Wednesday, May 23, 2018

REVIEW: 'The Americans' - Elizabeth's Lies and Deceptions Come Back to Hurt Her Family in 'Jennings, Elizabeth'

FX's The Americans - Episode 6.09 "Jennings, Elizabeth"

Elizabeth wrestles with competing loyalties. Philip has an encounter that turns into much more than he had bargained for.

At its core, The Americans has always been about deceit. Philip and Elizabeth do this job where they have to lie and manipulate people in order to get what they want. It has created these longterm relationships that mean something very profound to them - especially considering they change and grow over the years as well. The show has gotten so much great story out of the two of them wondering if they are just deceiving their marks or if they are deceiving themselves as well. They both believe in each other. They trust each other more than anyone else in the world. Their marriage has been so complicated. They put in the work to make it healthy and sustainable over the years. And now, it's under threat of completely falling apart because of the deceptions each of them have had. Elizabeth was doing work that could quite literally kill her if she's not too careful. Meanwhile, Philip is spying on her and reporting back to another faction of the Centre that wants to see just how far this chasm goes throughout the organization. They haven't been open and honest with each other. That's the one thing Elizabeth needs from her partner and handler in order to do this job well. She has made so many mistakes this season. Her actions over the last few weeks could ultimately be a huge mistake that costs her everything she has ever cared about in this world. And yet, she chose to act because she was listening to her own values as an individual person. She was no longer fighting blindly out of loyalty for her country. She was making her own decisions and having her own thoughts about what's the best course of action to ensure that there is actually peace and stability at home in the foreseeable future. She wants to create a world that is better than the one she grew up in. She is willing to sacrifice so much just in order to protect her ideals for her country. And now, she has been betrayed by the people sending her out on these missions. They were just using her to advance their own agency after fearing that Gorbachev is too weak and willing to throw away their rich heritage to better assimilate with the rest of the world. Elizabeth and Philip are both pulled into the action this week. It turns out to be quite explosive for them as well.

Elizabeth is now the agent filled with doubts about her job and haunted by memories of her past in the Soviet Union. The show has done flashbacks about Elizabeth's past before. But it was always a narrative device that helped articulate the stress, pressure and discomfort that Philip was under because of what he was being asked to do for his country. He was allowing these painful memories to rush in and affect his current emotional judgments because he was being personally affected by his actions as a spy. Elizabeth always saw that as weakness. And now, she is the one plagued by these memories. She is recalling her training where she is essentially told to never leave one of their own behind to die on the streets. The mission is so much more complicated and dangerous than that during her time in America. During this training, it further highlights just how destructive and agonizing life has always been for Elizabeth. Here, she is forced to make a choice. She could either continue on her mission or she could save this man involved in a serious accident. She doesn't want to compromise her mission in any way. But it also further highlights her drive and devotion to her country. She doesn't want to betray her ideals. She wants to support them fully. But she can't kill one of her own seemingly to advance a conspiracy within the government. She can't kill him for no reason. She needs to believe he is threatening the country in some way. And so, she decides to save him from this attack. She isn't able to pull the trigger. But she is able to kill the woman who comes to finish the job. It's then revealed that the woman is actually Tatiana. That's a significant death that has immediate ramifications for the audience. It's clear that Elizabeth will be isolated and condemned for this action. But the audience is fully aware of just how much her life is currently falling apart.

It's all depicted so effortlessly and chillingly during Elizabeth and Claudia's confrontation. Elizabeth still goes to their meeting to inform her handler that she ensured that this job didn't happen. She is the one putting the mission at risk like Philip has done so many times over the course of the series. She's now becoming empathetic to his perspective of the world even though she can't easily forgive him for what he has done as of late. Meanwhile, Claudia is furious at this person she thought she knew. She thought she had found a kindred spirit in this profession. Someone who believed in the cause just as devoutly as she did. Even during the periods of animosity between them, she had respect for Elizabeth and trusted that she would still ultimately do whatever the Centre asked of her. And now, Claudia's deception has been revealed. She believes she was acting in the best interest of the Soviet Union. She wanted to remove the man who put their future in jeopardy. She sees Elizabeth's actions as the thing that will completely destroy the Centre. Elizabeth has sent word back to the government saying that this coup was set into motion by these individuals. It will ensure that the leaders of the Centre will be removed from their positions and probably face significant consequences for their actions. But it's also so fascinating to see how this scene is presented. Claudia is calm throughout all of it even though her world is crashing down. All of the hard work she has done for her country is now meaningless. All of the time she spent nurturing these relationships with Elizabeth and Paige was for nothing. This is Elizabeth choosing to betray the organization she has worked for since she was a young adult. She was trained to see the world how the Centre did. And now, she is forming her own opinions and it's so destructive. Claudia is willing to face those consequences though. She's not going on the run to hide somewhere else in the world. She is returning home to fight for the country she still believes in no matter what happens next.

Elizabeth made this decision because she was angry with Claudia about lying to her. That's the thing she values so much in this line of work. It makes her such a hypocrite though because she has been lying to Paige constantly in order to lure her into this business. It has been such a slow-burning recruitment of her to this cause. Elizabeth had to work very delicately to ensure that Paige learning the truth about her parents didn't eventually blow up their lives and ensure they could no longer serve their country. Not only did she succeed in maintaining the home life, she was able to recruit Paige to the organization. Paige has been willing to go out on missions this year. She has been woken up to the true realities of this business. And yet, Elizabeth was still choosing to keep some crucial details from her. She didn't want Paige to be traumatized by the belief that these agents use sex in order to get the information they need. She didn't want to scare Paige away when she was so close to actually becoming a second generation spy for this network. But there was only so long before the truth was exposed. It was inevitable that Paige would be confronted with the true realities of this business. She was able to find some way to cope with seeing her mother with blood all over her face after a mission that has gone awry. But now, she is realizing that everything she read about spycraft is actually true. She is forced to grapple with that reality after having a run-in with a drunken Jackson at a party. The audience knew that Elizabeth keeping Jackson alive would come back to hurt her in some way. It seemed more apparent that he would tell the truth to one of his government contacts. But now, it's much more destructive for Paige to be the one listening in on his drunken rant knowing exactly what actually happened. She recognizes that this was probably her mother who destroyed this young man's life. And now, she has to face the reality that she has always known that her mother has lied to her. Elizabeth can no longer deny that either. She stands in front of Paige as her true self. Someone who has used sex casually to get what she wanted. It never meant anything to her except getting the job done. This is the cold and cruel person Elizabeth truly is. She no longer has to worry about maintaining Paige's mental stability to keep her in this profession. All hope of getting her into the federal government has now gone up in smoke.

All of this makes it such a fitting ending that Elizabeth and Philip can only trust each other. This episode keeps them apart for the entire running time. The walls are closing in on them and they are running around town trying to keep things stable and functional. They believe they are doing the right thing in getting the message to Oleg about what Elizabeth has discovered about the Centre. That's what makes it so shocking and destructive when Stan and Aderholt pick Oleg up while he's still carrying the message. He knows the importance of the note in the container. He knows just how global the repercussions could be if he isn't able to send it back home. But he is also in American custody with the Soviet Union unable to protect him. He wasn't operating under any official business. He was risking his future with his family just to do this mission. He needed to do it to keep his country and its future secure. He understands the importance of this mission. He and Stan are essentially on the same side of this conflict because Gorbachev is the leader actually willing to negotiate with the United States. It's better to have him in office than someone much more radical and oppressive. And yet, that's all that Oleg is willing to give Stan as well. He just needs his help in delivering this message. He won't give up anyone in the illegals program. Even when given an image of Philip and Elizabeth, he doesn't betray their confidence. And yet, the FBI is still running a mission to capture some of the illegals operating in their city. They learned a great deal from simply watching Harvest operate. And now, it's such a fitting conclusion that the priest who brought Elizabeth and Philip together as a married couple is now the man responsible for tearing them away from this life they've known for so long. He foolishly leads Philip into a trap. He just wants to talk about the state of the Jennings marriage and the idea that there must be some underlying reason they both stay despite the hardships. But it's a moment that quickly turns intense and uncertain once Philip learns Father Andrei is probably being watched. That leads to such an epic and stressful foot chase where Philip is seemingly able to escape the people watching this meeting. But he still has to deliver the most ominous warning message to Elizabeth. She has to pack a bag of all the essentials from the house. They are going on the run together where they can only trust each other. That's such a powerful and intense way to head into the series finale.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Jennings, Elizabeth" was written by Joel Fields & Joe Weisberg and directed by Chris Long.
  • Was the show actively trolling the audience with the new Soviet agent coming to kill the negotiator wearing a blonde wig? It probably makes a strong majority of viewers think that it's actually Renee and we're about to get some resolution to the mystery of whether or not she's a spy. But instead, it's revealed to be Tatiana. It would also be a lame disguise if she just had the same hair while committing this very dangerous mission.
  • Stan finally goes to Aderholt with his suspicions about Philip and Elizabeth. And yet, he still doesn't have any proof. He has circumstantial evidence. He thinks their behavior is definitely odd. He is able to call into question the striking coincidences between their lives and his work. But he's also pursuing every angle he can think of - which means visiting Philip at work and calling Pastor Tim at his new job in Buenos Aires.
  • Of course, there also has to be some amount of genuine compassion and friendship still between Philip and Stan as well. Stan goes to the travel agency with suspicion in the hopes of finding something that only confirms his feelings about the couple across the street. But he also makes a genuine offer of a loan to Philip to help him try to save his failing business. That could be a ploy. Or it could be trying to help a friend when he needs it the most.
  • Just how quickly into the finale will Stan's fears about the Jennings actually be proven true? It's okay for Aderholt to be skeptical and dismissive about the idea right now. There is simply no proof. It just confirms that Stan is potentially working too hard and seeing things that just aren't there. And yet, Philip's disguise when he goes to meet with Father Andrei may not be as deceptive as he hopes. The FBI did get photos of the meeting which are being developed right now. Stan could see the face of his best friend working against his country very quickly.
  • There was so much worry throughout this final season regarding Oleg. It seemed inevitable that he wouldn't return home to be with his family. It seemed likely that this mission would prove to be so destructive to his life. It was just a matter of whether he was captured or killed. Right now, he is facing a long sentence in prison. But that also presents Stan with a significant choice in the finale. He could help his semi-friend make a deal to ensure he gets back to his family. Or he could also ensure that this message gets to the Soviet Union even though that could be seen as Stan doing a traitorous action.