As the Cold War churns to its end/pause on The Americans, everyone is filled with delusions, except maybe Oleg. Let’s go through them individually:
Philip and Elizabeth
Philip has embraced the ideas of glasnost and perestroika so fully he allows himself to quip that maybe one day the Jennings will be enjoying zharkoye with Stan. He’s taking the most optimistic view possible: the Soviet Union will become more like America, both countries will substantially disarm, and everyone can part as friends.
Oh, Philip, that breaks my heart. This story will have to end badly for someone you care about.
Reality check: everything Philip and Elizabeth did, and the Americans did in response, won’t be washed away over a bowl of meat and potatoes. Unfortunately.
Elizabeth’s delusions happen when she’s hanging in the kitchen with Claudia, cooking food from the old world and wishing she was walking the streets of Moscow again. Elizabeth sees the Soviet Union with rose-colored glasses, so even the poverty seems romantic in retrospect. We see this when Paige asks her if she ever got tired of eating the same thing all the time. “That’ wasn’t an issue,” Elizabeth notes, because everyone was simply trying to survive.
But it’s not that simple. Elizabeth is ever the black and white thinker, but she’s had subtle epiphanies in the past about what it would mean to return to the Soviet Union at this juncture. We saw her examining her wardrobe in season 5 – she loves those Harve Benard silk blouses, and the acknowledgment that she enjoys material comforts (of course) made her frown. So into the Elizabeth Jennings Repression Vault it goes.
Elizabeth is delusional about returning to the old country (and like Philip), she has no idea what’s happening on the ground back home. She’s also delusional about what Paige’s fate will be as a spy. That’s why she keeps bringing up the notion that Paige’s operations won’t be as dangerous because she will be working as a mole in the State Department or Department of Defense. But deep down, Elizabeth is just kidding herself. She knows Paige is not cut out for this work and that her life will be filled with danger.
Reality Check: The Soviet Union is broken and if she lives, Elizabeth will have to face the end of an ideology that she believed in to her core. Nobody wants to be in this position. In some ways, Elizabeth would rather die than face this truth, which is why she can romanticize the poverty without really examining it.
That fight between Elizabeth and Paige is pretty harsh. No, Elizabeth does not hate Paige. But she’s fighting many different emotions and burying them pretty deep. She’s pissed off Paige isn’t following the training, because that means she’s a terrible spy who will get killed. She has doubts about whether Paige should be doing any of this, but in true Elizabeth fashion, faces her doubts by doubling down.
One of you asked why Paige is going through with any of this. Well, first it’s worth remembering that Paige is a somewhat opaque character. She wears her idealism on her sleeve, but she puzzles things out in her head. We don’t know what other things she is working through right now, but the idea of spies sleeping with someone to get information is a giant hint.
Why is Paige doing it? She has an idealist streak, just like Elizabeth, and she’s been convinced that this is the way to change the world, all while getting her mother’s approval.
Reality Check: We all know by now that the KGB is not the Peace Corps, so this Paige experiment is bound to end badly.
Stan and Oleg
The lovely scene between Oleg and Stan was probably my favorite this week. Here we find Stan ready to engage in some wishful thinking with Oleg. Stan tells his former frenemy that he fought for him when the shit hit the fan over the tape, and that they both came out of it okay. Stan wants to be friends, remind Oleg to not get involved in any spy game, and be on his way.
Oleg is not having it. He brings up the most painful possible reminder of the cost of this war for both of them: Nina’s death.
Philip and Stan are mirrors in this episode. Stan assumes a chumminess with Oleg that doesn’t really exist anywhere but in his head. This is the same thing Philip does when he thinks about having Stan over for Russia night at the Jennings.In other words, can’t this war just be over? Can Philip and Stan just move forward with their lives?
Reality Check: Nope. Nobody is getting out here – Stan keeps being sucked back into counterintelligence, and now so is Philp.
Notably, there’s a major difference between what the Americans are doing and what the Soviets are doing in this season: Elizabeth is killing anyone who gets in the way, whereas Stan is letting them live but ruining their lives. It is a distinction with a difference, but basically it still sucks. Stan has regrets.
Other Bites of Zharkoye
- There is no way on earth Renee had serious thoughts about becoming an FBI agent at this stage of the game, right? So what was the meaning of her talk with Stan? This is shaping up as a red herring.
- Not much to report on the Haskard front this week, except Elizabeth taking a huge risk by putting on a wig and eavesdropping on his meeting with Soviet summit planners. There are some obvious parallels between the Haskard marriage and the Jennings marriage.
- Philip excitedly informs Elizabeth that there might be a Pizza Hut in Moscow! She says “we don’t want to be just like them!” Her comments echo what historian Tim Snyder has written: the West made a huge error in assuming the Soviet people wanted to be “just like us.” Snyder has basically written exactly what Elizabeth vocalized in this scene.
- Elizabeth seeking counsel from Father Andrei is my favorite surprise so far.
- Sofia’s comment, “We’re Soviets. We know how to keep secrets. It’s what we do” was solid comic relief. Sofia has been unable to keep secrets from the start, it’s what she does.