This The Americansreview contains spoilers
The Americans Season 6 Episode 5
I’ve played the World War II board game “Axis and Allies” once in my life.
I was a teenager and in Buffalo to see a Buffalo Bills game with my friend whose family had season tickets. The adults had gone out for the night and we two nerds had little recourse left other than to play an eight-hour board game at my friend’s uncle’s house.
I played as the Allies and my friend as the Axis. I lost. Sorry about that, everyone. Fascism reigns. Despite me losing, however, it was clear that there was no real winner in our bout. And it was because of what happened on the Eastern front.
My American and British troops were able to hop in and out of southern Europe with little issue. The Western front was relatively peaceful with only a casualty here or there. The Eastern front, however, was a meat-grinder. Whoever ended up “winning” this war didn’t matter because there would be almost no men left ages 14 through 55 from Dortmund to Moscow. The only real winner was war, itself. It had all the blood of young men it could ever want to drink and the snowy plains of Russia and Eastern Europe was little more than a particularly unorganized graveyard.
I thought about that during this week’s The Americanswhen Paige receives her World War II lesson from Claudia (or her lesson on the Great Patriotic War as the Soviets styled it).
The Americans lost 400,000 troops, Claudia tells Paige. The Red Army lost 27 million.
Later on Elizabeth tells Philip about Paige’s history lesson.
“We told Paige about the war. How many people we lost,” Elizabeth tells him.
“What did she say?” Philip asks.
“I think she got it.”
She did not. That is only wishful thinking on Elizabeth’s part. Every parent likes to think that their kids value the same things they do and learn the same lessons. They don’t. Because how could they? Those 27 million dead Soviet soldiers are as real to Paige as my dead board game Soviet soldiers were to me.
When Elizabeth tries to talk to her about it in the car later, Paige wants to change the subject to her experience trying to work her new boyfriend/lead.
“Sounds like you made quite an impression,” Elizabeth says.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Paige responds.
“It means I don’t want you to do this.”
The Great Patriotic War means next to nothing to Paige. Nor should it. That’s her parents’s war. This is a new one, regardless of the fact that you can draw a direct line from World War II to the Cold War.
“The Great Patriotic War” is one of the best episodes of The Americansever. It’s among the best because it understands something intrinsic to all wars. War is little else than adults trying to rectify the mistakes of the past by cannibalizing their future. “The Great Patriotic War” is filled with children being punished by circumstances that arose long before they were born.
Paige is the most obvious example. The sole reason that Paige is living the life of a spy and not the life of a Moscow-teen is because 50 years ago, some asshole with a mustache thought it would be a good idea to invade Russia in the winter and now all of a sudden this is her fucking problem.
Poor Paige is put through the ringer in the “The Great Patriotic War.” She has taken to this life of spying because to her it’s still little else than a game. Sure, she can say she understands the gravity of what’s going on all she wants but how could she really? Elizabeth and Philip have faint memories of what it’s like to go hungry because 27 million of your country’s men are dead. Paige only knows what her parents tell her. She’s a smart, empathetic, intuitive kid but there is no way for her to truly comprehend the events that have led to her turning on her “home” country.
And all this life will bring her is pain. Despite her mother’s warning she continues to try to work her college sources. She goes to a bar and deftly gets a state department intern to buy her a drink. But that intern’s friend has had far too much to drink and is being an ass to her. As she gets up to leave, the friend grabs her and Paige responds with violence. She lays the douchebag out and decks the original target for good measure.
This is satisfying, cathartic television. But like everything else onThe Americansit comes with a cost. Paige receives a nasty cut above her eye in the fray. And when she goes to her parents’ house for a sparring lesson, she earns a dressing down.
“You can’t draw attention to yourself like that!” Elizabeth tells her. Paige can never go back to that bar. It’s a spot on Earth that she can just never see again because she’s in this.
Philip, meanwhile, is shaken to his core by what he’s seen from Paige. Paige yelling over her shoulder that she can sleep with whoever she wants certainly doesn’t help either. Philip’s dissatisfaction with his own life, and fear of what his daughter is becoming lead to what is truly one of the most devastating scenes in The Americanshistory.
When you think of the final season of a “prestige” TV show like The Americans, you probably think of scenes as climactic as Philip and Paige engaging in a physical battle of some sort. On another show this would be a perfunctory part of the process to get to a pre-prescribed ending. On The Americansit is…just pain. It hurts so much. This is the inevitable culmination of six years of television in which characters have been pushed beyond their emotional breaking point by the ideological lines in the sand they’ve drawn.
Philip clearly doesn’t believe that Paige understand the consequences of the life she’s chosen (the life her mother helped her choose) so he turns up to her college apartment and asks her to spar.
“I remember that feeling of being able to do that to people,” Philip says.
“I don’t think I’m the same as you, dad,” Paige responds.
“What do you mean?”
“I know you’re not into what me and mom do. But I am.”
“OK. So come at me.”
“I wanna see what you learned.”
“We don’t have pads or anything.”
“There aren’t really pads in the real world.”
And Philip thoroughly dominates his daughter. He gets her into positions in which he could kill her no fewer than five times. He chokes her until she nearly loses consciousness. He sounds unhinged…wild. And when it’s all over he just leaves.
All that pain, all those things Philip has seen, all of that stupid bullshit is unleashed on his own daughter. It’s a lesson in his mind. But it’s an uncomfortably human one. Human in the sense that it’s flawed, destructive, and unfair
One of the best things The Americanscould have possibly done for itself in this final season is to make explicit just how much of this Cold War comes from a real war nearly 50 years prior. It drives home how simultaneously real and unreal this all is. It’s real because Philip and Elizabeth remember it. Claudia remembers it. She remembers losing her first husband and then having to have sex with a Red Army soldier for food.
The problem is that the only way to deal with that pain is to pass it down to future generations. It’s too big to deal with alone and it’s too powerful to let go entirely. That’s the tragedy of the human condition. And Paige isn’t the only young person to pay for it.
Sophia and Gennadi’s son, Ilia, pays for it. After all these years on The Americans of Elizabeth and Philip living next door to an FBI agent, it’s legitimately shocking and emotional to see said FBI agent pop up in one of Elizabeth’s missions. Elizabeth and friends track Stan Beeman as he delivers pastries to Sophia and then again later as he delivers pizza to Gennadi.
Gennadi sees Stan as his only friend in America. The two watch Red Wings hockey together* and get drunk.
*Steve-freaking-Yzerman is playing for the Red Wings in 1987. Steve Yzerman’s last NHL season was in 2006!!!
Elizabeth tries to kill Gennadi on the streets but is interrupted by one of his FBI-minders. So instead she just breaks into his apartment in the dead of night. She hides in the kitchen and when Gennadi comes him she stabs him in the throat. Then Sophia comes in and she stabs her in the gut. Elizabeth has killed two innocent people in cold blood once more. It’s infinitely more shocking to see the deed done in the “safety” of someone’s home.
Even more devastating is that Ilia is in the other room, watching his cartoons. He’s unaware that his parents have been killed. Later Stan arrives to the crime scene as police officers lead the boy out the building, covered in a blanket and shaking. 27 million Russians died half a century ago. That obviously requires a response of some sort. It necessitates change. That amount of human life cannot be lost without a ripple effect felt throughout the years to come. Now witness as that ripple effect takes the parents away from an innocent child.
And the carnage doesn’t stop with Paige or Ilia.
Kimmy, man. Kimmy. Some of the most poignant and devastating moments on The Americanshave been when Philip must manipulate this poor child.
Like Stan, Philip is trapped inside one last mission he doesn’t want to be in. Also like Stan, Philip is pressured to do the very last thing he wants to do.
“Philip I haven’t asked for much. But I need this one,” Elizabeth tells Philip the morning after they engaged each other physically for the first time this season. To a certain extent, most onscreen sex scenes are uncomfortable. Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys have a very palpable chemistry, however, being a couple in real life. Credit to them then for making Philip and Elizabeth’s first tryst of the season feel as awkward as two teenagers in the backseat of the car.
When Elizabeth has an immediate favor to ask the following morning it is heartbreaking. The summit is coming up and she needs to know if Fyodor Nesterenko has flipped to the Americans when he met with state department agents in a hotel room. She needs Philip to convince Kimmy to meet him in Greee when she’s on vacation.
Philip plays her perfectly. Kimmy really is growing up. She’s smart enough to know not to meet a strange adult in a foreign country. So Philip (as Jim) does the thing he’s always fallen just short of doing: he kisses Kimmy.
I’m sure an adult kissing a teenager on any TV show would feel inherently uncomfortable. But on The Americans, it is downright disturbing. Philip’s pain is as palpable as Kimmy’s excitement.
“I’m sorry. Was that out of line?” Philip asks in the car…perfectly.
“No. I liked it,” Kimmy says.
God damn it. Philip has killed countless human beings on The Americans. He’s done horrific things. This might be the worst. Between this and Elizabeth shaming Erica last week, this show is proving time and time again that the worst parts of espionage don’t always have to be the taking of someone’s life.
Philip and Kimmy have sex. And the “Sad Philip” face returns with an absolute vengeance.
It’s just one more instance of the complete and utter destruction of a child in an episode full of them. Then something truly amazing happens. Philip breaks the cycle. Everyone has their limit and Philip has reached his. He’s usually the first one to experience things like “limits.” Perhaps it’s his confrontation with Paige or perhaps it’s hearing Stan dispassionately talk about Sophia and Gennadi’s deaths and Ilia’s abandonment.
But he quits. Again and in a braver fashion than ever before.
He calls Kimmy from a payphone.
“Hey It’s Jim.” Philip says. “Do you remember when you said I was stuck? You’re right. I can’t meet you in Greece, Kimmy. It’s not one thing. I just can’t do it. You and me – our friendship. You need someone your own age. I really care about you and I can’t keep doing this. Not as friends. Not as anything. It’s important you hear me. You’re going to be ok. I have to move on.”
“Something’s wrong with you,” she responds, not incorrectly.
“I know but I’m trying my best. When you’re in Greece if someone tries to get you to go to a Communist country with them. Don’t. Go to Greece, stay in Greece. Then come home. You hear me? Goodbye Kimmy.”
Jim is broken but he’s trying his best. Philip is broken but he’s trying his best. Elizabeth is broken but she’s trying her best. Everyone is broken but they’re trying their best. Their best doesn’t matter though as long as they don’t let go of the pain of the Great Patriotic War. Whether Philip realizes it or not, he’s done just that.
Pain is a wheel and it rolls along, picking up speed and crushing others under its path. Philip Jennings may have just become the first person in the history ofThe Americansto merely step off of the wheel.