Tuesday, May 30, 2017

REVIEW: 'The Americans' - A New Twist Could Ruin Philip and Elizabeth's Plans in 'The Soviet Division'

FX's The Americans - Episode 5.13 "The Soviet Division"

Philip and Elizabeth race against the clock as a life hangs in the balance, while Stan faces an uncertain future.

This was a different season of The Americans. At times, it was very frustrating because it felt like it was only setting things up for the final season next year. But then, it would produce moments that were absolutely devastating and horrifying to watch. The way the show approached its season-long story this year was slightly different. The types of climaxes it produced were different. In the past, the show has always brought some sense of closure to the big stories of the season while still teasing plenty other stories with further complications. This world has only gotten more and more complex. It can be hard to untangle the lives that Philip and Elizabeth Jennings live. They may actually be delusional if they believe they can truly leave this life behind for relative normalcy with their family in the Soviet Union. As such, this was a year of big emotional moments instead of shocking plot twists. The climaxes of the season were how the various characters reacted to learning new information. It has about their changing ideologies. Gabriel left America because he could no longer have a relationship with Philip if he had to lie to him. And now, Elizabeth is willing to retire and return home - except her patriotism is still pulling her further into the job. In a way, it reveals that these characters are destined to live these lives until something goes wrong. That just won't happen until next year. So in a way, "The Soviet Division" is anti-climatic because it doesn't expose Philip and Elizabeth in a traditional storytelling way. But it does present a future for them that is perhaps even more dangerous than any previous mission.

It all ties back to Tuan and the experience Philip and Elizabeth have gained over the years. They are no longer the young agents in the field holding their ideals up high and willing to do anything for their country. They've seen and done too much. Their psyches have been broken down. They've done so much damage that they fear they'll never be okay again. They may have ruined their children's lives forever. They are carrying all of this around with them. When they are in the field, they are burdened by all of this. They are in a completely different head space. It's what this job has done to them. They are thinking about retiring. Simply having that mere thought should be enough for them to get out of the game. If they go against that urge, then they are probably destined to slip up and get caught. That's what Tuan sees when he looks at his "parents." He sees two agents who have a compromised view of the mission. They are choosing to focus on cavalier things when the main objective has been completed. That opening sequence is very intense because it reveals that Pascha really did cut his wrists. He survived and his mother will be taking him back to the Soviet Union. But it's a very intense sequence because Philip is risking exposure to the security detail from the American government posted just outside the house. Philip and Elizabeth could lose it all just because of this one death. To Tuan, that doesn't seem like a risk worth taking because he's still able to separate emotion from the action.

Again, that's because Tuan is a young agent. This is one of his first missions for his country. He's made mistakes. He's willing to learn from them. He still cares about people. He reached out to his former foster brother to see how he was. But now, he may have been too focused on the mission and not worrying about the collateral damage that would occur. He acted without running his plans by Philip and Elizabeth. He just went headfirst into the action because it was the smart plan. It ultimately worked in the end. But the moment of Elizabeth talking him down is incredible. She's been at this long enough to know just how reckless and dangerous a move like this could be for Tuan. He doesn't see that. He feels confident with his abilities as an agent for his country. He believes he's serving his country well and with purpose. He's great at this line of work. Elizabeth is trying to impart her wisdom on his young mind. Sooner or later, the emotional cost of everything will come crashing down on him. Without someone by his side to deal with all of it, he'll burn out much quicker than anyone hopes or expects. Philip and Elizabeth are regarded by their organization because they've made the partnership work. No, the Centre doesn't know about how deep the bond between them actually goes. But they know they are an effective pairing that can handle all of the scary and horrifying missions that come their way.

Philip and Elizabeth are unified in their desire to retire as well. Claudia brings it up again because the Centre would like an answer as soon as possible. They need to start handling the transition soon because they don't want any mistakes made. Philip and Elizabeth were unsure about what would happen with Paige and Henry. But now, they seem to make up their minds. They are going to retire and take Paige and Henry to the Soviet Union with them. They'll play it as a family vacation and rip the bandaid off when they are crossing the final border. That's the mentality they are in for the majority of this finale. So when Henry gets accepted into boarding school, Philip can't even just play along to keep Henry happy until this move actually happens. Meanwhile, Philip and Elizabeth are taking stock of the lives they have in America. They are looking around at everything as if it's the last time they'll be in this environment. Philip watches as Stan enjoys another racketball game with Renee. Elizabeth looks around the house wondering what all could potentially come with them. It's them at the end of their long journey in this country. They are looking at things as the end. For Paige and Henry though, they are looking to the future with brighter eyes than before. Henry is happy to get accepted into boarding school while Paige is more than willing to take a slap to the face from her mother. They are planning for their lives in America not knowing what their parents truly have planned for them.

And yet, the tragedy of the situation is that Elizabeth ultimately won't let them go back to the Soviet Union. Her love for the cause is just too great and important. She wants to go back because the job has broken her down too much. She knows how much it wears on Philip as well. He hasn't been happy in so long. He deserves to leave this life behind. However, they have to stay because Kimmy's dad is getting a promotion to the Head of the Soviet Division. So ultimately, that mission is just too important to walk away from. The stress of this life was really getting to Philip and Elizabeth this season. They were once again juggling too many missions and having to compromise their emotions and morals in order to succeed. They were corrupting themselves once more. It was wearing them down. It brought them closer together. Their bond has never been stronger. They are married and understand how the other is feeling about any new twist that they face. Elizabeth comprehends just how destructive this reveal is for Philip. That's why she suggests he stops being a spy except for that one mission. He maintains Kimmy as an asset and listens to those tapes. It will be the most important mission any Soviet spy is running. He'll be at the center of it and that's it. But that's also setting Elizabeth up for failure. She just lectured Tuan about the importance of having someone to rely on in the field. Philip told Elizabeth previously that he would never leave her alone on the job. And now, that's exactly what she's suggesting. She knows he can no longer do this. But they need to do this for the greater good. It's the tragedy of their lives. They are caught in this vicious cycle and never able to leave. Their lives have just gotten too complicated that they will never be able to unravel it all and enjoy the simplicity of a life back home. It's a realization that will change the status quo next season while also damning them to the lives they are living and nothing more.

Some more thoughts:
  • "The Soviet Division" was written by Joel Fields & Joe Weisberg and directed by Chris Long.
  • This may be the happiest ending anyone could have hoped for with Martha. It seemed like the end for her when she first got onto that plane last season. The transition to Soviet life has been really hard on her. And yet, she may be rewarded with a child. When she was with Clark, she was willing to do whatever he asked in order to be less lonely. She now realizes how foolish that was. But a child may actually give her what she always wanted and have it be pure and simple too.
  • It does seem like Gabriel returned to the Soviet Union guilty about what he did to Philip and Elizabeth and made sure to give consolation prizes to the people close to them. So, Mischa wasn't able to meet his father for the first time but he did get to meet his father's family. Martha had to abandon everything she knew but now she has a child who'll love her.
  • It's surprising that the season didn't confirm or deny Renee being a spy. There was so much conversation about that reveal from both the audience and Philip. And now, the evidence seems pretty clear that she's working for some agency. It's just not clear which side. She's getting closer to Stan and making sure he stays in the job where the intel he gets would be beneficial to the people she's working for. Or she may just be a really supportive girlfriend. The show is still playing it both ways.
  • During that montage of Elizabeth looking around the house and Philip going for a drive, Paige is also seen walking through the same streets where she and Elizabeth were attacked last season. She does so with a new confidence. She's fully aware of her surroundings and ready to defend herself if need be. It's very precarious but nothing bad ultimately happens to her.
  • It's meaningful that it's the Kimmy mission that gets Philip and Elizabeth to stay. It's not just some story inherently important to this individual season. It's been a story for a couple of years now. Of course, it's only been a minor detail in the past two seasons. Kimmy was much more important in Season 3 than in Seasons 4 or 5. But this twist suggests she'll be very crucial in the series end game.
  • That's it for this season. Again, it was a frustrating but fascinating year for the show. It's still deserving of being called one of the best shows currently airing on television. It's interesting that this finale doesn't set up an intense main premise for the final season. Yes, it establishes a new working relationship for Philip and Elizabeth. But no one new learns of their covert operations and is ready to investigate them in the hopes of capturing two of the best Soviet spies out there.