The Americans returns for its final season with an episode that reminds us that it is the best show on TV and that everyone involved with it deserves all of the Emmys. 

RELATED: Catch up on where we left the major players at the end of season five!

Let’s start with my favorite check-in: Where’s Henry (???)? He’s at boarding school, excelling as a hockey player. What this means is that he is conveniently offscreen most of the time, but when dad comes to watch a game, he is shot from a distance while wearing sporting equipment that covers his face and body completely. Also, Keidrich Sellati‘s name isn’t in the credits for the episode and gets a 2017 end-date on IMDB, so maybe “Henry” is finally fulfilling his Bobby Draper potential after all. 

RELATED: Read detailed recaps of every season five episode here!

More importantly, there’s trouble in paradise. We have indeed jumped ahead three years to October 1987, and Philip (Matthew Rhys) is thriving. He has quit working as a spy and has thrown himself into the persona he built. The travel agency has doubled in size and expanded its staff, Philip drives a fancy car and wears a fancy watch, he looks relaxed and happy– and he line dances in his free time!

Everything would be perfect, except that Elizabeth (Keri Russell) is leading a separate life that is taking a visible toll on her. She’s running multiple operations simultaneously in advance of the December 1987 Washington Summit at which Reagan and Gorbachev signed the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF Treaty). She isn’t hiding her smoking anymore, she barely sleeps, she practically crackles with tension any time she isn’t actively in character and she looks haggard– even when she looks her best. 

tired elizabeth americans

The Jennings are living like strangers under the same roof– two ships passing in the night. She can’t talk about her work, and she doesn’t want to hear him talk about his because she’s too, too tired to care. Of course, they keep up a brave front when entertaining guests like Stan (Noah Emmerich) and his wife? (she’s wearing a ring!) Renee (Laurie Holden), who is DEFINITELY A SPY, and Agent Aderholt (Brandon J. Dirden) and his wife and baby. But once the company leaves, the temperature drops between them. 

Add to the mix the responsibility Elizabeth is carrying while running a small fleet of operatives who are participating in her operations, including “Julie,” A.K.A. Paige (Holly Taylor). Paige is still so wet behind the ears that she loses a fake ID to a military security guard, and although Elizabeth assures her that it’s no big deal, she does secretly murder him and reclaim the ID the same night. The other operatives might not know Paige is Elizabeth’s daughter, but handler Claudia (Margo Martindale) sure does, and she’s assisting in her ongoing indoctrination by bringing Russian programs for the three of them to watch and discuss in the safe house. 

It’s into this brittle family dynamic that a new element is introduced– one that could either break the Jennings or drive them together. Our old friend Arkady Ivanovich (Lev Gorn) is now the Deputy Chief of Directorate S. in Moscow, and he is a supporter of the strides Gorbachev is making towards ending the Cold War. Unfortunately, there are old-guard KGB types in his organization who don’t want change, and some of them are apparently going around him to take steps to stop it.

One of these people, a general in the Strategic Rocket Forces, arranges to meet Elizabeth in Mexico City. This is extremely irregular, but she’s a company woman and she goes without hesitation.

Over breakfast in a cafe, he explains that Russia has been developing an automatic nuclear-control system code-named “Dead Hand,” and that his faction is concerned that Gorbachev has authorized it as a bargaining chip in the treaty negotiations. The general wants Elizabeth to ensure that this doesn’t happen, and now that she’s looped in on Dead Hand, she “can not be arrested.” He gives her a pendant with a hidden compartment containing one cyanide pill before they separate. 

The minute she puts on the new necklace, the fatigue and stress she’s carrying seem to jump up 10 levels, and every time she gazes at herself in the mirror afterwards, examining the necklace and her face, we have to wonder if she’s finally reached a breaking point with her work– and her unquestioning loyalty to it. 

Arkady, aware that he’s being undermined, seeks out an old friend to help him counteract the plot. Oleg (Costa Ronin) is alive and well in Moscow– bearded and married and the father to a one-year-old boy. Arkady comes to him at night and asks him to risk his life and happiness for the sake of making sure Gorbachev’s efforts for peace and progress aren’t hindered. He asks Oleg to return to America, meet with Philip and ask him to pay attention to his wife– and intervene if necessary. 

philip americans

Reluctantly, but patriotically, Oleg accepts the assignment. Reluctantly, Philip acknowledges the marks Oleg leaves in his neighborhood that indicate a need for a meeting. Reluctantly, they come together in a park at nighttime and discuss their mutual desire not to be pulled back in. Oleg gives Philip some time to consider the request to watch, and possibly kill, Elizabeth for the sake of Russia’s future. 

Afterwards, Philip waits up until 1am for Elizabeth to come home. He tries to talk to her about her well-being and her work, but she just can’t. She won’t give him an inch, leaving him alone and unsettled in favor of grabbing some sleep before she dives back into her multiple lives the next day. 

Keep up with my season six recaps here!

There are some exceptionally brilliant music selections in this episode. 

Underscoring the opening sequence that establishes carefree Philip living the American Dream while Elizabeth is still grinding away at spycraft is Crowded House’s “Don’t Dream it’s Over,” and as though the song title isn’t enough to wrench your heart while watching your favorite spies drifting apart, the chorus really drives it home:

Hey now, hey now
Don’t dream it’s over
Hey now, hey now
When the world comes in
They come, they come
To build a wall between us
We know they won’t win

Next, as Elizabeth listens to the general outlining her double-covert assignment in Russian, the background music starts to compete with and then overpower the conversation. At first it seems accidental– careless– there are electronic beats drowning out what the man is saying as Keri Russel’s face gets tighter and tighter– almost as though she is also struggling to hear him over Peter Gabriel’s “We Do What We’re Told.”

we do what we’re told
we do what we’re told
we do what we’re told
told to do
we do what we’re told
we do what we’re told
we do what we’re told
told to do
one doubt
one voice
one war
one truth
one dream

Finally, as Elizabeth’s operatives weave their web and Philip discovers that he’s about to be caught in one as well, Fleetwood Mac’s “Gold Dust Woman” swells. 

Rock on gold dust woman
Take your silver spoon
Dig your grave

Heartless challenge
Pick your path and I’ll pray

Wake up in the morning
See your sunrise loves to go down
Lousy lovers pick their prey
But they never cry out loud
Cry out

Did she make you cry
Make you break down
Shatter your illusions of love
And is it over now do you know how
Pick up the pieces and go home.

Gold stars to the music supervisors on this show– as usual!

UPDATE:

Whoops! In my enthusiasm to get this published, I overlooked one song– Talking Heads’s “Listening Wind,” which plays while Elizabeth works her operations. Chilling and direct lyrics in this one:

Mojique sees his village from a nearby hill
Mojique thinks of days before Americans came
He sees the foreigners in growing numbers
He sees the foreigners in fancy houses
He dreams of days that he can still remember…now

Mojique holds a package in his quivering hands
Mojique sends the package to the American man
Softly he glides along the streets and alleys
Up comes the wind that makes them run for cover
He feels the time is surely now or never…more

The wind in my heart
The wind in my heart
The dust in my head
The dust in my head
The wind in my heart
The wind in my heart
(come to) drive them away
Drive them away

 

Leona Laurie

Leona Laurie is a Senior Contributor for Geek Girl Authority and co-host of the Marvel-Us podcast. She watches (and recaps) a lot of TV, sees every Marvel movie on opening night and reads voraciously. She learns something new about herself every time she watches an episode of Wonder Woman. She is fun enough.
Leona Laurie