This The Americansreview contains spoilers
The Americans Season 6 Episode 4
Three people are shot to death at the beginning of “Mr. and Mrs. Teacup.”
Elizabeth is following through on the intel she received from Evan (who she killed) and the intel she didn’t get get Rennhull (who she also kind of killed). Elizabeth sneaks into the Altheon building after hours in search of this damn sensor the Soviets need so bad. One guard finds her, so she shoots him. Then another. Then another.
Elizabeth emerges from the building right before the police arrive and she, Paige, and two other agents take off to safety. She still doesn’t have the sensor. Now five people have been killed in pursuit of it.
And yet, this is not the bleakest part of the “Mr. and Mrs. Teacup” by far. The Americans always excels in capturing a sense of sadness and dissatisfaction in its characters. Most episodes of the show are dripping with melancholy. This one is saturated in it.
“Mr. and Mrs. Teacup” is the best episode of the season thus far because it offers the clearest, most striking, and most brutally sad representation of how “stuck” our characters are. These are all people we like and it’s heartbreaking to see them again and again be robbed of their happiness and peace because of the ideological lines in the sand they’ve drawn.
Elizabeth is the worst off, per usual. She and Philip used to share the burden of the quiet sadness this life of espionage and secrets offered. Now she’s shouldering it alone and the sadness just mounts and mounts and mounts.
Her episode begins with her killing three people and ends with her doing something somehow far worse. Elizabeth is still posing as the live-in nurse for Erica Haskard, the dying wife of state department official Glenn Haskard. Erica’s art lessons are starting to rub off on Elizabeth. Erica instructs Elizabeth to “draw the dark parts” per usual. Get messy, smudge the charcoal with your fingers if you must. Elizabeth can do that but she prefers Erica’s other, older art – like the one of the woman in the kitchen with all the eggs.
“That’s my least favorite,” Erica tells her.
“Why?” Elizabeth asks.
There is still part of Elizabeth that’s sentimental – perhaps the part of her that remembers what it’s like to have a loving husband and two healthy, capable children. But that part of her is shrinking. Pretty soon she’ll be able to see all of the dark parts that this terminally ill woman seems to see as well.
Maybe even sooner than she expects as she is presented with an incredible, dark opportunity. Glenn will be going over to another agent’s house to watch Game 6 of the 1987 World Series. Fyodor and some of the other Russians will be there as well. Glenn wishes that he could watch the game with Erica like they used to…and perhaps they can.
“I can take you,” Elizabeth says, quiet, cautiously as though she can’t believe she’s about to get away with something so bold. “I think it would be good for everyone, change of scenery – little baseball.”
Glenn agrees and what follows is one of the most brutally sad things I’ve ever seen on The Americans. Elizabeth, who is literally keeping the terminally ill Erica alive so she can work Glenn for longer, takes her out of the house despite not having any medical training whatsoever.
Shortly before the game begins, Erica starts to feel sick and pukes bile all over the kitchen floor and Elizabeth. Erica, a fiercely proud woman is humiliated. And just like at the Altheon warehouse, Elizabeth has nothing to show for it. The bug that she has wired into Glenn’s coat picks up only some conversational pleasantries before Erica creates a scene.
We are four episodes into this, the final seasons of The Americans, and Elizabeth has accomplished next to nothing. Not only that – we know she will continue to accomplish next to nothing. This war is ending. Everyone can see it. As Oleg tells Philip at the episode’s outset “One thing I’ve learned being here is that they are not crazy. We can make peace with them.”
The era of nuclear proliferation is ending. Cooler heads will prevail and a kind of peace is around the corner. Elizabeth, however, never received training in the concept of “peace.” Peace wasn’t the thing she dedicated her whole life to. She dedicated it to her country – the very country she hasn’t seen in twenty years. She’s an anachronism, a thing from another time that was wound up, set loose, and never retrieved.
Before Elizabeth humiliates Erica, they are talking about Erica’s art. Erica provides Elizabeth with a very important lesson that she almost certainly will not take to heart. Erica used to think that it was a good thing that she produced all of this art. There is so much that she is going to leave behind – actual, tangible evidence that she was here. But now that the end is nigh?
“Who cares? Who cares?” she says. “All those hours. Honestly, I wish I spent them with Glenn. Doing…I don’t know what. Doesn’t matter.”
Erica spent much of her life in service of something bigger than herself: art. And now at the end she realizes that she would have rather not served anything at all. It’s not just Elizabeth’s particularly ideology that is bringing this level of sheer melancholy. It’s the fact that she has an ideology at all.
Look at Philip. He’s broken away from the ideology he was raised with. He no longer wants war and he no longer necessarily believes in the moral supremacy of his home country. He used to have to go to the back doors of restaurants and beg to scrape out whatever stale leftovers were in pots. Now he pores over his bills with a bag of chips open and and an uneaten sandwich on his desk.
Instead of realizing that having the ideology may have been the problem, however, he has just traded one belief structure for another one. Whether he realizes it or not, he’s bought hook, line and sinker into the American Dream. The American Dream says to grow. So he tried to grow, and now he has to tell Henry that he can’t afford Senior year tuition at a school he loves.
“You ever worry about money?” Philip asks Stan as the two hang out at the bar.
“I got a government job,” Stan replies. So no.
“In business there’s always this obsession about growth,” Philip says. “If you’re not growing you’re not succeeding. But why? What’s so bad about staying the same – not taking on more responsibilities, more head aches, more time?” “I think about what my father told me,” Stan says. “The more you want, the more you get. And that’s both good and bad.”
Philip didn’t have an American father to teach him folksy capitalistic aphorisms like that. All he had was the idealized vision of the American Dream and it screwed him.
Even Kimmy, who is a junior in college, can see that something is wrong with Philip, the man she believes to be Jim Baxter.
“You’re stuck.” she says. You’re too good to be stuck. Seize the day.” “I’m working on it,” Philip says.
That’s the problem – he is working on it. Working instead of living. He and Elizabeth should have a happy life together. They were paired up in a cold, emotionless fashion at the beginning of their adult lives and just so happened to luckily be soulmates – or just compatible at the very least. Stop working on anything else and work on this, goddamn it. Live this.
Of course they can’t. Because as fascinating and interesting individuals they may be, they only know how to make their lives a representation of something else, something that they think is larger.
So when Philip and Elizabeth finally come to blows (even though they do so fairly early on in the episode) they do so as two people representing conflicting ideological viewpoints, and not the team they are…the team they should be. It’s heartbreaking and yes, melancholy.
“Right back into it. Is this how it is?” Philip says angrily when he sees Elizabeth and Paige discussing a new potential mission at the dinner table
“It’s ok, dad,” Paige says “No, I don’t think it is.” Philip says. “He was troubled. He killed himself.” “Right. Why did he do that? Do you think?” “Sometimes bad things happen in the world.” “Don’t tell me about the world, Paige.” “Why. We live in the world,” Elizabeth interjects. “Guys, don’t have a fight.” “We won’t. There’s no point,” Philip says.
One of The Americansworst dramatic decisions in its history was splitting up Philip and Elizabeth in season one. We know it would be hard for a relationship like this to work so it’s more dramatically interesting and difficult to make it work.
Now, Elizabeth and Philip seem more in flux but perhaps thanks to that earlier separation in season one, they are unlikely to separate again. Even after that intense kitchen confrontation, Philip and Elizabeth continue the conversation in bed. Elizabeth is tired. They won’t have sex. But at least they’re together like they almost certainly always will be. They’re good at following through on things bigger than themselves and their marriage has become exactly that.
Still, aside from Philip and Elizabeth’s marriage, “Mr. and Mrs. Teacup” presents so many lives ruined or compromised by adherence to an ideology rather than love for one another.
Oleg is a fundamentally good person and he is doing a fundamentally good thing by coming to America to recruit Philip. Peace is around the corner and he wants to help secure it. In the process, however, he is making his family miserable. Oleg passes some information to his father, Igor, on the phone and later Igor and Arkady meet up in Moscow so Igor can pass the information along. Igor tells Arkady that Oleg’s family is wording. His wife is gaunt and his kids aren’t eating. Why does this have to happen again to their family?
“He wants to do something that matters and that’s because of you,” Arkady tells him.
There’s the rub. Sometimes believing in an ideology actually enacts positive social change. Sometimes it’s the right thing to do. But even the most benevolent and worthwhile causes have their costs. Believing in something bigger than one’s self fundamentally means minimizing one’s self and those around them.
And at the end of the day – what for? What for? All those hours believing in something else when we could have been believing in one another.
“Mr. and Mrs. Teacup” is brutally, poignantly sad because not only does it present these notions – it suggests that Elizabeth and Philip are on paths that cannot be diverted. This story was always unlikely to have a happy ending. Based on “Mr. and Mrs. Teacup,” I’m not sure I’m ready for just how unhappy it can get.