This The Americans review contains spoilers.
The Americans Season 5 Episode 12
“The World Council of Churches” does exactly what the penultimate episode of a season should do. It makes us desperately wish the finale started the moment the credits end. Hell, skip the credits. I need to know if Pasha’s ok.
It’s not just the urgent ending that makes “The World Council of Churches” an ideal second-to-last episode though. Everything else about it is on brand. And for this season of The Americans, that brand means “The Beginning of the End.”
While this has been another excellent season for the show, there have been a couple of episodes here or there that have dragged a bit, no doubt. But even when season 5 was spinning its wheels it has always kept its message clear: things are winding down. It’s why I want to begin every review with a different passage from W.B. Yeats “The Second Coming.” Though to be fair, I want to begin everything I write with a passage from “The Second Coming.”
It would be easy to theorize that this sense of an impending conclusion is all in the mind of the viewer who knows this is the second to last season and maybe that’s partly true. But it’s also laid out explicitly onscreen. This season Gabriel called it quits, Oleg witnessed the telltale signs of a collapsing empire and both Elizabeth and Philip finally verbalized the thought that they’ve so long been avoiding: it might be time to call it quits.
Huge portions of “The World Council of Churches” are filled by Philip and Elizabeth continuing this conversation that Elizabeth definitively opened last week. The conversation about the beginning of the end.
They talk to Claudia about the beginning of the end.
“We think it’s time to end our tour here,” Elizabeth tells Claudia after an update on the Morozovs. “I understand,” Claudia says. A sure sign that people are ready to be done is once they even begin to consider it. Claudia assures them it’s a good idea and then adds in an accidentally ominous fashion that it will take the kids “only 2-3 years to adjust.”
Philip and Elizabeth talk to Pastor Tim about the beginning of the end. Their plan to oust Pastor Tim has been successful. He’s been offered a job out of the blue with The World Council of Churches in Buenos Aires and he’s opting to take it. When Paige hears the news she tells her parents. She’s shocked that they were able to pull it off. Then she takes off her cross and puts it in the trash. Elizabeth silently takes it out, puts it back on her neck and says “You have to wear it until he’s gone.” Then later they congratulate Pastor Tim on the news and open that discussion about another possible end.
“Do you think we could ever take Paige and Henry back home?” Philip asks Pastor Tim.
“To…?” he asks.
Elizabeth nods and Pastor Tim understands.
“I think you’ll have trouble either way,” he says. You can’t predict what a person’s life will be and you can’t deny them the challenges that will change them.”
Pastor Tim doesn’t know what the right thing to do is. And the conversation about the beginning of the end continues.
It continues with Philip and Elizabeth in the car, dressed as other people yet again (the Eckherts), as they contemplate what a new life for their family back home would even look like.
“Would they just go around Moscow as Paige and Henry Jennings?” Philip asks Elizabeth. Earlier on they revealed to Paige that the Jennings name belongs to corpses.
“Well they should take your name.”
“What about you?”
That’s the moment where Philip seems to understand why it’s even worth talking about the end. Because as the 21st century’s finest poets once said “every new beginning comes from some other beginnings end.”
It’s fitting that the second to last episode of a season all about the beginning of the end is almost singularly focused on exactly that. Even back in Russia, Oleg seems to be coming to an awareness of the end as well. The Russia interludes on The Americans have always been the weakest part of the show and this season has been no different. At least in “The World Council of Churches” Oleg begins to pull all the disparate parts together.
Oleg becomes more aware of the possibility of two different ends: the end of his country and the end of him. The reason for Soviet investigators’ interest him has become clear. Stan Beeman (a “source” of Oleg’s) intercepted William who was part of the project Tatiana (who Oleg had a personal relationship) worked on.
“Was it a coincidence that Stan Beeman was involved in interrupting an operation devised by the woman you were sleeping with?” an investigator outright asks.
Oleg feels powerless and victimized. His faith in the institutions of his country are shook as well. Lydia’s words from last week still haunt him. Can the KGB beat corruption if the face that corruption has taken is feeding families? He eventually succeeds in getting the prosecutor to commute Rykova (the original grocery store owner who sent Oleg and Ruslan down this rabbit hole). Even that is a hollow victory after he finds out the reality of how cruel his country can be from his mother.
Things are looking bleak for Oleg. Thankfully, an ending is in sight. No one knows what it’s going to be yet.
Ends and their beginnings pop up in subtle ways throughout this episode. Perhaps Stan is confronting his own end when it becomes clear their biggest intelligence asset, Sofia, may be compromised. Mischa, now back in Moscow working at a factory, gets another possibility for an ending. Not as happy a one as he hoped for but a happy one all the same. Philip’s brother has tracked Mischa down and invites him to a dinner with his family. There Mischa asks his newly discovered little cousin what he wants to be when he grows up. He used to want to be a cosmonaut. Now he’s not sure. That’s a sign of a nation near its end – when the kids know they can’t be what they want to be when they grow up. “I think it’s good to give up being a cosmonaut,” Mischa says. “It’s very cold in space.”
The end that could be the most definitive in “The World Council of Churches” fittingly comes at the end. Elizabeth mentioned to Tuan earlier that she doesn’t think the bullying route is working with Pasha. Alexei is too resolute and Evgenhiya is too invested in making things work with Alexei. No amount of Pasha black eyes can make them go home. Tuan comes up with his own plan.
Tuan tells Pasha he should slit his wrists. He tells him how to do it and avoid all arteries. When his mom and dad come home surely they’ll see how dire the situation and that they must return home to Russia. Elizabeth demands that Tuan call Pasha and tell him to stop. Tuan reluctantly does but no one answers the phone. So Philip leaves and Tuan and Elizabeth desperately follow in his wake.
“Brad…please…” Elizabeth says to the character he husband is playing as Philip heads directly to the Morozov household. Tuan points out an FBI agent monitoring the house in a car across the street but Philip does not care – he just grabs Elizabeth’s hand and walks faster.
Philip knows that one day soon that Henry and Paige RUSSIANLASTNAME (the show hasn’t revealed what Philip “Mikhail” Jennings’ real surname is) will be exploring Moscow with their dad and when that day comes he can’t have the death of yet another innocent on his conscience.