Another week, another episode of The Americans that’s notable for its pervasive lack of hurry. Philip (Matthew Rhys) slowly drives home from his meeting with Gabriel, the camera hanging back to give us one of the widest-ever views to date of the exterior of the Jennings home, and fills Elizabeth (Keri Russell) in about their now-former handler’s thoughts on Renee and Paige (Holly Taylor). They speak of Gabriel almost as if he’s a ghost, and with an understanding that they will one day become every bit as haunted as he was when he walked out of the safe house for what was probably the last time. Unsurprisingly, then, they put up walls when they go to meet Claudia (Margo Martindale) and discuss their latest plan of attack, because to stave off a human connection with their new handler is to stand back from that precipice of moral oblivion they’ve been inching toward for so long.
Last week, Stan Beeman (Noah Emmerich) seemed almost elated that his wrangling of Sofia Kovalenko (Darya Ekamasova), who works for a Russian news agency, would guarantee his job security, for now at least. This week, though, he appears almost willing to hang up the skates. In a poignant interaction with Sofia, Stan and Dennis (Brandon J. Dirden) discuss all the things that she needs to be prepared to say should her co-workers ask her what she did during her lunch break. A distinctly Russian veil of sadness hangs over her as she innocently reveals her fondness for pizza, then seems to finally commit to working with the F.B.I. after Stan and Dennis promise to help her with a dentist bill. That she’s willing to risk so much for something so ostensibly minor registers on Stan’s face as agony, and so the subsequent decision to keep her off the streets, where her perpetual nervousness will have too much of an audience, becomes his gift of compassion.
The title of this episode, “Immersion,” has at least one literal meaning: Philip and Elizabeth continue to surveil Evgheniya Morozov (Irina Dvorovenko), who’s teaching a Russian immersion class to employees at the Department of Agriculture, where her husband, Alexei (Alexander Sokovikov), also works. In an exchange with Evgheniya, Elizabeth figures out how to exploit the woman after she not so casually brings up a “big sex guy” (ladies’ man to us Americans) who’s in her class. Elizabeth knows that when Evgheniya says that most women are drawn to this man that she means herself, and soon Elizabeth and Philip have collected evidence of Evgheniya having an affair with a man who Claudia reveals is likely to be the deputy chief at the C.I.A.’s Moscow station. And this Bruce character is mentioned, like the big-headed Yuri who works with Sofia, with a pointedness that suggests both men will figure into the overall arc of this season of The Americans.
Or not. Eight episodes into the season and still the show is denying us a sense that Philip and Elizabeth’s sleuthing is winding its way toward anything resembling a conventional payoff. Gabriel and Mischa are out of the picture for good, or maybe just for the time being. Renee may or may not be a spy. This episode even introduces us to the girl, Chris (Mavis Simpson-Ernst), who Henry (Keidrich Sellati) has been coolly crushing on. As Stan, Philip, and Elizabeth stand around the Jennings kitchen island, Chris hands Henry a video-game controller as she’s about to take him on in a round of Pole Position. “This isn’t gonna go well for you, Henry,” says Chris. And in a season of The Americans where just about everything feels like a red herring, those words practically resonate as an announcement that she’s about to turn the screw of everyone’s well-being in ways unseen before on the show.
Are you feeling angsty at the simmer-like pace the series seems to be arriving at some kind of cataclysmic event? Me too, but the project of this season—which is right there in the metaphoric frisson of this episode’s title—has been to tease us in this fashion: to so profoundly immerse us in the existential despair of every major character’s life that whatever happens to one or more of them will come feel on some level like a very personal loss. Throughout, the audience is being fundamentally cracked open right alongside the characters. It’s in Philip, who no longer really needs to chase after Deirdre (Clea Lewis), stubbornly and perversely pursuing her anyway, because she rejected him for not being the aggressive playboy. The man is so lost this season that he’s almost willing to allow his newly desperate honey pot to become, for Deirdre at least, an unfortunate and unnecessary deathtrap.
More haunting is the cruel irony with which Oleg Burov (Costa Ronin), simply for wanting to find out more about why his mother, Yelena (Snezhana Chernova), spent time in a gulag, has placed another target on his back. Major Kuznetsov (Sacha Slobodyanik) from Directorate K comes with a group of men to look for something, anything, that Oleg may have hidden in his room that points to some indiscretion on his part against the state. They find nothing, and regardless of whether they do in the future, there’s already a sense that Oleg has checked out on life, as if he’s realized that there’s nothing more obscene than being punished simply for wanting to know oneself.
The deepest immersion of the episode, though, is the one that feels like a communion. During one of Elizabeth and Paige’s latest training sessions, Paige really does seem like she’s ready to take on anything that the world tosses at her. “I’m sick of being scared,” Paige says, at which point Elizabeth confesses to her that she was raped when she was younger. Paige visibly feels that confession as a haunting, but Elizabeth knows that she has to change that script. So in a later scene, Elizabeth pulls Paige from the couch and from her funk, for a walk in which the two discuss Matthew, the trauma of rape, and how Elizabeth might have wanted to be a doctor if she hadn’t become a spy. Paige makes a joke that her mother doesn’t have a good bedside manner, and Elizabeth says that maybe she would have been a doctor in a third-world country, where such a manner might not be a requirement. It’s a quiet moment whose implications are loud, as this mother may have finally made a warrior out of her daughter, and by simply telling her that she should always press beyond the paths that have been preordained for her.
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