The good news is that I’ve had my count wrong. I thought tonight was the third-to-last episode of The Americans, but I was off by one. We have three more left after this week’s “Harvest,” and the series finale (sob) airs on May 30.
The bad news is that the trip to “Houston” did not go well. And that Stan (Noah Emmerich) is finally suspicious of his friends.
Last week, Philip (Matthew Rhys) told Elizabeth (Keri Russell) he would come to Chicago to help her extract their colleague whom the FBI was surveilling. Tonight’s episode picked up in the aftermath of that promise, with Philip having to track down Henry (Keidrich Sellati) at Stan’s to tell him that he would be leaving before Henry’s Thanksgiving break ended, and that he wouldn’t be able to take him back to school.
Stan, usually willing to accept the idea that travel agents get called away on emergency business all the time, finds this suspicious. He’s reading something “wrong” from his BFF for the first time in the nine-plus years they’ve been neighbors. He follows Philip out of the house to confront him about it and says, (paraphrasing) “Hey, man, I’ve always been aware of your comings and goings and odd hours. Also, what secrets are you keeping?”
Philip, apparently stunned that Stan had actually noticed anything about him and Elizabeth without taking action years ago, demurs initially, then confesses that the travel agency is failing and might go under altogether. Stan is surprised by this, and more surprised when Philip hugs him as an expression of gratitude for the chat– or maybe as a “just in case” goodbye before he leaves for a super dangerous mission.
When Philip arrives at Elizabeth’s hotel room, she can’t believe that he has actually come, and she’s obviously relieved that he has. They have a meal together, then remove their disguises and go to bed. Their nerves are taut. They are facing a mission with a likelihood of failure, so this isn’t sexy time, but she does reach for his hand in the dark. They’re on the same team for now, even if it’s a losing team.
The next day she walks him through her plan. It’s not a great plan, but it’s absolutely the best she’s been able to come up with. That night in the hotel, she finally tells him about the cyanide pill. He asks her to give it to him so he can flush it down the toilet, and she refuses. She only told him about it because he’s always asking her to tell him things.
When it’s time to execute the plan, it turns out that Elizabeth has her usual crew, minus Paige (Holly Taylor), with her. Despite the staggering odds, they’re successful in extracting their target and making a getaway before the FBI notices that they’ve lost him. Unfortunately, they don’t get far enough fast enough to avoid being intercepted by one pair of agents, whom they gun down as they speed away.
In the shootout, both their target and Elizabeth’s stalwart helper, Marilyn (Amy Tribbey), are shot. Marilyn dies instantly, but the Illegal has time to give Philip messages in Russian for his beloved mother and despised father, and to pass on information Elizabeth needs about the sensors she’s still trying to secure. Then he takes his cyanide pill and dies.
Philip and Elizabeth make it safely to a parking garage, where they drag Marilyn’s body out of the van she died in. Philip grabs a fire axe from the wall and chops off her identifying body parts: hands and head. They place these things, along with the clothes they were wearing and their colleague’s cyanide pill locket, into a duffel bag, change into new clothes and drive to the waterfront to dispose of the evidence.
At one point during the decapitation, the axe gets lodged in Marilyn’s neck. This is a rough moment for both Philip and the audience, made rougher when an unwitting woman enters the garage to get in her car. She doesn’t notice anything, and she lives to see another day.
On the flight home, Philip and Elizabeth are dressed as middle-aged intellectual types with a Southwestern vibe. He is keeping it together, and she is drawing the airplane window for Erica (Miriam Shor). Philip notices, and she explains that “someone is making me learn.”
While they’re gone, Stan cares for Henry and makes sure he gets back to school. In the car on their way to, presumably, the Greyhound station, Stan probes Henry about his parents. He asks FOR THE FIRST TIME EVER about their work travel and whether or not they ever left him and Paige with family when they needed to leave. (No.) Stan brings up the “aunt” Elizabeth ostensibly stayed with years ago, and Henry says he never met her.
When Stan arrives home alone that night, he considers his neighbors’ dark house from his driveway. Then he walks across the street and knocks on the empty house’s door. He makes his way to the back yard and discovers the flower pot full of Elizabeth’s cigarette butts out on her smoking patio. He tries the back door, but it’s locked… so he picks the lock and goes in.
He moves silently through the house without turning on any lights. He sees that someone has been sleeping in Paige’s bed, he looks through dresser drawers in the master bedroom, he snoops in the garage and he even investigates the laundry room and comes *this close* to finding the cache of incriminating stuff behind the fuse box.
During his search, he pauses to regard a family portrait and recalls what William Crandall (Dylan Baker) said to him on his deathbed about how the Illegals he was working with were a pretty woman and a lucky man with two kids, living the American Dream.
The next day at the FBI, Agent Aderholt (Brandon J. Dirden) is seeing red. They’ve lost two men on the Chicago surveillance team and the FBI has found the bodies in the parking garage. Stan bucks him up, then digs out a six-year-old case that may be related and asks innocently when they’ll have sketches of the white man and woman seen pulling off the Chicago upset.
Back at chez Jennings, Elizabeth has to turn around and go back to work the minute she and Philip walk in their door. She goes to care for Erica overnight, who is determined to teach and create as she’s wracked with pain.
The next day Elizabeth surprises Philip at the travel agency. She is checking up on him because of how he looked in the parking garage (when he was doing a decapitation). She also notices for the first time that some of the staff is gone, and he explains heavily about the layoffs.
Elizabeth visits Paige that night to tell her about how the mission was a catastrophe and people died. As they walk through the rain under a giant, shared umbrella, Paige looks for clarity about how likely death in the line of duty is, and Elizabeth characterizes it as infrequent, but always possible.
Elizabeth then tells Paige that she needs to make a decision about entering this line of work, because it is for life if you choose it. She says that Philip chose unwisely, but that he was younger than Paige when he made the commitment. Paige insists that she isn’t afraid of dying and that this line of work will allow her to do what she’s always wanted to: make a difference.
She also confesses that she doesn’t have any friends to lose because she can’t abide the brainwashed kids she knows. She tells her mother that her real fear is winding up alone, and that she hopes she meets someone nice like her mom did. Elizabeth hopes that for her, too, clearly avoiding telling Paige how she met her father.
With Paige’s verbal commitment to life as a Russian spy, Elizabeth dispatches her to go apply for an internship with the State Department.
At home, Philip sits alone in the dining room, remembering the wedding ceremony he and Elizabeth secretly had just a few years earlier. His pained expression is difficult to read. Is he troubled by his love for a woman whose unwavering loyalty to her cause is putting her in danger he no longer sees as necessary? Or is he questioning more than that, wondering whether he loves her at all?
Notable song placement for this episode is The Patti Smith Group‘s “Broken Flag,” which plays during Philip and Elizabeth’s retreat from the horrors of the parking garage and underscores Elizabeth weighting the duffel that holds Marilyn’s head and tossing it into the water.
Not to hail a barren sky,
sifting cloth is weeping red
The mourning veil is waving high
a field of stars and tears we’ve shed
In the sky a broken flag,
children wave and raise their arms
We’ll be gone but they’ll go on
and on and on and on and on
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