Tuesday, May 16, 2017

REVIEW: 'The Americans' - Elizabeth Makes a Major Decision About Her Future in 'Dyatkovo'

FX's The Americans - Episode 5.11 "Dyatkovo"

A surprise assignment from the Centre divides Philip and Elizabeth, forcing them into a moment of profound crisis. Stan gives Henry a tour of the FBI - but will he see too much?

A lot of this season of The Americans has been understated. It's something that myself and other critics have talked about extensively this year. It's the show setting up its end game. This is a season of strong moments but not one of sweeping story arcs and major resolutions to long-simmering conflicts. But the strong moments continue to be so excellent and nuanced in so many different ways. All of this has purpose once it hits the emotional and decisive end for the season. It's not quite there yet but it's getting close. It's becoming more and more obvious how things could potentially go wrong for Philip and Elizabeth. "Dyatkovo" is a tremendous episode of the show becomes of how pivotal it is for their mindsets. It's an intimate story about them and this job. How far they are still willing to go? And what kind of life are they hoping to have after all of this is over? Big change is coming. Opinions have been altered. Now, it's a bit of a waiting game to see how massive the fallout of all of this will actually be for them and their family.

It has long been apparent that the life the Jennings have in America won't change until Elizabeth wants them to. She is completely devoted to the cause. She can still feel bad about her actions on occasion - like she did last season with Young Hee. But she still can do so much because it is for a noble cause that she believes in. Meanwhile, it was clear from the very first episode of the series that Philip was sick of this life and would love nothing more than to not do it anymore. He's been on a constant ride of peril as he's been forced to do one horrifying act after another. He does it all because he is committed to Elizabeth and his family. He's willing to suffer through all of this if it means his family stays intact. He loves this dynamic even though it's been really challenging for him over the years. So much has happened. The damage may have traumatized them too much moving forward. But that assessment won't come until their story is done. It's up to Elizabeth to decide when that happens.

There is so much power to the final words that Elizabeth shares at the end of this episode. They are: "I want to get out of here. We should just go. I mean it. Let's go home." It's significant that she says that to Philip. It comes at a time when the threat of exposure from the FBI isn't even high. This season started with the idea of them returning home to the Soviet Union. Gabriel suggested it to them because William had been caught and could have exposed their identities. It was a plan that Gabriel supported and ultimately carried out for himself as well. But Philip and Elizabeth chose to stay. And their lives are still intact. They weren't exposed because of William. In fact, they are thriving right now. Claudia is giving them more and more missions to complete. The Centre is overly relying on them once more because they are some of the best spies that they have. The pressure is high but they've proven capable of handling it. And yet, things have changed regarding Philip and Elizabeth's relationship with the Centre. There used to be so much trust there. But now, they are fighting for a country they no longer understand. The cause Elizabeth is fighting for may no longer exist. She's had to reckon with that this season. She's gotten closer to Philip and Paige. That's a connection she can trust. But what kind of future is she hoping to have after all of this is done? That's still unclear and leads to such a powerful final moment.

All of this occurs because of the latest mission that Claudia assigns to Philip and Elizabeth. They are tasked with executing a woman in Boston who has been newly discovered as a former Nazi cooperator who killed thousands of Russian soldiers. When Claudia presents the mission, it's easy to see this woman as a horrible person who deserves to die. She killed countless people and now has a seemingly happy life in Boston. Elizabeth sees it clearly as well. She fully believes that this woman is the same as the one in the picture. The uncertainty is still high though. Philip wants to be sure. The power of this sequence comes from not knowing. Natalie Granholm denies being the woman Elizabeth and Philip think she is. She commits to her story. When she finally starts coming around, it feels like her saying whatever it takes to ensure that they don't kill her husband as well. Elizabeth still seems committed to the mission but Philip falters because he doesn't know if he trusts that it's the same woman. It's only after her husband, John, enters the scene that clarity comes. This woman is the person she's accused of being. She killed Russian soldiers for the Nazis. And yet, she explains her actions as well. She felt like it was her only choice to survive in that horrible situation. She felt like everything was taken away from her. So, she had to be subservient to the men in charge. She didn't believe in the cause but she had to do whatever it took to survive.

In the end, Elizabeth still kills both Natalie and John. She carries out the mission when Philip cannot. He went to the house to know for certain the truth about the situation. Instead, things only got murkier. She did this horrible thing in her past. She has remorse for her actions and she has seemingly changed. Is that good enough though? Philip can understand the situation she was placed in. He has sympathy for her. He doesn't pull the trigger. Elizabeth does. That could create a rift between them. And yet, she knows exactly how he is feeling. She feels the same way. She didn't want to execute them but felt it was her duty for the Centre. Her government lied to them. It wanted this mission to be easy when it was anything but that. She listened to the same story as Philip. She felt the same way. She does feel bad about it. So bad that she makes that declarative statement in the end. It's a solemn car ride back home after the latest morally compromising mission. She says it not out of fear of getting caught for this gruesome crime. She says it out of anger that the Centre is no longer being a great source of information. They've been lied to a lot this season. William's virus really was weaponized and used in Afghanistan. Claudia shares that with them and they are taken aback. They still carry out this mission. But now, there is the willingness to change their circumstances. That's huge. They would never do something if the other doesn't agree with it. Philip will likely be supportive of this desire to get out of this line of work. But will it be as easy as that? Will the Centre allow them to retire when they are in the middle of several active missions? Or will they be convinced to stay on for one final mission that will go awry - just like it did with William? The urgency and desire is in place. Now, it's time to see what the fallout will be.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Dyatkovo" was written by Joshua Brand and directed by Steph Green.
  • The Centre has spent so much time and attention on getting Paige to become a second generation spy for them. And yet, she's not the first Jennings kid to make it inside the FBI. Instead, that's Henry who gets a tour of the place from Stan for a column in the school paper. He returns home and tells his parents everything - not knowing how crucial that kind of information could become.
  • Philip is now willing to let Henry go to boarding school as well. That's assuming that he gets into the prestigious school in the first place. However, he's also worried that Stan is trying to recruit him for the FBI. That could be a good thing for the Centre. But Philip and Elizabeth have seen what knowing the truth has done to Paige. So would they be willing to inflict that on Henry too?
  • Speaking of Henry, his reaction to seeing Mail Robot for the first time is incredible. That scene got such a huge chuckle out of me. Of course, Stan isn't a fan of the machine. He thinks it's more hassle than it's worth. But Henry's amazement is priceless. This has actually been a pretty great year for Henry.
  • Oleg's investigation into the food corruption in Moscow has been a major story of the season. He has seemingly found the person responsible for a lot of it. And yet, that interrogation scene is so dynamic because it reveals that Oleg may be too cocky in this investigation. He may be too out-of-touch with the realities of the country and how widespread the corruption actually is.
  • Even after getting more answers about his father's background, Philip is still experiencing memory flashes of his childhood. This time they appear while he is simply watching television with Tuan. It's a bonding experience between father and son that is incredibly triggering despite how minor it appears.