Unsurprisingly, just about the only thing The Americans puts to rest by the end of its season-five finale episode, “The Soviet Division,” is the matter of whether Philip (Matthew Rhys) and Elizabeth (Keri Russell) are going to return to their Mother Russia. Actually, make that two. Before the episode even offers us a definitive answer to the biggest question hanging over the series this season, it dares to put another project on Philip and Elizabeth’s already busy plates: to figure out whether there’s anything behind that curious look that the C.I.A. bodyguard, Thomas (Clarke Thorell), who stands watch outside the Morozov home directs at Philip as Pasha (Zack Gafin) is pushed into an ambulance. There isn’t, and the swiftness with which Philip and Elizabeth get their answer feels like a mercy after a season’s worth of trials and tribulations marked primarily by their almost punishing sense of uncertainty.
That sadness in Elizabeth’s face as Pasha is whisked away to the hospital and, later, in Philip’s own as he watches Alexei (Alexander Sokovikov) read the teenager’s suicide letter is a measure of the guilt these spies find increasingly difficult to dismiss. How they’ve weighed the pros and cons of returning to Russia, and leaving behind their line of work, is cannily paralleled inside Pasha’s bedroom, on the walls of which hang pictures of famous Soviet sports stars—symbols of the might and resilience he no doubt wishes he possessed. It’s a bitter irony that only we’re privy to: a boy slitting his wrists in agony over the homeland he wishes to return to, oblivious to the fact that one of the stars on his walls has essentially pledged allegiance to America.
I suppose that’s a third thing “The Soviet Division” puts to rest: whether or not Sofia Kovalenko’s fiancé (Yuri Kolokolnikov) is actually working for the Russians. But the braggadocio with which he offered himself up as a contact to Stan (Noah Emmerich) and Dennis (Brandon J. Dirden) last week barely disguised a sadness and desperation that spoke to his desire to run from his homeland. He was telling no lies, as confirmed to Stan and Dennis by the results of the hockey star’s lie-detector test. Now, if only Philip and Elizabeth could hook up Renee (Laurie Holden), who’s moved into Stan’s house because of a leak inside her apartment, to the same machine. Maybe next season, assuming they’re still here to administer the test.
For the better part of its running time, this episode is content to pick up the baton from “The World Council of Churches,” having us waver alongside the Jenningses about where they’re going to end up. Scene after scene transpires as a discussion about togetherness—as eternal ideal and currency. It’s in Philip and Elizabeth arguing with Claudia (Margo Martindale) about what will greet Evgheniya (Irina Dvorovenko) and Pasha when they return to Russia, though they seem more concerned with the mother and son’s separation from the terrified Alexei, who wishes to stay behind in America. And it’s in the scene set inside a Moscow park where Martha (Alison Wright) walks alongside her Russian instructor (Alexander Rapoport), who gifts her with the realization, upon stopping at a playground, that she can ease the pain of her feelings of estrangement by adopting an orphaned little girl.
Scene after scene transpires as a discussion about togetherness—as eternal ideal and currency.
It’s clear that the joy that washes over Martha’s face is something that another orphan, Tuan (Ivan Mok), has rarely felt. When they return from paying the Morozovs a visit, Elizabeth tells Tuan that she and Philip are going to put in a good word for him, and Philip mentions the possibility of recommending him for a different line of work back in Vietnam. But Tuan wants this life, and he curtly tells Philip and Elizabeth how he included a note in his report about how their “petit-bourgeois concerns” compromised their mission. It’s easy to imagine the Elizabeth of old doing to him what she once did to Claudia’s face, but instead she offers Tuan, so evidently haunted by the prospect of being abandoned yet again, the advice of more than just a mother: for him to find a partner, as it will bring him peace of mind if this life of being a spy isn’t one that he cares to leave behind.
For a spell, throughout scenes that wave goodbye to Evgheniya, Tuan, and perhaps Martha and Kimmie (Julia Garner), who softly weeps in her kitchen after Philip tells her that he’s set to move to Japan, it really does feel as if the series is sounding a death knell for the Jenningses’ time in the United States. In another scene, Henry (Keidrich Sellati) comes home giddy, announcing to his father that he’s been accepted into St. Edwards, to which Philip tells him that he can no longer go. “This family stays together,” the father barks to the son, underlining the theme of the episode with sloppy explicitness.
This farewell tour isn’t quite the “never-ending saga” described by Pastor Tim (Kelly AuCoin) as he packs boxes for the homeless alongside Paige (Holly Taylor) and his wife, Alice (Suzy Jane Hunt). “Except there’s an end,” says Paige, adding yet another meta-textual layer to a scene that’s capped by a montage, set to Elton John’s exquisite “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road,” that speaks with melodramatic flair to the doubts that plague Philip, Elizabeth, and their daughter. For Philip, there will be no more hitting tennis balls at the gym with his next-door neighbor. For Elizabeth, it’s goodbye to her closet full of clothes and shoes that surely haven’t always been worn with contempt for the American stores where she bought them. And for Paige, it’s a farewell to innocence—or at least that’s the fear that’s questionably stoked within us as she walks out of church, down a dark street, and into the sinister parking lot where her car is parked. Luckily, she doesn’t need to bust out the moves her mother has been teaching her. Again, maybe next season?
Paige’s words prove true about there being an end to the farewell tour. Abruptly, and quietly, at least quieter than Elton John’s ahhhh-ahhhh-ahhhh-ing, Elizabeth and Philip decide to stay in America. The latest tape pulled from Isaac Breland’s suitcase reveals that he’s about to become the head of the C.I.A.’s Soviet Division, and rather than fling the tape into waters as dark and deep as his turmoil, Philip shares its contents with Elizabeth. It’s here that you may feel cheated if you thought The Americans has been stringing you along, leading you to believe that the Jenningses were packing their bags, but the truth has been there the whole time. Philip and Elizabeth’s desire to return to Russia was never that strong—or rather, the desire for what they made and remade in America has become stronger.
It’s in Philip wanting to give his daughter the life he feels he took away from her by not allowing her to date Stan’s son, and by not letting Henry go to the school of his choosing. It’s in the way that Elizabeth surveys every appliance and advantage available to her as she stands inside her kitchen, no doubt wrestling with those strong words that Tuan said to her earlier. And it’s at this point that I realized that this show is far from exhausting its capacity to provide insights into these characters’ lives, as it ended its fifth season with one of its greatest shocks to date: with at least Elizabeth tacitly accepting that she’s bought the fantasy of the American capitalist dream.
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