Tuesday, May 23, 2017

REVIEW: 'The Americans' - Philip and Elizabeth Worry About Paige and Henry's Futures in 'The World Council of Churches'

FX's The Americans - Episode 5.12 "The World Council of Churches"

As Philip and Elizabeth grapple with a momentous decision, Tuan takes matters into his own hands in the Morozov operation. Back in Russia, Oleg's investigation collides with the realities of the Soviet system.

This has been a very introspective season of The Americans so far. It's been so fascinating to watch. At times, it has felt like the show just waiting until it can truly do its end game. At other times, it's just as devastating and brutal as it has always been. The spycraft is just as dangerous, intense and lethal as it was in season's past. But now, Philip and Elizabeth are older and more experienced as agents. They've been through so much. Their minds are now wandering to what life will be like for them in the future. They've had a number of close calls over the years. They've almost been exposed as Soviet agents but have always escaped somehow. They've always found a way to keep their family intact. That has always been a priority for them. Yes, they've put country above all else in the past. But now, they are seeing things differently in regards to what the Centre asks of them. They are starting to have thoughts about retiring. Last week's episode ended with them doing yet another terrible thing for the Centre even when it was more morally compromising than they were led to believe in the early going. That's been such a strong pattern over the course of the series. Things have only gotten worse for this family. And now, the thoughts of planning for a future back in the Soviet Union may ultimately be clouding Philip and Elizabeth's judgment too much.

It was a bleak moment that forced Elizabeth to turn to Philip saying she was ready to return home. It took killing those two people for Elizabeth to finally come to that realization. It was dark and brutal. But that final moment between the two of them in the car brought some new light and hope into their lives. This week they aren't asked to do anything big or life-changing for the Centre. In fact, they even tell Claudia about their plans to potentially retire soon. She's even supportive of the idea because having that conversation largely means they should get out as soon as possible. Staying in for too long only increases the risks for them. They seem to have made up their minds about this journey. And yet, they have no idea what to do with Paige and Henry. In fact, both Elizabeth and Philip may be delusional about what their children's prospects would be in the Soviet Union. Elizabeth wants to believe that Paige is strong and will adjust quickly to her new environment. She'll be able to help Henry make the transition because she's already aware of so much of her parents' lives. Meanwhile, Philip's desire to get out of this line of work as fast as he can may be too overwhelming for him to see the trauma this move could have on his children. They both know it would be a huge adjustment. They've spent so much time in America. They want things to be happy and perfect back home. But that truly is a fantasy both of them have created in their heads. They aren't really seeing the world for what it actually is.

Paige and Henry would be miserable in the Soviet Union. The audience knows that. We have a strong grasp on these characters. The move would only isolate Paige further. She's been struggling to find her place in the world for so long. Every single thing she learns about her parents has the potential to send her spiraling even more. She has adjusted to learning the truth about them. She's willing and able to ask questions about their secret work. But she isn't getting the whole truth from them either. She asks where the Philip and Elizabeth Jennings names came from. Philip and Elizabeth say they came from dead people who weren't using them anymore. They fail to say they came from dead infants who don't have the kind of extensive background the world would be aware of. They are only presenting the idealized version of the truth. They want things to be simple so that Paige doesn't push herself away from them again. But a life in the Soviet Union would be hard on her because Philip and Elizabeth don't know what they are talking about when they imagine a life back home. They haven't been in the country for over twenty years. Meanwhile, the audience has seen just how widespread the corruption really is and how it's affecting all of the citizens of the country. Henry is making big plans for his future. He seemingly has his life figured out right now. This move would destroy all of that careful planning and potential romance. Philip and Elizabeth would be taking that away from him.

The parallel is also incredibly stark with what is happening with the Morozov family. Alexei brought his family to the United States to provide them with a better life. His skills could be put to better use and his wife and son would have more opportunities. Instead, they are more miserable here than they were in the Soviet Union. They are incredibly isolated in this new country. They aren't happy here. That's the design of Philip, Elizabeth and Tuan working them. They want things to be so bad that the parents have to take Pascha home. The bullying isn't enough though. They need to rethink the operation. Philip and Elizabeth are too busy thinking about their futures back home that Tuan enacts his own plan. It's one that forces immediate action. He teaches Pascha how to slit his wrists in order to get his parents to take him more seriously. It's a stark and bleak note to end the episode on. It's shocking. Philip and Elizabeth are baffled by what they are hearing. They want to take it all back. And yet, they can't. It's already too late. They can't risk intervening because that could threaten exposing them to the American government. So, an innocent kid may have been pushed to the brink of suicide just because of this mission. That could easily become Paige or Henry if the Jennings move to the Soviet Union. They would need to be under careful watch to ensure that the adjustment is going well. That doesn't sound like a happy future for anyone. And yet, the alternative isn't any better because Philip and Elizabeth would be stuck doing this work for the Centre when they should be getting out of the job altogether.

All of this also ties nicely to what is going on with Oleg in the Soviet Union as well. He's actually in the country dealing with the corruption. All of his hard work investigating the food situation is ultimately for nothing. He's able to help one person avoid serious jail time. But his department can't go after the man in charge because he's being protected by a general. That just shows how widespread the corruption is and how little power Oleg and Ruslan actually have over the situation. There is very little they can do to change things. They spent all this time on this investigation only for it to produce no meaningful results. This is the life that Oleg wants. He wants to be doing this work because it's the only way where things actually get done. He doesn't want to be the man in charge making all of the decisions and who can become easily corrupted. His father is that guy even though he's not as corrupt as the rest of the country is. That's surprising as well. It really is so fascinating to see how Oleg has grown across the series. He was introduced as this pompous and entitled guy who could seemingly get whatever he wanted because of his father. And now, he's fighting for what he believes in and doesn't want his parents to get dragged down with what he's caught up in.

The Soviet government reveals that they are investigating Oleg because of what happened to William. They are right to be questioning him because he really did tip Stan off to the dangers that would come of William's work getting in the wrong hands. He did so because he feared his country couldn't handle the bioweapon. He has no idea that the Centre still got ahold of it and has weaponized it for use in the war in Afghanistan. The investigation knows about the connection between Oleg, Tatiana and Stan. All of this could end very badly for him. That's so tragic to watch because he just wants to do the good thing. That's why his father wants to help. It's not just because he's his son. It's because he is a good person. That's such a moving scene. The two of them haven't always gotten along. But to see this amount of love and compassion even though Oleg's father doesn't know the full truth is wonderful. Meanwhile, Oleg's mother is just in the kitchen trying not to overhear about her son falling into trouble with the same government that once condemned her. It's all so tragic and emotional. But Oleg is still alive and a free man. Hopefully, that will still be true after next week's finale. But it does seem doubtful.

Some more thoughts:
  • "The World Council of Churches" was written by Joel Fields & Joe Weisberg and directed by Nicole Kassell.
  • Mischa went searching for his father in America. He didn't find him. But now, he does have a new family connection in Moscow. Philip's brother shows up and welcomes Mischa into his home. It's not the kind of family Mischa was hoping for. They still can't talk about Philip at all. But it's a nice moment that shows that he isn't as alone as he feared he would be upon returning to the country.
  • It's strange that Philip and Elizabeth go to Pastor Tim seeking his guidance over what they should do regarding Paige and Henry with this move. He doesn't agree with what they do. And yet, he's the only person who knows the truth and the family. He's the only one who can have an outside opinion of the situation. And yet, he basically gives them a non answer. 
  • Meanwhile, Pastor Tim has gotten a new job working for the World Council of Churches. It would move him and his family to Argentina. It's a dream job and Paige is happy that he's going to take it. Religion used to mean so much to her. But her family has corrupted it so much. Now, she celebrates being able to throw her cross necklace into the trash.
  • Of course, it's also crushing that Philip and Elizabeth tell Paige that she still needs to keep up appearances until Pastor Tim actually leaves. The same is also true for Philip and Elizabeth. These big moves don't just happen overnight. Until they actually occur, they still have to go about life exactly the same.
  • Henry somehow cooks dinner for the entire family. That's new. Sure, he probably gets a lot of help from his sorta girlfriend Chris. It all just shows that he is really stepping things up this season. He's showing his appreciation to his parents. But it's tragic because he has no idea what they are secretly planning at the moment and how it could destroy his plans.