. However, Tim and Alice are now the people asking for forgiveness from Philip and Elizabeth. That gives the Jennings the upper hand in its own twisted way. Tim and Alice feel guilty for what happened. They are very apologetic about it. They don't want anything to risk Paige having a happy family unit. But now, Philip and Elizabeth are in control of the situation once again. They are so confident with the situation that they don't flinch at all when Tim and Alice come over for dinner and Stan decides to crash the party.

Stan has really inserted himself into the lives of the Jennings over the years. Besides work, they are really the only constants in his life. He is still dealing with so much darkness. It all harkens back to when Amador was killed and Stan chose to kill Vlad in retaliation. The Jennings were truly behind Amador's death. But Stan is still caring the weight of killing a man around with him at all times. It's still affecting him deeply even though things have been easier for him lately. Matthew is back in his life on a more regular basis. He wasn't able to save Nina but he got the closure that he normally wouldn't receive. But now, he's thrown into a tailspin once again by learning that Gaad was killed during his trip to Thailand. Philip may have played a role in Gaad's death since he mentioned him being out of the country in his reports. But he doesn't know that for sure. Stan's in a dark place. But he doesn't react in the same way that he did before. Instead, he chooses to pull himself out of the one relationship he has with a Soviet officer. He never wants to see Oleg again. After all the talk about potentially turning him against his country, Stan chooses not to act. He's spiraling but it doesn't lead to death once again. That's progress.

However, Stan's presence at the dinner table throws a brand new complication into the Jennings' relationship with Pastor Tim and Alice. Now, the pastor and his wife know that the spies are friends with their next door neighbor who just so happens to be an FBI agent. That's a very curious circumstance. Pastor Tim doesn't know what to think. That dinner between the seven characters is filled with so much wonderful tension. So much of this world could be destroyed if those people just told each other the secrets they carry. And yet, that doesn't occur. The secret keeping has its purpose too. There's no reason for Stan to be suspicious of his friends. To him, they are just a normal family. He enjoys hanging out with Philip and Henry. He appreciates their hospitality. They have been there for him while he's gone through tough times. He has no reason to question all of that. Similarly, Pastor Tim and Alice have no reason to question the nature of the Jennings' friendship with Stan. Sure, it's weird and could hint at something darker. But they are still operating under the assumption that Philip and Elizabeth don't engage in any lethal or dangerous missions.

Everything seems to work out for Philip and Elizabeth. The dinner goes off without a hitch and their covers are still intact. They are still able to carry out their missions for the Centre. It's a significant time for the Patty mission as well. Elizabeth needs to follow through with the final stage of the mission. After so much hard work building this friendship with Young Hee, she needs to make her move to get the codes from Don. It's something she hates doing. That angst and uncertainty is so moving. She normally doesn't feel conflicted about her missions. She is committed to the cause no matter what. But she has formed a real and genuine bond with Young Hee. She has cherished their time together. It has been a lot of fun. That has helped her through a very tough year. And now, she has to destroy all of that. She does so for a plan that may not even pan out to anything either. The mission is to convince Don that their sexual encounter got Patty pregnant. He tells her to get an abortion and then her family - played by Philip, Gabriel and another agent in disguise - arrives at his workplace to tell him that she killed herself. His distraught state than gives Gabriel the time to turn over his office looking for the codes. It's a very finite conclusion to the mission. That's a very weird choice that the Centre has made. So often, the agents leave things open-ended because they don't know what the future of the relationship will uncover. But here, Patty dies in order to bring the necessary individuals close enough to the information they seek. It's a mission that could go wrong any number of ways. And there's no guarantee for success either. So, Elizabeth is potentially throwing away this meaningful relationship for nothing. That's so difficult for her to handle.

The only person Elizabeth talks to about these conflicted feelings is Pastor Tim. That's so surprising. Part of it does play as her continuing to work him so that he doesn't expose her secret. And another part is her genuinely wanting to know how to handle what she is feeling right now. She has worked so hard to maintain her cover with him and keep her relationship with Paige intact. Paige has changed because she knows the truth. She is starting to question more of what is being told to her. She reports back to her parents about Pastor Tim and Alice. Plus, she's relaying the information Matthew told her last week about Stan going to see Martha's father. She doesn't know the role her parents played in all of this. She still wants to see the best in them. Elizabeth has worked so hard to keep the relationship healthy between them. She is still entitled to her own feelings though. She's frustrated by what she has to do to Young Hee. But she still goes through with it. She'll just have to wait and see if it produces anything for the main mission with William. But she's still torn about the feelings and needs Tim's guidance. She doesn't believe in religion. So the only advice he can offer is saying the world is about how we treat each other. Elizabeth treats others horribly for her own nefarious agenda. She does so because she believes in her cause. But after working so hard to keep up the illusion for Paige, it all comes crashing down in seconds. It's not the dinner that exposes her as the badass spy she is. Instead, it's a bunch of thugs who attempt to rob her and Paige on the street. Elizabeth is more than capable of taking them down. In the process though, she kills one of them which will leave such a lasting impression on Paige and likely send her spiraling with anxiety and uncertainty all over again. A fantastic tease as the season heads into its final moments.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Dinner for Seven" was written by Joshua Brand and directed by Nicole Kassell.
  • Philip realizes the role he may have played in Gaad's death right after Stan tells him. And yet, he doesn't reach out to get confirmation on that either. Likely because he knows there's nothing that information would really do - except confirm that the Soviets killed him.
  • So, was Margo Martindale busy and that's why some new agent had to step in as Patty's stepmother for the big search of Don's office? It was great to see Gabriel in the field doing his part for the mission. It would have been better if it was Gabriel and Claudia.
  • While pursuing the Martha case, Aderholt works a lead that eventually leads back to the bug Philip and Elizabeth planted in the mail robot while it was broken. That's a huge revelation! Though I still wonder if Oleg and Tatiana have gotten any useful information from it?
  • Stan calling a meeting with Oleg is largely about him letting out his emotions and frustrations. It's not about Oleg at all. But it is still significant that Stan never wants to interact with him again.
  • Elizabeth spies on Young Hee to make sure that she and the kids aren't in the house before she tells Don her big news. Her yearning for that connection is very powerful. So, what are the odds that she'll want to spy on them again sometime soon? It's probably very likely.
  • As was mentioned earlier, FX has renewed the show for two more seasons. They will be the final ones with the show ending in 2018. It's largely a satisfying renewal. This is a show with a finite ending. It can't last forever. So knowing it's heading into its end game will greatly help the tension moving forward.