This The Americans review contains spoilers
The Americans Season 6 Episode 8
The Americans faces a problem with these last three episodes.
Based on this third to last episode of The Americans ever, the show clearly has the redemption of Elizabeth Jennings on its mind for the homestretch. The fact that next week’s penultimate episode is titled “Jennings, Elizabeth” is a pretty clear-cut sign as well.
Elizabeth goes on a mostly inward journey in “The Summit.” At episode’s beginning she is disgusted with her husband for betraying her and relaying details of her important mission to Oleg. By episode’s end, she does something unprecedented for her before a mission. She asks why.
This is a satisfying, if predictable route for The Americans to take in its final hours. The ends of things have a way of making people want change. The aforementioned curious problem thatThe Americans faces, however, is that they may have done too good a job characterizing Elizabeth Jennings as the kind of person who stays the same
My favorite episode of The Americans Season 6 is episode 4 “Mr. and Mrs. Teacup.” It’s the bleakest hour of the season by far: Philip and Elizabeth’s animosity becomes explicit and Elizabeth honeypots Philip into doing the most painful thing he’s done yet by sleeping with Kimmy.
“Mr. and Mrs. Teacup” suggest more strongly than ever that this story wasn’t destined for a happy ending. This was ultimately the saga of two likable people choosing intangible lost causes rather than one another.
Now comes “The Summit,” and while things are still bleak (Stan is absolutely catching these poor motherfuckers), Elizabeth is finally showing signs that she is ready to re-embrace herself, her husband, and humanity, itself instead of an idea she’s had too long not to have anymore.
At first I struggled with “The Summit” because of this. Elizabeth Jennings programming and steadfast belief in her cause were so strong that it seemed impossible for the show to believably break it. Even after a first viewing, I wasn’t even sure how it all happened. Elizabeth has spent a lifetime operating under the principle of “do your job, don’t ask questions.” What could have possibly have been strong enough to make her reconsider that in just 56 minutes (this is an appropriately long episode of television given that it’s one of the last Americans)?
Two things happen – one from an expected source, one from an unexpected source.
The expected source is Philip, of course. This season of The Americans has featured seemingly infinite scenes of Philip waiting for Elizabeth at home alone. “The Summit” opens with another one. Philip, perhaps feeling closer to his wife after cheating death together last week, admits to her he was tasked with someone from “our country” to essentially spy on her.
The two have a predictable verbal fight after this, with Elizabeth tossing off an admittedly solid burn.
“You should have told me,” Elizabeth says.
“You love to talk. If you wanted to tell me you would have done it.”
Awww shit. But what’s really on Philip’s mind is Elizabeth’s safety, Elizabeth’s soul.
“I would do anything for you,” Philip says. “I did. I just did. Please. All of these things. We believed in something so big. They tell us what to do and we do it. I get it. But we do it. We. It’s on us. All of it.”
Elizabeth is offended by the fact that Philip seems to be questioning her very humanity. He’s not but the fact that that’s how she immediately takes it is telling. Philip and Elizabeth don’t share a room or a conversation again until the very end of the episode but even before they do it’s clear that his words remain ringing around in her head.
Elizabeth could be thinking about Philip’s words to her when Jackson takes the bait and writes a “paper” for her on the goings on at the state department. She’s probably thinking about those words again when she pulls a “Kimmy” and gives young Jackson the absolute night of his fucking life in a hotel room. But she is for sure thinking of Philip’s words when Jackson discovers the “bug” that she had him plant in the state department office.
“Listen to me,” Elizabeth says to Jackson as he melts down in her car in an assassination-friendly alleyway. Don’t mention this to your father. You’re old enough now to keep some things to yourself. Tell me that you understand.”
Then Jackson says something that should absolutely get him killed: “I don’t understand.”
Jackson has to die…he hasto die. Nobody who has ever crossed the Jennings path in the history of The Americans has ever been more marked for death than Jackson Barber of Marietta, Georgia. But Elizabeth doesn’t kill him because that wouldn’t be the human thing to do, now would it? Philip is in the car with them like a damned Force Projection.
And once Elizabeth has committed that one humane act, empathy decides it’s here to stay. It certainly helps that when she listens to the tapes of Fyodor Nesterenko at the meeting he comes across as a nice, levelheaded guy. He, and Mikhail Gorbachev just sincerely want bilateral disarmament.
Claudia picks the worst time to tell Elizabeth that the nice man who just wants peace in our time has to be killed.
“This time I need to know,” Elizabeth tells her. Elizabeth needs to know why. Her entire life up to this point has been predicated on following orders and doing what she’s told. She’s a cog in a powerful machine and that machine works best when all the pieces do as their told. This time, however, this time; just this once…she needs to know.
So Claudia lets her know.
The KGB wants Gorbachev gone. They don’t want this war to end because they don’t trust the Americans. The Soviets have fought for too long for some guy in a suit to just call it quits now. They ate rats, they sold their bodies, and they buried children, all so the Soviet Union can stop just short of victory?
The very top leaders of the KGB and military are behind this.
“ “But not the party?” Elizabeth asks.
“We’re all in the party,” – Claudia says.
Yes, it does defy belief to a certain extent that Elizabeth could rewrite her own code so thoroughly in one episode but it certainly doesn’t hurt that almost everything Philip says at the episode’s beginning comes to pass like he’s a soothsayer. Elizabeth’s humanity waswaning and the center really wasfull of warmongering dicks.
Ironically it’s not the love that Elizabeth feels for her husband that begins the change within her (though she still does love him), it’s the cold, hard logic. Elizabeth finds love in another place.
The other unexpected inspiration for Elizabeth’s transformation in is Erica Haskard. Erica dies in “The Summit” … horribly. Glenn can no longer stand to witness her suffering so he goes forward with his morphine overdose plan. Unfortunately he has waited too long (partly due to “Stephanie”/Elizabeth’s insistence) and Erica has developed a strong tolerance.
Elizabeth is forced to put Erica out of her misery. She places a paintbrush down her throat and covers her nose. As Erica’s unconscious body thrashes about bile oozes onto Elizabeth’s hands – substance far more fitting than blood for the level of betrayal Elizabeth brought upon the Haskard family.
Erica was always going to die this season but to die this suddenly and this ugly is surprising. Also surprising is what happens after her death. Elizabeth takes some time to photograph Glenn’s Summit documents. Then Glenn calls Elizabeth up to Erica’s bedroom and instructs her to take any one of Erica’s paintings that she wants. Elizabeth doesn’t want to but Glenn insists and Elizabeth leaves with a painting she’s always had her eye on.
Elizabeth takes the painting back to the safe house and then must confront the difficult task of destroying it. Elizabeth can’t keep this painting for the same reason Philip can’t go to the video store and rent Russian movies (which he does anyway). It’s not safe. Should anyone find that painting they’ll be able to connect the Haskard-Jennings dots.
Elizabeth holds a lighter over the painting. Then she turns it off. She stashes the painting. She brings it back out. She lights it on fire. It’s gone.
There’s another reason why “Mr. and Mrs. Teacup” was my favorite episode of the season. It featured a monologue from a then-alive (well, obviously) Erica Haskard that seemed like it had the potential to save Elizabeth’s soul. I just never thought that it actually would.
“Who cares? Who cares?” Erica told Elizabeth about her art. “All those hours. Honestly, I wish I spent them with Glenn. Doing…I don’t know what. Doesn’t matter.”
Elizabeth burning Erica’s work seems like it should be symbolic of the final surrendering of her humanity. Instead, it’s the reclamation of her humanity.
Staring down the grim certainty of the infinite, Erica didn’t give a shit about those paintings. Elizabeth still did. They were pretty, and enigmatic. And in Elizabeth’s darkest hours it was important to her to understand the processof creating those painting.
After facing the ugliness and finality of Erica’s death, however, Elizabeth realizes on some level that Erica was right: who cares? Elizabeth still has a chance to spend the rest of her life with her husband doing…I don’t know. Doesn’t matter. Erica doesn’t.
“The Summit” is perhaps too difficult of an episode to make perfect sense of. Elizabeth’s motivations feel simultaneously too clear and too murky somehow. Parsing through those motivations is ultimately a worthwhile endeavor though. Plus, Elizabeth’s transformation makes the path for The Americans final two episodes eminently clearer. Philip and Elizabeth started the season on different sides of the Russian Cold War within the Cold War. Now they’re on the same side once again and that’s bad news for everyone else.
Stan better hope that free meal from Roy Rogers keeps him nourished.