Speculating what a television show is going to do next is a dangerous enterprise, especially for those who don’t like being wrong. I’ve recapped exactly two TV shows, The Walking Dead and The Americans, both works of narrative, and as such ones that turn on the expectation of what will happen next. But that’s all that the former turned on during the height of the whole “Is Glenn Dead?” business, meaning it was easy to predict how that plot arc was going to resolve itself given how everything that happened in the series was framed in relation to Glenn and his absence. The Americans, conversely, is the rolling stone that gathers no moss. It’s put so many cards on the table throughout its fifth season, many with no clear relationship to one another, that to predict where any of the characters will end up is a fool’s errand.
From the looks of it, the Jenningses are going to Russia. By the end of “Dyatkovo,” Elizabeth (Keri Russell) turned to Philip (Matthew Rhys) and said, “Let’s go home.” Last week she meant it, but in tonight’s episode, “The World Council of Churches,” her words leave room for doubt. She tells Claudia (Margo Martindale) that it may be time for them to end their “tour” in America, to which the handler responds, “I’ve found when officers start to think seriously about it, it’s usually time.” And for the remainder of the episode, viewers are forced into an almost meta-textual position of having to contemplate all the hurdles that would have to be overcome for the show’s sixth and final season to not feel like a cluttered afterthought—a betrayal of its propensity for methodical world-building and follow-through.
The Jenningses are certainly setting out to pave a smooth exit strategy, and at least one thing seems clear after “The World Council of Churches”: that we won’t be seeing Pastor Tim (Kelly AuCoin) next season. The episode begins with the pastor and Paige (Holly Taylor) exchanging pleasantries outside of church, with the ever-cunning Paige feigning surprise when he tells her that he’s accepted a job in Buenos Aires with the titular organization. In the scene immediately after, Paige’s conversation with her parents about Pastor Tim’s move is tinged with a gentle smugness that’s disarming, and yet the young woman is unmistakably sad when she drops her crucifix in the kitchen trash. Elizabeth fishes it out and hands it back to Paige, telling her that it’s necessary for her to keep it on until the pastor has left, but there’s a sense that Elizabeth, despite her contempt for religion, is also trying to tell her daughter to be absolutely sure that she and God are calling it quits.
Later, Philip and Elizabeth pay Pastor Tim a visit, gifting him a compass (so he won’t get lost again!) and getting his thoughts on how Paige and Henry (Keidrich Sellati) would adjust to life in Russia. Their conversation has the ring of something that’s probably being discussed at present in The Americans writer’s room, especially when Pastor Tim says, “I think you’ll have trouble either way. It’s hard to imagine all the problems that two American kids will have adjusting to life over there. But there’s a lot about life here that’s not so great. You can’t predict what a person’s life will be, and you can’t deny them the challenges that’ll shape them.” The dialogue here is much too self-aware, especially when Pastor Tim states that the temptation of putting off hard decisions becomes its own decision, but it’s important to remember that this is a man who thinks that what Philip and Elizabeth are doing to their children is worse than sexual abuse, so his pretty even-keeled, even encouraging, advice probably registers to them as more than cold comfort.
The Americans is the rolling stone that gathers no moss.
Philip and Elizabeth spend much of “The World Council of Churches” feeling the room. Henry, with the help of Chris (Mavis Simpson-Ernst), makes dinner for his parents as a thank you for letting him go to private school in New Hampshire if he’s accepted. An example of the dangers of speculating about what will happen next in a series like The Americans is how stupid you end up looking if you thought, like I did, that Henry’s revelation in “IHOP” of where he wants to go to high school was a clumsy setup for wanting to put the character out of sight and out of mind for the show’s final season. If, as suggested by Claudia, the Jenningses end up telling Henry that they’re going to live in Russia only after they’ve arrived there, his wrath may pour itself on mankind unless, say, his parents orchestrate a rejection letter from St. Edwards and force Chris to never see him again.
One hurdle that the Jenningses may not even need to overcome is Stan (Noah Emmerich). The prospect of Philip and Elizabeth needing to create the pretense of a severed relationship with their next-door neighbor, friend and antagonist in one, while still remaining pitted against him all the way across the Atlantic certainly opens up fascinating avenues for the series next season. Unless, difficult as it is to imagine, someone other than the Jenningses is about to take him out. There’s still a question mark hanging over Renee about whether she’s a Russian spy, and in this episode, Sofia Kovalenko (Darya Ekamasova) brings her fiancé (Yuri Kolokolnikov) to her latest meeting with Stan and Dennis (Brandon J. Dirden) in a move whose amateur nature becomes difficult to parse. Though there’s an unmistakable sadness to the way the former hockey star tries to ingratiate himself with the agents that speaks to a sincere desire to stay free of politics, that the Russians could have planted him there seems feasible. At the very least, Stan looks to be kept busy until the Jenningses decide whether or not to pack their bags.
Over in Russia, at P.G.U. Headquarters, Major Kuznetsov (Sacha Slobodyanik) is still giving Oleg (Costa Ronin) the squeeze. Oleg remains, as ever, cool under incredible pressure, and to his boss (Oleg Stefan) he continues to advocate leniency for Lydia Fomina. If there’s one thing that points to the Jennings clan staying put in America it’s the conversation that Oleg later has with his father, Igor (Boris Krutonog), about everyone feeding at the trough in Russia and how difficult it is for people who have their “hands in all of it” running afoul of those who aren’t interested in change. After having tasted America’s putative freedoms, will Philip and Elizabeth want to return to a life where every day, even if they leave their work as spies behind, will still require them to perpetually perform a high-wire act? Maybe not, which would continue to keep Mischa (Alex Ozerov) far away from his father, though this episode at least offers the teen some closure by having him meet Philip’s brother, Pyotr (Andre Pushkin), and realize a sense of joy as he and Pyotr’s family sit around a warm dinner table and share once-forbidden memories of Philip.
And speaking of high-wire acts, the episode ends with Elizabeth and Philip trying but failing to put the brakes on Tuan’s (Ivan Mok) smart but rash plan to force the Morozovs back to Russia by having Alexei and Evgheniya (Irina Dvorovenko) walk in on Pasha (Zack Gafin) bleeding out from a botched suicide. Between seeing what bullies did to Pasha’s face earlier in the episode and obsessing over what a move to Russia would do to Paige and Henry, Elizabeth appears more emotionally vulnerable than ever as she rushes to save Pasha, almost as if he were her own. Or maybe she’s simply moved by that power of allowance that she speaks of to Paige (“Sometimes you want to be able to do things”) during a conversation about where the Jennings alias came from. By the end of the episode, Elizabeth tells Philip, and only with her face, that she wants to take his Russian surname. That act—call it a gift—parallels nicely with the theme of nostalgia, its inheritance and ideological nature, that’s built into the scene where Philip and Elizabeth subtly “work” Paige by telling her that they miss their old names. Such acute bits of thematic connective tissue consistently deepen what is, at heart, 50 minutes’ worth of Should I Stay Or Should I Go.
For more recaps of The Americans, click here.