‘The Americans’ Season 5: Mother Russia is Calling

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As ever, the screws are tightening on “The Americans,” and if you’d asked me the most likely endings for the Jennings, I would have said death, prison or defection/witness protection. What I wouldn’t have said was them going home. I mean, they kind of already are, you know? It’s right there in the title.

And yet, it appears as if that’s where things are headed, as unlikely as it may seem. Oh, don’t get me wrong- we all know the show has one more season left, so chances are, if it does happen, it won’t happen overnight. But it never would have occurred to me that going home was even a realistic choice.

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After all, how in the world would Paige and Henry deal with such a thing? Or would Phil and Liz even take them along? With the unexpected revelation that Henry is a whiz kid bound for a genius-level boarding school- I guess all that video-gaming paid off, parents take note!- and Paige is a natural-born spy, I just assumed that, if anything, it was much more likely that we were headed in the direction of recruitment, not going back home to Mother Russia.

Ah, but there’s a special siren call when it comes to going home. You saw it in “IHOP,” when Tuan (Ivan Mok) risked everything to check on his family, and more overtly when Gabriel (Frank Langella) actually went back home, also unexpectedly. And we also saw the repercussions it can have when denied, as Gabriel visited Martha (Alison Wright) back in Russia, and her resentment towards him for not being able to go home was palatable.

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We also saw it in all the flashbacks Phil keeps having, even as he discovers more about his background that he didn’t even know, like the fact that his father was a prison guard. Between those dubious memories and the new slivers of information that they keep getting, such as the fact that Russia has fashioned the virus they retrieved from William into a weapon- and named it after him, no less- you’d think they’d want to stay as far away from there as possible.

And yet, I get it. I think in some ways, this was inevitable, that they would at least consider going home, even if it never happens. After all, there’s been a tangible weariness to both Phil and Liz this entire season- it was always there in Phil, to some degree, but now it’s spread, much like that aforementioned virus, into Liz, who is clearly over it, “it” being the job in general, of course.

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In the latest episode, “Dyatkovo,” the Jennings come to a turning point, when they are tasked with eliminating a possible Nazi collaborator who killed over 100 Russians back during the war. Naturally, after that debacle with the lab tech they killed, who, as it turns out, didn’t have to die at all, as their intel was faulty, they want to be sure this time. And yet, even when they get a full confession, Phil can’t bring himself to pull the trigger, and it’s left to Liz to do the deed.

She doesn’t give Phil a hard time about it, but one thing is clear: she’s done with all this. Between the overload of assignments, and the killing, and the newfound closeness between her and Phil, Liz wants out just as much, if not more than Phil himself. In a way, I think it was the combination of this current assignment and the surprisingly out-of-nowhere “official” marriage ceremony that Phil unexpectedly sprung on her that really did it.

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Only on “The Americans” could one go from a loving gesture like the one Phil made via the lovely- if decidedly compromised- wedding ceremony he arranged to an unflinching double homicide of a husband and wife. Sure, the wife was guilty, and maybe even deserved it- much more so than some of the other victims Phil and Liz have killed over the years- yet, you can definitely see where that sort of thing would wear on a person, even one as committed and determined as Liz.

In some ways, I think that wedding setting was completely appropriate. These two have always been about trying to find the beauty in all the unrelenting ugliness around them. Where I came up short was in thinking that they wouldn’t see that ugliness in their own homeland. Sure, Phil wasn’t thrilled to find out that William’s virus was being “tested” as a weapon, but you never get the sense that he and Liz hate where they came from, even with all the dubious memories.

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Home can have that sort of pull that makes you see things through rose-colored glasses, even if the reality is decidedly different. Look no further than the fractured family unit that is Liz, Phil and Tuan, which couldn’t be any more of a mess than it already is, and yet, not too far removed from the way things were for certain kids of the “latchkey” generation. It’s no wonder Tuan misses home when even his fake “parents” are never there for him.

Meanwhile, their own son was a budding genius and they had no idea whatsoever, so focused were they on all this other stuff. Indeed, even Paige, who has certainly held their attention as of late, had to go to the lengths in “Darkroom” of photographing Father Tim’s diary and having the pictures developed by her parents and watch them as they read them in front of her in order to drive home the point she was trying to make about the toll all of this was taking on her. Parents just don’t understand, indeed. (Nor Pastor Tim, for that matter, who lied through his teeth when Paige asked him his “honest” opinion of her.)

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But will going home make any of this better? I can’t see how. Neither Paige nor Henry speak the language, and unlike his sister, Henry doesn’t even have the slightest clue about his parents and their real background. Genius or not, all that managed to escape him, to the point where Henry can be fascinated by and give an in-depth report on Stan’s workplace (mail-bot alert!), and yet, have no idea that the very thing Stan does for a living is happening right under his nose.

Of course, one could say the same thing about Stan, for that matter. Indeed, not only is one of his best friends a Russian spy, but he may well be dating one. Granted, the Russians denied it, but like they always tell the truth. As we’ve seen with Oleg back in the motherland, they don’t even trust their own people half the time.

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It was interesting to see that one woman Oleg and his partner interrogated stand up to them without compunction or fear of consequences- it seems that Russia is slowly-but-surely losing their grip on their ability to intimidate even the guilty at this point.

Obviously, the fact that Liz and Phil have been keeping secrets from the Soviets as well drives this home (what Tuan did, the fact that they are skeptical of the Russian “evidence” on whether that woman was a Nazi collaborator, least of all after the faulty info about the “deadly” wheat), as they are thought of as among Russia’s top operatives.

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It was perhaps inevitable that everything would fall apart at some point. I’m just surprised at how it happened. Say what you will about the slow pace of this season- and it has been pretty methodical, even by this show’s previous standards- the character-building and story beats have been pretty perfect all around, as has been the way they’ve managed to include past cases into the narrative without it seemed forced, i.e. the return of Martha, Kimmy (Julia Garner) and Gaad’s widow.

The fact that I didn’t see any of this coming is a testament to the show’s writers, and I wouldn’t be at all shocked if they have more than a few more tricks up their sleeves yet. I think the slower pace of this season may be a ruse to lull us into a sense of false security before they bring the hammer down in the final season- or in the final few episodes of this season, for that matter. But this current development is clearly the beginning of the end, in many ways, that’s for sure.

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Be that as it may, there have been the occasional lovely moments that drives home why we care so much about these characters we would normally be appalled be IRL, and how the power of drama allows us to sympathize with such unsavory characters as these. Obviously, the marriage ceremony, spoke mostly in Russian- which tellingly put a smile on Liz’s face- was a major one, despite the desolate surroundings. To paraphrase the song, they found love in a hopeless place.

But there’s the little moments as well: Paige finally driving home her point about Pastor Tim’s diary to her parents and relishing in the fact that they finally “got it,” Henry’s unabashedly youthful exuberance at seeing Stan’s office and especially the Mail-bot, Tuan admitting his love for IHOP, Phil singing “Forever Young” to Kimmy as he presents a birthday cake (which was also kind of creepy, given the circumstances, somewhat reminding me of this), Liz’s embrace of Tai Chi, the dreamy look Sofia (Darya Ekamasova) gets on her face when she talks about her boyfriend and the boyish one Stan gets when he talks about his latest crush, and so on. All this and the dark beauty of Bauhaus!

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It’s that attention to detail that makes “The Americans” work, even when the show’s pacing is down to a crawl- that, and the excellent performances all around. I can completely get why some people wouldn’t have the patience for this, but at the same time, I feel bad for them, because they’re missing out on one of the best American dramas ever produced- pun definitely intended.

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So, what do you think of the season thus far? Are you happy with it, or do you long for the action of seasons past? Did you swoon over the marriage ceremony between the Jennings, like Liz? Or are you as disillusioned with the show as Phil is with the kind of life he’s been living? Do you think Tuan was telling the truth about what he was up to, or is he just a really great liar? What has the show been building up to, plot-wise, beyond the whole Liz-wanting-to-go-home thing? Any predictions on what happens next? Sound off down below, and thanks for reading!